It’s pretty obvious these days that as a society … and frankly, a world … we have commitment issues. In fact, the word “commitment” hardly means what it once meant. While divorce is not a new concept to humanity, there’s arguably a mushrooming of the frequency of divorce that provides a relative microcosm of the overall issue of commitment avoidance. There’s something about permanence of our commitments that has faded nearly to black in our world today. One definition of the word “commitment” I particularly like (I’m a very hardcore, black and white sort of guy) reads, “an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action.” Don’t brush carelessly past that wording … it is defined as an obligation that restricts freedom of action. That is, once committed, always committed. We stick with our word, with our oath, with our covenant. Convenience, irreconcilable differences, etc., don’t provide a way out.
This is neither meant to be an indictment of anyone who may have divorced in the past, nor any of us (all of us????) who at some point have needed to break a commitment for some reason or another. I’d rather take the discussion in a more meaningful direction, and that is not surprisingly and example provided by our Lord Jesus. During my reading through Mark (chapters 12 to 14) I came across one of the most powerful and vivid examples of commitment the world has ever seen.
They went to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and Jesus said, “Sit here while I go and pray.” He took Peter, James, and John with him, and he became deeply troubled and distressed. He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” He went on a little farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”
This passage … Mark 14:32-35 … shows us a poignant example of one of the most important commitments ever made. While the commitment was made BY Jesus and TO God the Father, you and I are the direct beneficiaries.
This passage depicts the end of Jesus’s earthly ministry where He goes to a familiar place in the garden of Gethsemane to pray. The word “Gethsemane” in Hebrew means an olive press, and notably, it’s a place where Jesus undergoes immeasurable pressure as He is about to lay His life down, succumbing to scourging, torture, belittling, and ultimately, death. Is there any wonder why He’d be under such intense pressure?
But more than the emotional angst Jesus suffered before going on to physical anguish, we have to focus on the commitment He made to carry out the plan of salvation for humanity that God the Father laid before Him. I believe in Jesus’s nature of deity, He knew what lay before him in terms of how He was going to surrender His life, and the human pain and suffering He would endure. It was a torment that likely would have killed most of us long before we ever made it to the actual cross. Seeing that, Jesus was truly woeful to the point of collapsing multiple times during His prayer in the garden, and ultimately, asking the Father, “If there’s any other way to save humanity, can’t We just do that?” Can we blame Him for the humanness of not wanting to sustain what He was about to?
However, what comes next is where we want to sink our intellectual teeth. Right after going through anguish and literally crumpling in grief over what was to come, He says, “But if You need me to move forward with it, Father, I commit to what You want, not what I want.” At that moment, He surrendered His will, submitted to His God, trusted His plan for bigger things through that temporal situation, and He moved forward in faith. Therein lies our model for commitment.
In every situation, whether big and scary or small and seemingly insignificant, there comes a time when we commit to some course of action. What we do in it not only determines, but also actually helps to form and shape, our character. If we miss or don’t keep the commitment, we miss and don’t keep the blessing that results. Think of Jesus’s commitment to His Father’s plan. Had He not committed and maintained it, where would we all be? And in a way, Jesus would have ceased to fulfill His purpose. I think the same is true of us.
The commitments we make in life, whether small or large, are ultimately commitments to the plan our Father asks us to make. They are methods He uses to envelop His creation in His love … to carry out His purposes for you and for me and for others, whether we realize it or see it or not. Sometimes He might ask us to do the equivalent of yielding our lives, but not always. Either way, our commitment is the means. When Jesus prayed, “Can’t we figure out another way,” there was a chance that God might allow it (think of Abraham nearly sacrificing his son, Isaac, until God intervened). But what we see is, no matter what, Jesus was committed to God’s plan. He was committed to let God work in whatever way He intended, knowing our Father always knows best. If there was a failure to fulfill that commitment, there may have been a failure to see the benefits.
So how do we maintain our commitments? When it might be something regrettable, something horrific, something painful, something scary … how do we stay committed? The same way Jesus did … we surrender our will, we submit to our God, we trust His plan for bigger things through the temporal situation, and we move forward in faith.
Yeah, I know, it sounds trite. But look at Jesus. He went through something almost none of us will ever be asked to go through. And through it, God brought Jesus to His completed path, ultimately (as we’ll celebrate in a couple weeks on Easter) allowing Him to overcome death and return to His rightful place at the right hand of His Father. God also completed His plan for the blessing of others, the ability to experience eternal salvation from our sins and lock in eternal fellowship with Him in heaven. Just like God the Father didn’t stop short with Jesus, He won’t stop short with us. But, we have to make the commitment and follow through with it. Is that scary? Definitely. Is it worthwhile? It will be.
Let’s pray this week that God will help us see through all the commitments He’s asked us to make … to remind us that if we don’t see the commitment to it’s fullness, we will miss the blessings that will result.