Every person has an idea of the kind of life they want. There is nothing wrong with thinking about your life while planning for a preferred outcome. But because of our universal fallenness, things do not always work out the way we hoped. And how we respond in those moments is what matters most.
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There is a “death message” to the gospel that sometimes calls us to give up our preferred life and follow Christ. Every Christian did this when God saved them. The new convert says, “I will no longer follow my path, but yours, Lord.”
Sometimes we have to give up other things as well. We see this concept throughout the Bible when people left families, jobs, and dreams to follow God. Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Job, and Christ are examples of this idea. (See Hebrews 11.)
God does not call us to a life of self-flagellation to prove our passion for Him, but He does require a “willingness” to give up everything for the sake of Christ.
Following God is a matter of your heart that you must consider before you work out the practical realities of pursuing Him. An excellent question to think about is, are you willing to give up all of your desires for the sake of Christ?
I did not ask you to give up anything. I wondered if you were willing to give up all of your desires. You don’t have to give up your preferred hopes to follow Christ but following Christ may mean you have to give up some things. My question is staggering when considered practically.
- Perhaps you would like to have a child, but God does not give life inside your womb.
- Perhaps you would like to be married, but it is not happening at this moment.
- Perhaps you would like to be in the ministry, but you can’t find your “spot” right now.
- Perhaps you would like more money, a kind spouse, God-loving children, or job security.
None of these desires are evil. In fact, I think most Christians would quickly affirm that these are good dreams. But what if God asked you to walk away from these things to follow Him into a different kind of life? Are you willing to trust God, even if it means you cannot have your life on your terms?
Denying and Dying
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. – Mark 8:34-35
According to Christ, if you want to save your life, you must lose it. But isn’t “life” a good thing? Why can’t I have my life, my way? What’s wrong with that? Those are the wrong questions. If you’re asking those questions, you’re missing the point of the text. The real question is, “Will you trust God?”
What are your deepest and fondest desires? Are you willing to give them up for Christ? I did not ask you to give them up. I wondered if you would be willing to give them up for Christ? There is a difference. Here are a few more good things that many Christians want: good health, material comfort, and a lack of inconvenience.
If I were in charge, I would want to hold on to these wonderful things in one hand while grasping the Savior with my other hand. But I know that I’m not in charge, and God may have other ideas in mind with my life.
But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back? What he desires, that he does. For he will complete what he appoints for me, and many such things are in his mind. – Job 23:13-14
Recently, I told a young man that if he genuinely wanted to be right with God, he must be willing to walk away from his girlfriend, whom this young man hopes will be his future wife. And he must trust God for a better life than what he imagines with his girlfriend.
I did not say he had to walk away from his girlfriend. I said he must be willing to walk away from his girlfriend if a higher calling to Christ required it. His response to my practical personalization of Mark 8:34-35 to his life was to reveal his idolatry or his God-centeredness.
Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. – Matthew 19:21-22
Carefully read what I am asking: Are you willing to give up your agenda for a Jesus + Nothing life? That is what it means to lose your life by trusting the One who not only knows better than you do but who can also sustain you in the path that He leads you (Psalm 23:3).
In this way, parents similarly lead their children. On occasion, I have appealed to my children to let go of something they wanted and to trust me for something better. My appeal meant that they could not have what they wanted, but they must rely on my direction for their lives.
These types of parental requests leave them feeling a bit unsure, unsafe, and uncomfortable. Trusting Christ implies that He may take you to places where you might not want to go.
Batter My Heart
Option One – You can reject Christ and His plans for your life, choosing to shrink your life down to something that you can manage. It may be less risky than fully trusting Christ, but it won’t be satisfying, and the other downside to “self-salvation” is that you will miss out on an extraordinary experience with God.
Option Two – You do not want to “shrink your life down,” but you’re aware that a walk with God is not “safe.” He may call you to get out of your “boat” of self-reliance and walk on water with Him (Matthew 14:28). Many of us desire to “die to ourselves,” but we are fearful about going to that place.
The truth is that I love “me” way too much to die to myself willfully. The only way to dispossess the dark heart of my selfishness is to beg God to possess me with the spirit of Christ. John Donne said it this way in his holy sonnet:
Batter my heart, three-personed God; for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
My prayer is that Christ will continue to reveal to me that there is nothing in this life that can be strong enough to sustain me or give me all that I want. I’m a dirt clod (Genesis 2:7) that is fading into dust (Ecclesiastes 3:20). And the things in this world will crumble and disappear.
In Christ Alone
Hoping, searching, and valuing the things of this world is an illusion. If I persist in my search for happiness in a fallen world, I’ll drop into despair. My treasure must be Christ alone, whether I get the “good” things that I want or not. The “mirage of this life” will never keep me secure or satisfied.
The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. – Ecclesiastes 1:8
If I build my life on anything other than Christ, I will lose, and Christ will not bless me in the way that He longs to lavish Himself on me.
Call to Action
I’m not asking you to feel guilty about any blessing that you may possess. And I’m not asking you to give up anything that you currently possess.
My aim here is to motivate you to reflect on your current contentment. If you’re not content, there is something wrong. Possibly you want something that you don’t have. If so, you’re not living the “Christ + Nothing = Satisfies Life.”
Do not beat up yourself if you’re not there yet. I’m not there either. Because of remaining sin, none of us are where we need to be, but we should be pressing toward the high mark of Christ.
That I may know him and the power of his resurrection and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. – Philippians 3:10-12
Also published on Medium.