I love to get involved in my children’s extra-curricular activities. I hurry off to watch them learn and develop, and to cheer them on—my favorite pastime. I watch them swim, play hockey, ride horses, do martial arts, etc. (I have four children so there are lots of activities to attend.) It’s great fun.
So the other day I went to my son’s martial arts class, and parked myself close to the action, watching attentively as he learned several new blocking techniques, kicks, and patterns. He had requested that I sit up front and take notice on this particular day, for he was going to be learning some new “moves.” The black belt’s demonstration was impressive, but even more impressive (to me) was how well my son was progressing in his abilities to perform these complicated maneuvers. (Spoken like a true, unbiased parent!)
Now, while I was sitting there, in a rather small viewing area, enjoying the bustle of activity on the gym floor, a three or four year old child started to beg his mother for something. Mom said, “No,” and returned her eyes to the gym where her other son was busy, working hard at Tae Kwon Do. But, “no” was apparently the wrong answer. Can you imagine that? Again Mom explained to the little boy that the answer was “no,” but he didn’t seem to care.
Within seconds, the avalanche began. With dogged determination—in ever increasing decibels because as all kids know, parents are simply deaf—the boy pleaded passionately for the desire of his heart, i.e., someone else’s toy. Again, but this time like a flash of lightening, came the shaken, but stern response, “No!” “What’s the matter with you? Don’t you understand English?” She reminded him that the toy did not belong to him; it belonged to another child.
The little boy went into a tail spin, crying, yelling, and barking at the top of his well developed lungs; it’s amazing how much sound those little people can create! He threw himself down on the floor, spun around, and simply refused to take “no” for an answer. Mom was embarrassed, to say the least. Her face instantly filled with all sorts of colors, alternating between various shades of red, somewhat like the leaves on New England trees in the Fall. I wanted to help, but feared my involvement might only make things worse. Several interested parents looked on, helplessly. Some wondered what would happen. Would we witness a killing? Others—the kind and considerate females in the group—wanted to throw a lifeline and initiate rescue operations. I think they, better than anyone else, understood her pain.
The verbal tug-o-war continued for some time, the “back and forth” reminding one of two rather large lumber jacks at either end of a six foot saw working feverishly to fell a Redwood. But alas, there was nothing mom could do. The child was unrelenting, crying himself into a coughing frenzy, and so they had to leave, rescued if only for a moment by the door closing behind them. I wonder what happened to that little boy... I wonder if I’ll ever see him again…
Just after the door closed behind them, a man made his way over and sat next to me. He made a few rather snide comments about the mother’s parenting skills and assured me that had it been his son, things would have been different. When he chanced to notice, however, that I offered no congratulations on his wisdom—I was feeling for the poor lady—he quickly plotted another course for conversation, hoisted the mast, and promptly set sail. Little did I know that I had been conscripted as the first mate, chief listening officer. Voyage it was, vacation it wasn’t. I was not trying to be rude, but I did not want to talk at that moment. I simply wanted to make eye contact with my son and show him that I was watching his every victory.
No sooner had the north wind entered the man’s verbal sails—a strong wind I might add, for in the end it had taken us half way around the intellectual world—that we landed rather sharply on the island of politics. First, he lectured me about the war in Iraq and why it should have been handled differently. It seems he had all sorts of answers for all the U.S.’s foreign policy problems. I wonder if they’re looking for help.
Anyway, he was disappointed with the States and even more disappointed with Canada’s lack of involvement in Iraq. I made a few passing comments which he summarily dismissed as irrelevant and off topic—even though they basically agreed with his position on Canada. From then on I simply proceeded to be cordial, to nod here and there, and truth be known, to feign a listening ear. I was trying to watch my son and he was making the whole thing more unbearable than the little boy a few moments earlier. Actually, if I had to choose between the two…well, you know where I’m going with that….
Second, he began talking about religion, of all things. He was terribly angry with the Catholic church, hurling abuse at the pope, referring to him and his religion as nothing more than a “money hungry machine.” “They’re all out for your pocket book,” he protested, “but what have they ever done for me?” He was quick to add, however, lest anyone conclude the opposite, that he was a true Christian and, in the same breath, that there were three kinds of people going straight to hell: (1) politicians; (2) all professional athletes, and, of course, (3) lawyers. (Those poor lawyers!) He said they all have one thing in common: they steal, deceive, and get rich off other people. When I responded that he had listed off not one, but three sins, he quickly assured me that in reality these sins were all rolled up in one big ball of wax!
No matter what I said to help him understand that I really wanted to watch my son, he was adamant that I render due attention to his disgruntled spirit. It was as if he grabbed me by the throat and demanded that I give ear to his problems, grievances, and opinions. It was a smothering experience, hard to find air, if you know what I mean.
Now I suppose some of you are wondering why I’ve juxtaposed a story about a earsplitting child and an aggravating adult. Well, here’s the point: whether we’re three or thirty, self-centered demandingness is ugly! Pure and simple! And if we do it to people, we do it to God.
Have you ever stood before God and shamelessly demanded your own way on something? Have you ever grabbed him by the throat, so to speak, and demanded that he make your life work? Now! Have you ever demanded that he come through for you, or else…? Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not talking about persistent, genuine, heartfelt prayer. I’m talking about idolatry. I’m talking about, “I want this no matter what!”
All of us, at one time or another—perhaps right now—have clasped our grubby little fingers too tightly around our kids, possessions, money, hopes, and expectations and then demanded that God uphold our agendas, incessantly “inviting” him to bless our ambitions. All of us are like that little boy and that grown man: our wants come first and pity the person who gets in the way, including God. “It’s our way, or the highway.”
But this is not the pattern of the Christian life that our Lord demonstrated for us and to which he now graciously summons us. He enjoyed unadulterated and uninterrupted peace in his relationship with God for he learned obedience through his sufferings (Heb 5:8). Rather than turning his heart away from God in angry defiance and demandingness, he submitted to the One who loved him. “During his earthly life Christ offered up both requests and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death and he was heard because of his reverent submission” (Heb 5:7).
Is “reverent submission” the pattern in our lives? Based on scripture I can tell you that this is precisely the pattern the Lord is diligently seeking to establish in your life right now, so that heaven may not be a strange place to you later. Hell is filled with human will, heaven is filled with His will. Hell is a place where people are free to continue to exert their defiance, but know for sure, “there’s no peace for the wicked.” Heaven is for those who have gone through Gethsemane with their Lord and have emerged proclaiming, “Not my will, but yours be done, O Lord!” The strange thing about reverent submission is that in the releasing process we become fully human, not less. And when we stubbornly refuse to submit, hoisting our clenched fist defiantly into the air, we become ugly and something less than fully human.
So incredible and earth-shaking was our Lord’s obedience to His Father that the early church expressed it in story, teaching, poetry, visions, and songs. Perhaps one of the best known songs is the Christ-Hymn in Philippians 2:5-11:
2:5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had,
2:6 who though he existed in the form of God
did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped,
2:7 but emptied himself
by taking on the form of a slave,
by looking like other men,
and by sharing in human nature.
2:8 He humbled himself,
by becoming obedient to the point of death
—even death on a cross!
2:9 As a result God exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
2:10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bow
—in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
2:11 and every tongue confess
to the glory of God the Father
that Jesus Christ is Lord.
This early hymn—which probably circulated in the church before Paul picked it up—is about Christ’s suffering and glory. It begins with the command to let the spirit of the hymn resonate in your bones, to let God’s will coarse freely through your veins, even if it costs you your life (v. 5).
The song can be broken down into two basic parts, vv. 6-8 and vv. 9-11, which together develop the twin themes of suffering and exaltation. In 2:6-8 the hymn’s melody sounds a bitter-sweet note about Christ’s willing submission, suffering, and humiliation. In 2:9-11, the hymn breaks forth with jubilant sounds, filling the room with the sweet music of Christ’s exaltation and subsequent reign. Do you see the pattern? First, willing obedience through suffering and then glorious exaltation through God’s power..
Did you notice the comment “even death on a cross” in v. 8? It seems that this was Paul’s own addition to the hymn and clearly focuses our attention not only on Jesus’ willingness to die, which itself expresses the fathomless depths of his piety and unflinching faithfulness (Heb 12:2), but his willingness to endure the shame and humiliation of a cross. He was put to death as a common criminal. And yet the ignominy of his death draws special attention to the majestic beauty and profundity of his filial obedience in Gethsemane. Golgotha’s battle was won not on that hill, but in a garden the night before: “Not my will, but yours be done!” Indeed, what was lost in a garden (Eden) was won back—and more—in a garden.
I wonder if I will ever see that child again. Perhaps…I go to the Tae Kwon Do dojang often and he’ll probably be there again with his mother. I wonder too if I will ever see that adult again. Most likely. But one thing is for sure. God used them in my life that day. Through them the Lord pointed out how tightly I cling to my toys and how necessary it is that I be heard. Through them the Lord showed me the ugliness of my own sin and defiance. Perhaps he has shown you something as well…
Lord, I thank you for your gentle mercy and untiring love. Jesus I thank you that not only does your death save me, it also gives me the pattern of my life. You have called me to a life of saying “yes” to you and “no” to my own will. So I surrender to you, Lord. Whatever you want, by your grace I will do. I only want to please you. I love you Father and I yield my heart to yours. Thank you for the joy of walking in your presence!