My life was radically changed when I finally said yes to God. That same type of change continues even now, as each new day brings about more opportunities to walk in obedience.
That hasn’t always been a value in my heart, though.
Years ago, I may have said yes in a few small ways—here and there, giving God what I thought He wanted, a hat tip of generosity or praise now and then. I was living the life I thought I’d always wanted, but the Holy Spirit wasn’t willing to leave me in that place of self-sufficiency or inner pride. You see, He didn’t have the one and only thing He really desires. He didn’t have my heart.
And when He doesn’t have our hearts, He doesn’t have us.
I suppose it should go without saying that a “lord” would be a person we obey, particularly if we were voluntarily declaring him as such. Obedience wouldn’t be a matter of convenience for us, as if in certain moments we could look a “lord” in the face and say “no.”
Instead, to trust Jesus as Lord would mean a heart-level surrender, to His will instead of mine. That’s what I was lacking, and it could only mean one of two things—either I was directly rebellious, or He really wasn’t the Lord of my life.
Jesus Himself pointed out this paradox in what has become one of my favorite Bible verses to preach. It just asks a question, and the logic here is difficult to shake: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46 NIV).
Is it possible to call Jesus Lord but not have a yes mentality to Him? If you think about it, “Yes” is what you say to someone up a chain of command from you. “No” only flows downward, from the person who’s really in charge. As long as I reserve the right to say no, then who do I really think is my lord?
For Christians, the logical expectation is that Jesus has authority over them; He owns them; He has the right to tell them what to do. These things are true, of course, for everyone else in the world as well. Jesus is Lord of all, whether or not they realize it yet. But for Christians—of course, obviously—they will obey the Lord they follow. Won’t they?
A Different Kind of Life
On our own, we can craft quite a blueprint for our lives. I had a host of hopes and dreams for my business career and my family. I wanted to be wealthy enough to do whatever I wanted wherever I wanted. I had studied up on what it would take to be a millionaire by the time I was forty, and I was aggressively climbing the corporate ladder, always looking for the next promotion, the next job, the next company. By the world’s standard I was living large, and planning to live larger!
But for all the “living” I was doing, I didn’t have real, abundant life—the life Jesus died to provide. I had settled for a sad substitute, where pride and materialism had taken the place of humility and eternal purpose. Church? Yes. Surrender to Jesus? No. I had faith in my own understanding rather than faith in Him.
You can look all the way back to the Garden of Eden and see a clear pattern throughout the ages: Disobedience to God leads to conflict, confusion, and curses; obedience to God always brings blessing.
- Noah’s obedience saved his family from the flood.
- Abraham’s obedience resulted in his becoming the father of the great nation Israel, God’s chosen people.
- Moses’ obedience led the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt.
- Joshua’s obedience won the battle of Jericho by following God’s supernatural strategy.
- Paul’s obedience led him to take the gospel to the unreached Gentiles.
Quite obviously, obedience and faith are closely related. Why did Noah obey? He had faith. Why did Joshua obey God’s somewhat unbelievable plan to defeat Jericho? Faith! The people who have faith are the ones who obey. Living by faith, and “the obedience that comes from faith” (Romans 1:5), is the path to true life—the kind most people miss out on. Except for the grace of God, I would have missed out as well.
What God Can Do
My life took a big turn when a Life Action team visited my church in 1997. I began that two-week period thinking that other people needed revival, but not me. Slowly, the scales fell off of my eyes. I realized that my life was very self-centered and I was living in pride.
I really thought I had things figured out. I was a Sunday school teacher, a deacon, and the chairman of our church’s finance committee. I had a wonderful wife and children, and we showed up every time the church doors were open. But honestly, I still had one foot in the world, and the Holy Spirit revealed that to me. I saw how prideful I was to think I could serve two masters.
That honesty led me to some painful confessions. Not only was I full of pride, I wasn’t being a good spiritual leader in my home. I wasn’t giving God anything of my real heart or resources. I had fallen into pornography, I was wearing a mask on Sundays, and I wasn’t taking eternal life seriously.
Another point of conviction came during that Revival Summit when I realized I hadn’t shared my faith with my parents. How could that be, that my own parents wouldn’t know I was a Christian? One night the Summit revivalist asked if anyone had a testimony to share, and I went forward, thinking about telling my story of pride and humility.
Unbelievably, when I stood up there and looked out over the crowd … there was my mom, in the back! I hadn’t invited her, but she was there. That’s when I knew what my obedience step would be. I needed to share the gospel and my testimony with my mom, right then and there, from the platform. I publicly asked my mom to forgive me, and she got up and came to hug me.
We cried and prayed, and I was able to lead my own mom to Christ that night. Three weeks later, my dad came to Christ as well. When I said yes to God in that moment, my whole family was transformed!
Another key moment for me occurred after I became the Director of Life Action Camp, and I was evaluating what we call our “core message.” That led me to reopen the Seeking Him study, one that Life Action uses frequently for those who wish to seek God personally and experience a revived life in Christ. One concept after another—humility, honesty, repentance, forgiveness, obedience—flooded into my soul and brought me to the next level of yes—a renewed start to the commitment I’d made fifteen years prior.
Three questions have been helpful to me in evaluating my own level of Christian obedience:
#1: Is there anything God wants me to start doing?
#2: Is there anything God wants me to stop doing?
#3: Is there any reason not to do what God wants?
These questions were first set before me during the Revival Summit at my church, and then again when I sat down with the Seeking Him study. I learned that the Christian life is all about humility, faith, and prayer. It isn’t just about my activity for God; it’s about my relationship with God.
Obedience isn’t that complicated, after all. Many times we hope God will show us some new truth or give us fresh insight, even though we haven’t obeyed the truth we already know or gone in the direction He has already pointed!
That’s where I usually begin when speaking with someone concerned about God’s will for his or her life. They might be afraid they’ll miss the mark somehow, take a wrong turn, go to the wrong school, even marry the wrong person. And God may have something to say on all those specific issues in our lives, but I doubt we’ll get very far if we haven’t first said yes to what we already know He wants us to do.
I know for me, saying yes to God hasn’t always been easy. My life has gone dramatically off course from where I thought I’d be and what I thought I’d be doing. That’s the nature of Christian obedience. A yes to God means I’m not the captain of my own ship anymore. God isn’t just my co-pilot, or my advisor for life’s choices; He is my Lord—the Lord of the universe and the Lord of my life.
When He speaks, we as Christians must obey. And where He directs, we gladly follow.
But What About . . .
Before I surrendered my heart to God’s direction, my “yeses” to God were temporary, and they were qualified. But now I recognize that my Lord is asking me to say Yes with a capital Y. Not just yes to a specific step of obedience, but yes to His will altogether, wherever that may lead.
This attitude of obedience flows directly out of the Greatest Commandment, where I’m told to love God with all my heart. If I love Him as Lord, I’ll obey Him as Lord (John 14:15).
Of course, there are still temptations. There are still areas of our lives that are more difficult to get under control (or to give up control) than others. Kind of like, “Lord, what about my marriage problems? Or my addiction? Or my lust? Or my bitterness? I do wish I could obey You, but what about ________?”
At Life Action we have an oft-repeated line that we should say yes to God in every category of life: family, relationships, money, character, dreams, habits, witness, work—every category. As A. W. Tozer, a famous preacher of the last century, was known for saying, “If Jesus is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all.”
So, are you ready? Are you ready to bow and confess what every tongue in heaven and on earth will one day confess? Jesus is Lord.
His role is to command; my role is to obey. The sooner I can make peace with that, in every category of my life, the better!
Some Practical Advice
I’m nowhere near graduation from the school of Christian obedience. I want to follow Christ with all my heart, but I’m painfully aware there is more work to do in my life. I’m leaning into the promises Paul wrote to Titus: “The grace of God … teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope” (Titus 2:11-13).
We can pray for God’s grace to obey—His power to both want to obey, and to actually act according to His purposes. Here is my advice to fellow students of Christ, as those seeking to be His obedient disciples:
1. Begin with what you already know from God’s Word. The primary next step in your life is not to learn something new, but to obey something you’ve already learned. Think about it. How many of Christ’s commands are you already aware of? How could you better prioritize those in your life today?
2. Say yes to the next obedience opportunity. At some point today or tomorrow, you’ll encounter your next opportunity to say yes to God, whatever that might be … Witness to a neighbor. Give a word of encouragement. Go out of your way to serve someone. Help your spouse. Spend quality time with a child or grandchild. Prioritize something regarding God’s kingdom. Say no to a distracting sin and yes to focusing on what matters most.
3. At the next T-intersection, go God’s way. You might say, “Mike, I have so far to go in my Christian walk, I don’t even know where to begin or what to tackle first.” My encouragement to you, my brother or sister, is to simply plan on obeying God at the next fork in the road. You’ll know it when it comes—when you could go either your own way, or God’s way. In that moment, choose God’s way!
There is so much joy to unlock in the Christian life, so much potential each of us has for doing His work in the world, so much opportunity to share Christ with others … and frankly, I don’t want to miss it. I don’t want to forfeit the abundant, purposeful life Jesus died to provide simply because I’m bogged down by disobedience. I’d much rather bow before Christ, my Savior and my Lord, and pledge my heart to Him.
He is the one Lord worth obeying!
Mike Lee is Executive Director of Life Action, a division of Life Action Ministries, and also serves as Director of Life Action Camp in southwest Michigan. He wrote this article for Revive magazine, Issue 47, #2, entitled “Follow.”