My son Zeke, a recent graduate from the Ohio State University, transferred there from the United States Naval Academy. Recently he was recounting why the Naval Academy didn’t work out for him. Among many examples, he shared a story of a time when the Academy was hosting the Russian ballet. Several battalions were required to attend in order to impress someone with the full auditorium. Zeke , being well parented and therefore refined from a young age, wanted to go, but unfortunately his battalion was not selected. No Russian ballet for him.
But wait! Some of the required attendees from other battalions were able to fabricate excuses and wiggle their way out of the requirement. That left extra tickets, which the Academy then made available to any Midshipman. That included Zeke, so Zeke decided to sign up for it and reserve a spot.
But wait! So many required attendees kept fabricating excuses and getting out of their assignment that too many spots were available, and without requiring Midshipmen to attend there could be too many empty seats and that would leave the wrong impression on the fleet-footed European guests.
So in predictable Naval Academy fashion the administration added new battalions that would be required to go. Unbeknownst to Zeke, his battalion was now included on the “required to go” list.
Zeke went to pick up his ticket, and the officer in charge told Zeke he was too late.
“What? You ran out of tickets already?” queried Zeke. “But I wanted to go!”
“Doesn’t matter, now you have to go…”
“Well thank you Sir” grumbled Zeke. “You just ruined the ballet for me…”
This story reveals a deep and profound mystery of the human heart and how we are motivated. We humans don’t like to be told what to do, even when it is good for us or we might otherwise enjoy doing it.
Like Zeke’s invitation to the ballet, sometimes we misunderstand Jesus’ invitation to immerse ourselves in following Him. God doesn’t require obedience from us. That would ruin the joy of choosing to live for Him. In fact God would never require from us something we could otherwise learn to enjoy submitting from a deep desire in our heart.
If you’re still with me, you might be fighting that last statement about obedience. God does require some things from us (cf. Micah 6:8), and what about all the commands (let alone the commandments!) in the Bible. Those are requirements, aren’t they?
Let me state it, again, in the positive—If, from the deepest desires in my heart, I can learn to enjoy submitting to God, why would God demand that of me? He wouldn’t have to! All He would have to do is heal my heart and repair my broken motivational structures instead
This insight plays itself out in subtle, yet significant ways. Whether it is personal lifestyle decisions, sharing your faith, participating in a church or its programs, reading your Bible, loving your neighbor/ family member/ enemy/ boss, giving your money, or whatever…ask yourself if you are primarily motivated by an obligation, duty, or sense of “I ought to” or are you motivated by a deep desire that “I want to.”
If it is the former, that one is on you, not God.