C-o-m-m-i-t-m-e-n-t. Those ten little letters have been bouncing around in my head like a bouncy-ball thrown into an empty, industrial sized soup pot. Commitment is not always what it seems. It gets used, abused, avoided and neglected. My MSWord dictionary says that it is something that “takes up time or energy, especially an obligation”. Sounds like a nuisance to me. The dictionary also says that commitment is a “planned arrangement or activity that cannot be avoided”. The reality of this statement: When an event is a true unavoidable commitment – you have a life. When it’s not – it’s an excuse not to do something you don’t want to do. Am I wrong? The word also has its legal ramifications, such as “referral of a bill to a legislative committee for review”, or, um, the “act of legally confining somebody to …a mental health facility”, but we won’t go there. It can also be “a written court order confining somebody to prison”, which is what most of us feel like when we get ourselves into a commitment that we didn’t fully understand or, for some reason or another, want to avoid. But the definition that gets us all where it hurts is this: “devotion or dedication, for example, to a cause, person or relationship.”
Over the past few weeks a series of events, has turned my thoughts specifically to question the true meaning of commitment as a Christian, and more importantly the depth of my own commitment. Have you ever met someone who was so thoroughly committed to something that they ran themselves into the ground to see it come to pass? Or someone who was so devoted to someone else that they would do absolutely anything, at the risk of their own life, to meet the other’s needs; like David’s mighty men bringing him water from the well at Bethlehem? How many Christians have that kind of commitment to Christ today?
Our estimate of our commitment and its true depth may be quite different. When I was a little girl, J. Oscar Wells visited our church in Illinois. He spoke of “concentration-camp Christianity”. Of course as a child, I had no concept of what that meant, but he knew it well. I cannot comprehend what it must have been like to stand in his shoes, nor the struggle of remaining faithful in a Japanese concentration camp in China. But, due much in part to my mother, I remember the main point of his coined phrase. It proved very helpful one rainy Wednesday night several years ago in a Russian forest when we arrived at the location of our church meeting and found that the militia would be joining us.
As word trickled back down the path, every person who made their way through those trees had a choice to make. The militia was already there, they were armed and waiting: What would you do? In a country with a history of breaking up such meetings and arresting its leaders and attendees, would you go on? That was the decision that had to be made. It wasn’t a decision to sit in the front pew or the back pew. It wasn’t a decision of whether or not to go to church on Wednesday night after work because “I’m tired”. No, it was a decision to be made, after traveling one, or two, or maybe even three hours to get there, of whether or not we would stand in the pouring rain under an umbrella that did little but drown out the speaker because of the thunderous deluge that was pounding against it, with our backs to two men holding submachine guns. That was the decision.
What goes through your mind in a moment like that? I wish I could say that it is a bunch of rosy thoughts about how committed I am to Christ and how I would do anything for Him. But neither our flesh nor the Devil make it that easy. For me, it was, “If something is wrong and I go on to that meeting and something happens, I could lose my visa. It could endanger the visas of everyone that I am serving with here, and thus the ministry.” Seems logical, but it is based in fear. In the end, most of us, though not all, went on to the meeting. Nothing happened. The militiamen were probably just checking things out. They stayed around for a while, got tired of the rain and left. But our faith and commitment had been tested in a completely unexpected way at a completely unexpected time.
Several groups of incredibly committed people have recently been brought to my attention through various events and personal encounters. Their commitment should be a challenge to us as Christians. Every morning police officers get up, they put on their uniforms and they step out into a world that could quickly snatch away their lives. Every time a fireman steps into his boots and pulls on his heavy coat, drives through busy streets and intersections at dangerous speeds and rushes into burning buildings he is putting his life on the line. Why do they do this? Because they have made a commitment. On a daily basis around the world suicide bombers lose their lives for a cause they consider to be of greater value than their own life. Do we laud them for their actions? No, because what they are doing is wrong. But it would behoove us to consider how our commitment to Christ compares to their commitment to Islam.
A soldier recently appeared at our church. He was home on medical leave after being severely wounded in Afghanistan. His desire is to get back with his unit as soon as possible. Though his life was nearly taken once, he is willing to put it on the line again, because he has made a commitment. That evening in the service we were talking about the battle that surrounds us as Christians. I thought of this soldier’s commitment. I thought also of the commitment of six men who have recently lost their lives in this spiritual battle. I was overwhelmed to the point of tears. Of the six lives that have been laid down, only one was a Christian. The others have entered eternity, fully committed to their cause, and yet eternally lost.
How often is this the case? We may not see it so literally as the painful reminder that I have had over the past weeks, but it happens on a daily basis. When a Christian chooses to allow other things to take precedence over their commitment to Christ, the Lost are more often than not the casualties. Why? Because we are not ready for the battle. Not because we have not been trained, though there may be gaps or things lacking in our training, but because we have not stepped out of our place of comfort and committed our lives to the battle.
Commitment: “Devotion or dedication…to a cause, person or relationship”.
Cause – Is there any cause greater than the cause of Jesus Christ? Can anything be more worthy of laying down a life, than the spreading the Gospel? We have so much more worth dying for than the terrorist, and yet so little devotion to it. We commit to local functions, political causes, moral causes, church projects and functions but what of the cause of Christ? What of the souls that surround us? Are we committed to taking the gospel to them at all costs?
Person – To whom are you committed? The obvious answer to this question in light of this article should be Jesus Christ, but the commitment should be two fold. First, we must be committed to Christ. That is the whole point of these ramblings. He laid down His own life for us, should we not lay down ours for Him, as living sacrifices, dying daily to self, sin and our seemingly incurable need for comfort.
But secondly, what of our commitment to those around us? How committed are we to seeing them saved from an eternity in hell? (Notice that I write this in the 1st person plural. It is directed to me as much as to anyone else.) We are often so committed to our own plans, agendas and thoughts, which may all be good things, that we forget the people that are dying around us. The truth of the matter is that we are generally committed, first and foremost, to ourselves. This self commitment is our greatest inhibitor. The comforts that we hold onto, the desires and the plans, all make dying much more difficult.
Relationship – Chances are that our commitment to Christ will never go much deeper than our relationship with Him. The more we know of Him, the more we are willing to give ourselves to Him. In her book In the Arena, Isobel Kuhn relates a lesson that she learned upon first arriving in China. The Lord taught her that it is best to hold the things He gives us in an open hand, so that when He has need of them they are easily accessible and not so painfully taken. Since reading this many years ago, I have come to learn the second part of this lesson, which is equally important and perhaps even more precious: When our hand is empty it is much easier to take hold of Him.
We will never be committed to the cause of Christ until we have committed ourselves to Christ Himself. We will never be committed to Christ Himself until we have laid down everything that is in our hands, counted all things but loss, and taken hold of Him alone – that we may know Him. Is counting “all things but loss” easy? No. There are perfectly good and normal things that each one of us holds dear in this life, precious things: spouses, children, friends and even simply the desire for those things. The thought of losing them, or letting them go, is heart wrenching, but holding onto them can be disastrous for the Christian life. The man who counts his wife “as dung” will be in trouble for sure – but the man who is held back from serving his Lord because of his wife will be in greater trouble still.
I do not ask these questions or relate these thoughts to you alone. My heart has been heavy with them for quite some time. I have seen aspects of that great inhibitor flaring their ugly heads in my own life and have taken them ashamedly before the Lord. Will you do the same? Will you ask the Lord to show you what stands in the way of your commitment to Him?
We stand in awe of the man who will lay down his life for Christ, but in truth we are to be laying down every aspect of our lives everyday. Don’t wait until test day to cram for the exam. The less we hold onto the easier it is to give it up, to take hold of Him with both hands and to live, and die, effectively for Christ.