Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
In the school where I teach, every elementary school classroom prominently displays a sign that reads, “Obey right away and all the way—with a smile!” It succinctly states what is expected of every student: immediate and thorough obedience with a cheerful attitude. I am grateful to have students who take this rule to heart, but as any teacher can attest, there will always be students who will test the boundaries! These students are the ones who take the most of your time, attention, energy, and patience. And while the process of discipline (or discipleship) outlined in Deuteronomy 6:4 is utterly exhausting and never-ending, it can yield the sweetest and most rewarding moments of teaching. For it is in those times—when a child has a timeout during recess or must ask a friend for forgiveness and restoration is needed—that the gospel can begin to take root. They begin to see themselves as sinners in need of a Savior. However, it is easy to forget that I need to be on the lookout for students who do obey and are doing everything asked of them. It is easy to overlook the spiritual needs of the “rule followers,” who may think that they are acceptable because of their obedience. For such children, just as for us, the concept of grace is cheapened when we feel that we have to work for God’s favor.
There are two Biblical truths about obedience that stand out to me from my years of working with children. The first is that obedience is something we all struggle with, whether we are young or old in our faith. I am reminded of this as I see my students battling with the very same sins I am seeking to overcome. When I fume about traffic during rush hour, it is humbling to remember that I asked my students to wait patiently in line just a few hours ago! Whatever form the outward behavior takes, it boils down to being unable to deny our own desires and submit to God’s loving commands. Secondly, we as teachers, parents, pastors, or friends are freed from the responsibility of changing hearts. I am sometimes discouraged by a student’s lack of progress despite my best efforts to make a difference. But if the work merely meant following a checklist, then I’d be tempted to think that a changed heart was due to my work rather than God’s! Our job is to love and discipline in truth, but real change is a miracle made possible only by the Holy Spirit. Aside from God’s work that can “melt the heart of stone,” our efforts would only result in behavior modification.
Only one person ever obeyed right away and all the way with a smile. When we see Jesus’ perfect obedience to the point of death on our behalf (Isaiah 53:11, Hebrews 12:2), we can trust in God’s promises: He is not only changing our hearts now, but one day we will also live perfectly in His presence. — Charlotte currently attends Metro Presbyterian Church serving as the Choir director and is also a member of the music and leadership teams.