Did you ever own a WWJD bracelet? Or have something hanging on a wall with those letters? Those four letters have been incredibly popular to help remind ourselves What Would Jesus Do? Did you ever notice that it is not always easy to do what Jesus would or is it only me? Is it even possible to consistently do what Jesus would do?
What makes doing what Jesus does so challenging and why so often do we find ourselves “missing the mark”? Dallas Willard in his book, “The Spirit of the Disciplines”, discusses this struggle and how often we have taken a wrong approach. Willard makes the point that many times our efforts to do what Jesus did are “on the spot”, meaning we try to live our lives for Jesus in whatever moments come up in the day without any preparation. We do our best to apply what we learn but it is usually in the “heat of the moment”. With this approach we can often come away discouraged or even get to the place where we tend to respond to life like anyone else.
Dallas puts it this way:
Our mistake is to think that following Jesus consists in loving our enemies, going the “second mile,” turning the other cheek, suffering patiently and hopefully—while living the rest of our lives just as everyone around us does.
I can think in my own life, I was raised in the church, I made a decision to follow Jesus, and then learned all the things I needed to do to live the Christian life. There was a disconnect between the grace I knew and received from Jesus and how it seems to play itself out in my life. Again, Willard makes an interesting point: “grace does not mean that sufficient strength and insight will be automatically “infused” into our being in the moment of need.” That statement really summarizes how much of my Christian life has played out. I mean I prayed, read the Bible, went to church…. And yet I was missing at times that “infusion” that would propel me toward love and good works.
Something is missing in our “on the spot” approach.
Living WWJD in All of Life
When I think of the phrase, “what would Jesus do”, it is always around those “on the spot” moments. Nothing inherently wrong with that. But what if we did what Jesus did in all of life, in every moment of every day. What did Jesus do in those non – “on the spot” moments.
Uh-oh. There’s that word. Discipline. Practice. Preparation. To do what Jesus did, we have to go through the same preparation and practices as he did. He spent time in solitude and silence, prayer, fasting, and service. Jesus spent significant time with His Father, loving Him with all of his heart.
Oswald Chambers observes: “The Sermon on the Mount is not a set of principles to be obeyed apart from identification with Jesus Christ. The Sermon on the Mount is a statement of the life we will live when the Holy Spirit is getting his way with us.”
Do you see the distinction there? Our tendency is to look at teachings like the Sermon on the Mount and then go out and try to what it says, “what would Jesus do?”. We must be filled with the Spirit and connected with Jesus and then our lives can begin to demonstrate kingdom living. Dallas summarizes it well:
we so devoutly believe in the power of effort-at-the-moment-of-action alone to accomplish what we want and completely ignore the need for character change in our lives as a whole.
Spiritual Formation and My Golf Swing
My golf swing is a pretty good example of living life “on the spot”. When I started playing golf, Jack Nicklaus was prowling around the golf course and dominating the game for a generation. I wanted to play like Jack.
So to improve my swing, I would ask “what would Jack do”? I bought his training video “Golf My Way” back in the day of VHS tapes! I spent time reviewing the tapes and then trying to model my swing after him. I would even stand in front of a mirror and check my swing positions. Don’t judge me, I know you golfers out there have done the same thing! Anyway, I would then go play golf “on the spot” expecting to be more like Jack, most of the time failing miserably and coming away discouraged. I would sometimes even think, “well I can never even play close to Jack’s level anyway so why put in the effort!”
What was missing in my approach towards doing what Jack did? Practice, discipline, and preparation. The video had lots of exercises to try and Jack even provided tips on how to prepare mentally and visualizing the shot. But that was such hard work and who had time for all of that anyway! There was a short period of time where I actually spent more time practicing and even took some lessons and amazingly, I began to play a “little” more like Jack.
To golf Jack’s way, I need to live a golfing life like he did, not just when I saw him competing or on his videos. To walk as Jesus did and do the things as Jesus did, I need to live like Him in all of life, not just specific moments “on the spot”.
Practice - Begin with a fundamental
Just like there certain fundamentals that need to be there for a good golf swing, there are certain fundamentals that place us in a position to walk more closely with God. For example, a fundamental to golf is the grip. Learning the proper grip can be uncomfortable if you have been using a faulty one. I tend to have a weak grip and adjusting my grip to a more neutral position is hard because it feels awkward and unnatural. But if I want to improve my game, I work at the new grip until it becomes more natural and I get encouragement when my shots start to look better.
Gratitude Is a fundamental to developing a closer relationship with God. Sometimes gratitude can seem unnatural or awkward. What if we are struggling and don’t feel thankful, gratitude seems unnatural or even disingenuous. Yet, when we skip out on gratitude our relationship with God suffers. If my golf swing(or more importantly my score!) is important to me, I will commit to the times of feeling unnatural in my grip if I know it will make a difference. My relationship with God and experiencing Him at a deeper level is very important to me, so I will commit to gratitude because I know how having a thankful heart draws me closer to Him. So what might this look like? He are some examples of what I do:
- In the morning, before I get out of bed, I express my gratitude to God for another day. “This is the day that the Lord has made , I will rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps 118:24). There is a line in a morning prayer in the Book of Common prayer that starts each day with:
Almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought me in safety to this new day.
- Express gratitude in spontaneous moments throughout the day
- Dwell on the blessings of God as I walk my dog each day
- At the end of the day when I lay my head on the pillow, I thank God for another day of living in His kingdom.
OK.it’s time. Let’s hit the “spiritual” driving range and work on the fundamental of gratitude. Give it a month and see how your “spiritual swing” begins to change.