This past week, during our Men’s Group discussion, we were talking about a video we just saw called “Follow Me” by Andy Stanley. One of the men asked about this idea that, “If we are to truly follow the Lord, we are to forsake everything else, give all of our earthly possessions away and focus all our efforts on seeking God and spreading the Gospel.” He asked further, “Is it wrong, then, to have a nice house, a nice car and to provide good things for our children?” He said, “It almost sounds like we should be willing to leave our homes and families behind, quit our jobs and just serve Christ with everything that is in us, trusting Him to take care of our families in our absence. Is that really what God is asking us to do?”
Those are great questions, ones that I have struggled with myself, at times. But, before I try to come up with some sort of “uber-spiritual answer,” here, I think a we should take a closer look at what Christ said to His disciples regarding these matters and see if there might have been some special circumstances in play, back then, or did He really mean for us to forsake all else and follow Him, at the expense of everything that we hold near and dear.
Here is the portion of Scripture Pastor Stanley was teaching from:
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. [Mark 8:34-35 ESV]
First of all, I have to say that if you believe God is specifically calling you to “sell all that you have and follow Him,” and you have prayed sufficiently about that and received godly counsel and confirmation that God is indeed leading you to do that, then that is indeed what you should do without hesitation. As we saw with the disciples, Jesus would call them by name and command them to physically follow Him, from that day forward. They left behind families, businesses, earthly possessions and never looked back. This was Jesus Christ, the Messiah, who was calling them. How could they say, “No.” Their services were needed, right then and there. Jesus was only going to be with them for a little while and they were about to change the world, literally. What was more important than that?
But, let’s go back and look at one key part of that verse, before we move forward. Jesus said, “..let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Wait…who’s cross are we to pick up? Our cross, not His. What is my cross? What is your cross? I would say, “whatever God has specifically burdened you with.” He is speaking about individuals. Their self-driven life is whatever is in their own hearts and mind to do, apart from God. It is pretty much what the world is preaching today. “Unto thine own self be true.” “Whatever feels good, do it.” What would you be doing, right now, if you did not have responsibilities like a family, a job, or pressures from other people to be and do certain things. I see that as what Jesus was talking about when He says, “whoever saves his own life.” It’s doing your own thing, pleasing yourself…come what may.
So then, I would say that what Jesus meant when He said, “take up his cross,” would be whatever God specifically calls you to do, for Him. It might be selling all your earthly possessions and becoming a missionary for Christ. But, it also might not be. Your cross is whatever God gives you to do. Were you called to be married, have kids, go to school and pursue a certain career with your gifts and talents? All of those things can be godly burdens, or crosses, that we might be called to do for Him. Look what Paul wrote in Colossians:
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. [Colossians 3:17 ESV]
Is the Apostle Paul telling us to disobey God, by pursuing things other than committing our lives fully to the ministry? Of course not. We can serve God and bring Him glory in many different ways. We are to serve Him wherever we are. That is why it so important to prayerfully consider our options and ask God to lead us and guide us through them. He is to be “a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path,” as David wrote in Psalm 119. I believe there is a plan, designed by God, for everyone’s life. Mine is not yours. Yours is not your neighbor’s and none of us are called live the life of Jesus. Only He could do that. But, as Paul taught us, we are to bring Him glory in whatever we do, so help us, God.
So, the Lord has blessed you with a great career and you have a nice home, a nice car and you go on two nice vacations every year. Are you somehow dishonoring God by not selling it all, quitting that job and going into full-time ministry. I don’t know. Has God specifically called you do that? If so, then, yes. But, if not, are you serving Him (or yourself) where you are? Only you know what God has spoken to your heart, through His word, through prayer or other means of revelation. We are to constantly be “inclining our ears to Him,” should He call us into action.
And, then, should you sense that God is leading you to step out and do something outside of your normal “comfort zone” (oh, I don’t know, like writing a book or something…lol),there are two key words that apply in those situations. Are you “available?” And are you “willing?” In your heart, you may say “use me, Lord, I’m available.” But, if He answers that prayer with an opportunity that seems to be “more than you bargained for,” are you “willing” to jump on that horse and ride it as best you can, trusting Him for the results.
God knows if you are truly willing or available. He also knows, even if you don’t see it, what you are truly capable of with His help. The verse below is from when Samuel went to find a king for Israel. He knew He was to go to Bethlehem, to see a man named Jesse who had eight sons. After Samuel had seen seven of them, all great looking candidates, God had said, “No,” to all of them. He asked Jesse if there were any others. Jesse said, “Yes, a younger one, but he is out tending the sheep.” Samuel said, “Bring him to me,” because the Lord had said the following words to him:
“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” [1 Samuel 16:7 ESV]
As it turned out, the younger son was David, God’s chosen one. Maybe he didn’t pass the “eye test” or meet the age requirements, as the other sons did, but David had all the necessary skills and abilities God was looking for in a king. He was available and willing to do whatever the Lord led him to do, even if it was squaring off against an undefeated champion of the Philistines who was three times his size.
David’s response? “Put me in, coach. I am ready to do my best and I will trust you with the outcome, win or lose.” When God looked at David’s heart, He saw one that was not only courageous and fearless, but also one that was fully devoted to Him. So much so, that David is often referred to as “a man after God’s heart.”
It really isn’t about what we have or don’t have. None of it belongs to us anyway. Here is what that eighth son of Jesse, young David, wrote on the subject, after he had become the King of Israel:
The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it. [Psalm 24:1 NASB]
David was given a palace, servants and great wealth. He didn’t appear to be guilty about it, either. The key question is…”Are you willing to commit all that you have (your talent, your wisdom, your money, your possessions and your will) to the work He has for you to do?” Or are you going to make those “things” the center of your life? Will your possessions be your source of joy and happiness? It is truly a matter of the heart. Who are you, when you boil it all down, a seeker of self-fulfillment…or a seeker of God? It’s pretty hard to be both…just sayin’.
When Jesus gave His famous Sermon On The Mount in front of thousands of people, most of whom He had never met and many who were not pleased with what He brought to the table to begin with, He said the following words:
Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. [Matthew 6:31,33 NASB
It all starts and ends with “the attitude of our hearts.” No matter what I might say or do, God knows the intentions of my heart. There are no misunderstandings with God and He will never be fooled by hollow words or deeds. He sees right down to the very core of our beings.
And that is how we will be judged, when God says He will “give to each according to what they have done” (not talking about salvation, here, that is based on the blood of Jesus Christ, plus or minus nothing), He means we will be judged based on the intentions of our hearts, not what we say or do. We can lie with our lips, or try to fool people with “good deeds.” God knows better. The question will be, were we available and willing to use whatever blessings we have received for His glory? Or were we just making a name for ourself?
Like it said in that first verse we looked at, “He who saves his life shall lose it.” Are you holding on to your own self-driven dreams and agendas? Or have you committed everything to Him, for His glory, in your “heart of hearts?”
God knows the answer to those questions, whether you and I honestly do or not?
If you do not, I would make it a priority to find out, with God’s help, ASAP.
These are eternal questions that, sooner or later, demand an answer.