I used to think I was quite obedient to the Lord till the morning I began reading the Old Testament in a new light. Starting all the way from Jeremiah to Malachi are stellar examples of the highest level of obedience. The point where obedience is not sporadic events in life but life itself.
Take Jeremiah who was chosen by God since young days to be a prophet. He was instructed not to marry. His life was to symbolically represent God’s feeling of isolation due to the rejection of his bride Israel. And so Jeremiah led his entire life in loneliness, feeling what God felt, literally. The price of obedience was to do what he commanded him to and go where God wanted him to. So we see Jeremiah standing outside the house of God, telling people to reform their ways (Jeremiah 7). Imagine yourself outside the church gate, greeting members, “Reform your ways, so that the Lord can let you live in this place!”. That is the price of being the mouthpiece of the Lord.
What follows next? The Lord tells him to cut off his hair and throw it away and take up lament on the barren heights. Hair? You want me to cut off my hair? Lord isn’t it too much? Jeremiah just obeyed. With a tonsured head he starts lamenting i.e. crying with loud wails on the highest point of the city, where all could see him, risking ridicule and contempt. At another point in time, God told him to buy a linen belt and put it around the waist and not let it touch water. Till the second time God spoke to him he was wearing that belt protecting it from water. Then God told him to hid it behind a crevice.
By this time my heart was pricking unbearably. I can hardly imagine wearing something because God told me to then travel to the rocks just to hide it. What would Jeremiah have told people who stopped him on the way? But he simply did it. Not once but again and again. He changed his lifestyle to God’s requirements.
Ezekiel is another example of such radical obedience. He was asked by God to lie on left and right side respectively for a total of 390 days! (Ezekiel 4). Effectively it meant he was to lie on the bed for a year all tied up with ropes as a sign to Israel. Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel seem to acknowledge that their lives were not theirs but God’s. God could get them to do whatever he desired. Both Ezekiel and Jeremiah were available.
And so, you would think Jeremiah’s life would be one of innumerable blessings and inexpressible joys. Quite to the contrary, he despaired over his life. He was kept in prison, beaten, kept in stocks, even immersed in a cistern full of mud uptil his head for hours. All because he was obeying God. His life was full of pain as his message made him unpopular among his countrymen. Whenever he opened his mouth, there were only words of violence and destruction unlike the other prophets of the time. His life despite toeing the Lord everywhere from the temple to the potter’s house, was full of rejection, abuses and death traps. So much so that he regrets even having taken birth (Jeremiah 20). Yet he obeys till his death.
If Jeremiah was told not to marry, Hosea was asked to marry a prostitute. Why? Because it was a symbolic representation of how God loved Israel despite her adulterous ways. Hosea was even asked by the Lord to name his children ‘Not Loved’ and ‘Not my People’. And he did. Clearly, to increase in obedience is to give up every part of our life to the Lord.
In Mark 1, we see Jesus healing a man of leprosy. He clears warns him not to tell anyone about the healing but he chose to disobey. Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. The man was seemingly just glorifying God, it nevertheless was disobedience. As a result of his decision, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Many a time our lack of simple obedience to Christ can be a hindrance for His work and purposes.
When the Lord looks down at us does He see a Jeremiah, willing to obey whatever the price? I pray He does.