To follow Him can be really hard. There doesn’t seem to be any contingency plan for any who are looking to escape such a drastic call. Jesus either is, or He isn’t our Lord. “Do you also want to leave?” This is a question that will be asked to every disciple–sometimes once, and sometimes repeatedly.
There are these crystalline moments when I must make a decision. Will I take up my cross and go with Him? There doesn’t seem to be any room in Jesus’ band for ‘almost’ disciples. That scares me sometimes.
Being obedient is far from easy. Today’s cross is waiting for me. I’m afraid at times that I won’t be able to take the next step as a true follower. Am I just fooling myself?
All of heaven seems to stand on tiptoe to see what I’m going to do next.
Who am I really?
“After this, many of his disciples left. They no longer wanted to be associated with him. Then Jesus gave the Twelve their chance:
“Do you also want to leave?”
“Peter replied, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God.”
John 6:66-69, The Message
Image from Wikipedia, verses are from The Message Bible by Eugene Peterson.
In this particular post we’re looking at an element of Christian discipleship that ties us all together. It’s our common denominator as His disciples. We must learn to die to self to be faithful. There can be no obedience unless we choose to carry our cross to a place of death.
“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there.”
But what does that look like? How can I know that I’m really doing this? Maybe this will guide you.
By no means is this list exhaustive. But you know that maybe good. The principle then has the room to fit all areas of your life–the core idea of self-renunciation becomes the way your spirit operates. We deny ourselves so real life can begin.
There can be no resurrection power unless there is crucifixion weakness.
We must go to the cross daily in order to find our life. That is the way. “This is a trustworthy saying: If we die with him we will also live with him.”
1-2 What a beautiful home, God-of-the-Angel-Armies! I’ve always longed to live in a place like this, Always dreamed of a room in your house, where I could sing for joy to God-alive!
3-4 Birds find nooks and crannies in your house, sparrows and swallows make nests there. They lay their eggs and raise their young, singing their songs in the place where we worship. God-of-the-Angel-Armies! King! God! How blessed they are to live and sing there!
Psalm 84:1-4, Message
There are some things that leave an indelible mark, and they go very deep down into our souls. For me, one instance I remember staying at Simpson College on Silver Ave. in San Francisco in June 1986. The dorms were empty and I had a whole floor to myself. The campus was gorgeous; the roses were in full bloom.
I found a little “mom and pop” corner market nearby which had an awesome deli. Here I could buy cold cuts, some excellent braunschweiger, and freshly baked sourdough bread. I returned to my room to build my sandwich, and feast.
I remember that the windows were open and there was a beautiful breeze. Food, warm sun, flowers in bloom and the Holy Spirit was about to ‘plow’ into my life. It would be a holy collision.
It was simply a moment that I captured and savored. Everything seemed to coincide, it was magical in the best and holiest sense of the word. It was beautiful, that is all I can say. That time in that dorm room has become a crystalline moment that I will never forget. Right there, it seemed I fell in love, not with a girl, but with a moment in time and place. I knew I was on holy ground.
That nostalgia lays thick on the shoulders of the writer of Psalm 84. He remembers and savors those powerful memories of his visit to the temple. He was given something at that particular moment that would follow him for the rest of his life.
The beauty of that experience was inviolable and true and could never be duplicated. This treasure was his. As he aged he could tell his grandchildren, “I walked with God.” And really mean it.
I personally believe God gives us these holy moments, wrapped in wonder and awe. When the Holy Spirit deeply touches in this way you will never, ever be the same.
The psalmist has the same hunger for God.
These moments in the temple which are so blessed have also ‘ruined’ him. Often special times of God’s presence will result in a ‘sanctified’ dissatisfaction with the present status quo. Brennan Manning once said, “Those who have the disease called Jesus will never be cured.” You can easily apply it to these verses. God’s presence “ruins” us forever.
But when we finally make our way to Jesus, life takes on a special and curious wonder. When the rain finally comes to the barren desert, an explosion of life bursts out. In much the same way, our lives are ‘watered’ by Jesus. Things get very green and lush as we live in the Spirit. All of this is in contrast to our dry and desperate life without His presence.
I want to become hungry for His presence.
I so want to be in the center of wherever He is at. I admit that His grace and love has spoiled me. But the love of Jesus does this. Normal life seems to be nothing more than a boring journey into ‘black & white’, but somehow He turns it all into stunning color.
The psalmist practically begs to be returned to the temple. He wants to be there, more than anything else. It is now his true home. He will not be satisfied with anything less.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord. Apart from you, I have nothing good.”
23 “The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. 24 Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.”
Psalm 37:23-24, NLT
We are each on a journey, and when we start to get serious about our following, we feel His pleasure. In the movie, “Chariots of Fire,” a line is spoken by Eric Liddell:“I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” The film resonated deep inside the bones of many who saw it.
Part of it I suppose was this runner had something called passion– it is something we hardly hear about these days. (Perhaps we need some of that “fervor.”) There is also a point to made that we can really make God happy. And many of us don’t completely understand this. Or don’t believe it! What they end up living is a substandard life, and that is tragic.
“And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”
The pleasure we bring God is our profound purpose in life.
When we start moving out into that heart-intensity, we will discover that it is what we crave. All the pleasures of sin will never satisfy us. You might as well sort that out as soon as you can. You will only find satisfaction in running the spiritual race. Oh to grab hold of life with two hands and make it your own!
V. 24, paints a picture of a stumbling runner. Perhaps your feet slipped, or you tripped over a root or rock. Nobody goes out to race with the idea of falling on their hinder parts. The key idea though isn’t my falling, but by His proximity. He is holding your hand! To suggest otherwise is foolish and bad theology. He finds us— follows us—and holds us steady.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.”
2 Timothy 4:7
As a mentally ill believer, my race is different than many.
I run with constant pain and clinical depression. I remember in boot camp a recruit had to carry around a thirty pound rock in his ruck sack for 48 hours. He ran with it, ate with it, showered with it. He even had to sleep with it. Perhaps that rock made that recruit a future Command Sargeant Major?!
I still must run, and I’m not disqualified by my ‘rock.’. I still am a disciple and still must run my own particular race. I think deep-down you know this; you see, everyone you meet today is running a challenging race, a profoundly hard race– so be kinder than you have to be. Grit your teeth and be kind.