Forming Habits of Obedience

I had a discussion with my third graders the other day.

The school where I teach is exceptional. It is a classical Christian school, and students are held to the highest standards of academics and behavior. They are well trained. That’s why this discussion was even possible.

When we transition between activities, students are not allowed to talk. Part of that is helping them learn self-control. Part of that is teaching them that there are appropriate times and places for everything – including chatting with their friends. My class is a lively group. They’re passionate, joyful, spunky children. They like to talk. They have so many thoughts, and they’re just itching to get them out. It is incredibly hard for them to hold all of those thoughts in, especially when we aren’t in the middle of an activity. This particular week, they had begun to break out in chatter every.single.time we transitioned from one thing to another.

As I asked them to put their math work away and get out their literature books, I added an extra instruction to the end, just as a gentle reminder. “Do that without talking, please.”

Instant whispering.

“Okay, who can tell me what just happened?”

One sweet soul volunteered. “You asked us not to talk, and we talked.”

“You’re right. What would we call that?”

“Disobedience. We were disobedient.” Several other children nodded in agreement. (I told you they are well trained.)

First, let’s stop and be thankful that there are children who are aware of what disobedience is, are able to recognize it, and are honest about it. Something good is happening there.

If I had left it at that, or allowed them to be disobedient without correcting it, I would be doing them a disservice. I thanked them for admitting their error. I told them that we are human, and we make mistakes. It is easy for us to be disobedient. Often, we are asked to do things that go against our nature. We are asked to be responsible, or to work hard, or to be kind to someone who is difficult to be kind to. We will not always do those things perfectly. However, every time you make the decision to be disobedient to what you are asked to do, you are forming a habit. You are forming the habit of disobedience rather than obedience.

I asked them to think ahead. “Boys and girls, if you are habitually disobedient to me or your parents now, how do you think that will affect you in the future? Do you think that will make it easier to obey God later?”

We are continually forming habits. You aren’t in third grade. You don’t have to transition between activities quietly if you don’t want to. However, there are a lot of things you are commanded to be obedient to.

You are commanded to love the Lord with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul and all your strength. You are commanded to love your neighbor as yourself. You are commanded to steward your time and resources well. You are commanded to trust God. You are commanded to be faithful to your spouse. You are commanded to shepherd your children and disciple them. You are commanded to be truthful. You are commanded to obey the authority that has been placed over you. You are commanded to work hard and to do everything for the glory of God.

Some of those are easier than others. Some are small, and some feel like an enormous weight. When we’re faithful and obedient in the small things, we are forming the habit of saying “yes,” and it is easier to be obedient in the difficult things.

As those of the race of Adam, we are sinful. We want to do what we want to do, when we want to do it. However, if we are in Christ, we have been crucified with him (Galatians 2:20). Our old selves are dead. We are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Paul says in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” We were not created to be disobedient; we were created to do the good works that he commands of us. We continue to die to ourselves every day, putting to death the desires of the flesh, by submitting to Him in obedience. When we form the habit of obeying his command instead of our own desires, dying to self becomes less painful. It becomes less difficult and more automatic. There is freedom and joy to be found there. He is faithful to conform us to his likeness and to sanctify our hearts.

“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” Romans 6:16

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