Lord, I want to be like Jesus,
In my heart, in my heart…
Lord, I want to be like Jesus,
In my heart.
Just about every one of us with even a smattering of a church background has sung this song, probably while holding hands in a circle; possibly around a campfire in a summer camp. But in order to be like Jesus, we have to know what that is.
So I ask: What is Jesus like?
Over the span of my life, I can recall many religious discussions. I recall debates over the nature of biblical inspiration. I recall debates over various detailed doctrines. I recall disputes over church order and discipline, and whether this or that is the proper format for worship. I recall disputes over the need for apostolic succession, and the duties of religious ministers. I recall discussions concerning what you get out of it when you pray, or tithe, or go to church, or just walk with the Lord. I have heard many assertions of the “rights” of Christians and very little about their duties toward God.
But despite that plaintive chorus that I remember from my youth, I do not remember the people of the Lord sitting around to reminisce about the deeds of Jesus or to plumb the depths of His character.
When I was a young man, I had a very wise pastor. I remember once I went to the altar rail during the altar call and confessed that I wanted to commit suicide because I was wracked with adolescent despair. He listened patiently, and then he said, “Well, I don’t know, Ken; maybe the Lord does want you to commit suicide. Let’s pray that He will reveal His will.” And as we prayed, a shock of terror ran up my spine as I realized how self-centered my spirituality was; how focused I was on my personal comfort instead of my service to my Lord. On another occasion, my pastor told me, “There is a sense in which theology is a sin, and I believe you have committed that sin.” And the realization came with the force of a lightning bolt that I had taken Christianity, which is supposed to be a personal relationship of faith and trust between God and His creatures, and had attempted to transform it into a mechanical compendium of principles and legislation.
So now after all these years, I finally realize how fleshly and unspiritual it is to seek personal comfort from God rather than to render Him service; to contemplate His teachings instead of contemplating Him, who is the only proper object of our affections. Over all these years, I have professed that I was seeking God, when in truth I only wanted to benefit from His handouts and to be regarded by others as clever. Today I repent! Today ask the questions I should have asked the very first time I sang, “Lord I want to be like Jesus,” and that is: What sort of person is Jesus? What does He do in His spare time? What sort of personal habits does He have? Because, after all, if I want to be like Jesus, I need to know what I should be imitating.
So in today’s selections, I came across this passage:
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
—Mark 1:35-37, NIV
So today we see Jesus in a fuller light: we have seen Him heal the sick and raise the dead; we have seen Him throw the money-changers out of the House of God; we have seen His mercy on the woman taken in adultery; we have seen His providence in feeding the five thousand from a few bits of bread and fish. We have seen His mighty deeds, but today we catch Him in His secret devotions; almost as if we have chanced upon Him shaving in the bathroom. We catch sight of Him in the fullness of His character, as one who not only carried out the will of God, but carefully sought it in hours of prayer and sacrificed Himself to carry it out. Should we not be like Jesus?
I commend you to reread the gospels, one more time, to find the man Jesus and not just His teachings. Make His acquaintance, get to know Him. Find out what sort of person He is; imitate Him in every way, not just in His devotions, not just in His mighty works, not just in His teachings, but in every way.