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"Be obedient for once"

“Be obedient for once.”

That was the phrase that popped into my head when I was just on the verge, just on the very edge, of doing something I knew I wasn’t supposed to do. In this case it was griping and complaining about someone I have often griped and complained about before. Previously, this phrase has popped into my brain for other chronic sins. It can be a real showstopper.

For the past few weeks I have been in full “learning what God wants from me” mode. I have prayed. I have read. I have prayed about what I read. And in all of that praying and reading (and some sharing with fellow Christians, including my patient and loving wife), I have started to notice that I’m becoming more aware of the problem. Me. I’m the problem. Big surprise.

I’ve already written about my trouble listening. It has been a recurring issue in my life, and I’m getting the message now that God doesn’t really approve of that. In fact, I’m pretty much getting the message that God wants me to actively change that little fault about myself. And to help nudge me along, He has started putting all kinds of stuff in my path. It seems that once you start listening for God, He actually has a whole lot to say, and you’re not going to be comfortable hearing all of it.

So every day, practically every minute of every day, I have an almost constant awareness of how I am thinking and acting. Whenever I do something that displeases God, He reminds me with a sudden burst of insight, which typically leads to me feeling guilty (or maybe convicted would be a better term?), and wanting to making amends.

That’s what has been happening every time I open my mouth to gripe about people or things that irritate me or annoy me or cause me to feel otherwise nonplussed. I start complaining, and I get into it just like I always have, tearing the non-present person a new one, and then … YAAARRRRGGGHHH! Guilt trip. Of my own creation, of course. I’m kind of thinking God doesn’t bother with sending you a guilt trip directly because He knows that if He just gently, quietly, firmly reminds you there will be a self-induced guilt trip on its way in now time. I can punish myself just fine, apparently.

Today, I’ve been on that trip several times. Throughout the day I have grumbled and mumbled, and started saying things to my fellow employees or to my friends or to my wife that I know, for a fact, I should not be saying. Before, when I would launch into these tirades, I hardly noticed. Yeah, eventually I would feel all tight in the chest and the back of the neck and across my brow. I might even feel a tinge guilty about being such a loudmouthed jerk. But for the most part the whole thing was automatic, and I hardly even noticed I was doing it.

This has changed.

Now, when I start complaining about people, places, things or circumstances, I almost immediately realize it. I’m aware of it, in a way that I’ve never been aware before. It hits like a sudden high wave in light surf. It sways me in my step.

And as I pay more attention to it, and as I obey God by putting a stop it when I realize this is what I’m doing, and I make some sort of amends in my effort to repent from it … well, wouldn’t you know, the “alert” just starts coming faster and faster. I’m thinking that eventually it’s going to pop up at the mere thought of complaining and griping.

That’s already starting to happen.

Today I had the opportunity to really dish about someone. I could have torn them to pieces in a series of text messages that I know, for a fact, would have been received with glee and laughter and maybe even applause. I could have used griping and complaining as a tool for bonding with a friend. We could have sneered and laughed together, just like old times.

“Be obedient for once.”

What? Wait … no! I mean … yeah, of course. Yeah. I’ll be obedient. For once.

And so I didn’t do it. I didn’t gripe. I didn’t complain. I didn’t dish.

That’s tough. In fact, it’s one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. I’m so used to being able to just spew whatever vile thoughts are in my head. Years of training. Years of practice. But now, as I remember Proverbs 3:6 (In all your ways submit to [the Lord], and He will direct your path), I’m slowly starting to overcome that training. I’m slowly, achingly, painfully starting to realize that God actually means it when He says, “Be obedient.” Who knew?

Well, OK. Everyone but me.

The last time this happened, when the voice said, “Be obedient for once,” and I was, things changed. A sin I have indulged in nearly my whole life suddenly had less force. It hasn’t gone away entirely. It has crept back in once or twice. But it went from a daily sin to a “once or twice” sin overnight. I’d call that progress. I’m working on 100%.

I have a theory about this little voice. I think it’s the Holy Spirit. It’s like a support beam for my conscience. It is bolstering me, keeping me upright. Or offering me a chance to stand upright on my own.

It’s funny, because just by “being obedient for once” I have seen progress in my character. Such a small request. “Just this once, be obedient.” Not forever. Not every second. Just right now. And doing that, it has made all the difference.

So I’m sure I’ll still fail from time to time. I’ll fall back on old habits and old sins. But that voice … I will hear it again, I know. And when I do, I’ll obey. Just this once. What could it hurt?

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Kevin Tumlinson is the author of numerous novels, novellas, and non-fiction books, and the host of the Wordslinger Podcast. Try three of his best books for free when you download his starter library at


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