Learning to Obey

I remember back when I was five years old and I visited my grandparents farm for the first. Granddad took me around shortly after arriving and showed me the electric fence that ran along the side of the house and told me that this fence ran on pulsating current. He then took me into the barn and showed me this large panel with a flashing light on it and told me that electricity was charging the fence each time the light came on.  The next day my Grandparents were out working in the vegetable garden that lay near the electric fence. I remember stand near the fence, with my back to them and looking at the fence. It looked harmless enough.  Granddad saw me standing there and reminded me that the fence would shock me if I touch it. I continued to stand there fascinated by the fence. I looked back over my shoulder to see if he was watching and then quickly touched the fence and pulled back. Nothing happened. I looked again and he seemed to be busy with his worked and so I quickly touched the fence again. Still no shock. Maybe the fence was not working. Maybe he told me that the fence would shock me to I would not climb on it. Now I became bold. I grabbed the wire and turned and said to Granddad: “Look Granddad I can …” Next thing I knew I had a nasty jolt of electricity run through me. 

I remember also when I was about eight years old and we had just moved into a house that had an electric stove. Up until that time our stove had all been gas. The first time that I saw Mom using the stove I commented on how red the burner got so it must be really hot. I remember Mom carefully explaining to me that yes it was extremely hot but to never touch the burners because even if they were not red did not mean that they were not hot. I went out to play. Later I came back in for some cookies and milk and she was still cooking. I watched her turn on  a burner, the burner turn red and heat up the stuff she was cooking and then turn off the burner. It cooled down because it was no longer red. She took the pan off of the burner. I sat there at the kitchen table finishing my cookies and milk fascinated by the burner. It was black now. So I got out of my chair, walked straight up to the stove and said to my Mom: “See it is not hot now” and stuck my hand on the burner. Less than a second later I was screaming in pain. The black burner that did not look hot was.

In the intervening years since those childhood memories, I have seen some patterns. Children learn to say “no” very quickly in life because they are interested in doing what they want to do.  Athlete’s will refuse to follow the coaches direction because they think they know better. College Students will defy school rules because they feel they are wiser. Driver’s will refuse to obey the rules of the road because they are in control.  The Israelites told God that they would obey everything they were told but then turned around and rebelled;  refusing to obey God during the Exodus. Christians today refuse to obey God and be holy like He is holy because it is not convenient or runs counter to what everyone else is doing.

 So what is going on here?

 For children, they end up getting into trouble with lots of tears being shed. The Athlete will get thrown off the team. Students will be suspended or thrown out of school. Drivers will end up with fines or jail time. The Israelites ended up losing a whole generation while wandering around in a hot desert, eating something tasteless called Manna.  Christians end up never knowing good things that God has in store for them. 

 And it is all because they have never learned to obey the simple things that God asks.

 All of us have at one time or another, have been challenged and had a difficult time obeying God.

 Think for a moment …

 What areas of your life … or particular situation … or particular person … causes the most struggle for you to obey God?

 Holy Spirit: Would You take God’s truth and powerfully amplify it in our hearts; cause us to find renewed interest; selectively use the words spoken this morning to draw to attract, to edify, to convict, and to save.

 I love studying the life of Peter. He is so much like us today. One minute he is acting in a carnal way, the next like a spiritual man. There are times when he gets what Jesus is teaching and other times he is totally baffled and jumps to the wrong conclusions. But here is the thing, as many times as Peter got into trouble, when Jesus corrected him, he did not give up but kept learning to obey.

1 Now it came about that while the multitude were pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them, and were washing their nets. [Luke 5:1-2 NASB]

Imagine the sounds and smells of the scene unfolding here. One of the things I do as I study the Bible is try to imagine what it would have been like to be part of the scene. So imagine with me ….

It is a little after sun up and the fishing fleet is returning to the docks. They have been out fishing all night. A small breeze is blowing. The smell of old fish, receding tide and sweaty bodies hangs heavy in the air. Sea gulls are screeching and scrapping overhead. One dives, landing and grabs a scrap of fish left from yesterday. Suddenly all of them are squawking and crowding around the lucky gull trying to snatch its prize. it sounds very much like all of them are screeching the same thing:  “Mine! Mine! Mine!” Remmeber Finding Nimo?

An old man named Zebedee is standing at the edge of the stone pier waving to one of the boats. James tosses the line to his father while his brother John steers the boat into the dock to be tied up. As Zebedee ties up the boat, one glance in the boat tells him that this has not been a productive night. Peter and Andrew bring their boat in next to their partners and tie up. Nobody is in a good mood. They have just spent the night heaving heavy nets along the shallows hoping to catch some fish. They burned up many torches trying in vain to attract fish to the light. They tried every trick that any seasoned fisherman knows about but they failed.

 The docks are crowded with fishermen busy washing down and drying out their nets. Nets are hanging on drying racks as fishermen run their eyes and hands over the nets looking for tears to mend. A noisy crowd of house wives are crowding the docks to get the best pick of the fish before it went to the marketplace. Buying it now meant it was the freshest for the breakfast meal. But this had been a bad night fishing. Very little fish to sell.

 3 And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And he sat down and began teaching the multitudes from the boat. And when He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered and said, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but at Your bidding I will let down the nets.” [Luke 5:3-5 NASB]

 One of the first jobs I had was worked on a fishing boat. I know from experience the life of a fisherman involves a lot of sore muscles, long hours, and often little results. Can you imagine what was going through Peter mind?  As I considered what Jesus had requested and how Peter responded. I came up with Four things that were possibly going through Peter’s head.

Number One: Seasoned fishermen in the area knew that the fishing was best close into shore, not out in deep water. Their nets were designed to trap fish in shallow waters.


Number Two:  Every fishermen worth his salt knew that the fish would not be biting at mid morning.  Fisherman knew that the best time to catch the fish living in the coastal waters was at night by using a torch to attract the fish.

 Number Three: Peter knew that Jesus was a carpenter by trade turned traveling rabbi!.  So he wondered why a carpenter, much less a holy man, would think that He knew more about fishing than Peter who did this for a living?

 Number Four: While Jesus had been preaching, Peter and his partners had been busy washing and setting out the nets to dry. Now Jesus wanted he and Andrew to pull the nets off of the drying racks, arrange them on the boat, set sail into deep water and put the nets in water where there were no fish at a time of day if there were fish they would not be biting. Wow! What a waste of time.

 Can you see how Peter struggled to obey Jesus … especially in an area of his life where he is the “expert!”

 “but at Your bidding I will let down the nets.”

 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish; and their nets began to break; and they signaled to their partners in the other boat, for them to come and help them. And they came, and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. [Luke 5:6-7 NASB]

 Put yourself in Peter’s shoes. How would you have responded to fish showing up where they should not have been, at a time of day that was wrong for catching fish?

 There is another account in the second chapter of John’s Gospel, where he records Jesus’ miracle of turning water into wine And Jesus uses ordinary folks … lowly servants … as partners for the miracle. You remember the story. They are at a wedding feast in Canaan. Mary comes to Jesus with some servants and tells Him that the wine is almost gone. Jesus responds with “so what is that to Me…” I love Mary’s response: she turns to the servants and simply says, “Do whatever He says!”

 He gave the servants two simple commands: First: Fill the jars with water. Second: Draw some out to take to the master of the banquet. The servants did exactly what he told them to do, even though it had to have seemed crazy at the time! Have you ever tried to imagine what thoughts must have gone through their heads as they were carrying the jars of water? What nerve it must have taken to deliver what they thought was water to the head master. Jesus’ was able to create this miracle because these guys simply did what Jesus said to do even though it seemed insane. Their obedience led to a blessing in their lives and in the lives of those at the banquet.

 God’s working in our lives starts with obedience in the ordinary stuff of living.   

 8 But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken; [Luke 5:8-9 NASB]

 Why did Peter respond this way? He responded the same way that his ancestor Abraham, Job and Isaiah had responded when they realized they were in the presence of God; they fell down realizing how sinful they were.  The magnitude of this miracle in this area of Peter’s expertise was incredibly humbling for Peter.

 Peter does not, the way we do today, go for a high five with Jesus. Instead, Simon realizes his own sinfulness compared to the incredible holiness of Jesus. He senses his unworthiness and falls to his knees. When Peter confessed: “I am a sinful man” Jesus did not argue with him. This was not news to Jesus. What is amazing is that Jesus did NOT depart from this sinful man. God changes and works through sinful people … the only kind of people available here on earth! 

 10 and so also James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him. [Luke 5:10-11 NASB]

 Here is another decision. “they left everything and followed Him.”  I do not think that a decision of this magnitude could have been made without the previous smaller decision. Life is full of these smaller decisions that prepare us for the bigger ones. This decision to leave all had a huge financial impact. This was a windfall catch and they were walking away from the financial benefit of it.

 Jesus teaches us through Peter how important those small decisions are to obey in everyday living. And Simon answered and said, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but at Your bidding … [at Your asking] … I will let down the nets.”[verse 5]  It is interesting to note that Peter did not know Jesus very well at this point. But he calls Christ “Master.,” He is not calling him Master with confidence.  Fishing in this lake was Peter’s business and he really claimed superior knowledge on this occasion to that of Jesus.

 By definition, ‘bidding’ simply means to give an order or a command 

A synonym for bidding would be a request or an instruction [Jesus gave specific instructions as to where He wanted Peter to take the boat]  

I love antonyms. Often this is where we can get a real sense of the meaning of the word.  Here is what Peter could have said:

 To defy, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, So  I am going to defy Your bidding and not  let down the nets because I know You are wrong about this.”

 Disobey: “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, And I am tired and I am feeling cranky so I am just not going to do Your bidding”

 Rebel against: “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing so how dare you jump into my business  and make insane demands where I  obviously have superior knowledge!”

 So ponder on this: The Scriptures are of little value if all we do is read them. The Bible gives this bidding found in Joshua chapter 1 verse 8: This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night,  so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it, for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.

 In your heart of hearts, have you used this sort of language with God?

 For example:

  • Have you hear God speaking to you but you are hesitant to obey because this runs counter to your experience or your area of expertise.
  • Have you understood what God wants you to do but it seems too hard or too risky.
  • Has there been a time when you have heard God tell you to step out in faith and forgive someone … and you tell God that He needs to first change your heart before you will forgive that person?

 There are many disadvantages to not being obedient to the Bible. Peter like so many of us, lived full of self-reliance. He was an expert fisherman. Fishing was what he knew and was good at. What I have noticed is that when God speaks to me about obeying in some area, if that area is an area of personal strength and know-how, my bedience comes at a greater struggle.

 We have all heard stories from Christians Who have related that they knew that God was asking them to be obedient in something and they tell of choosing … purposely choosing to defy God and chose to do their own thing. And the consequences were horrible and sometimes long lasting. We will discover that by not being obedient in the small things, we will never know the “plans that God have for me,’ ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give me a future and a hope.” Our obedience to the Word of God is the key that opens the door to God blessing us.

 So what is the benefit or advantage of being obedient to what God tells us? Peter’s experience is beneficial to us today. When we trust Christ, when we listen to His truth contained in the Bible and to the stirrings of our soul through the Holy Spirit, things begin to happen in our lives.

 But nothing can happen until we decide to trust and obey. 

 Often, when we as Christians, walk together supporting each other through a patch of tough times, The question will arise … “Where is God in all of this difficulty?” Too often, we fail to see a Sovereign God at work.  It is like a new thought for us … God is here midst the trouble?  Many times [not always] we are startled to find from the Scriptures, that we are not obeying God completely … Or maybe not at all in some particular area.  Usually the issue … The reason that we are not obeying God completely is that we want God to bless us first … We want God to change our feelings first and then when we see the blessing or the change in our lives we say that we will obey.

 The Bible is full of accounts of this common error of men. The sad thing is that more than a few people … such as the rich young ruler that Jesus talked to … He was so close and yet He refused to do the bidding of God in one area and so their life continues in chaos.

 The benefits of obeying everything that God tells us is too numerous to be counted. While the results of our obedience may not be as dramatic as the miraculous haul of fishes, they are nonetheless real and meaningful.  God can only start to work in our lives after we say like Peter: “Master, I worked hard and cannot seem to get it right. but at Your bidding I will do as you say.”

 Here are three things you can do:

1.  Pay attention and be faithful to small opportunities to obey that God puts before us. Life is full of small decisions that are God’s tools to prepare us for the bigger opportunities to obey.

 2.    When God seems to be asking you to be obedient in something that does not make sense to you, make this your prayer: Lord Jesus, when you tell me to do something, help me to do it even if it doesn’t make any sense. Help me to believe every word that You have spoken through Your word.

 3. God can only start to work in our lives after we are willing to surrender our expertise and say like Peter: “Master, I worked hard and cannot seem to get it right. but at Your bidding I will do as you say.”

 Learning to Obey … stay with us till next time when we will bring you more Comfort, more Truth and more Love.

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