When Following God Doesn’t Work Out

by Laura on April 30, 2011

My husband’s not a schmoozer. He’s not one to say something for the purpose of inflating an ego, and he’s not one to walk-in-a-straight-line-and-follow-the-rules, either. He’s more of the envelope-pusher, hard question-asker, brutally-honest type-of-guy.  He’s the person you want for a friend {if you want someone with the guts to call you on your crap}, and he’s the guy you call when you need inspiration {if you want a faith that gets you off the couch}.

Honestly, he is the greatest leader I’ve ever followed.

But, sometimes.  Sometimes it’s hard to be married to a non-schmoozer.  Because people that don’t schmooz typically question the obvious, challenge the status quo, and risk the whole-kitty on conviction or vision.  And, this type of dive-deeper-living is consistently uncomfortable– especially for us don’t-rock-the-boat-so-much and just-be-nice types. And yet, as unpleasant as it may feel at times, my husband sees the world and faith and God in ways I so often miss.

For example.

The other morning we were talking over coffee, and Matt told me about a guy he spoke with– how this person heard God’s desire for his life, and followed in obedience despite great risk.  How this person’s story, post-hard-obedience, resulted in more money, greater blessing, and opportunities galore.

Essentially, stars aligned, ministry flourished, the calling was confirmed.

And the assumed conclusion from the conversation was an obvious one, and one which typically flies past unnoticed by my sometimes-naive view of practical theology —

If you follow and obey God, it will always work out for you.

And then, my other-side-of-the-coin-husband dropped the zinger that made me look through prosperity to see more gospel-truth. He said, simply {and with passion, because non-schmoozers are the convicted-kind}–

If you follow and obey God, it will always work out for God.  There’s no promise about it working out for you.


Yes, true.

Because some people obey God and their ministry falls apart.

Some people love others radically and end up divorced, anyway.

Some people step out of the boat in faith, and really nearly drown;

Some Christ-follow, and “fail.”

And I am reminded, once again, that there is no “if-then” equation with following God–

And maybe he never said there would be.

And maybe I’m really glad there isn’t.


Food for thought:  Do you agree with Matt’s statement about obedience?  What about passages in the Bible that do talk about blessings for obedience?  Do you think in Christian circles, we assume “successful” obedience has more merit than “unsuccessful” obedience?

photo credit: ben watson

  • http://www.everydayadventuresinfaith.blogspot.com Kim

    Well timed post for me to read.
    Sounds like our husband are cut from the same cloth.
    It makes for a wild ride for us ain’t-gonna-rock-the-boat gals.
    Guess it is a match made in Heaven!
    Love & Blessings from Hong Kong,

    • http://www.lauraleighparker.com Laura

      Kim– double date with you guys in Cambodia? Is that halfway? ha ha.

  • http://heathcotesafari.blogspot.com/ Miranda

    I think your husband should meet my husband: I oh-so-identify!!

  • Karen K.

    Hey Laura,
    Have enjoyed reading your honesty!
    “Unsuccessful Obedience” – hmmm, just because things don’t work out… does that make it “unsuccessful”? I like to think about it as… Sometimes following what God wants us to do does not make sense… but, His purposes are about… am I willing to be obedient, even when it doesn’t make sense. (Walking on water sure didn’t make sense!!) It’s about keeping our eyes on Jesus no matter what others say… because it just doesn’t make sense.
    I’m a “do-er”… and God haulted all that in a very devestating , life altering, “I just hate it” kind of way. He has me “STILL”… for a do-er, that is difficult. It just doesn’t make sense to have the gifting He has given me and here I sit… being “obedient”. The critical spirit of others makes this part of my journey even worse. It makes me really sad. HOWEVER, there is amazing blessing that is being “laced” together 11 years after that “haulting”… Obedience is about Trust, surrendering, seeing a vision, but having to sit back and watch God work in others lives when I could “do it”!! It’s about learning what may seem to be simple truths to others…and OWNING those truths and living them out. The peace, rest, calm and FREEDOM that comes from being obedient when it doesn’t make sense… I wouldn’t trade it.
    So, would I consider being “obedient unsuccessful”? Not on my end. I did my share of kicking and flailing… but once my eyes returned to Jesus… I rose above it… and walked on the water because it doesn’t make sense and that, to tell you the truth has been kind of fun lately!!

    • Tamara

      Whooooooooooo. Good. Really good. Gonna have to read it several times good. Thank you!

    • http://www.lauraleighparker.com Laura

      Wow, Karen, so much good, deeply learned lessons. I know you speak as a woman who has walked the fires and I am grateful to hear from your heart about this! I loved what you said about how others’ critical nature makes for harder Jesus-focus. Yes, I hear that. And I love your point about how you have learned the hard lesson of trusting GOD to DO what your own strength feels capable to do– what a unique humbling, rich tasting of God at work.

      Thank you a million times for commenting here . . . :)

      Still remember those hot summer nights out at Camp Joy!

  • http://kendalprivette.blogspot.com kendal

    i think matt’s statement is right on. i like it very much. it’s essential for understanding who god is. i do think that we are always rewarded for obedience, but that our idea of rewards is skewed. and our idea of the timing of these blessings is skewed. i get this in my head, but sometimes struggle to live it out. like when i think i deserve a car with air-conditioning, less than 180,000 miles on it and is not always filthy….see? skewed.

    • http://www.lauraleighparker.com Laura

      Wait, you don’t have a car with air-con? Even we “missionaries” aren’t suffering like that! ha ha. Just kidding. Thanks, Kendal– as always, love hearing your voice here . . .

      keep keeping on, sister.

  • http://www.wimberlys.blogspot.com Cheryl

    This was a good one. God doesn’t promise that the reward of obeying Him will be success in the world’s eyes, because that is essentially the health and wealth gospel. God doesn’t promise we will be safe, have a lots of money and enjoy material blessings. He promises abundant life – his definition of abundant life is not always the “success.” And although I know that’s, I still have a skewed view of what I think a reward, so I really appreciated this post. Great thoughts.

    • http://www.lauraleighparker.com Laura


      “God doesn’t promise that the reward of obeying Him will be success in the world’s eyes, because that is essentially the health and wealth gospel.”

      Totally what I was thinking, right? And where is “prosperity gospel” according to Jesus?

  • http://ponderinginthedesert.blogspot.com JoAnna

    So needed to read this message. Thank you! Yes, obedience is often difficult and there are no guarantees it will sprout earthly gain, like we hope, because, after all, we’re stuck on earth for the moment. But stepping out on faith, while scary, uncomfortable, and often avoided, brings with it a sense of confidence like nothing I can conjure up – just by myself. That, is the key for me when I’m unsure if I’m being obedient or just tempted. The rest, well, that’s a work in progress… :) I think it’s a good reminder to think of success the way God teaches us to, not the way the world does that we’re constantly having to unlearn.

    • Kim Starnes

      I love the statement .”..constantly having to unlearn.” That certainly struck a chord of familiarity in my heart .

      • http://www.lauraleighparker.com Laura

        Ooohh, me too. Liked that.

    • http://www.lauraleighparker.com Laura

      JoAnna, Hey Friend!! I know you have tasted this hard transition quite a bit over the past several years . . I love that you talk about the confidence that comes when obeying, despite circumstances that seem hard. And I LOVED that last line you wrote about having to “unlearn” the way we view success . . .

      love you friend, thinking of you as you get ready to move, again,

  • http://hopefulleigh.blogspot.com HopefulLeigh

    He hit the nail on the head with that one and articulated it so much better than I’ve been able to do recently. What a good reminder!

  • http://www.lifeisabowlofwedgies.blogspot.com/ Melody

    Wow, wow, wow…what an awesome post and what excellent questions you pose. I love the way you think and how you facilitate discussion here.

    “Do you think in Christian circles, we assume “successful” obedience has more merit than “unsuccessful” obedience?” I do think we interpret success this way many times. Early in ministry my husband read a book called The Success Syndrome and he says it was foundational for him in dealing with this topic. Having the smile of God on our work and being satisfied with that alone is not always easy especially when at face value it might seem unsuccessful or minimal in comparison to other ministries.

    I think sometimes we look for formulas and patterns when looking at God’s blessing. “In order to experience that grand outcome then I must figure out what I did to receive that blessing in the first place.” And we don’t mean to be works based but our thinking can end up that way when we try to identify the reason for blessing other than God’s grace in our life. It sounds like I’m not giving any weight to obedience and blessings that come as a result of that and I don’t mean to say that because God is clear that certain promises are a result of doing what He says but how we interpret blessing and how God does many times is different.

    • http://www.lauraleighparker.com Laura

      “Having the smile of God on our work and being satisfied with that alone is not always easy especially when at face value it might seem unsuccessful or minimal in comparison to other ministries. ”
      This was such a good piece of your comment. Loved the idea of our “success” being God smiling on our efforts, on the way we love and serve. It’s hard the the “ministry world” because there IS the comparison thing going on all the time. Dangit. And I think it can speak defeat to a lot of people who are really following Christ fully because their following isn’t “working out” in ways we can see– their ministry isn’t expanding, the money isn’t pouring in, etc.

      Thanks for entering the conversation– loved your insight.

  • Tamara

    GREAT post!
    Here’s a few things I believe: when we are obedient it ALWAYS works out. The success may not be within our framework of success, but the success is there nonetheless. Scripture promises rewards for obedience and faith but the “riches” we are promised may not be within our paradigm for riches, either!
    Now, this doesn’t mean I don’t yearn for the rewards that appeal to me at this minute versus the eternal ones!!! After all, we’re still HERE instead of THERE.
    Hugs and hugs to you and thank you for spurring us on to think and pray and rethink!

    • http://www.lauraleighparker.com Laura

      Tamara, loved that you wrote:
      “Now, this doesn’t mean I don’t yearn for the rewards that appeal to me at this minute versus the eternal ones!!! After all, we’re still HERE instead of THERE.”

      yeah, sometimes the “here” just isn’t all that fun, right?

  • http://www.agodthatmovesmountains.com Lexi

    Wow! Such a great post with so much depth! I so agreed with your husband, but it is difficult because so many in the church want to say that if something is “from God” it should be easy and “successful”. Thanks for the wisdom and thought to ponder/pray about more! =D

  • http://bahava.wordpress.com katy

    eish! this post has been staring me down because as much as i’ve seen it played out in my life…i don’t really like that it works out both ways!

  • ChacoRose

    Now into 34 years of full-time ministry, I believe that obedience to God IS our success. While in tribal ministry, people often asked us, “What is your success rate?” as if we could save people; and later, as if we could also count it our success if people followed through with biblical counsel. Christ came to do the will of the Father, and he was successful. He seemed like a failure to many, but his obedience was his success. I need to remember this when others evaluate our success: I’m not validated by the results – my obedience is my success, and my offering to God.

    • http://www.lauraleighparker.com Laura

      ChacoRose, You speak as a woman who KNOWS, from the trenches, from experience. Thanks for sharing it with us, and with me, the newbie! It feels crazy to talk in terms of the Spiritual Realm with titles such as “success rate.” Doesn’t that just feel wrong, somehow? And defeating to those in the daily grind of loving a culture, not their own. Thanks for commenting, and I hope to hear your voice again. . . . we’d be blessed by your wisdom.

  • http://www.angiewashington.com @ngie

    That’ll preach! Working out for God in the eternal scheme of things means working out for our good. You asked about scriptures. One that sticks out would be Romans 8:28 “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Thanks for sharing your journey.

    • http://www.lauraleighparker.com Laura

      Yes, how could we have this discussion without Romans 8 28, right? Thanks for adding this, friend. Sometimes i think I talk too much, and don’t go to the Source to do the talking . . . :)

  • http://www.stumblingaroundinthelight.com Teri @ StumblingAroundInTheLight

    Totally agree. Totally sucks.
    But what am I gonna do about it?

    • http://www.lauraleighparker.com Laura

      Yes. Totally. Sucks.

  • Lisa L.

    “Thou He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”

    Yeah. That’s the verse that comes to mind. Am thinking also of the journey Joseph had to take. That was no short, easy walk around the block.

    I’m reminded of my favorite author, Bob Sorge, and his two books that go together, “The Fire of Delayed Answers,” and “The Fire of God’s Love.” How God comes to test our love for Him. His timing. His ways. Our motives. Everything.

    I think your husband hit it on the head.

    GOOD. stuff.

    • http://www.lauraleighparker.com Laura

      Lisa, a good reminder about having a trust that defies circumstance or suffering . . . trusting, even if “he slay me.” Beautiful word . . .

  • http://www.unitedhere.blogspot.com carin

    We are married to the same kind of men:0)
    I agree with what he said.
    Thanks for this post it was great!


  • http://www.ourwrightingpad.blogspot.com richelle

    so, i’m your husband’s personality and my husband is the don’t rock the boat type… sometimes makes it hard to be an obedient, submissive wife – but he does keep me out of a lot of trouble and he has learned to listen to my perceptions of issues. :-)

    i’ve spent some time thinking about matt’s statement. i think i mostly agree, but that is because we mere humans tend to think of things working out… being successful… in a worldly, temporal sense.

    real, close to home example: our 2 year old is in the midst of a treatment for combo malaria and typhoid. she wouldn’t have been exposed to either of those two diseases were we not obeying God, following Him to this place, making it our home and seeking to serve Him here. thankfully, God, via the wisdom of medical intervention, chose to heal her. yet, would we have been considered unsuccessful as parents and as followers of God (i.e. must have unconfessed sin, etc., etc., etc.,) if He’d chosen not to allow her to remain with us? i can promise you, i wouldn’t have felt very successful if things had turned out differently – each decision we made was done with prayer… and we believed we were doing what God wanted… but what if???

    on the other hand, when we obey, we are guaranteed success… in God’s eyes. we don’t always understand His goals and purposes, but we can be confident that He will not allow the righteous to fail – in His economy.

    and isn’t that the challenge? – we want to keep that one foot in heaven, looking at eternal goals and perspectives and God’s will and His glory… but at times that so conflicts with our temporal, foot attached to a partially sighted person who can only see dimly, which is still firmly planted in this world… and will be until He brings us into His presence.

    thanks for your provoking thoughts and questions, Laura

    • http://www.lauraleighparker.com Laura


      It’s one thing to talk about “unsuccessful” obedience in light of living in a small house or losing a job– it feels like a whole different ball game when we are talking about the health of our kids, doesn’t it? What happens when following Christ means one of our children dies? This was the very real sacrifice of so many of the early missionaries, and is the sacrifice now of those in the underground/persecuted church around the world. I love this honest question . . .

      “each decision we made was done with prayer… and we believed we were doing what God wanted… but what if???”

      I think you hit the nail on the head. Each decision, with prayer, doing what we think God wants, as best we know how . . . and then leaving the “what if’s?” to Jesus . . . .

      Thanks for this honest response from one truly in the trenches . . . love hearing your wisdom . . .

      • Chandra

        “you hit the nail on the head. Each decision, with prayer, doing what we think God wants, as best we know how . . . and then leaving the “what if’s?” to Jesus . . . .”

        Thank you for writing this. I am being stretched the most I ever have been (and sometimes it brings doubt and confusion). I’m dating a man who pastors, and it is uncomfortable being the “voice” of God b/c 1) God can’t get his attention; 2) God is confirming what he already told the man, but he refuses to do it because it contradicts what he wants to do.

        He is hurt that I decided to live a celibate life. I can’t blame him. I know he felt blind-sided (and this saddens me because I take no pleasure in hurting him). Yet, if I had it to do all over again I would still say no to us continuing in pre-marital sex. He’s hurt & angry. I’m hurt & angry. Yet, when I gave him an out, he didn’t take it. I continually pray Eph 2.10 & Phil 2.13. That he was not created to fall but to live the victorious life that God created for him before the foundations of this world. I’ve thought, “I’ve seen my married friends grit their teeth and bear the burden of working through difficult times with their spouses b/c they “had” to. He’s not my husband. I’m not obligated to pray for him. Just forget about him and leave!” But within me, I believe that Satan wants me to become discouraged, wash my hands of it, and to stop interceding b/c it ensures that he remains deceived and continues in sin.

        Does this mean that my praying for him will lead to his submission (YES! Else I wouldn’t have need of faith.) Does this mean that we’ll be together. Not so sure. At times not sure I WANT to be with him. Could I handle it if I prayed for his growth and he shares his new faith with another woman. Not so sure. But I choose to leave the “what if’s” with my heavenly father. I am reminded of Peter, after hearing he would be a martyr, asking Jesus about the disciple that he loved. Christ said, “what is that to you? Follow me.” So, I guess I can’t be preoccupied of who may come after me and receive the benefits of “my” labor. I gotta do what I believe I’ve been commissioned to do.
        Pray for me.

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  • http://fylliska.blogspot.com/ Phyllis

    I know this is an old blog post, but I just came across it, and I can’t get it out of my mind. I quoted you and wrote my response here:


    • http://www.lauraparkerblog.com/ Laura Parker

      Thanks, Phyllis,

      I appreciated your connection with this . . . and thanks for your work encouraging other missionary moms! :)

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