Graham Kendrick’s “Knowing You, Jesus” is one of the most theologically sound worship songs to come out in the last twenty-five years. It may be one of the most theologically sound worship songs ever written. The first verse constitutes an expression of comprehensive repentance, and the rest of the song explains why such a complete self-abandonment is both possible and desirable. In the process, the worshipper is led to affirm her or his absolute devotion to and dependence upon Jesus.
Nevertheless, I have always been troubled by this song. Something about it just gnaws at me. I have no doubt about what that “something” is; just look at what it says in the third verse.
Oh, to know the power of your risen life
And to know You in Your sufferings
To become like you in your death, my Lord
So with you to live and never die
Did you see it? Does it gnaw at you, too? Kendrick has rightly interpreted Paul’s theology and spirituality (especially as it is expressed in Philippians 3:1-14), and he has challenged the church to incorporate Paul’s heart and mind into its worship.
The problem is not with Kendrick. It is with me—and, perhaps, with you. We all want resurrection life. But in order to receive that life, we first have to die. And, in order to die, we (most often) must suffer.
And right there is the rub. Yes, I want to know Jesus, but I am not like Paul. I don’t want to know him in his sufferings. Besides, an evangelistic strategy centered on inviting people to throw away everything that gives them pleasure in this life and to embrace a life of suffering is doomed to failure!
Now, some of you might think that I have taken Paul—and Kendrick—just a bit too literally. But I don’t think so. Remember, the point of Christianity is not just to hand out fire insurance. It is to transform people’s lives, to free them from their slavery to evil and to make them ever more like their Creator (in whose image they were made). Only in this righteous state will they be able to enjoy the presence of God and participate in the life that God gives through Christ.
That kind of transformation is so radical that only the metaphors of death and resurrection will suffice to represent it. And that is precisely what we have in the rite of baptism. It symbolizes a process of dying to ourselves and living to God. And that process often requires pain.
Can we really say that we love Jesus if we are unwilling to sacrifice our comfort for him? Suffering was a significant aspect of his experience on earth and forms a significant part of his identity. Can we really say that we want to know Jesus if we are unwilling to join him in this important aspect of his earthly life?
These are hard questions to answer—especially for those who find themselves in the midst of the hardest experiences that life throws at us. I do not think that we should take them lightly, and I do think that it takes a good deal of spiritual and emotional maturity to handle them well. But something my wife once said helps me when I feel anxious about what God may require me to endure. “We don’t have any choice about whether we will suffer. We can only choose whether we will suffer with Jesus or without him.”
“Knowing You, Jesus” still gnaws at me. But that is precisely why I need to sing it. You need to sing it, too. We all need to proclaim our devotion to Jesus, and we all need to acknowledge that our devotion will cost us some things. It may even cost us things that we don’t want to give up. Nevertheless, our devotion to Jesus is worth whatever it costs. And, together, we can learn to sing that fact with conviction, commitment, and joy.