One of the more difficult “responsibilities” we have as followers of Christ is to die to self. After 50+ years of living a life dedicated to securing my own comfort, this has proven to be pretty challenging. Not because I don’t want to do it – every fiber of my being wants my commitment to Christ to be evident to everyone I come into contact with. But as I become more convicted of habits and attitudes I need to rid myself of, I find myself dealing with things that are so ingrained and culturally acceptable that they are not so easy to identify and very easy to justify (to myself – God’s not buying it!). And once God reveals them to me and I accept that they truly are creating an obstacle in my relationship with Him, I have to admit the real problem is that I don’t really want to get rid of them. When I first committed my life to Christ, the things I let go of were things I had struggled to let go of for years. I didn’t mind ridding myself of those things; even patted myself on the back for being able to turn from them! But now I am at the point where it is time to let go of some deeply rooted habits that make my life comfortable and easy. And as I become more convicted about them, I am disappointed in my level of commitment to Christ as I continue to justify them or refuse to turn from them.
Romans 7:15 – “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…”
One of my favorite stories in the Old Testament is Abraham’s great test of faith. While I’ve never doubted that it was a true story, what Abraham experienced never sunk into my consciousness. I was reading “The Fifth Gospel” by Bobby Conway and in his chapter titled “Fools for Christ,” he talks about the “weird” and “ridiculous” things God has asked His people to do. He mentions Abraham. And, reading about Abraham in this context suddenly made it more real than it has ever been. Here’s how Mr. Conway put it: “God promised Abraham he’d be the father of many nations. Then, after Abraham finally receives his promised son, God tells him to kill the child.” The degree of faith Abraham had suddenly hit me. Abraham was being asked to sacrifice HIS CHILD: the child he had longed for his whole life; the child he didn’t believe he would ever have. In spite of the shock he must have felt when God asked him to do this, Abraham was faithful in obeying God. In spite of being promised by God that his heirs would be as numerous as the stars he was still willing to obey God and kill the one thing that could bring that promise to bear. I can only imagine the things I would have said to God, the questions I would have been asking, the justifications for not obeying this seemingly ridiculous request. But Abraham did it believing that somehow God would work it all out. I was ashamed at how I struggle to let go of things in my life that are nowhere near as precious as Isaac was to Abraham; ashamed at how little faith I have that God is just waiting for me to clear my life so that His plan and ways can enrich my life; ashamed at how unwilling I am to forego the comforts I have acquired because I fear the things I feel He is asking me to replace them with.
As Abraham walked to the place where he would sacrifice Isaac, I like to think he spent some time bargaining with God, just as I do. But as I consider the faith he must have had, Abraham is more apt to have spent those moments asking for strength and comfort. That’s what my conversations with God need to be.
The stories in the Bible are given for instruction. I have to stop glossing over them and pretending they don’t really apply to me. God will probably not ask me to offer my children as a sacrifice to Him but He is asking me to sacrifice a lot of things that have come to be so important in my life that I struggle to let go of them. He is asking me to trust that when I do that, my life will be so much more meaningful and joy-filled. He is asking me to trust that these are the things I must do to become more Christ-like. The things God is asking me to do aren’t really that ridiculous or weird, but I have been shown glimpses of what God wants my life to look like and I gotta say it’s weird for me to think that I could live like that. It’s so different from my self-absorbed lifestyle! But I want to demonstrate my faith and live my life as a testimony to others what followers of Jesus can look forward to and if I can implement the changes God is asking of me, I know for sure that others will see a huge difference and at least wonder at what has come over me! My lifestyle has to be so different that people notice.
Bobby Conway goes on to say: “God knows that most anyone obeys Him when blessing is promised and given. But what about when that long-awaited gift is delivered and God asks you to give it back? How many obey then?” I want to be one of those people that obey when it’s hard. It certainly isn’t as difficult as Abraham’s test, but dying to self is never easy, no matter what the sacrifice is. And as I fully grasp the reality of what others have done, particularly the people we read about in the Old Testament, I find a little extra strength to “be a fool for Christ!”
Consider Joshua at the battle of Jericho and Ezekiel lying on his left side for 390 days then flipping over to his right side for another 40 days. Instead of focusing on how they were being perceived, their faith in God’s ways kept them obedient to what He was telling them to do. My faith must be my focus to follow through with the things God is showing me. As God convicts me to spread the Good News of salvation, I find excuses for not doing so. I would prefer God grant me the gift of singing so I could safely serve Him at church in the choir! Why can’t He give me the gift of teaching and give me a Sunday School class? But if handing out tracs to people who want nothing to do with a “Jesus freak” is what God is calling me to do – to give up my comfortable days in the pool or in front of the TV – then I must trust that is how He can best use me and get out there and DO IT. As I contemplate these promptings, I am curious about how it will all play out and excited to see what God can accomplish with me if I can only find it in me to obey Him.
Isaiah 55:8-9 “…for my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways”
This is what Conway says about these Isaiah 55 verses: “…there is an infinite gap between the way He thinks and the way we think. Think about that. But God’s creative, out-of-the-box ideas not only challenge our thinking but also test our faith. We Christians are quick to sing and talk about trusting God and following Him no matter what. But when He asks something odd, difficult, or uncomfortable of us, that’s when things get a bit complicated.”
My response to God’s requests of me so far has been “God knows how fearful I am of people, He’ll understand if it takes me a while to work up my nerve.” Here’s the last quote from Pastor Conway that has turned my thinking around: “Never before has the church tried so hard to fit in with society, when in reality God still wants us to think different and stand out. We’ve spent so much time, energy, and money trying to convince the world that we’re normal – just like them. And why? Because deep down we want to be accepted by our friends and culture. And this stems from two roots – an insecurity about our faith and a subtle fear of man. Both of these contribute to our desperation to be liked. And neither are characteristic of the Fifth-Gospel Christian. …we still recognize that radical obedience to God may sometimes lead others to think we’ve gone off the deep end.” And that’s what I have to accept. The things God is calling me to do are so out of character for me. But I am out of character. That night I committed my life to Christ and He sent the Spirit to dwell in me I became a new creation. Until I actually do what God is calling me to do, I will not be an effective witness for Christ.
Matthew 5:11-12: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”