For the Joy Set Before Us: Going from “Got to” to “Get to”

Today, we got up late. I blame that epic monster of a movie Gladiator which was on the TV last night. When I was younger, I couldn’t appreciate all the political interplay and I got bored. But these days, I’m (hopefully) wiser so the movie was actually really gripping. It finished at about 1.15 am this morning.

So we got up late and we were rushing to get to church.

My wife says that ever since we’ve started going to Faith Community Church, I get very antsy if there’s any prospect of our getting to church late. I know she’s making fun of me, but I think it’s actually a good thing. It’s because I don’t want to miss out on the start of the service. I want to get there at least 5 minutes early so I can settle down a bit and not feel too rushed and flustered. It’s like if you were going to a concert or a movie – you want to get there a bit earlier, get a good seat and eat a choc bomb before it all starts. You don’t want to miss the opening.

So that’s what I’ve been feeling about going to church. It’s not because of the embarrassment, or the pressure to look good. I just don’t want to miss out.

And besides, the first part is the worship. And the worship is awesome!

It’s not only being late to church that gets me antsy these days. I don’t want to be late for other meetings like cell group either.

It’s a good feeling, actually. Because sometimes you get so overfamiliar with everything, you take things for granted, you lose your innocence. I had gone through a phase where it didn’t matter if I rocked up to church on time; when I used to have to drag my feet to church meetings; where my body was there but my spirit possibly wasn’t.

I had let my “get to” become “got to”. Have you gone through seasons like that?

I remember when I first became a Christian. Everything was fresh and exciting. I wanted to go to every meeting they had (except the women’s group, obviously). Even baptism meetings – despite the fact that I didn’t know anyone there who was getting baptised. I remember one time when my brother and a couple of friends of ours used to play basketball and tennis after church, without fail. Except for this one time when there was a baptism service going on around the same time. Instead of swinging the racquet, I just sat there and sulked. Everyone was wondering what was going on. I said I didn’t want to miss the baptism service. So we all got on our bikes and cycled down the road to attend the baptism. As I said, I didn’t know any of the baptism candidates that day, but I still wanted to be there.

I was only a kid then. I probably wouldn’t impose my silly agendas on everyone else these days. But there was a certain sense of innocence of wanting to witness all these people making public professions of their faith.

Isn’t this how it should be? We go to baptism services because we “get to”, not because we “got to”. We attend prayer meetings because we “get to”, not because someone said that leaders in the church are expected to attend. We go to church early to participate in the worship from the very beginning because we “get to”, not because the chairperson “gently encouraged” everyone to be on time the week earlier. We go to cell group because we “get to”, not because it’s a requirement.

I think about Jesus and how in John 4, he encountered the Samaritan woman; how he said things that would become the bedrock of worship ministry; how a life was redeemed; and how an entire region was transformed because of that encounter. And how in John 4:4, it says “now [Jesus] had to go through Samaria”.

Actually, he didn’t. I learnt that in the scheme of where Jesus was heading, Samaria was actually quite out of the way. It was a detour. He didn’t have to go there at all, but he chose to.

Hebrews 12:2 says that “for the joy set before him”, “Jesus endured the cross”. What a seeming contradiction of terms: for the joy, He endured. You don’t normally associate joy with the cross.

But Jesus understood the great privilege to which He was called. His ministry started with a mission and purpose that would ultimately bring Him to Jerusalem and the cross. Yes, it would be painful; the suffering would be unfathomable, but He considered it a joy.

Our walk with God may be filled with obstacles; ministry may be challenging; people may just annoy the heck out of us, but we can still maintain our joy. Better still, we can still maintain our innocence.

Ed Gungor in his book Religiously Transmitted Diseases (love the title!) says (at 168):

So much of what we call ministry and Christian living seems to be more ‘got to’ than ‘get to’. We start out full of curiosity and trust, but somewhere along the way, things go south. When I survey most of the followers of Jesus I know (even leaders), they seem less like innocent kids having a blast on a playground or in a pool on a hot summer afternoon, and more like zombies from Night of the Living Dead; they are moving; but it ain’t pretty. Where is the abundant life Jesus talked about?

When we lose innocence, we lose life, and we become victims of our past experiences – experiences that were first born out of joyful innocence.

God has set before us a truly full-on, abundant life, full of privileges because we are His children. So maybe we should come to Him as little children again and stop taking take things for granted. Maybe we should enjoy the innocence of a “get to” life, rather than the obligations and duties of a “got to” life. Maybe we should just be filled with a sense of God’s approval, rather than to feel the “got to” of obtaining man’s approval. Maybe we should approach our faith and ministry as Jesus did, who saw the joy that was set before Him.

So next week, I’ll make sure we leave our place 10 minutes earlier so we get to church on time. Just because we “get to” go to church.

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