I’ve had a lot on my mind the past month, as God has been showing me some of my current weaknesses and blindspots within my current state of belief and relationships. I am ever thankful I am surrounded by family and friends who provide sound counsel and intellectual feedback. And because I am often better at externally processing that which bothers me, here I am to share what is on my mind.
Let me begin by saying God isn’t always subtle when He tries to get His message across. I’ve had some completely unrelated events point me back to the same truth over the past week, which I know are God’s reminders for me to trust in Him. But back to my point of how God can hit us over the head with a proverbial holy frying pan to get our attention. Consider the story of the rich young man from the Gospels. This man seemingly had everything; wealth, piety, and a desire to do good. But Jesus saw into this man’s heart and loved him so much he had to point out this young man’s greatest weakness, his reliance on earthly riches. And what Jesus commanded the rich young man still rings true for us today and it is as follows (from Matthew 19:21): “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Most of the time, we get fixated on the first couple of commands, “go” and “sell”, but as my emphasis hopefully pointed out, that’s only part of what Jesus commanded. To be honest, something I’ve been wrestling with is how well I’m currently obeying these commands in my own life.
The first thing Jesus commands is to “go”. Naturally, one must ask “go where?” and sometimes we also find ourselves asking “go now?” The will to obey this command usually stems from our ability to trust God’s plan for our lives (as does the ability to obey any of God’s directives). When considering these five commands, this is one that I feel God has already willed me to obey. There have been certain life events I have experienced over the past few years that I can now clearly acknowledge as lessons God knew I needed to learn, but each one was preceded by the command to “go” where I needed to be in order to learn such lessons. For this reason, I found myself living in Muncie, Anderson, and then finally finding myself back in Warsaw; as well as working in a wide range of occupations. Each experience opened my eyes to something new about myself and understanding who I am and who I could be, yet none of these could have happened if I did not first “go” when God compelled it.
Next, Jesus commands the rich young man to “sell”. Since he already answered the “what?” (your possessions), the question that comes to my mind is “why?” But to be honest, I realized that if one must really ask “why” we should sell our possessions, it becomes obvious that a materialistic mindset has already taken hold. This is a great danger in our American society, the draw of having more “stuff”. Now do not take this as me saying having “stuff” is evil or wrong, as I believe God does bless us with abundance when we abide in Him and walk by faith. However I do believe that Christians can easily fall into the trap of believing these blessings are their right *Cough* Prosperity Gospel *Cough* and becoming fixated on the idea that evidence of personal wealth is a sign of God’s favor. I truly believe this is wrong. God does not give us good things because we deserve them, on the contrary if we got what we deserved the entirety of the human race would be eternally damned. Rather God gives us good things because He delights in blessing those who further his kingdom and abide in His plan for our lives and the world around us. So why would Jesus ask any of us to “sell” our possessions? I believe it is because he knows we have an abundance of wealth at our fingertips that could be used for furthering the kingdom instead of displaying an image of personal affluence.
So if we have been blessed with much, what should be done with it? This is where Jesus’ third command comes in, “give”. And since Jesus tells us the “who” of the equation, that is the poor and needy, I must pose the question “how?”. This is the hardest thing I feel for Christians to decide. We often know we are to give, but most of the time we content ourselves to hand over our tithes and donate the occasional sum to a charity or missionary/missions trip. This mindset runs the danger of woefully selling the kingdom short. Where is the love and generosity Jesus displayed throughout his ministry in this Christian habit? Imagine how the kingdom could be furthered if Christians didn’t just stop their giving at their monthly tithe but dipped so deep into their pockets that it reveals an utter reliance on God to care for their financial needs. Now please don’t take this display of faith to mean I advocate the habit of bankrupting one’s self to support missionaries or different outreaches, because I also believe we are called to be good stewards of what God has given us, including our money. Rather the point I hope to make is that I feel we can get so fixated on saving for the future and stockpiling our wealth that we miss out on all the good we could be doing in our communities and around the world by giving out of the abundance God has given us. Now I must admit that at this present time in my life, I really don’t have much to give in terms of finances, considering I still have a large student loan to pay off. So what then can someone such as myself give to further the kingdom? The answer is my time. Time is the greatest gift we are given, as it is the only form of currency we cannot increase. This is why I’ve come to believe that those who give unselfishly of their time for the kingdom are blessed by God beyond those who give endless sums of money for the same end. While one can argue that “time is money” I would point out that “money is not time”. Or consider this, which shows more love to a person, giving them their money or giving them their time? Paul claims that giving to the poor and helping the needy is important, but if we do not love them, what is the point? Let me end with this thought: those who give to the poor and help the needy and loves them for the person God created them to be only have to look to Proverbs to see what God feels about their efforts.
This command can be a bit confusing, because one could posture that it mirrors the previous command to “go”. However I would point out that “go” implies an outward movement of location or purpose while “come” often refers to an inward focus and humbling of self. This is based on my belief that when we are commanded to “come” to Jesus, the only suitable way to do so is in an attitude of reverence and self-denial. If we are to obey this command, it implies we set aside whatever it is we were doing previous, abandoning our former self and mission, to adhere to the purpose and position God has in store. This hit me hard because I realized I have been stubbornly postponing my obedience to “come” because I wasn’t ready to trust that whatever God had in store would be better than what I had currently arranged for myself. And to be honest, I’m still struggling with doing so on a daily basis, mainly because I struggle with denying my selfish desires, something I believe is a part of our fallen nature as humans. So I urge you, as the reader, strive to deny the self daily, pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ to do the same, and live humbly before your God.
The final command Jesus gave is another that seems simple at first but when you put it into perspective with the others that preceded it, the implications can be much, much deeper. I argue this because I interpret “follow me” to be an invitation of imitation. To follow someone means to walk in their footsteps, observe their actions, and repeat or reciprocate what they did. In light of the command to “go”, “follow me” means be fearless. Jesus always went where the Father told him to “go” without question, and without hesitation. In the light of “sell”, “follow me” means God only needs us- our person, He doesn’t need our “stuff”. In light of “give”, “follow me” means handing over everything we have in order to further the kingdom, much like the poor women giving all she had at the temple. In light of “come”, “follow me” means that our humility is a key component of our submission and to try to approach God with even a hint of pride or personal ambition means we will easily stumble and fall behind. To follow Christ is the very basis of the Christian faith, yet we often fail to imitate Christ in our obedience to God’s will and I am the guiltiest of us all.
THE WILL TO OBEY
So where am I headed with this little personal devotional? All things considered, I’m really looking for a means to inspire myself to submit and obey the greatest commandments, that is “Love God” and “Love Others”, with a renewed sense of purpose and vigor. Having completed one stage of my personal journey and now heading into the next causes me to reconsider what my life is really worth and whether who I am is headed in the right direction. It is, as I said, my daily struggle to die to myself and pick up my cross. I hope that this might encourage some of you who might be struggling with the same things and possibly remind others of what the purpose of our time here on earth truly is and perhaps might lead others to question if they themselves are seeking the truest purpose life can have. Regardless of where you are in life, I do hope this can speak to you and that you might benefit from my intellectual and spiritual wandering.