A lot of people (my former self included) balk at the idea of religion because they view it as a series of rules that we are forced to follow. If you consider yourself something of a non-conformist and don't do well with authority, the idea of there being a big, big, BIG book full of instruction (a.k.a rules) to follow once you sign on to be a Christian, it is tempting to not enlist in the first place. As I said when I was four, we are "not through being bad yet."
Bad seems fun. Good seems boring. Bad = exciting. Good = blah. Bad is easy; good is hard. That's what the world tells us, right? And to some extent our experience tells us this as well. From the time we are little we want to make the wrong choice. Hitting our sister in frustration feels better than sharing our toys with her. Eating a marshmallow pie gives us more pleasure in the moment than noshing on those carrot sticks. It's the way we're wired. As adults, though, we know that the consequences outweigh the benefits. When we grow up, hitting can land us in jail and cost us lots of money. Habitual eating of marshmallows over carrots results in obesity and all the health problems and disease that accompany it. This, too, is just the way things are. Bad choices = bad results is also part of the natural order.
God's rules are natural rules too. He wants our obedience, not because He is on a power trip, but because He wants good things for us. Good things come with good choices. If God is calling us down a specific path, it is because that path is laden with blessings. So we should go, even if we don't want to. Even if it isn't a very "sexy" path.
When I was younger I had dreams of fame and fortune. I pursued both music and acting and their accompanying lifestyles. I wanted what the world told me was freedom: to be able to do whatever I wanted to do whenever I wanted to do it, regardless of consequences. Even after the more glamorous dreams died down a little, the pursuit of selfish pleasure did not. In the midst of it, my life seemed exciting. It certainly wasn't boring and the choices came pretty easily.
It took a long time for me to see through the lie and, while I do have some funny and interesting stories to tell, they are just a fragment of a longer, tragic tale. I can laugh about those days, but if I follow that rabbit trail I ALWAYS end up at some memory I just would really rather have forgotten. There is nothing easy about the shame of facing people who you love but who you have betrayed. There is nothing fun about waking up in your own vomit, unable to remember where you are or how you got there. It's ugly, hard and really not glamorous. If I had to do it all over again, I wish I had just listened to God and obeyed from the get-go.
Baby Boy loves the story of Jonah. He retold it to me today and got me thinking about all of this. His retelling: "God said, 'Go!' Jonah said, 'No!' So a big fish eat him and then, 'blah,' spit him out. God said, 'Go!' Jonah said, 'Yes.'" Not only is this evidence that my church is awesome and my three-year old brilliant, but it also really sums the story up nicely. I was Jonah for way too long in my life. Like it or not, rebellion against or avoidance of God has bad consequences. While the Jonah story is definitely interesting and exciting, I'm sure being thrown off of a ship and eaten by a whale was not a pleasant experience. I'd imagine that, if Jonah was granted a do-over, he would skip that part and go straight to Nineveh, where God was telling him to go, the first time.
God's rules, the ones in the Bible, are simple. Jesus broke it down to two basic precepts: love God and love one another. Those aren't the rules of a dictatorial super-power who just wants to make us miserable. Those are the rules of a loving parent who hates to see us hurt. The trick is that part of loving God involves obedience. Part of loving each other involves putting our needs and egos aside and serving them with humility. Still for my part, I've had enough "belly of the whale" experiences to last me a lifetime. So, I'm going to obey the first time. When something feels wrong or I have a clear directive from God that it is a "no," I'm just not going to do it, no matter how much fun it seems. If I have a great temptation that shows a lack of regard for God or another human being, I'm going to get some help, from God and man, and resist it. I'm going to serve others even when it seems hard. I'm going to walk by faith and go wherever the Spirit leads me, even if the path isn't glamorous or even particularly exciting. Because it is finally more important to me to be happy than interesting. I desire more to be faithful than funny, more godly than glamorous. It may not be Hollywood Boulevard, but the road I'm treading leads to one paved with gold, where I will experience joy and peace heretofore unimagined. That's pretty exciting.