"Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." James 1:22 (NKJV)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Danger of Doing What Comes Naturally

Last week's assignment was the holy kiss, which I observed with holy hugs for reasons that I explained at the beginning of last week. Some hug recipients (hugees?) posed an interesting question. Is a hug less meaningful when it is planned and not spontaneous? That question prompted me to ask a bigger one. Is obedience less God glorifying when it is planned and premeditated instead of naturally and spontaneously flowing from us? Here is my response.

The Myth of Spontaneity

No act of obedience to God is spontaneous. Humans don't, for example, have a service reflex, a charity reflex, or a mercy reflex. When we do what God says, then we've made a decision to obey Him. If we don't feel like doing what He's told us to do and give into that feeling of apathy or passiveness, then we've made a decision to disobey God. Neither obedience nor disobedience happens spontaneously or accidentally.

The Danger of Doing What Comes Naturally

Not only do humans not naturally do what is right, we are instinctively inclined to do what is wrong. If you don't believe this, have a child. Then, wait a couple years. A two or three year old is a great lesson in the doctrine of the sin nature. There is great danger in only doing what comes to us naturally. The danger is that our natures, whether we are Christians or not, are sinful and cannot be trusted. Paul said: "I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin." Romans 7:25. So, which should be trusted, our natural instincts which are sinful, or our minds that know God's law?

In Week One of The Project, I was convicted of having disobeyed the command to care for widows. I had failed to give my own grandma companionship, neglecting my duty to visit her at the nursing home. Since then, I've been visiting Grandma every Monday evening. To be honest, most Mondays I don't feel like going. It's not fun. Grandma doesn't remember who I am, and I have no reason to believe that she will this side of heaven. This doesn't mean that I don't love Grandma. Deep inside, I want to obey God and care for my Grandma. But, my natural inclination is to do the wrong thing, not the right one. There hasn't been a Monday yet when I felt a great desire welling up in me to go the nursing home. Would it be better then to be spontaneous, to do what comes naturally, and to not visit Grandma?

The kind of obedience that Jesus calls us to is the kind of obedience that exceeds what we naturally feel like doing. We're called to do many things that will never feel natural---like loving our enemies. Jesus asked, "If you love those who love you [which we might do naturally], what reward will you get?" Matthew 5:46. God is more glorified and our reward is greater, when we obey His commands despite what our natural instincts might cause us to do spontaneously.

Doesn't Planned Obedience Negate the Leading of the Holy Spirit?

In charismatic circles, we sometimes talk about being "Spirit led." This is NOT a bunch of charismatic mumbo jumbo. The Holy Spirit leads us, if we will tune in and listen. But, the main way that we hear from God is through His Word, which was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Waiting around for the Spirit to move us to do what God has commanded in His Bible is absolute nonsense. Rather, the greater our effort to humbly obey and submit to the Bible, the more clearly and frequently we will sense the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Obedience is the Kind of Worship that Requires Practice

In many churches, we use the word "worship" to describe singing praises to God. This is a particular kind of worship, but it is not all of worship. Worship is much bigger and more demanding than singing a song. In its highest form, worship is complete surrender to God---the offering of our bodies as living sacrifices. Romans 12:1. All of life is worship.

When we sing praises on Sunday morning we sing lyrics that have been carefully crafted. Those lyrics are set to a tune that has also been painstakingly composed. We are led in worship by a band that has met and practiced together. Even before the musicians meet to practice together they have spent a great deal of time (years maybe) becoming proficient at their instruments. There is much planning, intentionality and rehearsal involved in singing praises on Sunday morning.

If such planning is necessary to accomplish "worship" on Sunday mornings, then why would we ever think that we could worship God with all of our lives (which is infinitely more difficult) without practicing the art of obedience and surrender a bit at a time? How can we become virtuoso at lifestyle worship, if we don't first take time to learn the basic notes and chords? At the art of lifestyle worship, I am no virtuoso but a mere novice. Perhaps none of us ever get beyond novice status here on earth. One goal of this project, however, is to become more familiar with the basic notes.


  1. I feel as though perhaps you were able to go far beyond the holy kiss (or hug) and to cause not only yourself to consider the meaning of your actions to but us, as your readers. Thank you, Nathan. Though that isn't to say that the holy hug wasn't worthy of your obedient action, in and of itself, but the response was a pleasant surprise. And I always appreciate your genuine hugs. Perhaps I'll get one in the morning.

  2. Thanks, Nikki. I didn't know what I was getting into and only half understood why I was doing this. I'm learning a lot along the way.

  3. Totally relevant, Nathan. The bulk of our walk with Christ is making choices over and over again to do what we learn to be righteous through studying and digging in deeper to our Bibles, our prayer lives, and our church communities. If left to my 'spontaneous self', I would probably still be floundering in the sins of my dreary past.

  4. Thanks, Janele. I think we can't just drift along and follow Jesus. Being a disciple requires us to make difficult choices and sacrifices and to live intentionally