Wanting is an interesting concept. First, it’s emotionally driven; what I want today may be completely different from what I want tomorrow—or even in ten minutes. Out of control “wanting” is incredibly destructive. I remember back in the seventies, a company called Household Finance used to have a commercial that had a tag-line in it saying, “When you want something long enough, it can become a need.”
Uncontrolled “wants” can weaken our will. Yet a mature person has the ability to live a life which constantly strengthens their will. This means we must deny our wants: no piece of cake, no new car, not purchasing something which cannot be paid for this month, and on. It is the denial of our wants which strengthens our will.
For those of us who know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, the most striking example of the “want vs. will” battle is found in theGospel of Luke 22:39-46. In this passage, we see Jesus Christ, the Son of God—who is God—struggling in the Garden of Gethsemane with His approaching death as He prayed to the Father.
Almost everyone who has ever attended church, Sunday School or even Vacation Bible School as a child is familiar with the events of this story. Jesus, who was fully man and yet also fully God, experienced the human condition to its fullest extent. “Sure, He experienced everything every human experiences!” No, that’s inaccurate.
Far too often, we are tempted with something (think a “want” here) and we fail and give in to the “want.” Jesus Christ, coming as the second Adam and being Virgin Born so He would be able to demonstrate what perfection really is (Adam and Eve were created perfect, yet because they sinned, we do not know what perfection is through the human condition), experiences every temptation just as every human does, yet He—Jesus—experiences temptation to the full and He defeats and overcomes it!
Who do you want to tell you what it’s like to run a marathon? The guy who starts and then quits half-way through the race (“You cannot believe how brutal a marathon is!”), or the guy who starts, finishes and wins the race (“Yeah, it was brutal, but the winning is incredible!”)?
So, Jesus Christ, in the Garden of Gethsemane, struggled with what He wanted and the will of God. No one who is sane would want to die the death of crucifixion at the hands of the Romans. There in the garden His prayers were so intense that Luke records, “And being in agony He prayed more earnestly; and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
Now here, I must point out a not-so-minor peeve of mine. Jesus did not sweat drops of blood! I cannot count the number of teachers and pastors who claim He did. I have even heard long medical lectures about how if anyone ever does sweat drops of blood, then their death is immanent. First, Luke clearly stated “His sweat became like great drops of blood.” This is a simile, an extremely useful literary tool which enables the reader to have greater sensory appreciation for the event they are reading.
Second, and perhaps even more important, if He had sweat blood then His sacrificial death would have been unacceptable. The sacrifice had to be perfect in order to offer it to the Lord. Under the Levitical code, all sacrifices must be of the “firstfruits”—the best of the best and without any blemish.
If you’ve ever been Savannah, Georgia in the summer—or any other location where the heat and humidity are above ninety degrees and ninety percentile, our sweat is like we are sweating blood because of the increased salinity of our perspiration which in turn, increases the viscosity of our sweat. But I digress….
What we are witnessing in Christ’s struggle in the Garden is His struggle between His want and His will—and who alive has not struggled like this? There are times when even in our fallen selves we have, by God’s grace, overcome our desires and our wants and have exercised our will to not give in to the temptation we are facing.
Yet allow me to point something out for our further consideration: as God, Jesus could have exercised His will—yet he chose not to! Jesus Christ while asking for this “cup” of torment to be removed by the Heavenly Father, this suffering Jesus as God submitted Himself as a man to the Father’s will even though as God, He could have exercised His will as well and avoided the Cross.
The love God demonstrated on the Cross—the Father’s giving of His Son to die and the Son’s giving of His own life—was not a choice made at the last moment; this was a willful choice made in eternity past for Jesus to die in my place and in yours. Jesus did not want to die. Jesus, because of the love of the Father, Son and Spirit, made the choice in eternity past to demonstrate how much God loves us so we have the opportunity to live with Him forever.
If we desire the ability to exercise more “will” and less want, we too must make our choices now. Not in the moment of “want.”
As I mature (I opted for this rather than “grow older”), I am discovering very few decisions I make must be made at a specific moment. When we can conclude we are not really “hostages of the moment,” we grant ourselves the opportunity to place our impending decision in its true context. We can look around at what else is occurring in our life, we can talk to trusted friends, and we have the ability as believers in Jesus Christ to spend some time actually praying about our situation.
Fighter pilots are some of the most talented multi-taskers in the world. They are flying a multi-million-dollar machine, capable of doling out unimaginable destruction on whatever target they choose. Today, pilots have access to a mind-boggling amount of data presented to them through screens, auditory signals, and HUD’s. All the while, they can be hurtling through the air at speeds far exceeding the sound barrier.
One of the most dangerous problems a fighter pilot of today’s modern aircraft can face is something called target fixation. Target fixation occurs when the pilot becomes fixated on an approaching target—whether another airplane or a ground target—and their concentration causes them to lose the ability to comprehend where they are in time and space.
When this occurs, the pilot doesn’t realize how quickly they are closing on their target. They have forgotten to pay attention to where they are, and more importantly, how close they are getting to their target! Because of this fixation, the distance between them and their target goes unnoticed and ultimately they can fly into the very target they are trying to destroy—a bad day all around!
Few of us are pilots; so, it is unlikely we would ever be subjected to the circumstances producing this kind of target fixation. Yet all of us are guilty of being far too close to our problems and losing any sense of importance and context.
Up close, all problems look huge because we cannot have any sense of perspective. How can we, since all we can see is the problem? A crisis this large demands an immediate response! This person at work could ruin our career! My wife doesn’t understand how necessary this motorcycle is to how I define myself! The salesman will sell it to someone else if I don’t buy it now!
The writer of Hebrews 12:2 in the New Testament of the Bible writes this: “Keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.”
Many people would understand and even acknowledge that Jesus Christ is our example in how to live our lives. These same people would, however, never believe their situation deserves to be included under the example of the life Jesus lived. Yet in this verse, there are two very important points.
First, the writer opens with a command to those who have a relationship with Jesus: we are to keep our eyes on Him! Why? Because He is the source of our faith (Acts 4:12: “There is salvation in no one else”) and His life completed or finished a life of perfection and obedience to the Father (“perfecter of our faith”).
Second, what motivated Jesus Christ to be able to be our example? Because Jesus saw the problem which was before Him on the cross but He also could see the “joy that lay before Him” because He looked past the suffering of the cross (unimaginably horrible yet brief in comparison to eternity) to the eternal glory of being at the Father’s right hand on His throne!
The next time a decision “just has to be made this moment,” let us remind ourselves to keep our eyes on Jesus! None of us are facing a cross or even death. Yet if we make the choice to discipline ourselves to keep our eyes focused on Jesus Christ, we will never again fixate and obsess on a problem and crash into it!
No problem is ever longer than eternity; our bigger than Jesus Christ!
Ok, sure, I’m a pastor……
While some of you make think that’s great, far fewer may think it’s cool and perhaps many of you may think I only work one day a week, I can boil the most visible part of my job (the teaching part) down to a very simple parallel: I’m a mailman.
Now unlike the guy who drops off your mail at your home or business, I read your mail; I read it for my information and I in turn read it to you. I have even gone to school to learn how to read your mail properly and accurately! I have become an expert in reading your mail because the mail of yours which God has sent to you was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek! I guess I am an expert at reading God’s mail addressed to people!
Now since it is the Bible which identifies what sin is (at the behest and will of God) I am bound by my relationship with God through Jesus Christ the Son to deliver His Word (His mail, if you will) truthfully. For me to not tell you what His Word identifies as sin would lack integrity and love. It lacks integrity because I am purposely and willfully hiding the Truth of God from those who want and need to hear what God says. It lacks love because I do not really love you if I won’t tell you what God says.
The Bible says divorce, lying, cheating, murder and overeating (among others) are all sin. It also says homosexuality, abortion and same-sex sexual relationships of all kinds are also sin. All of these actions (and I have not listed them all) are all sin and God views them all equally as rebellion against Him.
Remember, I’m the mailman!
Do I believe these things are sin? Yes I do. I also believe the Bible when it says, “All have sinned and missed God’s intended target of perfection (sinlessness).” Even in the Jewish Old Testament (the first part of the Holy Bible) a prophet many hundreds of years before Jesus stated, “There aren’t any righteous people anywhere; everyone has sinned.” This means every single person is guilty and there isn’t a single human anywhere who isn’t guilty of sin—we are all equally guilty!
This means when I identify a particular act as sin, I must do so knowing there isn’t any sin the Bible identifies which would be beyond my ability to do. I am capable, under the right circumstances and the right temptations to engage in overeating, divorce, homosexuality and lying. True, some things are fairly easy to do while others may take much more motivation, but I am capable of any and all sin.
So this is where I am: I’m a full-blooded human with all of the capabilities and predilection to commit sin. I am also a pastor; I am fulfilling God’s design and plan for me through ministering to people and teaching them about God’s Word and the good news of His Son. My role often means I put on my “Captain Obvious” cape and identify as I teach the Bible what the Bible calls sin.
Yet this is the important part: I must do so without personally judging anyone in the process. If it wasn’t for God’s grace and His power in my life (it’s all God and Jesus!) I could be caught up in the same things the Bible states is sin. If I am who I claim (a pastor and a believer in Jesus Christ) then there should be evidence of my claim. If I live like there is no evidence of who I claim to be, at best I am a liar and at worst I am severely deluded!
Why is any of this important? Because as I live my life, I am to make Jesus real in an unreal world! This world is unfair, unjust, cruel, brutal, out-of-control and often incredibly stressful. Believers (those with a relationship to God the Father through Jesus Christ the Son) must hold their faith and their testimony to others carefully and gently. We must desire to have every part of our lives testify and proclaim who Jesus is in our life.
This also means we must understand even in our obedience to God’s Word and His Son we must allow those who do not believe as we do see the love of God in our life. Will this remove all of the misunderstanding and hatred we may face because of our desire to be obedient?
Unfortunately it will not; just as there will be those who will absolutely hate my identification of what some people are doing as sin even in this blog, I have to remember it really isn’t about me. I am to obey and sometimes in the process of obedience, I will become a target of opportunity by those who dislike what the Bible (and me in this context) says.
Yet they better see God’s love in everything I do. Otherwise, I am in danger of being judged by the same God I claim to be serving!