It’s a song I sang as a child in Sunday School–
Trust and obey,
For there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus,
But to trust and obey.
It bothered me as a child, the part about “No other way.” It seemed narrow-minded and harsh. Surely, I could be happy in Jesus just doing my own good things and singing his praises. Besides, I did trust him, I followed the Ten Commandments, and the Golden Rule, and I was a nice person. So why did I feel that I was missing something?
In all the years I’ve been a follower of Christ, I have learned the importance of trust and obedience. I can’t truly follow someone I don’t trust. I can learn from them, admire them, even try to act like them, but eventually, I will try to take the lead, or let go and walk down a different path. Similarly, I can’t say that I trust someone if I won’t obey them. If they ask me to do something, and I ignore their request, or re-interpret it, or come up with excuses why I won’t do it, it really boils down to one thing: I don’t trust that their request has any merit.
In a broken world, filled with sin and pride and selfishness, there are many reasons NOT to trust or obey certain people. Abusers, users, sadists and sociopaths abound. Such people may suggest that there is “no other way to be happy..” than to trust them and obey them implicitly. So when God asks us to put our trust in an invisible Godhead, it seems terrible, final, and harsh. Is God demanding abject humiliation and mindless adherence to his law? Will we lose ourselves in drudgery and joyless obedience to a harsh taskmaster on the whimsical hope of a happy afterlife?
That is a view that is often peddled, and ridiculed. But I think a closer look at the Bible gives us a different picture. Yes, God is harsh and wrathful against sin and sinners–but so am I! I find myself getting furious over injustices and pain caused by sin in the world–I can only imagine how angry God must be to see the way we lie and cheat and abuse each other, and the untold painful consequences he has witnessed through the years. The only thing holding him back is the power of his Mercy. His anger is swallowed up in patient and unfathomable love that is ready to forgive even the worst offenders. And God’s wrath is pure, unlike mine, which is selective against those who have hurt me, but wants to smooth over my own sins. His love is even more pure– he loves even the worst sinner, and even the most unloveable people (in my flawed estimation). He is unwilling that ANYONE stay lost and enslaved by their sinful past.
Think about it– Jesus, who knew God best (being part of the Godhead himself) never painted his Father as a brute who demanded people to become “useful idiots” just to stroke his ego. He didn’t talk about a harsh and unforgiving God who “hated” sinners. Instead, Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, gave sight to the blind, and spoke to sinners and outcasts as though they were more important than the religious elite…because that was his heart! But more than that, Jesus showed us what it meant to “Trust and Obey”–he didn’t seek fame or fortune for himself, he never owned a home, or sought public office, and he never ran arouns worrying and fretting that God would leave him in the lurch. Even under the worst circumstances leading up to his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus only spent one hour worrying about what was to come, and in that hour of prayer, he found the peace and strength to say, “not my will, but yours be done (Luke 22:42). In his ministry, he humbly walked the byways and taught those who willingly followed him. He healed and encouraged and saved those who came to him; those who trusted him as he trusted his Father. He did not pat on the back those who claimed to follow his Father, but wouldn’t trust him. Nor did he reward those who claimed to obey God, but hated their neighbors, justified their own self-righteousness, and changed God’s laws to feather their own lifestyles.
Does “Trust and Obey” mean that we might lose our status, our wealth, our comfort, and our lives? Not necessarily, but there is no promise that we will be richer, or healthier, or more popular for following Jesus. He didn’t come to make us comfortable or “better than” someone else. In fact, he warned us that while we are in this world, we will have troubles and sorrows (with or without our faith!) So how can we be “happy in Jesus” if we end up homeless, hated, or sick? How can we talk about being happy in Jesus under awful circumstances? Is this just some brainwashing tactic to make us forget how miserable we are? What’s the “payoff” of Trust and Obey?
The answer involves a choice–Do I trust Jesus when he says that he came to give us, not just life, not even just eternal life, but abundant life? If Jesus isn’t trustworthy; if I am not sure that he can or will make my life MORE than I ever dreamed, MORE than I imagine–even in the midst of otherwise difficult circumstances–then I will never be happy in Jesus. But if I DO trust Jesus, then I can be happy, not because of my circumstances, but because I can trust all that he says about them, and that his grace is more than sufficient to see me through. And I know that whatever trials I may be going through can be turned to good because I trust his power and his goodness.
And true obedience can only follow true trust. If I say that God’s rules aren’t important, or don’t apply to me, then I’m really saying I don’t trust him to know what’s best, or that I don’t trust that He is really Good. The temporary happiness that comes from following my way (even if I think I’m doing it for the right reasons) will give way to resentment against God. How dare he stop me from that one thing that brings me joy– how dare he question my “needs” or call my actions “wrong”. How dare he suggest that His way could be better or more abundant than what I know–even if I suspect that what I know and experience isn’t always the best it could be.
No– the longer I follow Jesus, the more that old song rings true, and not harsh or condemning, but full of wisdom and promise. It is with the faith of a child (not stupid or simplistic, but hopeful and eager), and humble (not abject or reluctant) obedience that we find happiness in Jesus, peace for our souls, and strength to face the trying circumstances of this life.