Six months ago, my wife and I were leading a “Footsteps of Paul” journey to Greece, Turkey and Rome.  We were walking out of St. John’s Cathedral in Rome (Bascilica de San Giovanni in Laternao).  We were on our way to the Vatican.  I asked our local guide one simple question:  If you had one minute to sit with the Pope and say anything you wanted to say to him, what would you say?  His immediate and passionate response was “Don’t tell me what to do.”  And then he unpacked that quick forceful statement with a plethora of examples: divorce, homosexuality, helping the poor and  much more.

Bascilica de San Giovanni in Rome


The day before while in Florence, we heard from another local guide that Michelangelo repeatedly said the same thing, “Don’t tell me what to do,” when the pope of his day gave instructions for painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and other church-related projects.  In fact, Michelangelo would purposely include small variations and subtle digs at the papacy in his paintings as a not-so-silent act of defiance.

Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michaelangelo

Human nature hasn’t changed in 3500 years. When Moses went to Pharaoh and asked him to let the Israelites leave slavery in Egypt and go to the Promise Land, Pharaoh essentially replied the same, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go?”(Exodus 5:2).  Don’t tell me what to do. It doesn’t matter. 3500 years ago, 500 years ago, 6 months ago or a week ago.  Don’t tell me what to do is alive and well. 

I find it easy to look at people of the past and think they just weren’t committed enough to Jesus and His ways.  They are flawed.  Not very mature.  But the truth is, it’s not just them.  It’s me too. Last week, a volunteer monitor at a photography conference leaned over to me during a session (I was looking up the price of a lens on my phone that the speaker was referring to) and she told me the light of my screen in the dark room was disturbing her and others. I wanted to respond, “Don’t tell me what to do.”  But I complied.  Yet, for the next five minutes, I was internally screaming, “DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO.” I was very tempted to lean over and tell this lady that her constant whispering to her friend was a whole lot more disruptive than my phone screen light.

This resistant refrain that invades our lives is rooted in human nature all the way back to creation.  Adam and Eve listened to Satan’s whisper, “don’t let God tell you what you can and can not do.  Go ahead and eat off that one tree He said to stay away from”(Genesis 3).  It’s still the same nature that deteriorates into domestic violence, road rage, assault and murder.  There is only one cure.  It is for me to be filled with the heart and nature of Jesus.  Philippians 2:5-8 says,In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very natureGod,did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;rather, he made himself nothingby taking the very nature of a servant,being made in human likeness.And being found in appearance as a man,he humbled himselfby becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Today, I’m asking Jesus to help me be more like Him. 


QUESTION:  How do you overcome the temptation to respond with “Don’t tell me what to do?”  

2 responses to “Don’t Tell Me What To Do”

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