I had fun with a Christian youth group I was with recently. I made up a story about a guy called “Christian A”. He says something like, “I am a Christian. I love God—at least I think I do. I want to serve God, I think. I am trying to follow God.”
Then God’s voice says, “Christian A—I want you to go serve at a homeless shelter this Saturday.” Suddenly Christian A is saying to himself, “Oh, man. This makes me sad. This Saturday is the Final Four basketball tournament! I’ve been waiting for months for this! Wow. I don’t want to do this!”
I then asked the youth their thoughts on Christian A. I got a lot of responses about how he should be excited about doing God’s will, about how he should be happy about it, about how he might not even be a Christian because of how he felt, etc. Things were pretty harsh on Christian A.
I then threw him into even worse light by adding, “Not only that, but then Christian A asks God to send someone else!” I had them rate, on a scale of 0 to 10, Christian A’s Christianity, with 0 being maybe not even a Christian, and 10 being Jesus-like. The answers were pretty brutal—in the 1-2 range, pretty consistently.
Then, I turned to Mark 14:33-36a, with Jesus in the Garden, facing His imminent arrest and crucifixion: And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch." And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me."
I asked them if anyone blamed Jesus for not being thrilled about taking on all sin, about being beaten and marred beyond human recognition, nailed to a cross, speared, mocked, hung up in barely any clothes, and all this by His own creation! Not one of them felt Jesus should be thrilled by that, nor did any of them condemn Him for that.
I then read them the last part of verse 36—the one that captures it all—when Jesus continues to the Father, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Therein lies, I believe, the pivot point. Our initial feelings may not be the most excited at paying the price, or bearing the cross, we might be asked to pay or bear—but it is what we do in spite of our feelings that will define the moment. James 1:14 tells us that, “. . . each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” At this point I believe it is only a temptation—we’ve got stuff in us that isn’t always perfectly aligned with God. James continues with verse 15 that tells us, “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” The temptation is not the sin, it is what we do with it—whether we give it life and let it “conceive.”
I realize the comparisons between Jesus and “Christian A” are far from perfect matches—and I know that most anyone could come up with tons of “yeah, but . . .” comments, and, “what about . . .?” questions to what I have said—but I think the youth got my main point as we talked. I think they realized how the voice of the enemy can condemn us when we aren’t initially thrilled with what God might ask us to do—how he can whisper how we are a lousy Christian, and maybe not even saved, if we aren’t thrilled at first reflection to do what God asks. Yet, we see that even Jesus had a moment when what was ahead in obedience didn’t make Him jump for joy . . . but He did it anyway, and those initial feelings didn’t make Him less of the perfect Christ, or in sin, because He didn’t live by those emotions, but rather by faith and obedience. I find comfort in that, because, if I am honest, my imperfect love for God falters enough that I don’t always initially want to do what I know He is asking me to do. Anyone else ever feel that way?