My family’s greatest desire is that we will live lives of obedience – even when obedience costs us our very lives. It has not come to that yet. We may in fact never come to the point of having to choose between Christ and this life like millions of God’s people have. But all too often we’ve had to choose between pleasure of some kind and Christ. Or comfort of some kind and God’s purpose.
The deeper we’ve fallen in love with our Savior, and the more apparent his call on our lives has become, the greater the conflict between our fleshly desires and following his will has grown. As he’s invited us to surrender more, we’ve felt the temptation to worry more.
“What if our son falls ill and we have no money or at least an insurance to cover his medical bills? What if we have too little to live on we find ourselves struggling to even feed ourselves? What if we get evicted because we cannot pay our rent? What if lack strains our marriage in worse ways than we can now even imagine?”
Those were the questions that swarmed my head recently in response to a direction I sense the Lord might have us take in the near future. Its disruptions to life as we’ve been used to might prove heavy. Some of the securities we now enjoy might be a thing of the past. If we do follow through with this leading, it might well be our greatest risk as a family yet.
The cost of obedience will always pale in light of the cost of disobedience
So even though I sat alone on a pew inside an auditorium that serves nearly two thousand individuals every Sunday, my mind was the least quiet place. Worrisome thoughts seemed to crisscross it at will. But as I battled through prayer and pondering on God’s promises one final ‘what if’ emerged.
What if You Don’t?
All along I had focused only on what obediently following Jesus would cost my family. The price seemed too steep. It only felt rational to stay even though God might clearly be inviting us to leave. But the courage to say “Yes Lord” would overwhelm my fears as soon as I considered what would happen if I didn’t go – if I didn’t obey.
The thing that is at stake is of immense significance. Our small step of obedience stands the chance of sending ripples across the world that will result in the worship of the Lamb by people from every tribe, language and nation – Revelation 7:9. When half the world (3.1 billion people!) has yet to hear about the purpose for Jesus’s first coming, wouldn’t it be foolish if I spent my life enjoying comfort and security while awaiting his second coming without even the slightest concern for that half?
If my wife and I do not obey, many who might come to the knowledge of Christ thanks to our obedience might end up perishing without ever hearing the Good News. “How are they to hear without someone preaching?” Paul asks – Romans 10:14. God forbid that we should prefer ease to the salvation of souls, and securities to the joyful exercise of trusting him for our every need. The cost of obedience might seem great, but it soon pales when the blindfold is taken off our eyes and we can see clearly the cost of disobedience.
Any suffering we risk for obeying Jesus will never match even a fraction of the reward he promises if we do. Would you not consider him a brute whoever refuses to trade “house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my (Christ’s) sake and for the gospel” in exchange for “a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life”? (Mark 10:29-30).
Passing on an offer like that would be ridiculous. It concerns me deeply that the world seems to apply this common wisdom (forfeiting little for immensely more) better than the Church. There isn’t a single exceptional business venture whose founder held onto employment as if his/her very life depended on it.
But Christians will all too often expect that we can somehow make great advances for God’s Kingdom while clinging onto comfort as if it were our life calling. That is impossible, just as it is impossible to find any fulfillment in the Christian life living like that. Do not shrink back from whatever way God is asking to use you because of what you stand to lose. Advance in faith because what you will miss out on if you don’t is immensely more and eternal.
Worship God Alone
Be motivated also – actually, be motivated primarily by the command “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve” – Luke 4:8. Whenever God calls us to the unknown and unsettling, fear will never prey on the things we like. It will always prey on the things we treasure. The very things that are hardest to part with; needs even, will make for the greatest stumbling blocks to our obedience.
We tend to be mostly oblivious of how great the portions of our hearts different things we treasure rule. It wasn’t until recently when I heard some students confess what their greatest fears are concerning missions that it dawned on me that those fears actually are pointers to idols they cherish. The one who fears disappointing his parents only does because he idolizes them. He has allowed them a greater say on his life choices than Jesus.
Another struggled with the thought that she might suffer, giving away her idol of comfort. It is no wonder Jesus often demands we part with these treasures if he is to use us. He wouldn’t let a young man follow him unless he sold all his possessions and gave the money to the poor – Matthew 19:21. The young man couldn’t. His heart treasured his great wealth way more than it treasured Jesus.
If only he was allowed to keep his wealth, he hoped, he would have followed Christ. “And if only God allowed me to fulfill my parents’ wishes, or keep my career, or remain in my preferred city, or live very comfortably, or marry as I wish,” most of us think, “I would gladly join in spreading the gospel.” We’re always asking to be allowed to serve God alongside other gods. Nothing would be more abominable to Yahweh. He did not plead with the young man to follow him even though he loved him; much less will he plead with us to join his cause if we deny him the supreme reign in our hearts.
It is not wrong to imagine that death might be what awaits us should we end up in Somalia preaching the gospel. Or that we might live on way less if we give up a job so we can best spend our lives for God’s renown somewhere different and trust him to provide differently. Or that our parents may never forgive us if after all the labor schooling us we set our degrees aside and take on a non-paying missionary calling.
These are hardly just fears. They are realities for anyone who heeds the command “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” – Matthew 28:19. They however only become fears capable of holding us back from obedience because of their corresponding idols. Death for example is feared because life is treasured more than it should be, making it impossible for us to take up our crosses and follow Jesus – Matthew 16:24.
The question “What is it that you fear?” could well be phrased “What is it that commands your worship?” “What is that one thing (they could be more) that sits enthroned in your heart at Christ’s expense?” God is asking to rid you of it if you are to belong to him and be used of him – and justifiably so. Your dad, mom, spouse, and children, career, possessions, even your breath, did not endure the Cross for your soul: Jesus did.
Death is feared because life is treasured more than Christ
And your dad, mom, spouse, and children, career, possessions, even your breath, will never truly satisfy you: God alone can. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” he reminds you (John 14:6), even when you hunger, feel despised, suffer imprisonment, or even get killed. And “all other ground is sinking sand,” the hymn warns us; however well fed, loved, admired, and safe we may be.