Spiritual Formation Thursday: Obedience


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Obedience is an important spiritual virtue; many Christians have expressed this throughout Christian history.  One of my favorite stories about obedience comes from the writings of the desert father (and mothers).

Story Time(!): There was once a desert monk, who was called John the Short.  He went to live with a hermit in the desert of Scetis.  His abba (spiritual father) picked up a dead stick, and then buried it in the ground.  The abba then told John, “Pour a jug of water over its base every day until it bears fruit.”  Now the place where John could find water was a long way off.  So far that John had to leave in the evening and did not return until dawn, to water the stick.  After three years of watering the stick every day, the stick turned green and sprouted fruit.  John’s abba then picked some of the fruit and took it to church and told the brothers, “Take and eat the fruit of obedience.”

I love this story, not because it has a miraculous aspect to it and I love those types of stories, but it shows not only obedience but fortitude and that God rewards those who believe he will act.  I am sure that John really hated walking to his water source every night, for three years!  I am sure that he did not sleep much during those three years and that he thought it was really dumb to water a stick every day.  A stick which was dead and just setting on the ground, until they walked by and then it was buried in the ground and getting water poured on it for three years.  But the abba possibly knew something that John did not or the abba just trusted in God that John’s obedience would produce something or be rewarded in some way.  The church was rewarded by John’s obedience.

This is not to say that every act of obedience will be rewarded like John’s was.  But obedience does change you; it grows you in your spiritual life.  A desert mother, Syncletica, has an amazing quote about this, “It seems to me that for those who live in monasteries obedience is a higher virtue than chastity, however, perfect.  Chastity is in danger of pride, obedience has the promise of humility.”  Obedience is an outside virtue; you obey and thus become obedient.  It is not an inward castle that you build up, like fasting, chastity, humility, and patience.  It is a virtue which is acted upon by other people, someone tells you to do something and you do it, without question or hesitation.  In this way you are giving up your own will, unlike the other virtues above you focus your will and start performing the virtues.  So obedience is almost always an act of humility by giving up self-will, for what is hopefully the good of the church or the growth of your spiritual life.

Question: Who are you obedient to, a spiritual director, parents, pastor/priest, spiritual mentor, etc.?  Do you have a story about obedience, want to share it? 

About Jesse

I am a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary with a Masters of Arts in Theology focusing on Church History. I am a Third Order Benedictine monk, in the Company of Jesus. I am married to a wonderful woman, we just had a baby Michaela Rose. You can follow me and be alerted of new blog post by following me on Twitter @jtalexanderiv. Or following this blog.
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