Spiritual Growth and Christian Living Resources

How to Obey God, Even When You Don't Feel Like It

  • Dawn Wilson Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
How to Obey God, Even When You Don't Feel Like It

Chubby-cheeked and charming in a yellow sundress, the little girl standing by her mother at the Macy’s checkout suddenly bolted from her side. “I don’t want to. I don’t feel like it,” she yelled at her embarrassed mama, who left her place in line to run after the little rebel.

The ladies standing with me all grinned. We’d seen childhood rebellion before.

Unfortunately, I’ve reacted to my heavenly Father in much the same way: “I don’t want to. I don’t feel like it.” I might not say it out loud, but God knows that’s what I’m thinking.

The Lord wisely never allows me to settle into my rebellion for long. He is teaching me how to obey Him—even when I don’t feel like it.

Here are some of the lessons I’ve been learning.

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1. Check Your Attitudes.

1. Check Your Attitudes.

So many things can go wrong when we function based on feelings rather than truth. Emotions are fickle, sometimes faithless and often foolish. Emotions are a gift, but they must controlled by God’s Spirit.

Lysa TerKeurst wrote in Radically Obedient, Radically Blessed, “What if you wake up in a bad mood and just don’t feel like being obedient? Choice! Obey based on your decision to obey, not on your ever-changing feelings.”

Our emotions, as well as our thoughts and will, can trick us. Our emotions and thoughts must be filtered through and align with the truth of God’s Word; and our will must be subject to His will and purposes.

As John MacArthur wrote, “We can feel strongly about obedience and not be obedient. We can feel that it’s right to be obedient and not obey. We can feel confident that obedience is the path to blessing and usefulness and joy and still not obey.”

Paul shared his own struggle in Romans 7. We know what we’re supposed to do. We long to obey God in our heart, and we know obedience is God’s path to blessing, but we have a struggle in doing it. Sometimes we just don’t feel like obeying! Just as an adoring child can operate with an independent spirit, even so we can get hung up in our self-centered thoughts and wayward emotions and choose to disobey.

It’s human. It’s sinful. But, thank God, He made provision for our disobedience and a path to restoration.

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2. Clean the Slate.

2. Clean the Slate.

Consider the truth of the Gospel. Remember God’s mercy at the cross. Ultimately, what will draw us back from wandering in disobedience and compel us to renewed obedience is not feeling better or our will power. It’s love. God’s love. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us …. Made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5).
 
Remember what He has done for you, and His plan to clean your slate so you can walk on the pathway of obedience again. Confess your sins of commission and omission, and He will be faithful and just to forgive and cleanse you for a fresh start! 
 
But don’t stop with confessing sins to God. Your failure to obey likely affected others. Think about the fallout from your disobedience, how it may have caused others to sin, or how it may have given them a distorted picture of the Lord. Consider not only hurtful things you might have done through disobedience, but perhaps some acts of obedience you left undone. 
 
Confess your sins to those who have been offended or wounded by your disobedience. 
 
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3. Choose Obedience that Pleases God.

3. Choose Obedience that Pleases God.

It’s not just God’s love that motivates us to obey Him, it’s also our love for Him—a responsive love. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Love for God will motivate proper behavior and the kind of obedience that pleases Him.
 
Del Fehsenfeld, Jr., founder of Life Action Ministries and author of Ablaze with His Glory, spoke often of obedience. “Partial obedience, delayed obedience and surface obedience to impress others are not acceptable to God,” he said. “He is looking for men and women who will respond with instant, complete, wholehearted and joyous obedience each time He speaks.”
 
I remember struggling in a revival meeting where Fehsenfeld spoke. I knew I should obey the Lord, but I was still holding out. Then I heard the evangelist say something like this: “In order to experience revival, most of us do not need to hear more truths; we simply need to obey that which we already know.” The Lord used those words to grab my heart. Brokenhearted, I nearly ran to the altar. I stopped arguing with God and justifying my sin. I obeyed right away, no matter how others with me might react. 
 
Yet I could not fully communicate the peace I felt when I went home that evening. My obedient heart was at rest, and I found myself eager for the Lord’s next command. 
 
Years later, I read a quote by Elisabeth Elliot in a Life Action resource for personal revival, Seeking Him. Her words described what I sensed that night. “God is God,” she said. “Because He is God, He is worthy of my trust and obedience. I will find rest nowhere but in His holy will, a will that is unspeakably beyond my largest notions of what He is up to.”
 
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4. Cultivate a Heart of Surrender.

4. Cultivate a Heart of Surrender.

“The heart God delights in,” wrote Elizabeth George in Woman after God’s Own Heart, “is a heart that is compliant, cooperative and responsive to Him and His commands, a heart that obeys.”
 
Compliant. Cooperative. Responsive. Those words sound like willing surrender to me.
 
Lysa TerKeurst wrote that God wants us to be ready and willing to obey Him with our whole heart, not half of our heart; and He will do what is necessary to remove any distractions to our obedience. He will refine us until we are surrendered and “radically obedient.”
 
“Obedience becomes radical when we say, ‘Yes, God, whatever You want… and we mean it,” TerKeurst said. 
 
One of my sweetest times with the Lord involved the truth about surrender and obedience. At a True Woman conference, Nancy DeMoss—now Nancy Wolgemuth—urged us to use the hankie in our conference tote bag and wave it high like a flag of surrender whenever God spoke to our hearts about obeying Him. That hankie was embroidered with the words, “Yes, Lord!” 
 
I wept one night as God’s Spirit moved upon thousands of women at the same time, and those hankies waved wildly across the auditorium. My own hankie, wet with tears, was among them.
 
When we have a heart for God—a heart fully surrendered—we are more inclined to obey Him. This is clearly shown in the contrast between Saul and David in the Old Testament. The Lord said David would be king because he had a heart after His own heart, a heart that would do all His will. 
 
David’s heart, which was God-centered and dependent on the Lord, was in contrast to King Saul’s heart. The prophet Samuel scolded Saul for self-will and pride, and noted Saul only obeyed to be seen by the people, not because his heart was right with God. 
 
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5. Concentrate on Doing Right.

5. Concentrate on Doing Right.

Daily, proactive concentration on and commitment to obedience helps us build a habit of obeying the Lord. 
 
Tim Grissom wrote in Life in Action, “Do not minimize the choices you make today… the choice to obey God in one thing makes it more likely that you will choose to obey Him in the next.” 
 
We are set apart, sanctified by the Spirit of God, so we can obey the Lord Jesus. That is God’s will for us. So we must not delay our obedience or put it off until a more convenient time. We must cooperate with the Spirit when He speaks, and concentrate on doing what is right—right now. Grissom notes, “The point of saying that ‘delayed obedience is disobedience’ is that ‘later’ means the same as ‘no.’”
 
I’m thankful for the Lord’s chastening. Just as that mother at Macy’s chased down and chastened her rebellious daughter, my God corrects me and disciplines me for my own good; it’s a proof of His love. God is not punishing me for my choices. My punishment took place at the cross. But He disciplines me to encourage me to be holy and obey Him, and to remind me of His loving mercy and grace.
 
When I don’t feel like obeying, I must be proactive to change my attitude. How? I can present my body to the Lord in the moment, set my mind on eternal values, and be teachable. The Lord will transform my mind through consistent study in His Word, allowing me to not only discern His will, but also to incline my own will to obey Him. 
 
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6. Connect Obedience to God's Glory.

6. Connect Obedience to God's Glory.

I believe there is a connection between our obedience and God’s glory. In the Old Testament, the Lord gave clear and detailed instructions for the building of the sanctuary and the tabernacle. He expected His people to obey (in Exodus 25:1-9, for example). And when the people did obey, “the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” 
 
God dearly loves His children and He understands we can’t enjoy the fullness of His love until we are fully obedient to Him, so He urges obedience for our good as well as His glory. Jesus is our example of obedience to the Father. The child of God understands that God’s instructions for obedience are not a burden, but a delight.
 
God is glorified when we respond to His sovereign will. He is our Lord, and He desires to benevolently reign over us. In saying He is our Lord, we commit ourselves to obey Him. This is fitting; God says we are not our own.
 
I belong to Him, and I am to love Him with all my heart, soul, strength and mind. To bring Him glory, I must learn to see every choice for obedience as important. As Grissom wrote, “Do not belittle what God has assigned to you, as if it will not matter whether you obey.”
 
John E. Hunter wrote of the many ways God’s people hinder His work and dim the light of His glory in the world, and one of these ways is through stubborn, rebellious disobedience. Hunter wrote in Limiting God, “Our problem is that we think we can serve two masters…. Obedience is a choice,” he said. “Who will you serve?” 
 
I would add, “Who—or what—will you worship?” It’s true that whoever we worship, that is who we will obey. And whatever we find most pleasurable, that is where we will cast our lot. In that sense, obedience is more a response of delight than duty.
 
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7. Continue to Obey—No Matter What!

7. Continue to Obey—No Matter What!

Developing a spirit of cooperation with the Holy Spirit will motivate us to obey the Lord regardless of our changing emotions and uncertain circumstances.
 
Lysa TerKeurst wrote, “When we ask God to continually give us the desire to remain obedient, He does. He will help us to want to obey Him … and will give us His power to do so.”
 
If we want to learn to obey God—no matter how we feel—we will discipline ourselves to be diligent and persevere. We will continue in the things we have learned, asking for wisdom and finding the truth, training and strength we need in God’s Word.
 
Dawn Wilson and her husband Bob live in Southern California. They have two married sons and three granddaughters. Dawn assists author and radio host Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth with research and works with various departments at Revive Our Hearts. She is the founder and director of Heart Choices Today, publishes Upgrade with Dawn, and writes for Crosswalk.com. Dawn also travels with her husband in ministry with Pacesetter Global Outreach. 
 
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