My dad tricked me when I was a kid. In hindsight, I should have figured out his scheme a lot sooner than I did, but I was a kid, I fell for it. Here’s how it went down… One day my dad led me into our backyard where a massive tree stood enclosed in a large wooden box filled with dirt. Standing at the foot of the tree he pointed at the dirt and said “Tricia, right now this is just a box of dirt, but you’re going to turn this into a garden. Your very own garden! We’re even going to call it ‘Tricia’s garden.’ You’d like that wouldn’t you?” (Cue the childhood naivety.) Of course I wanted my own garden, I mean he made it sound so appealing. One problem, I hate gardening. I hate it now, and I hated it just as much as a 7-year-old. But that summer I went out every day to plant, water and weed that box of dirt. My freedom came one day when I realized that “Tricia’s garden” was actually my dad’s garden, with free child labor to take care of it. So I quit.
Fast forward many years later, to a point in my life when maturity had developed and understanding kicked in. Doing things my dad asked me to do were no longer a chore, I didn’t feel like I had to, the truth was I wanted to. I understood how much my dad loved me, I understood the sacrifices he made for me, and that changed everything. I didn’t have to do things for him, I wanted to!
I’ve heard many people comment how the Bible is a list of rules, how it can be tiring to attempt to follow Jesus’ example. I’ve heard people say that they don’t have the time to serve. I’ve watched (and struggled in my own life) with following Jesus’ example because it pushes against natural tendencies or human desires. But when you understand the love of God, all of that changes. God has no desire to trick you into obedience; He’s not interested in you acting Christ-like because you feel you have to. He wants you to desire to follow Him and that desire develops through knowing His love.
The Bible tells a story about a regular day in the disciple’s lives, just going to someone’s house for a meal. But this time is different. This time Jesus, their leader and teacher and friend, gets down on the ground and begins to wash their feet. The disciples are confused, almost upset, why would their leader become a servant? They had seen Him do the miraculous, they knew He had great authority, why would He get down on His knees and do a job so humbling? But although they didn’t want Jesus to be washing their feet, they weren’t interested in washing feet either. Jesus was setting the example for them (and us) but it was an example they didn’t want to follow… not yet.
Fast forward a few weeks to the disciples standing at the foot of a cross, as they watched their Savior put His extravagant love on display to the point of death. This moment in history that changed everything for us, also changed everything for them, for finally they understood the magnitude of God’s love for them. These men who had been shocked at Jesus’ example of serving, now wanted to serve. Their revelation of the depth of the love of God, developed within them a desire to be like Him.
We are called to be like Jesus, to love like Jesus, to live like Jesus, to serve like Jesus. But that kind of a life can only be cultivated from an understanding of the depth of God’s love for you. When you truly understand His love for you, you won’t feel like you have to follow in Christ’s example, you’ll feel honored that you get to!
I wish 7-year-old Tricia had the revelation of my dad’s love that I do now. That garden would possibly still be growing and flourishing. How much more important is it that we have a life that is growing in God’s love and flourishing in our calling to follow Him?