Jesus didn’t do it all. Jesus didn’t meet every need. He left people waiting in line to be healed. He left one town to preach to another. He hid away to pray. He got tired. He never interacted with the vast majority of people on the planet. He spent thirty years in training and only three years in ministry. He did not try to do it all. And yet, he did everything God asked him to do.
Doing More for God
I understand there are lazy people out there who need to get radical for Jesus. I understand that many people are stingy with their resources and fritter their time away on inane television shows. I understand there are lots of Christians in our churches sitting around doing nothing who need to be challenged not to waste their life. I am deeply thankful for preachers and writers who challenge us to risk everything and make our lives count. I know a lot of sleepy Christians in need of a wake-up call.
But I also know people like me, people who easily feel a sense of responsibility, people who easily feel bad for not doing more. I was the kid in grade school who was ready to answer every question the teacher asked. I signed up for things just because they were offered. I took on extra credit just to be safe. I never skipped a class in college and would have felt bad for missing any chapel service. I took the practice ACT the year before I really took the practice ACT, which was a year before I took the real ACT. For all sorts of reasons—pride, diligence, personality—opportunities have often felt like obligations to me.
And surely I’m not the only one. Surely there are many Christians who are terribly busy because they sincerely want to be obedient to God. We hear sermons that convict us for not praying more. We read books that convince us to do more for global hunger. We talk to friends who inspire us to give more and read more and witness more. The needs seem so urgent. The workers seem so few. If we don’t do something, who will? We want to be involved. We want to make a difference. We want to do what’s expected of us. But there just doesn’t seem to be the time.
Calming the Crazy Man Inside
I think most Christians hear these urgent calls to do more (or feel them internally already) and learn to live with a low-level guilt that comes from not doing enough. We know we can always pray more and give more and evangelize more, so we get used to living in a state of mild disappointment with ourselves. That’s not how the apostle Paul lived (1 Cor. 4:4), and it’s not how God wants us to live, either (Rom. 12:1–2).1 Either we are guilty of sin—like greed, selfishness, idolatry—and we need to repent, be forgiven, and change. Or something else is going on. It’s taken me several years, a lot of reflection, and a bunch of unnecessary busyness to understand that when it comes to good causes and good deeds, “do more or disobey” is not the best thing we can say.
Here are some of thoughts that have helped me get out from under the terror of total obligation.
I am not the Christ. The senior sermon for my graduating class at seminary was given by Gordon Hugenberger of Park Street Church in Boston. The sermon was based on John the Baptist’s words, “I freely confess I am not the Christ.” Hugenberger’s point to a group of soon-to-be pastors was simple: “You may be part of the bridal party, but you are not the groom. You are not the Messiah, so don’t try to be. Along with the Apostles’ Creed and the Belgic Confession and the Westminster Confession, make sure you confess John the Baptist’s creed: I am not the Christ.” I still have a copy of the sermon and listen to it whenever I can find a tape deck. Our Messianic sense of obligation would be greatly relieved if we confessed more regularly what we are not.