Unseen Fruit of Obedience

Published on January 18, 2010 by CT in Blog, Stories

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This is Part 2 of the Unseen Fruit of Obedience Series (Part 1 was titled “Go Tell Him I Love Him”)

I woke up as the hurricane struck right outside my window. It was 4am, and the wind howled like a pack of a thousand wolves.  I was awake almost instantly, wondering if the walls would hold or if they would give way to the ferocity outside my window.

I guess I should clarify.  It wasn’t hurricane season, and I was in my bed in Northern Virginia, and we don’t get hurricanes here at all.  So I guess it wasn’t really a hurricane.  But it was the hurricane equivalent for a land-locked area in the dead of winter.  I suppose I could just call it strong wind.

So there I was, with the strong wind threatening to knock down our walls, and I found myself in one of those situations where I felt like God was speaking to me.  The previous night, my mom and Anna and I had gone to see The Blind Side, the story of a wealthy, white family taking in a young, black man who was in need.  It was a beautiful story; when we left the theater, both Anna and I were on the lookout for someone to adopt—we were that moved.  So at 4am, it seemed as if God was asking me to get up, get in the car, and go for a drive.

I’m overly sensitive to prayer right now.  I’ve been reading Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, in which he talks about the spiritual disciplines with a depth I do not know, and I’m thinking he’s either on to something with this book or he’s a nutter.  I lay there in bed, with an image of the little neighborhood market from the previous story in my mind.  I decided to just go for it, believing God was capable of sending me back to bed if He wanted.

As I left our apartment complex, I began thinking I might be crazy.  What was I doing out here?  It’s 4am; nobody’s awake but me.  But I drove anyway, got to the market, and found no one.  I walked around the entire building—still no one.  So I got back in the car.  Another store in the area came to mind, so I drove there.  Still no one.

I began thinking this was all a mistake, that I’m hearing things in my head that aren’t from God.  I began to question whether or not I could even hear from Him at all.  I suppose crazy people don’t get up at 4am to go look for someone to take in or share the gospel with, so maybe that means God was in this after all, but then again, maybe they do.

I don’t want to have an Unseen Fruit of Obedience series.  In one sense, obedience with no visible payoff tends to cast doubt in my mind the next time I think I hear a command to obey.  But in another sense, I feel a peace that God is working in my life and that He’s doing a thousand things I cannot see.  My job is to keep obeying.

This story actually ended with disobedience.  As I drove back to my house, I went by the neighborhood market once more, and I saw a Papa John’s delivery truck in the parking lot, and it seemed God told me to go over and ask the delivery man if there was some reason God would have sent me to him that night.  After 10 minutes of sitting there, I bailed.

Maybe things would have been different if I obeyed.  Maybe not.  But I learned two things that night.  First, God has compassion for those in need.  The blistering winds that night made me think of all the people in our city and in the world who need a place to stay, and I feel impotent to help them, but I don’t want to ignore the question I posed to God as I sat in my car:  “What can I do?”  Second, God produces fruit I sometimes cannot see when I obey.  How do I know this?  I don’t—but I believe it all the same.  “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

I want to abide in Christ, so that I might bear much fruit for His glory and my joy, whether it’s fruit I get to taste and see or it’s fruit that God is producing in ways I’ll never know about.  God grant me the grace to live this kind of life, even if it’s at 4am.

Question:  How do you react when you obey God and see no immediate payoff?

  • Melanie Redd

    Hey Chris,

    Great story! And, timely for me. Thanks for the reminder to keep on obeying even when you don't "see" any fruit! Your words are a blessing to this old teacher (of yours)!

    M. M. Redd

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Chris_Tomlinson Chris_Tomlinson

      Thank you for your note. And just so the world knows–this isn't just any old teacher, but my favorite teacher! Thanks MMR…

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Chris_Tomlinson Chris_Tomlinson

    PS– You might not get hurricanes, but you could get tornadoes…at least there was one last time I was there!

  • Elizabeth

    Hi Chris,
    Thanks for sharing such a personal story. I guess my reaction in situations where I've felt I've obeyed God, only to see it blow up in my face (or at least seemingly blow up in my face) is to become discouraged. The Bible makes it clear that people will actaully hate us because of Christ, so it makes sense that when we serve Him, share about Him, even talk about Him, we will face rejection. Well, I'm afraid of rejection, so when I face it, I get discouraged. And then I wonder, who am I really trying to please here– men or God? And then I just get more down on myself. Sorry this wasn't a more uplifting answer, but you asked how we reacted, and sadly, that's how I react most of the time. Anyway, this is a great discussio topic, and I hope others will share their experiences and feelings as well.

    Thanks for sharing!
    -Elizabeth

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Chris_Tomlinson Chris_Tomlinson

      Rejection–that's a tough one for me too. And I just don't get it sometimes. Why is the fear of rejection sooo strong sometimes? In retrospect, it's an irrational fear; in the moment, it's overly compelling. It's good to know God doesn't get down on us–we're loved! But I hear ya…

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/dianemichaelis dianemichaelis

    Hi Chris,
    I really enjoyed this blog. I've been reading Spiritual Disciplines too and I feel like God has been impressing on my heart to pray for healing for someone. However, I'm completely freaked out and definitely questioning God! I know our God works in mysterious and amazing ways, so we'll see what happens. Anyhow, even though you didn't talk to the Papa John delivery person, your story was inspiring to begin to take the first steps of obedience in uncertain circumstances.
    -Diane

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Chris_Tomlinson Chris_Tomlinson

      Diane, thanks for checking in and for your encouragement. And please do let me know what happens as God continues to work in your heart on your freaking out task–sounds terrifying and encouraging all at the same time.

  • http://5minutesplease.wordpress.com/ Krista

    My story is not about directly witnessing, but more so that of being available as a servant of God.
    First, I wonder when DO I obey God? When it is convenient for me?
    I was at the thrift store Friday. I over heard a senior woman say that her purse was stolen while in the store! I had my three yr old with me. I thought that there must be some way I could help. That truly was indeed my first thought–that I could help.
    BUT, then I checked that clock. Did I have time to help? How long COULD it take? Is that sad?
    I was able to help. I did have to enlist the additional help of my husband. I called and asked him to be home to meet our school age children, just in case I did not return in time.
    I helped "Karen" get some phone numbers, gave some advice and simply waited with her (and her friend) in case Karen's Plan A did not pan out. She was thankful and told me that I was her "security blanket."
    I felt good that I could help–albeit simply as her security blanket. Perhaps that's ok, if that is what God called me to do.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Chris_Tomlinson Chris_Tomlinson

      Krista, I'm glad you shared your story. One of my hopes is that this would become a place people felt comfortable sharing their own stories. I once read a book that talked about "obedience checks"–sometimes God asks us to do something, and when we obey, He blesses that obedience by bearing more fruit through us or deepening our faith. I don't know if this is always true. But I do suspect there are times when I walk away in disobedience and miss out on something God means for me. I'm glad you didn't walk away that night, and I hope that He reveals Himself to you more fully as a result. Thanks again for sharing…

  • Elizabeth

    I stumbled upon Psalm 44 this morning, and it seems to relate to this discussion. You have to read it all the way through to see where the obedience not paying off part comes in. I love the brutally honest emotion in this Psalm. I don't know that I'd be comfortable saying some of those things to God!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Chris_Tomlinson Chris_Tomlinson

      Wow. So obedience doesn't always guarantee immediate blessing.

      "All this has come upon us, though we have not forgotten you, and we have not been false to your covenant. Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps departed from your way; yet you have broken us in the place of jackals and covered us with the shadows of death."

      I do love the ending–the appeal is for God's help for His sake, not ours. "Rise up; come to our help! Redeems us for the sake of your steadfast love!"

      Thanks for sharing this, Elizabeth.

  • http://www.bluegillcreative.com Kelli

    Nutter! Ha! Now THAT's funny!

    So great to read this post and all the comments. I am also reading and re-reading/listenting to Celebration of Discipline. I hear Dallas Willard's book on the same topic is also great, but sometimes I feel like Dallas is NFL football and I'm still playing in the Pee Wee's.

    I am also about half way through Larry Crabb's Shattered Dreams… another one that deals with not having our hopes fulfilled the way we expected and/or wanted, even though we might be obeying. It uses the story of Naomi from the book of Ruth as his scriptural platform. It's quite terrifying actually to believe that our hopes might not be fulfilled until heaven. So difficult to remove ourselves from our small stories and see our lives as a part of a much, much larger metastory. And thing is… try as we might, God cannot be manipulated. I find some strange comfort in that actually. Again, I'm only about half way through the book.

    And oh… of course, The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis… another great one dealing with how little we understand about the big picture and how try to manipulate God to get our way.

    Sorry… no answers… only more questions. :-)

  • Mieke

    Yes i very much liked your story on obedience.For a long time I obeyed a "suggestion with pressure behind it"to e.g. Go and visit your neighbour and she would not be home..frustration,I can't seem to hear Your voice Lord..Over time I learned that often the Lord's voice will come like a spontanious thought, just out of the blue,a quiet inner knowing,no pressure.
    An example: I picked some flowers to bring to my neighbour,she was n't home,then": the thought came" why not bring them to the New lady who just recently moved in next door to her,so I did and out of that a friendship has developed
    Praying to reach her with Christ's love

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Chris_Tomlinson Chris_Tomlinson

      Mieke, wonderful example. I'm trying to figure out the still small voice as well. Thank you for sharing…

      • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/babsrn Barbara

        I was edified and encouraged by John Piper's take on the subject here: http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/TasteA...

        I quit with the "still small voice" concept when I realized that God doesn't mumble.

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/Chris_Tomlinson Chris_Tomlinson

          Beautiful. So I will go to God and His word and wait to hear His unmistakable voice. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://Website(optional) Name Lea

    Type your comment here…to often we think about the cost of obedience and not the cost of disobedience. That being said, we are human. Perhaps, focusing on who much we have (in Jesus) we could just overflow, and maybe not worry.