Goodness we are self-centered creatures, aren’t we? I don’t think I will know the depth of my own selfishness until I see Jesus for who He really is, until that wonderful day when I know as I am known. I think perhaps Jesus is peeling back the cover of the deception that I have lived with and letting me catch a glimpse of the truth it hides. I hope it takes. I hope the truth replaces the deception.
I read Matthew 16:24 this morning where Jesus says that if any man would come after Him he should deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Him. Self-denial is hard. I don’t like to say “no” to something I want, as both my credit card and my waistline can attest. I may have the best of intentions, but when push comes to shove, push doesn’t have to shove very hard to get me to give in. I can get up in the morning and have firm plans to not watch TV and eat a bag of chips, and at the end of the day that’s all I’ve accomplished. I plan and then fail to execute, plan and fail, over and over and over. Because I don’t like to say “no” to what I want to do.
Oh we all have the ability to get up and go to work, even knowing that most of us don’t like our jobs, or at least would rather be doing something more fun. We can do what has to be done, but we do it for a reason don’t we? We go to work so we can get our paychecks. We do the yucky chores so we can have a clean house or wear clean clothes. We do what we have to do so we can do what we want to do. It’s a quid pro quo. This for that. We have in our minds a clear rate of exchange for our activities. We pay out time, attention and effort, and purchase fun or sloth or pleasure. And this exchange is celebrated in the “work hard, play hard” culture.
I think I have been laboring under the delusion that the life of the believer is similar. I have written essays and treatises extolling the wonder of the King, how magnificent He is, how endless His love, matchless His mercy, unexplainable His grace. How peace flows like a river, joy wells up and spills over. And it’s all true, every word and a thousand more that I don’t have the capacity to think up. But is that what it’s about?
We have the “what’s in it for me?” mindset in our culture. What do I get out of it? What’s the exchange rate. If I give you this, what am I getting in return? So you want me to walk away from the world and all its considerable pleasures and serve God, okay what do I get in return? And like salespeople, some of us have our brochure about Heaven all ready, and we ooh and ahh over the pearly gates and the streets of gold. We go over the different plans…you know: this is the Missionary plan, it’s the highest level. This one is where you give up your home and your country and live in a hut in the jungle. You get lots of rewards this way because it’s so hard. This one is the Preacher plan. This is the one where your job is God but you still have your house and car and stuff. You’re never going to make much money, but you only work on Sundays. Or there’s the Deacon plan: a lot of leeway with that one, but there’s meetings and decisions you’ll have to make, but really as long as you look the part on church days, you can pretty much do whatever the rest of the time. Or there’s the Everyday Plan: this one is really easy to do, you just say the magic words and then go on about your life.
That’s the world’s point of view of Christianity. But even within the body of Christ we are guilty of touting the benefits of Christianity. I have done it myself, over and over. And I mean it too. There are benefits to surrendering your life to Jesus. The peace is unimaginable and cannot be produced on our own, the joy is unexplainable and has nothing to do with circumstances or events. But sharing Jesus in that manner still puts me in mind of salespeople, trying to coax people into buying in by talking up the benefits and downplaying the negatives.
And there are negatives. They don’t matter in the grand scheme of things; as a matter of fact they’re worthless in the grand scheme of things, but they’re still there. You don’t get to do what the world does. You don’t get to just give in to the fleshly desires like everyone else does, or at least not without a great deal of conviction. And there are times when you may be called to do something that just doesn’t feel good and certainly doesn’t pay well. Money can’t be the thing we work for or the idol we serve. There are times when the unthinkable will happen and you’ll be left reeling from the shock and pain and you’ll question everything you know. The Christian life is hard, sometimes bewildering, and you may not see a speck of reward here on this earth. This earth is not the point.
You know what the main benefit of following Jesus is? I get eternal life rather than eternal death. I get to not die. There are so many scriptures that talk about this. It is the exchange; it’s the promise, the point. It’s not about the blessings. It’s about the exchange of death for life. Lest you think that’s pretty pitiful, think about this for a minute: By my own actions, by my own hand, I have committed acts that carry the death penalty. From my first breath I was already under that sentence, and there was nothing I could do to mitigate it. But God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life. Death for life.
I heard a message some years back that said that up until the time you give your life to Jesus, it’s all about you. God pursues us, He calls to us, He loves us, He extends mercy and grace to us. He reaches down into our muck and mud and pulls us out of it. He reaches in to our prisons and looses our chains. He searches for us, we don’t search for Him. When we hear the call and respond, when we see our sin for what it is and what Jesus did for us on the cross of Calvary, and we accept His gift of love, from that point on it’s no longer about us. It’s about Him. It’s about discovering Him, learning Him, falling in love with Him, serving Him, sharing Him, allowing Him to fill us up to overflowing, opening ourselves up so that He can use us as He sees fit. It’s service to the King.
But we are so conditioned to be needy and grasping and me-minded. I whine so much to God. I complain and grump and scowl. I roll my eyes and huff my breath. I want Him to fix everything and make my life easier. And that’s not what He does.
I think about the blessings that I have in my life. I don’t deserve a one of them. He has given me so much and He doesn’t have to. He doesn’t have to communicate with me. He doesn’t have to pour out His blessings on me. He doesn’t have to show me mercy and grace. He doesn’t have to do any of that. He doesn’t even have to use me to further His kingdom; He could do whatever I am capable of doing with a thought. He doesn’t owe me anything. I owe Him. I owe Him a debt I cannot pay.
I think that we as believers concentrate so much on what Jesus can do for us that we forget that our purpose is to love Him, to serve Him. John F Kennedy said in his 1961 inaugural speech: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” The mindset of the American society has devolved even more 61 years later so that the “what’s in it for me” culture is the accepted norm. What am I going to get out of Christianity? We do a grave disservice if we present following Jesus as the way to the easy life. Big lie. False advertising. Turn Kennedy’s charge around to focus on God and it would be “ask not what God can do for you but what you can do for Him.”
We will learn so much more of who Jesus is when we just ask “how can I serve You.” How can I serve Him in this particular situation. How can I serve Him in this worry that I have. How can I serve Him in this unpleasant conversation. How can I serve Him at work today. How can I serve Him by serving my loved ones.
There’s a reason why some businesses have developed and maintained a devout clientele: their focus is on service. We want to be served. We want to have someone focus on us, on what we need and want, on how to make our experience better, how to do it our way, on customizing and personalizing everything, tailoring things to suit our needs and wants. We fall into the temptation to approach our relationship with Jesus the same way. But it’s not about us. It’s about Him.
It’s not self. It’s service.