Over the past few weeks, I've been reading through The Spirit of the Disciplines, by Dallas Willard. If you're looking for a great book on spirituality, this is a good one. Willard's point is that we keep trying to do what Jesus would do...but that we are continually frustrated because we can't do it. Jesus says that his burden is easy and that his yoke is light...but most of the time it certainly does not feel that way. As a result, acting like Jesus has become a lofty goal that we don't think we were ever really meant to live up to. Willard points out that we are trying to get the results without investing in the process. Focusing on 'what would Jesus do' is pointless. The decisions that Jesus made were the result of a life devoted to becoming equipped to make those decisions. If a child said that they wanted to play in the NHL one day, we would not take them to the rink, send them out onto the ice, and expect that they will know how to skate, shoot, and think like an NHL player. They will become frustrated and lose hope in their ability to reach their goal. In our spiritual lives, we think that we should be able to show up in a situation and somehow be able to be Christlike. If Christ himself thought it necessary to spend a lifetime in training, how do we think that we will be able to do what he did without the training. He modeled an entire lifestyle. We've tried to replace that with a WWJD bracelet.
Our other strategy is to try and mandate the results. We petition lawmakers to legislate the way we should live...or rather, how we think others should live. Ban this, require that...make our nation Christian through legal and political decisions. Seems like, 'go and make it illegal' is a little different than 'go and make disciples'. Making disciples requires (after we have done this ourselves) teaching others about the disciplines that Jesus used to in order to be able to live like he lived.
In the Bible there is an account of Jesus spending 40 days in the desert. After going without food, company, or comfort for that amount of time He is approached by Satan and is tempted. I've often thought of this story as another example of Jesus doing something that I could never do. Jesus was able to still resist temptation...even though he was hungry, tired, and lonely. I can't even make the right decisions when I'm full, rested, and around good people. I think that's the problem. Perhaps the story is not showing us that Jesus could withstand temptation EVEN THOUGH he had just spent 40 days in the desert. I now believe that the story is showing us that Jesus could withstand temptation BECAUSE he had just spent 40 days in the desert. He was showing us the strategy, not showing us how he could do something that we can't.
Dallas Willard outlines the disciplines that Christ used in order to prepare himself to make the decisions that he made when it was game time. Solitude, prayer, fasting, and thanksgiving are a few of them. If we truly want to be Christlike, we need to stop trying to perform in game-perfect form. We need to start with the simple, yet profound, training that Jesus demonstrated for us. According to Willard, doing what Jesus did will become the easy choice (the easy burden and the light yoke)...if we focus on becoming who Jesus is. I'm certainly not there yet, but I'm excited to discover that there is another option to continually feeling frustrated by not being able to do what Jesus would do.