Who do you want to be? What do you want to do?
What are your dreams? Your desires? Your biggest passions, your highest ambitions?
If you're like me, the answers to those questions come quickly. If you're like me, you've had some idea of what you want in life for years. There's no question. Even if you haven't nailed down the specifics, you have a picture in your mind of where you'd like to get to and what you'd like to accomplish while you still have breath.
New question: What have you given up?
If you're a believer and you take your faith seriously, it's likely that there's something that you've had to give up out of obedience to Christ. I haven't been around all that long, and I know that He's already asked plenty of me. Things I love, things I cherish, things I cling to- He's demanded them. It's par for the course for every disciple of Christ. So my question to you is: What have you given up?
Last question: What have you gotten out of it?
I know it sounds sacrilegious, and that's probably because it is. However, I also know that it's the way we think. We're human, and we're flawed. And even in something as noble as the pursuit of Christ, I know first-hand that the question secretly nagging in the back of my mind as I follow after Him is, "Um... when is this all going to pay off?"
Fill in the blank for yourself: "God, I've given up __________ for you. When are you gonna bless me for it?" Maybe you've given up your dream home. Your dream job. Your time. Your money. Your energy. Maybe it's more specific than that. Perhaps your obedience to Christ has demanded of you a lifestyle habit that you particularly enjoy. Or perhaps you've had to give up your public image- something that your identity once rested on. Perhaps you've given up close friends, or even family members in order to follow God wholeheartedly.
Maybe you're the disciple who has decided to do one of the hardest things in life: Wait on the Lord. Maybe you've got a passion to serve and a heart to minister, and you've resolved to leave it all up to God. To trust His timing. You've resisted the urge to take matters into your own hands. But maybe you're getting tired of the wait.
Maybe you've staked everything on trusting God. Maybe you've built your life on the principle that He will lead, protect, and provide. Maybe you've given up everything for Christ, and everyone thinks you're nuts. Maybe you're praying, "God, I've given it all up for you- if You don't come through for me, I'm hooped!" Maybe you've put all your eggs in one basket, and now you've been waiting. And waiting. And waiting. And you're beginning to wonder, "What's the hold up?"
Oh, and add one more thing to the mix: The people around you are receiving the blessings you expected to get. You can't help but wonder as you see other Christians succeeding, prospering, and flourishing. Or even worse, you watch your unbelieving friends rising up and gaining everything you want. You put it all on the line and separated yourself from the crowd. You swam upstream. You defied your culture. And now, you watch as everybody else is blessed, and you've been forgotten. What gives?
As humans, it's impossible not to look around us and compare. Even as Christians, we're naturally our own #1 fans. It's in our blood to root for ourselves, and secretly hope that everyone else fails. We want to do better, and we want to be seen. We want to succeed and watch ourselves rise above the rest. In our Western culture, comparison is the currency of our time. Corporations profit from our envy. So for the Christian who gives up everything and doesn't get the health and wealth that his neighbours are getting, doubt and despair are imminent.
But Jesus never taught that obedience to Him would bring earthly prosperity or success. In fact, He destroys that notion in one sentence in the final chapter of John. John tells the story of Jesus appearing to His disciples after rising from the dead. They've been out on their boat fishing all night, and they've caught nothing. Early in the morning, they see a stranger on the beach who calls to them, telling them to toss their nets one more time to the other side of the boat. Their nets fill instantly, and Peter recognizes the stranger. He dives into the water and swims to shore, followed by the others, and they enjoy breakfast on the beach with the Lord. The part of the passage I want to focus on comes right at the end. Jesus has just commanded Peter to care for his flock, the Church. Then, he tells Peter:
John 21:18-22 - "I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.”
Peter turned around and saw behind them the disciple Jesus loved—the one who had leaned over to Jesus during supper and asked, “Lord, who will betray you?” Peter asked Jesus, “What about him, Lord?"
Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.”
Jesus tells Peter that he will be a martyr- that he will be crucified one day. Then, He gets up, and tells Peter to come and follow Him. What happens next is where we take special interest.
Peter gets up and begins to follow the Lord, who just told him that his obedience would one day lead to his execution. And as Peter walks on, he turns for a moment to glance back at John. Peter and John, along with James, were Jesus's best friends. Out of all the disciples, they were the "inner three." Peter's just been told that He will be hung on a cross one day for Christ's sake, and what does he do as he follows? He looks back at John. And suddenly, he can't help but ask, "What about him, Lord?"
You gotta love Peter. He has to be the most relatable disciple of them all. His words echo my thoughts perfectly: "What about him, Lord?" "What about her?" "God, You told me to give up _________ , and I did. Why don't You tell them to give it up, too?" "Why doesn't she have to sacrifice her job?" "Why does he get to be so popular, when I had to give up all my friends for Your sake?" "Why are they so wealthy, when I'm pinching pennies just to serve You?" Why, why why?!
Classic humanity. Classic you, classic me, classic Peter. Jesus points at Peter and says "You." Then He points at Himself and says, "Me." And His command: "Follow." John's not a part of this equation; it's just Jesus and Peter. However, there's a totally different equation that Peter's not a part of, and that one only includes Jesus and John. And although the command is simple, Peter looks away from the Lord almost immediately after beginning to follow. He realizes he's alone in this venture, and suddenly, it's just not fair. What's gonna happen to John? What does he have to do? How is he gonna suffer?
Although we are part of a huge family of believers, at the end of the day, it always comes down to you and God, and nobody else. Not your best friend, not your children, not your spouse. You + God. And although the command to follow is the same for all of us, His plan for each of our lives is vastly different. And that's where we all, at times, get so caught up.
I look to my left and I think, "That's what I wish I was doing." I look to my right and think, "That's how I want to be serving God." I look at everyone else, and the panic sets in. "Helloooo, God, aren't You forgetting something? I've committed to following You- when do I get to see results? Everyone else is living my dream. Everyone else is doing what I wanna do. I had to sacrifice it all, I had to give up so much... when are You gonna make them do the same thing?"
And Jesus, I believe, says to me the same thing He said to Peter:
"It's none of your business how I choose to use them.
You. Follow me."
Christ established a Church of individuals for a reason.Someone's ministry may produce bumper crops, while another's can barely lift off the ground. One person's preaching may be going worldwide and gaining momentum, while another can hardly add one person to a congregation. One person's mission may be expanding and meeting miraculous success, while another person is waiting, working at the same job, doing nothing more than being nice to the mean old lady who lives across the street. And when we start crying out, "Come on! Why do I have it so hard? When will it be their turn?" That's when Jesus says to us, "What's it to ya?"
In His well-known work, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes this:
"Jesus says that every Christian has his own cross waiting for him, a cross destined and appointed by God. Each must endure his allotted share of suffering and rejection. But each has a different share: some God deems worthy of the highest form of suffering, and gives them the grace of martyrdom, while others he does not allow to be tempted above that which they are able to bear."
Peter was crucified. Paul was beheaded. Stephen was stoned. John died in exile. Their lives looked very different, but they all followed Christ. The call to follow was the same, but God's plan for how each of them would follow was very different. The point is, it was never up to them. And it's not up to us, either.
I have dreams. So, so many dreams. I have passions, ambitions, desires, and goals... and there was a time when I had plans to go along with them. Plans to go out and make all my dreams come true for myself. There was a time when I knew what I had to do to become who I wanted to be, and I had every intention of letting nothing get in my way... all in the name of "serving God," of course.
But God saw through my façade of "devotion" and set to work humbling me, breaking down my expectations, and bringing me back to the meaning of discipleship. Through painful discipline, He stripped away the dreams I was clinging to, and made me cling to Him. He took back the goals that I had set higher than my desire for Him. He showed me the way He sees sacrifice and submission, and made me realize that it's a lot less glamorous than I had dreamed. He revealed to me that my desire to serve Him had really been a desire to serve myself. He took my pride and ground it into the dust... and I'm thankful He did.
Psalm 37:5-7 - Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you. He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn, and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.
Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes.
If God is in it, God will do it. If He called you to it, He'll make it happen. But it might not look like the person next to you. His plan for you may look nothing like that person you admire. But His plan for you is good. Even if it looks like 40 years tending sheep before leading Israel out of captivity. Even if it looks like being shipwrecked, again and again while trying to preach the Gospel. Even if it looks like being sold into slavery by your own brothers before becoming second in command of Egypt.
Even if it looks nothing like what you dreamed, don't sweat it.
It's not your dream that's being woven into existence, anyways.