by Paul Briggs
I recently read a news story about a man who was traveling home from a business trip. Rushing to his connecting flight due to the delayed arrival of his originating flight, he found his seat, stored his bags, sat down and promptly slumped over. His heart had stopped!
Thanks to the quick action of an alert flight attendant, she was able to get his heart going again and thankfully, this story has a happy ending. It was a statement made by this man about a year after his heart stopping incident that caught my attention. “I know that carrying this [extra] weight does not help me so I learned [from this incident] that I really, really need to take it seriously. I never have.” It took a heart attack to get his attention to the point of working to lose the extra pounds he was carrying.
Losing weight, though it surely would be a good idea at least for me, isn’t the point of this blog post. The point is belief and obedience. Why should we, as followers of Jesus be keen in our thinking about trust and obedience? Because unbelief and disobedience are two insidious problems which, in varying degrees, plague every human being. As God’s people we need to be sharply aware of the focus of our confidence (in whom do you trust and why?) and what the one you trust commands you to do (obedience to his commands). The man in the story would have benefited from trusting his doctors and obeying the instructions they had been giving him for years about his need to lose weight and control his diet.
Belief and obedience are essential elements of a healthy and thriving Christian life. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews, in Hebrews 3:7-4:13, exhorts his readers to learn from the history of their ancestors, in quoting a phrase from Psalm 95:7-11:
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” - Hebrews 4:7.
This is a timeless command from a particular context (the grumbling of the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt - Numbers 14); it is as valid today for those of us on the way to our heavenly home as it was when the children of Israel were in the wilderness heading for the promised land. The timelessness of this exhortation, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts,” is seen by the following:
a) the psalmist makes reference to it in Psalm 95:7-11 (quoted in Hebrews 3:7-11);
b) in Hebrews 3 and 4 it is quoted again “so long afterward” (Hebrews 4:7) so many more years after the psalmist makes reference to it;
c) even today in the 21st century, God’s people are exhorted by this same phrase: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” (Hebrews 3:12-15)
The way this phrase is used in various periods of history evidences the need for all people everywhere to give the proper place to our Creator, believe his promises and obey his commands.
The readers of the letter to the Hebrews were experiencing significant challenges because of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Some of them were at least thinking about abandoning their faith and hope in the Lord Jesus Christ to return to their former practice of Jewish belief and ritual practice. More than two thousand years beyond when the Letter to the Hebrews was written, the phrase, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” is as true today as it was when it was first penned.
Another Psalm which speaks of God’s faithfulness to his people in bringing them out of slavery in Egypt is Psalm 105. In v. 42 of Psalm 105 we read this phrase, “...for he remembered his holy promise…” Let it be clear to all of us, God, the Great Giver of his promises, is to be trusted. The promises of God are to be believed even when the outcome is unclear or uncertain from our human perspective.
The final verse of Psalm 105 (v. 45) underlines the purpose for which God has done what he did for his people, Israel, “...that they might keep his statutes and observe his laws.” The statutes and laws (commands) of God are to be obeyed. Obedience to God’s commands is intended for the good of his people and the glory of the Giver of the law.
Thinking about the promises of God which are to be believed and the commands of God which are to be obeyed from Hebrews 3-4 got me to thinking about an old hymn, Trust and Obey. I will conclude these reflections on belief and obedience with this vignette about how the writing of this hymn came about.
In 1887 at an evangelistic meeting in Massachusetts conducted by Dwight L. Moody, a young man stood up to give testimony of his intention to follow God. “I am not quite sure,” he said, “but I’m going to trust, and I’m going to obey” -- meaning that he planned to trust God for his salvation from sin and then do what God commanded of him. The music leader that particular evening, Daniel Towner, briefly wrote the story down including the phrase, “I’m going to trust and I’m going to obey.” He sent it to a minister friend in Logansport, Indiana, J.H. Sammis, who took the idea of the phrase and turned it into the words of the hymn, Trust and Obey, sung in churches to this day.
When we walk with the Lord in the light of his word,
what a glory he sheds on our way.
While we do his good will, he abides with us still
and to all who will trust and obey.
Then in fellowship sweet, we will sit at His feet,
Or we’ll walk by his side in the way,
What he says we will do, Where he sends we will go -
Never fear, only trust and obey.
Trust and obey for there's no other way
to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
Psalm 78:7 gives a wonderfully succinct statement of purpose for the follower of Jesus: “...so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.” What would the people closest to you say about your belief in God’s promises? What would they say about the attention you are giving to God’s commands?