I Don’t Want to Worship that Way
When we choose to follow Christ, we do not get to choose how we follow Christ. Usually our expectations do not match the reality of what Christ has bought for us on the cross. I think we all expect to be Jonathan Edwards writing Religious Affections, not David Brainerd grasping a bloody handkerchief in Edwards’ back room as he dies of tuberculosis. Or we expect to be Hudson Taylor opening up a vast unreached people group to the forward grasp of missionaries, not William Borden who spent his whole life preparing for life among the unreached and, on the way to his first missions assignment in Mongolia, contracted cerebral meningitis in Egypt and died at the age of 24. Everybody dreams of being Hebrews 11:1-35a; nobody dreams of being 35b-38.
God is out to prove to His creation and His adversaries that He is far more glorious than anything He has created. Some of His children He gives an abundance of wealth. And He’s out to prove through them that He is far more desirable than the siren seductions of wealth and the lie of self-sufficiency. Some of His children he gives a life of suffering. And through them He’s out to prove that the joy of His sustaining grace is of far greater weight than the sorrows of this life. The world does not understand how the wealthy man can care so little about what the world thinks is the pinnacle of life, and the world cannot understand how the sorrowful man can rejoice in his grief rather than spiraling down into hopelessness and bitterness.
But we all expect God to place us in the first category. The second category? I don’t want to worship that way. I want to be the one who escapes the edge of the sword (Hebrews 11:34), not the one who is put to death by the sword or sawn in two (Hebrews 11:37). I don’t want to worship that way. But when we choose to follow Christ, we don’t get to choose how we follow Him.
After Jesus heals the Gerasene demoniac, the owners of the pigs come and implore Jesus to leave. And then, as they’re begging the Son of God to depart from their land, the one person who believes in Him approaches. Clothed in his right mind for the first time in years, the former demoniac approaches Jesus and implores Jesus to be allowed to accompany Him. Literally, “to be with Him.” And as this man implores Jesus to let him follow, Jesus turns to him and says no. “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.” No, former-demoniac-now-worshipper-of-God, the way you want to worship me is not to be your path. You are the one imploring me to let you come with me. I’m sending you to witness to the ones imploring me to leave.
Everyone pities Job. But what of the wives of Job’s servants that were killed in the fire that consumed the sheep? They didn’t get their husbands back once God restored Job’s possessions. Nobody wants to worship that way. What of Ezekiel, who had God say “I’m going to kill your wife and you can’t mourn because you’re to be a picture of my lack of mourning for Israel as they die.” And Ezekiel buried her that night. Nobody wants to worship that way.
And what of Christ, crying in the garden, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” Nobody wants to worship that way.
Sometimes it is a bitter thing to yearn for God to be made much of. It takes much fire to burn away the dross in our souls. Paul understood this. How else could he have described himself as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing”? (2 Cor 6:10) We don’t get to choose how we get to follow Christ, but He does. And He knows that oftentimes we don’t want to worship in the way He has ordained for us. He knows because that was His road too: “This man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put him to death.” (Acts 2:23) “We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)
Christ understands exactly what it’s like to be torn between wanting God to be made much of and not wanting to worship in the way that often makes much of Him. He is the great high priest who understands our weaknesses, for He endured it Himself. If we are to gain an understanding of the power of His resurrection, we must too know Him in the fellowship of His suffering (Philippians 3:10). And, as a father comforts his scared and weary little son about to go into surgery, so too our Father stands beside us and comforts us, sustaining in trial and keeping alive the hope of eternal joy.