When I was in college I noticed a gorgeous young lady sitting by herself in the cafeteria. I was immediately intrigued and drawn to this tall, slender beauty. I sat down across from her, introduced myself and two and a half years later we were married. If that was the extent of my courting Wendy I would have a very shallow and immature relationship with her. Imagine if all my focus and appreciation for my wife was what an amazingly beautiful lady she is. I would be missing so much, and she and I both would be frustrated in our relationship.
That is a picture of the sort of relationship many people have with God. Phil Webb is a missionary to Columbia who counsels pastors and ministry leaders who are struggling in their relationship with God. Often these people are leading churches or ministries that are very successful, but they are discouraged in their own hearts, teetering on burnout. The first thing he asks them is what initially drew them to Jesus. Was it forgiveness of sin, or the promise of heaven, or Jesus’ love or some other aspect of God’s nature or character? Almost invariably he finds that whatever that point was remains the primary focus in their relationship with God.
This doesn’t only happen with the first thing that drew us. At any point in our lives we can come to an insight on some feature of who God is or what he has done and be so enraptured by it that we stay there, rather than building on it and continuing to mature in our relationship with him. This isn’t to say that whatever point you are at is false, or unimportant, or shouldn’t be appreciated. I am still amazed and very appreciative of how stunningly gorgeous Wendy is. In fact I appreciate it more today than I ever have because in my eyes all of the other wonderful things I have come to know about her nature and personality enhance her outward beauty.
God longs to have a mature relationship with each of us. If we only cling to what we already know of God our relationship with him will stagnate and we will become frustrated and worn out, maybe complacent and maybe even apathetic in our walk with him. Spend some time this week with your Bible just listening to God. You may be surprised at how much more there is to discover.
I like that old saying “Growing old is mandatory. Growing up is optional.” Of course that can be taken two ways. It is good to maintain a childlike wonder and enthusiasm for life, but it’s pathetic when a person refuses to mature beyond a Junior High level. Admittedly most men revert back occasionally, but c’mon guys, let’s not stay there! But it is especially sad when this saying is true of a person’s spiritual life. (Read 1Corinthians 3:1-3 and Hebrews 5:11-14)
In Matthew 16 Jesus is explaining to his followers that soon he will have to suffer many things and ultimately be killed, but then be raised to life after three days. This didn’t fit with how Peter, still immature in his spiritual life, had envisioned things working out and he said, in essence, “No Jesus, you are wrong.” Imagine the audacity to tell God he is wrong about what path my life should take. But every one of us has done so.
It was after this exchange that Jesus said that anyone who wants to be a Christ Follower must deny him or herself. Denying yourself doesn’t simply mean giving something up, like giving up chocolate, it means giving everything up. Every right or claim on your life is relinquished to Jesus. Many of us have said we will live our lives for Jesus, but in doing so we still retain the right to choose how our life should look. It is like a parent saying they live their life for their child. The parent’s life is certainly dedicated to the wellbeing of their child, but the parent makes all the choices for how they will serve the child.
Many of us act like the parent in our relationship to Jesus. Ironically, we only begin to mature when we become the child and abandon all rights to our lives to our heavenly Father. Deny ourselves. Everything from what my career should be (regardless of what stage of life I am at), and where I will live right down to what should I pray about today.
How long I have been a Christian, how often I go to church, how much education I have, even how many times I have read the Bible are all irrelevant to whether I have grown up or just grown old spiritually. The only way to maturity is to deny myself, take up my cross and follow Jesus.
I am feeling restless this morning. The sun is shining and it’s another beautiful Central Alberta day and I want to get out but I have a deadline looming for this article. I already began writting this once on an excellent topic that I’m sure one day will turn into a brilliant article, but I’m restless because I don’t want to have to do this right now. Over the last months I have actually come to enjoy writing these things, which is a minor miracle in itself, just not right now. As I pace in front of the window, feeling the gloriously warm sunshine beaming through, I shout out loud to the empty house, “Aargh! I want to be free!”
In the echoing stillness of the moment following my vent, a profound spiritual awareness settles on me like a weight. Humbled by the gentle hand of God I speak back to him the truth; “No I don’t. I want to be bound.”
Why? “Because Christ’s love compels me. Because I am convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” (If I may personalize 2 Corinthians 5:14-15) I like the way Eugene Petersen paraphrases Matthew 16:24. Jesus is speaking and says “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self.” Therefore I willingly, joyfully relinquish all rights to myself and abandon myself to Christ in order that he may live his life through me. (See Galatians 2:20)
Please don’t think that by this I am somehow super-spiritual or anything particularly special. Even my restlessness this morning is evidence of my natural self centeredness. And believe me that is just the tip of the iceberg of my self-pleasing nature. But I have begun to know and experience the person of Jesus Christ; his nature, character, and personality and that compels me to say no to being self-serving and yes to being God serving.
So I come back and sit down at the computer and begin again to type “I am feeling restless this morning . . .”