Awhile back I was planning to go on a short sabbatical. I had never done this before, but situations in our life were prompting me to get away to be alone with God. My plan was to go to my parents’ camper for a few days and spend an extended time in prayer and scripture reading along with many moments of just listening to God. A few days before I was scheduled to leave I was sitting down to read to my son Caleb his bedtime story and pray with him. He comes downstairs and sits down next to me and says, “Daddy, you’re going to die in few days.” I was taken aback by his statement and asked him what he meant. He said you are going to be with Jesus in a few days. My son in his innocence thought I had to die in order to be with Jesus (his mother had told him I was going to be with Jesus while I was gone). As I thought about it I decided that while I wouldn’t die physically while being on my sabbatical something had to die if I was going to draw closer to Christ. Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” –Matthew 16:24
In our western society we feel that we can have it all with a little Jesus on the side. We have become masters at compartmentalizing our life so that we can fool ourselves into thinking we can be happy with what the world offers and yet give Jesus at least a small corner in our life. We become consumers of what the world throws in front of us and in the process also become consumers of Christianity. Far too many times we find it so easy to go to church on Sunday morning, enjoy a time of worship, listen to a good sermon, and then return home to our daily lives. We seldom spend time in God’s Word and prayer becomes a dinnertime activity or at best a passing moment. We may be “good” people and believe that we have our religion and beliefs all right. We believe in Jesus and “know” that we are going to Heaven. The problem is that this is not what Jesus has in mind for us as disciples.
Throughout the Gospels Jesus admonished His disciples to take up their cross and follow Him. In order to be His disciples they must deny themselves, which meant giving up everything. If they tried to save their lives, if they tried to become successful by the world’s standards, they would lose their lives in His Kingdom. To pursue the pleasures of this world was to become a slave to the flesh and be chained to this world. In order to follow Christ and be part of His Kingdom, they had to break the chains of this world and seek first His Kingdom. The rules haven’t changed. We are still under the same expectations as disciples as those first disciples. “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” – Matthew 10:38
Dying to self is never optional. If we truly deny ourselves there is nothing that can stop us from being obedient to God. We need to put to death our sinful ways and lifestyles. The selfish pleasures that we once engaged in and pursued need to be replaced with a passion for what pleases God. If we do not do this completely can we really call ourselves disciples? Jesus has a name for people who enjoy being called Christians without sacrifice…lukewarm.
“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” – Revelation 3:15-17
God has plans for us. If we pursue His will He will provide for our every need. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11. But we need to be obedient and not double-minded. Christ needs to be first in our lives and we need to actively pursue a real relationship with Christ.
Father, help me to not be lukewarm. Lead me as I pursue your heart’s desire. Make my will your will. I trust you to care for my needs as I take up my cross daily. – Amen