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If I boil down the essence of obedience, it usually comes down to a battle of wills — a battle between God’s will and my selfish will. More times than I like to admit, my insistence that I have a right to do something drives me to disobey God. Yet so many of the people in the Bible teach us quite the opposite. 

This is what impresses me about Joseph in Matt. 1:18-24. He had his life planned out for the foreseeable future. He would marry this local girl Mary and they would live happily ever after. Except verse 1:18 tells us that before they came together “she was found to be pregnant.” Joseph responded as any Jewish man might have at that time and decided to act according to Jewish law which gave him the right to divorce her (Deut. 24:1). 

We get a sense that Joseph was a man who deeply desired to follow God. Verse 19 tells us he decided to quietly divorce her to prevent her from facing public disgrace. He planned to follow Jewish law yet he had empathy for Mary. But God had a different plan for Joseph.

In verse 20, an angel tells Jospeh in a dream, “do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Verse 24 tells us that when Jospeh woke up, “he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” Joseph decided to set aside his right to divorce Mary and instead obey God’s command.

Joseph modeled for us what obedience to God looks like in practice. He laid aside his selfish rights, his plans, in order to follow God’s commands. We should be willing to do the same by letting the Spirit of God guide us instead of our selfish will.

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I am a self-made man. I relish my achievements because they endorse how great I am. From job promotions, to bank accounts, to awards, to the accomplished lives of my children, I constantly seek endorsements that I am better than those around me. This arrogance is what elevates me above God. This is not an attitude that brings me closer to God.

It is in the hard times that I am brought closer to God and his purposes for my life. We do not welcome the struggles in life. As Paul writes in 2 Cor. 12:6-10, we plead for God to take them away, to remove the thorn in our flesh that continues to torment us. It is difficult for us to see that the challenges we face in life are there to help prevent us from becoming conceited.

It is so very hard to think that God places a thorn in our sides to prevent us from becoming arrogant. For months, even years I have prayed for a young soul to return to Christ. I have helplessly watched as this person’s life has spiraled out of control. I desperately try to help, but it seems all my efforts are in vain. I feel weak and humbled. Paul’s words in verse 9 resonate, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

It is not in my own abilities that I find the strength to manage hardship, it is in humble reverence to God that I find strength through Jesus Christ. When I am beaten down and worn out, that is when I am most open to the power of Christ within me. It is what Paul writes, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Jesus sacrificed himself to demonstrate the power of God to the world. On the cross He looked weak and defeated to the world. But through his death and resurrection, God’s power was made evident. Our ability to make Christ evident rests in our ability to die to self; to remain humble and not conceited. Paul’s words in verse 10 should encourage us: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” It is our acknowledgement of how truly weak we are to control this life that we find our true strength in Christ.

In the digital age, it’s easy to follow someone. With one click of a mouse, you can become a follower of most anyone on Twitter. A decision to follow Christ can be the same. Just click on the “follow” button for Jesus and read the scripture tweets each day. But a true follower of Jesus will go much further than that.

When the disciples decided to follow Jesus, they left behind everything to follow Him. Simon (Peter) and Andrew left behind their career as fishermen and followed Jesus’ call (Mark 1:16-18). James and John also left their fishing career behind to follow Jesus and left their father Zebedee and his hired hands holding the nets (Mark 1:19-20). Matthew immediately left his tax collection booth to follow Jesus (Matt. 9:9).

Their choice to follow Christ required self sacrifice. Imagine Zebedee calling after his sons as they walk away with Jesus, “Hey! Where do you think you’re going? There’s work to do here.” Imagine how Matthew felt when the Pharisees criticized Jesus for dining in his home with the likes of tax collectors and sinners (Matt. 9:11). To the disciples, this wasn’t some casual friendship. They left behind their old life and took on a new life with Christ.

A commitment to follow Jesus  means replacing self with Christ. It’s a decision that must be made each day. In Luke 9:23, Jesus tells the crowd, “If anyone of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross daily, and follow me.” (NLT) His promise is that if you give up your life for Him, you will find true life.

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