What Would Jesus Do…20 Years Later?


Do you remember the hype? Did you have a bracelet? And, can you believe that was 20 years ago? WWJD was the rage, mostly among high school youth groupers.

Someone back then was inspired to reach back in history to the novel In His Steps, written by Rev. Charles Sheldon and published in 1896. As Rev. Sheldon went about his ministry as the pastor of the Congregation Church in Topeka, KS, he observed the religiosity of Christians which did not seem to translate into actual Christ-like attitudes or behavior. This awareness inspired a sermon series, which inspired him to develop the fictional characters in his novel.

In the 1990s, the foundational idea from Sheldon’s book resurrected into a movement. Youth groups and then entire congregations adopted WWJD as their unofficial guiding principle. The basic idea was that Jesus is not only a savior, but also a moral example for us to follow. By asking ourselves the question (WWJD?), we endeavored to shape our actions according to the teachings and life approach of Jesus.

Strangely, WWJD came blasting into my awareness over the last 2 weeks. Our world is still staggering from the bombings in Beirut and Paris. There is nothing good, healthy, or admirable about these attacks. Yet, for some reason, that silly abbreviation keeps coming to my mind….WWJD?

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been engaging in a high risk activity. I know, I’ve been warned, but for some reason I just keep picking it up…the Holy Bible, that is. What’s striking me square between the eyes this time is Jesus’ Sermon On The Plain from Luke 6. “To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person.” -The Message Version

OK. What would Jesus do? Pray for his enemies. Evidently God expects me to do the same. The statement above is very straightforward…we could call it a teaching, but it looks more like a command. “Do this.”

Meanwhile, my anger at these perpetrators and my desire to follow Jesus are going round and round with each other in my soul. As I move through these days, I’m noticing evidence which these contrasting voices are claiming to support their case for the appropriate response. Perhaps you will recognize some of these experiences and observations.

  • A minister friend posted a website link (https://atfp.org/), inviting Christ-followers to consider its content and respond. “Adopt A Terrorist For Prayer,” is the site, calling people to identify known terrorists and pray specifically for them.
  • A conversation with a Christ-follower who is a caring human services professional who regularly tells others, “I’m praying for you,” comes to mind. When the aforementioned website was described to this person, the response was immediate and emotionally-charged. “Military force has to be the first response,” accompanied by a look communicating, “Pray for them. Are you crazy?” Praying for terrorists was unthinkable.
  • Hearing some pastors describe their anxiety about leading prayer in worship which includes the terrorists. They recognize the intense militaristic and nationalistic emotionalism rampant in their congregations.
  • Seeing other pastors in social media calling for immediate and overwhelming force as the first response. Praying for terrorists does not rule out/in the use of military force. It’s just that praying appears to be the first call of Christians when enemies strike.
  • Recognizing our resistance to praying for enemies is grounded in our resistance to spiritual growth. Those who have prayed for others with whom they are in conflict readily know that we cannot remain the same when we pray. Certainly prayer somehow contributes to God’s movement in our world, while at the same time it’s a boomerang activity. Prayer changes us as much as it influences others. We cannot remain unchanged when we sincerely pray for others.

So, here we are 20 years later. WWJD? Does anyone really want to ask that question anymore? There was a time when it seemed like such a good idea. Those bracelets were so colorful and the abbreviation made for great slogans. But now that the answers may raise uncomfortable questions for us, WWJD is a fad many rather forget.

May God help us to follow the one whom we call savior…and model for life.


One thought on “What Would Jesus Do…20 Years Later?

  1. Becky November 25, 2015 / 1:57-05:00Nov

    Thank you, Mark. Your reflection is a gift!

    Liked by 1 person

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