How good are you at following instructions? Some people, upon being told what to do, are obedient to the end. They don’t ask questions, nor are they easily distracted. They are focused and determined to comply with expectations. They function at a very high level when someone tells them what to do. Generally speaking, these people make great students, great soldiers, great employees. If they know the ground rules, the expectations, the mission, you can trust that they will get the job done – even in your absence. We love these people.
But some people, upon being told what to do, find obedience to be more challenging. Some are easily distracted, or require more information; others need a mentor or someone to lead them, or to prod them; still others are, quite honestly, stubborn non-conformists who will not follow any instructions but their own. Generally speaking, these people make difficult students, lousy soldiers, frustrating employees. They require a lot of attention. When you’re not looking, you can never be sure if they’ll get the job done – at least not on your terms. Sometimes, however, they make great leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs (the late Steve Jobs comes to mind).
I have a sense that most of us are somewhere in between – sometimes obedient, at other times non-compliant; focused, but easily distracted; pleasers and rebels all at once. It’s for this reason that I find the story of Exodus 32 so truthful and entertaining.
In the story, the Israelites, in the absence of their spiritual leader, Moses, convince the second-in-command, Aaron, to fashion a golden calf to lead them out of the wilderness. This is just days, of course, after Moses gave them the Ten Commandments, which included specific instructions on not making graven images of the Lord, and not worshipping idols. These people had already signed off on that covenant. They agreed to the expectations. They promised to follow the instructions of Yahweh. So, like Moses upon his return, you’re probably wondering what in the world is going on here?
We make a big mistake when we assume that obedience and faithfulness are one and the same. You can do what you are told (or what you agreed to do), but that does not necessarily mean that you love or respect the one who tells you to do it. Moreover, you can say you are loyal to someone, even that you love them, but if you do not live up to expectations or contract to which you agreed, your loyalty is worthless, and your love, powerless. In the end, God takes no great pleasure in our ability to merely follow the rules, but in our growing capacity to love that which God loves.
How good are you at following instructions – especially those that have to do with the expectations that God has for your life (like righteousness, charity, generosity, mercy, to name a few)? I think you can tell, in part, by the number of golden calves in your life. We all have them – our careers, our politics, our wealth, our past successes or our future dreams. None of these are necessarily bad things. But they often demand of us the love and obedience that belongs only to God. Jesus said it best: where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.