I don’t even know if there is an official name for this training technique that we sometimes use in teaching autistic children. I have heard it referred to as First/Then. It’s pretty simple. You have something that the child wants such as candy, Play Dough, a toy, etc. This is known as a reinforcer. However, before they can have their reinforcer, there is something that you would like the child to do, such as work at the table, tie their shoes, give you eye contact, etc. The child may be reaching out for the desirable object that you have. The teacher will then say something like, “First tie shoes, then play with Play Dough.” The child sometimes complies pretty quickly or else he/she may have a tantrum. Whichever is the case, the child will not be rewarded with the reinforcer until he first completes the instruction of the teacher.
I find instances in Scripture where it appears that God dealt with people in this same manner. Consider the case of Naaman in 2 Kings chapter 5.
-Naaman had leprosy.
-An Israelite maid who worked for Naaman’s wife told him about a prophet of God that could heal him of his leprosy.
-Naaman went to Elisha the man of God to see what he could do about his leprosy.
-Elisha’s servant came to Naaman and told him that Elisha said to go wash in the Jordan River 7 times and he would be healed. It may have seemed stupid and degrading to Naaman’s human reasoning, but this is what God wanted him to do.
“First, go wash, then you will be healed.”
What did Naaman do? He got mad and threw a little tantrum.
2Kings 5:11 But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper.
2Ki 5:12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage.
Thankfully, this story has a happy ending. A servant of Naaman’s came and reasoned with him and convinced him to do what the man of God had requested. We know the rest of the story. Naaman was healed of his leprosy when he obeyed God’s prophet.
Consider the story of the rich young ruler in Luke 18:18-23.
-He was interested in eternal life.
-He asked Jesus what he needed to do to have eternal life.
-Jesus told him to keep the commandments, to which he responded that he had kept them from his youth on up.
-Jesus tells him to sell all his things, distribute his money to the poor and come and follow Him.
First sell everything, give your money away and follow me, then you’ll have eternal life.
Most of us would think of that as a pretty tall order, and apparently the rich man did too, for the Scripture tells us that he went away sorrowful. It may have seemed utterly impossible to this man’s human reasoning, but this is what God asked him to do. I heard a preacher say one time that this man did not have possessions, his possessions had him. I’ve wondered before what happened to this rich ruler. Did he somehow convince himself that it wasn’t necessary to obey Jesus? Did he think he could find another way to obtain eternal life? Did he ever come to his senses and repent? If he did, we have no record in the Bible of this happening.
Consider the woman of Samaria in John 4:5-28.
-Jesus had a conversation with this woman at a well and told her of the “living water” that could truly quench her thirst.
-After hearing about this the woman asked Jesus to give her the living water.
-Jesus tells the woman to first go call her husband and then come back. Actually, according to the Scripture, it would not have been possible for Jesus to give the woman the living water at this time. See John 7:37-39. Jesus knew there was something in this woman’s life that had to be dealt with first, and that was her sin. He still deals the same way with people. Before we can be filled with His Spirit, that living water, we first must acknowledge our sins and come before Him in true repentance.
-The woman tells Jesus that she has no husband.
-Jesus tells her that she’s right, for she has had 5 husbands now, and the man who she is currently “shacking up” with is not her husband. He did not use those exact words, but He was very direct!
I have seen some people come to our services, and they really seem to enjoy it. They love the lively, Spirit filled worship and seem to want what we have. They want to feel good, but when it comes to dealing with the sin in their lives, or obeying the Word of God and embracing the precious doctrines of the Bible, they are out the door. They may desire to be filled with the Holy Ghost, but they don’t want to obey God.
Acts 5:32 And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.
It really is simple. If we want the blessings of God in our life, we first must obey Him. There is just no other way around it, and the words to this old chorus sum it up perfectly.
Trust and obey
For there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus
Than to trust and obey.