Monday, July 15, 2019

Time to Confront the Commitment Problem?

Have you heard the story about the pig and chicken walking past a restaurant that advertised a breakfast special of bacon and eggs? The chicken glances at the sign and swells with pride, but the pig can’t conceal his sadness.

“What’s the matter?” asks the chicken. “Well, you see, for you that sign represents a contribution,” the pig explains. “For me it means total commitment.”

This silly little story highlights a virtue we seem to be losing in our society. Workers increasingly have little or no commitment to their employers, just as employers don’t seem very committed to their workers. The days of 40-year careers with a single company culminating with a gold watch have become about as common as dodo birds. Marriage is in the midst of a commitment crisis as well. With the divorce rate hovering around 50 percent, familiar vows of “better or worse…as long as we both shall live” aren’t worth much more than a grain of salt. 

Young people, growing up in fractured homes, often lack positive examples of what commitment means, so they’re quick to abandon ship when things get tough or something more appealing arises. The head football coach at one major university came under fire recently when he referred to this in discussing the NCAA’s newly created “transfer portal.”

Observing that more than 650 collegiate football players had elected to transfer over the past two years, rather than complete their eligibility at their original school, the coach bemoaned, “We have a problem with our society. We don’t have a problem with our program.” Apparently when the going gets tough, it’s simply time to go elsewhere.

Things don’t seem much different spiritually. These days, it’s more common for churches to grow through “transfer growth” – people moving from one congregation to another – than the addition of people new in their faith. We see people making professions of faith, whether by walking an aisle, raising a hand or being baptized, then drifting away, no longer seen in church – anywhere. 

On several occasions I’ve met with men in discipling relationships, feeling encouraged by their zeal and apparent spiritual growth over weeks or months. Then something came up, perhaps a problem they encountered within the church, or deciding the cost of discipleship was higher than they were willing to pay, and they no longer wanted to meet. Sad, but it happens.

This problem is hardly new. The Old Testament repeatedly tells about commitment issues the ancient Israelites had. One day they were vowing, “You and us, Lord, all the way!” Then the next they started complaining, “God, what have You done for us lately?” And before long they were making golden calves or building altars for false gods. The grass seemed greener on the other side of the tabernacle.

Jesus Christ knew well the fragile commitment levels of His fickle followers. In the Gospel of John, we read that when some of His teachings became difficult, many who had been pursuing Him decided it was time to go home. “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (John 6:66). They wanted to believe – but only if it was easy. 

We have the tragic example of Judas Iscariot, who decided Jesus wasn’t meeting his expectations. So he betrayed the Lord for 30 pieces of silver. The other 11 disciples weren’t so obvious in their betrayal, but when Jesus was arrested and led off to a mock trial, they dispersed as well. Confronted about whether he was among Jesus’ followers, Peter denied Him – three times.

Have you ever had times when your faith felt weak and you began questioning what you believed? We’ve probably all had moments like that. Commitment to anything long-term is difficult, especially a walk of faith. But its rewards are beyond compare.

King David explained why in one of his most honest psalms: “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun” (Psalm 37:3-6). 

There are times when all hope seems lost and we’re tempted to lose heart, but David advised we should hang in there. The best is yet to come: “Wait for the Lord and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are cut off, you will see it” (Psalm 37:34).

This hope is anchored in one simple truth. Although we all struggle with commitment, God has no such problem. He makes this promise to each of His children: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). If we just take time to reflect on the Lord’s total commitment to us, even to the point of going to the cross to atone for our sins, maybe it will become easier to reaffirm our total commitment to Him. We won’t settle for just making a temporary contribution.

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