May I be honest with you here in this space? I want to pour out my heart in the following paragraphs and share some deep truths of God with which I have been wrestling lately. So often we don’t want to go deep with God. We want to keep Him a bit distant until we really need Him, because carrying Him close always, abiding with Him in every moment, following where He tells us to go, is dangerous. It seems so much easier to experience the “good” things we want from God that make us feel warm and fuzzy rather than continually yield to the painful means He so often uses to prune us, press us, mold us, and shape us into the image of His Son.
Jesus really did say that following Him would mean denying ourselves, which entails disregarding our interests, declaring our ways to be false. It means rejecting and refusing ourselves, our old ways and abnegating the throne of our hearts, giving Him full access to all of who we are. It means to begin acting and behaving in a way that is utterly different from who we were before we chose to come to Him as Savior and LORD. Jesus really did say that following Him would mean taking up our cross every, single day. It means placing our lives on the altar, allowing the old self to die, and being willing to do whatever it costs to love Jesus, to be like Him, to go wherever He leads. Jesus really did say that following Him would mean accompanying Him on the journey of life, that in choosing to go with Him, we no longer take any more steps without Him. It means we take seriously what it means to live the life of a true disciple of Jesus Christ. (See Luke 9:23-24)
A true disciple obeys the Master. The life Jesus commanded His followers to live was not an easy one. In the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus described those who were blessed, He said they were poor. They mourned. They were meek, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers. They were hungry and thirsty for being right with God. They were the persecuted, the reviled, those against whom people would speak all sorts of evil falsely. Is this truly the life we seek to live? Is this the life for which you are longing because you believe pleasing God, seeing God, being called a child of God, obtaining access to the Kingdom of God and heaven, far outweighs any pleasure this world could ever offer you?
We so very often make light of the difficult teachings of Jesus. We say, “Oh, well, He didn’t really mean for us to sell our possessions and give to the poor. He really didn’t want us to take sin so seriously we’d be willing to do whatever it took to get rid of it in our lives, even if it meant cutting off the very thing causing us to sin. He really didn’t mean for us to leave our homes, to become a sojourner on this earth without a place to lay our head. Surely Jesus didn’t want us to love Him so much more than our families, that obedience to Him would take priority over them. Did Jesus truly want me not to worship Him if I have unforgiveness against another human being? Did Jesus really mean that when I ogle the body of a person, I’m committing adultery? Did he really want me to do whatever it takes to avoid divorce? Does Jesus really expect us to not take revenge on those who hurt us deeply? Does He really want me to love my enemies? (See Matthew 5-7 for most of these commands, also see Luke 14:26 and Matthew 8:20)
Yes, Jesus said all of these things, and He meant them. He even went so far to say, “Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven,” (Matthew 5:19). This is a statement that should cause us to tremble and to take seriously how Jesus has commanded us to live. We can’t truly follow Jesus with part of our heart. He requires the whole thing, all of us, and He calls us to live difficult lives out of love for Him and for the people He loves because it really is what is best for us. “Follow me,” he says, “lay down your whole life, because what use is it gain the whole world but lose your very soul?” (Matthew 16:24-25).
We can have everything this world has to offer, but in the end, all that we thought we had gained by chasing success, possessions, fame, adoration, enjoyable experiences, safety, comfort, a positive vibe-giving tribe, will be utterly worthless. These are not treasures that last. After all, chasing the goodies and trinkets of the world might bring us momentary happiness, a vapor of warm fuzzies, but when the good vibes fade, we are left wanting more, because nothing can fill us. Nothing satisfies us like the love of Jesus. Nothing else can truly feed and fulfill our starving, aching souls. Chasing happiness and security in this world is a heavy burden to bear because in reality, we can control none of it. Jesus said the burden of following Him is easy and light because He carries the weight for us, and the burden of the care of our soul rests firmly in His strong and faithful grip, (Matthew 11:28-30, John 10:28). This doesn’t mean the Jesus Way is without difficulty. There’s plenty of pain and sorrow in truly following hard after Jesus with all we have and all we are. However, there is peace and freedom from anxiety and fear, because He is the One we choose to trust with our future.
So what? What if we really chose to live like Jesus has called us to live? What if we were willing to obey Him no matter the cost? What if we loved Him more than anything else in this world, so much so, that we would be willing to give up our hopes and dreams and desires in favor of His will for our lives? What if we realized that when Jesus redefined the second commandment from loving our neighbor as ourselves to loving one another as He has loved us, it meant we were really supposed to love other people as much, as sacrificially, as selflessly as Jesus loved us? Jesus became cursed on a cross for us. He bore our sins and sorrows. He experienced hunger, pain, thirst, homelessness, rejection, temptation, torment, the hatred of the crowd, all to demonstrate His tremendous love for us. Are we really willing to love other people that much?
There’s a verse in Romans where Paul, a follower of Jesus, writes, “I am speaking the truth in Christ – I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit – that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers,” (Romans 9:1-3). Read that again. What is Paul saying here? Did he really mean that if it cost losing his salvation and being cut off from a relationship with Jesus forever, he would do it if this lead to others being saved? Yes! He said, “I speak the truth in Christ – I am not lying.” I think he meant for us to believe his sincerity that he was willing to lose Christ if it meant others might know Him. Paul understood what Jesus meant when He commanded us to love one another as Jesus loved us. Paul was in anguish over those who didn’t know Jesus. He understood what it cost Jesus to save him, and he was willing to do whatever it cost him to share the abundant, life-giving salvation of Jesus with as many people as possible, (Philippians 3:7-8, 1 Corinthians 9:19-22).
What if we loved like this? What would happen? What if our hearts’ desires became one with Christ’s? What if we were willing to forgive, love, and serve those who have hurt us most? What if we let go of being right, seeking restitution, and chose instead to go to the places where evil reigns and give of ourselves, so those dwelling in deep darkness might have a chance to see the light of Christ, to see the life of Christ in us? What if we did what Jesus told us to do?
If I’m being honest, I’m not there yet. I confess I still struggle to love Jesus with all of my heart. I still struggle to love people who are difficult and complain when my day is inconvenienced by others. May God forgive me! May He break my heart for what breaks His. May I be so surrendered that I’m willing to love people as much as Jesus has loved me. Oh God, this is my prayer for myself and Your people!