“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” — Mark 8:34-35
Fifteen years ago, it was easy. Everything I thought I knew had been wrong, and Jesus showed me — gave me — a new way: His way.
It made so much sense, and life seemed simpler then. The kids were young with minimal activities, and I had just discovered God’s awesome power and love.
So I was “all in” in those days. Whatever God asked through his Word or the Church, I didn’t question, regardless of the challenge. I just acted in faith. Some may call that “passion” or “zeal”. Others may have called it naïveté.
But whatever, it was real and powerful, and I was given the strength and confidence to make big changes in my own life, and receive every blessing that came my way, because my life was no longer my own. I had become God-serving, no longer self-serving as I’d once been.
Through God’s spirit, I was shown a new way of thinking, feeling, and living – and the freedom to live this new life came directly from my obedience to Christ, and allowing him to remain in control. He was the Master.
But as time went by and I “grew” in my faith, and I thought I was drawing nearer to God, but it seems I was really growing slowly apart from him.
Just as our children grow up and de-couple their dependency on us, it would seem that I, too, was moving toward independence. When once I was willing to let everything go and “let God,” now… not so much.
Over the last fifteen years, I’ve moved from a position of accepting 100% of what God offered me to a point where I estimate I’m willing only to receive and apply about 10% – those things that fit into the life “I’ve” made for myself.
I once used to “let go” of my life, because, frankly, I was no good at it. I was not a good manager of my own life, and so I welcomed Jesus taking the lead. As long as I was in charge I was destined to fail.
And it was this new hope in Christ that was so joyous, having quickly understood and accepted my new role as steward, managing this little spot in God’s kingdom, and with all the support, power, and authority of the throne of God, how could I go wrong in this new capacity? As long as I maintained a communication line open with my “superiors”, I was guaranteed success. And more importantly, Christ carried full responsibility for my actions, as long as I was obedient to the throne and sought his wise counsel.
But, in retrospect, I find it’s been a very long time since I deferred to God’s authority in any part of my life. His kingdom has become “my” kingdom, and I have regained complete autonomy of my position. I have promoted myself to chief operating officer, having long since accepted any calls from the president and vice-president (or more appropriately, the King and the Prince).
I apparently forgot how horrible a job I was doing before, and which was precisely why Jesus felt compelled to cross the desert to reach me. And yet, indeed, I have slowly retaken my castle, deposing the king who once ruled, and set myself up once again in his place. Now it seems I truly rule on my own, regardless of what I may say or do. I do not defer to God’s ultimate authority, as I take and apply only those good things that comfortably fit in my life. How, then, am I any better off in this life than before I met him?
Of course, I know I have been redeemed, given a new life, saved from sin, forgiven my transgressions, received everlasting life, grafted into the family of God, declared righteous and am co-heir with Christ to the throne of God…
But, how am I benefiting now? Right now? How does my spouse benefit? My family? My friends, co-workers, my community, country, or the world? I have been granted a brand new life, every single day, and yet I hold onto it as if it’s the only one I’ve got!
Have I given up hope? Is there nothing more for me than what I’ve made for myself? Is this as good as it gets? At what point can I step into the power of Christ — the same power through which God raised him from the dead — and declare my desire for something more, something better?
Should I continue to suffer instead through my same mistakes, blaming others for my past and making them suffer as I wallow in selfishness? While at the same time continuing to shout out my “undying” commitment to God? Can I continue to play the part of the Christian that claims salvation and hope through a faith that manifests itself only through empty words, broken promises, and selfish inaction?
Where is this new life? Am I still waiting for it to appear like a rainbow, or has it already come? Did the dance already start? Am I still sitting in the corner waiting for someone to ask me to dance, half-hoping nobody does?
There is so much to be had when I allow God to lead, and so much for me to leave behind if I would just let it go. God continues to hold out his hand, waiting patiently to show me all the wonders of the world, but I just can’t seem to let go of my kingdom. I had given him so much before, why did I take it all back?
I have already been born-again, so I can’t do it again. I have already been freed from captivity, so there is no more saving to be done. But Jesus is moving, and he has called me to move forward with him. How can I remain in fellowship with him if I’m not moving forward with him?
Like the Israelites freed from Egypt, I have been rescued, and the Passover Lamb has been slaughtered, his blood was shed and death passed over me. But now I wander in the desert — God trying to get me to the Promised Land — while I grumble and continue to look back to where I came from; having so quickly forgotten what it was like to be a slave.
As any father dreams for his children, so God dreams for me.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” — Jeremiah 29:11 TLB
So why must I continue living only in the present with eyes to the past, when all God wants for me is a future?