Recently, every week I’ve been visiting a young man in our local county jail. He’d never been in trouble with the law. He had a squeaky-clean record. In addition, he’s a nice guy.
Now he is awaiting sentencing, facing the real possibility of fifteen years in federal prison. He has three kids at home. All of this happened because of a series of extremely poor choices entailing these devastating consequences.
In such situations, it’s hard not to think something simple: “If only he’d chosen differently.”
“Not my will, but yours be done”
I’ve thought a lot since Easter about Jesus’ experience in the Garden of Gethsemane. The most consequential spiritual battle of all time occurred in that garden the night before the crucifixion. All of the forces of darkness were focused on Jesus’ choice that night, tempting him to relent. “I don’t want to do it! Take this cup of suffering from me,” he prayed (cf. Luke 22:42).
The suffering he wanted to avoid was not primarily the cross but the necessity of becoming sin so that we might become righteous. Jesus, who knew no sin, would become sin in order to free us from its power and penalty. He would, for the first time in all eternity, experience how separation from his “Abba” felt.
When it came time, he didn’t want to do it.
But then he said to his heavenly Father, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
I had not thought much about the fact that, at that moment, Jesus’ will and God’s will didn’t match up. Ponder that.
Jesus did not want to do what God wanted him to do.
Have you ever struggled with doing something God wants you to do? Of course, we all have.
Pastors struggle with God’s will too
Sometimes, people assume pastors don’t struggle with resistance to God’s will. Anyone who assumes that obviously doesn’t know their pastor very well. If Jesus faced that temptation, anyone could find themselves in that dilemma.
Jesus took his struggle directly to the Father. We should emulate this pattern. Overcoming disobedience starts by being honest with God about the temptation. Jesus was honest and ultimately chose his Father’s will. Thank God!
Jesus won the victory for us on the cross and through his resurrection, but he won the spiritual battle, his battle, on his face in the Garden. After that, he resolved to fulfill his mission.
My dad was a great pastor and preacher. In my thirty-two years as a pastor and preacher, I quoted him many times. One of my favorite quotes was, “If you will do things God’s way, your life is going to turn out a lot better.”
How simple and true.
My way or God’s way
The choice is obvious! My way or God’s way? No-brainer, right?
But what about when God tells us to forgive people who have hurt us deeply or to love someone we don’t like? The conversation goes something like this:
Gᴏᴅ: “Forgive that person who has wronged you.”
Me: “Are you kidding me, Lord? You know what this person did to me!”
Gᴏᴅ: “Yes, I know.”
Me: “I don’t want to do that.”
Gᴏᴅ: “I know that, too. Thank you for being honest. That pleases me and doesn’t anger me. What matters is not what you think or feel or what your heart tells you. What matters is what you do with my command. You don’t want to do this? That’s not a problem.
“Do it anyway.”
Life turns out better
Pastors/leaders are confronted daily with things we don’t want to do. Sometimes, those are things God wants us to do. It’s okay not to want to do something. It’s not okay to say no to God. Do it even if you don’t want to do it, and it will be helpful to do it with a humble, grateful, courageous attitude.
Obedience to hard commands from God is the best way to teach others to do the same.
The greatest, most unexpected blessings come when obedience is chosen over “I don’t want to.”
If only he had chosen differently. If only we would choose differently.
Life turns out better when we do it God’s way.