All worthwhile achievements in life require our commitment both to our cause and to the people associated with it.
Ernest Shackleton loved the sea and chose a maritime career. Consumed by a fiery passion to be the first person to reach the South Pole, he participated in five Antarctic expeditions. He died in January 1922 on board his ship the Quest off South Georgia Island during his final voyage—unfortunately, without seeing his dream fulfilled.
Shackleton’s fame is based on his utter commitment to pursue his dream and, in particular, his commitment to those who sailed with him on his fourth attempt. The expedition’s goal of reaching the South Pole had to be abandoned when the ship, the Endurance, was crushed by pack ice. Shackleton led a party of 6 desperate men on a heroic journey in a boat less than seven meters long and ultimately was able rescue 22 other men who had remained behind.
Shying away from commitment
Most of us are inspired when we hear stories of such supreme dedication. At the same time, we notice all around us many people’s growing reticence to enter into long-term commitments. Men and women in their twenties and thirties (and some older than that) map out their careers along a path that will lead them to a series of growing responsibilities in various organizations. Few see it as a viable goal to commit their entire professional life to one company, as their grandparents and parents often were happy to do. Political parties and labor unions in the Western world complain that they find it increasingly difficult to raise the kind of commitment that convinces people to enroll as active members.
Marriage and church membership are other significant areas in which we see a major reluctance to enter into long-term commitments. In some Western European countries, more than 70 percent of young people simply cohabit, and a major portion of them will either continue to cohabit or eventually move on to other similar relationships. The United States has long led the world in divorce rates. While marriages disintegrate for many reasons, the lack of lifelong commitment is certainly one of them.
Religion continues to be a major force in our twenty-first-century world. But during the past few decades, we also see a considerable change in the religious scene. Those who belong to the postmodern generation may, on the average, have a greater spiritual interest than did their baby-boomer parents, but they often are deeply suspicious of organized Christianity. Many will insist that they are believers, but they fail to reach the point of indicating their commitment by choosing to become a member of a church. They shop around among the congregations in the region where they live, and also between denominations. They may even faithfully attend a particular church community, but very often they stop short of actually joining that church.
What is the reason for this reluctance to make commitments? Trend watchers tell us this is part of a fundamental change in society. Just as a few centuries ago there was a shift from the Middle Ages to the modern period; now we are in the midst of a similar shift from modern to postmodern.
One of the key elements of this new approach to life is the exchange of absolute truth for “personal truths” that are mere preferences and opinions. Related to this is the emphasis on plurality. There are, we are told, various ways of doing things, and your way is as good as mine. If there is a God, there are a numerous ways of reaching him. Who says that Christianity offers the only route to the great beyond?
Finding true satisfaction
You may have heard the oft-quoted maxim “If something is worth doing, it is worth doing well.” Perfection may often not be within our reach, but if we invest time, skills, and energy (and often money) in a project, it gives satisfaction when we have been able to complete it in a way that makes us proud. At the very least, we want to be able to look back and say that we did our best.
Why should this be different when we deal with the projects that have lifelong consequences—education, career, marriage, and spiritual pilgrimage? If these things are truly important, they too deserve commitment.
If we lack this commitment in the area of education, chances are that we will drop out of college the moment we get stuck in a particular class, or we may be tempted to take a full time job in order to get enough money to buy that car that has taken our fancy.
If we can’t put our very best into our careers, it isn’t likely we’ll continue on a promising track. Those who look back on a long and successful marriage know that it took a full commitment on the part of both husband and wife to understand and support each other through the joyful ups and unavoidable downs of their life together.
Our relationship with God demands an even higher degree of commitment. It means making a choice, a decision, developing a sense of loyalty that refuses to allow itself to be undermined by difficulties and doubt. To say that our spiritual journey demands involvement isn’t enough. It requires commitment. The difference between involvement and commitment is illustrated by a ham-and-eggs breakfast: the chicken was involved; the pig was committed.
Jesus said that true love means loving God “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”1 Like the people of Israel some 1500 years before Christ, we are confronted with the uncompromising appeal, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.”2 This choice cannot be haphazard. Jesus said, “He who is not with me is against me.”3 When Jesus said, “Come, follow me,”4 He had in mind a lifelong journey, not a weekend vacation.
A religion that functions only once a week won’t fill our hearts. Neither will a religion that we reserve for times we happen to feel a bit low or during the fleeting moments we’re enjoying the beautiful choir in a medieval chapel. A lifestyle that fluctuates between the dictates of Hollywood and the principles of God’s Word has no direction and remains empty and without real purpose. A heart that remains divided between love for the world and love for God will soon cease to provide inner peace.
Some time ago I read a definition of Christianity worth sharing with you: “True Christianity, courageous Christianity—the kind the apostles Paul and Peter and thousands of other early Christians practiced—isn’t for wimps. It’s not for the fainthearted, the lukewarm, the moderately committed, or the occasional churchgoer. It’s for the passionate, the ones with the courage to say, ‘I believe God, and I will dedicate my every waking hour to his purpose, no matter what it costs.’ ”5
Committed to the Committed One
If you still have doubts about the need for—and the rewards of—total commitment, remember that God’s commitment to us is more complete and far-reaching than our commitment to Him ever will be. After all, He gave his all. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.”6
We have many role models when it comes to total commitment. But greater than that of Ernest Shackleton or of any other human being is the unparalleled example Jesus Christ, who gave himself utterly and completely for us.
Reinder Bruinsma writes from Hoevelaken, the Netherlands.