I’ve never done well meeting celebrities. I’m always so hesitant to meet them, even in an environment where a little meet and greet is expected. Many years ago, my wife and I had won a trip to the Dick Van Patten Celebrity Golf Tournament in Maui, Hawaii. We were surrounded by celebrities like Paul Sorvino, William Shatner, Robin Givens, and Dave Murray of Iron Maiden fame. Although they were all there, and accessible, I was bound. I didn’t feel like I had the freedom to go talk to these people. Fear of rejection, a sense of unworthiness—as if I was just going to be a bother, and perhaps the pride of not wanting to look like a star-struck fool all served as a barrier to me enjoying the experience of meeting these people who I’d likely never get the opportunity to talk to again.
We all have these invisible glass walls that keep us penned up and powerless. Like the tigers in the zoo, the little 900 sq. ft. habitat sure looks convincingly like freedom, yet really lacks the abundance that true freedom brings. We stay all cooped up in the smallness of the lives we’ve built for ourselves and we remain content to invite Jesus into our captivity to make this little prison seem like…more. In reality, our everyday lives make no real impact on the world around us. They can look in and see our religion, but the world seldom meets Jesus.
I serve as the pastor of a church, and it’s so easy to surround myself with the work of ministry and miss actually following Jesus. I can schedule classes, run budgets, prep sermons, facilitate meetings, train leaders, answer phones; and because we’re a small church, I can mow the lawn, paint the walls, and run microphone cables up in the ceiling. I can oversee a worship service and manage last-minute changes, write letters for character references, lead corporate prayer, and make a pretty good sales pitch. I manage facilities, calendars, resources, and volunteers. So far, everything on this list makes a better cage than it does a road to Jesus. Change the word “sermon” to “lecture” and you might think I was a superintendent for a school. This list could work for a janitor, a CEO, or the crew leader at Chick-Fil-A.
One of the main reasons I started writing this book is because I’m trying to work through this sense of futility. When I read the Bible I see the ministry—the life—of the early church and it seems so powerful and effective. Jesus was present among them. In our churches, it just seems like Jesus is remembered and things like form, structure, and tradition are what is overwhelmingly present. I struggle because I don’t want to spend my life building a more attractive cage for the church. I don’t want to imprison the people of God in ministry obligations, more traditions, and have them miss walking with Jesus. The corporate church setting is important, but it needs to be a supplement to a Christian life, not the whole of it.
If the beginning of the Christian life begins with repentance, not just of our sin, but of our striving and trying to be good enough for God, then there will be things in our lives—some of them precious, some fragile, some nothing more than a burden—that we will have to leave behind. What makes that such a challenge is that we know what we get with what we have. Leaving that behind leads us into the unknown, and that can be scary. This is where we have to trust.
When Jesus calls us to follow him, it will cost us to obey. It will also cost others. We may have to leave things behind that are important and precious to us, and there will be dear people in our lives that will have to let us go, fend for themselves, or watch in disbelief as we head in a direction they don’t understand, or possibly disagree with. Logic and reason will often stand against us, while comfort, ease, and familiarity bring a strong case for lethargy or outright disobedience. Our desire has to be for Jesus, and any love we hold for the lesser things must be renounced. “Anyone who loves…more than me, is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37-39).
Though we might acknowledge that salvation comes through Jesus only, we still have a strong tendency to live as though abundant life requires “Jesus and…”. We don’t really want to die to self—we love ourselves, and have worked hard to make our life what it is. When we heed the call of Jesus, we want him to join us in our life. It’s an unwelcome intrusion to realize that he is calling us out of our life altogether, and into his. If we are to really follow him, we must leave our life behind.
James and John left their career, and their father to follow Jesus. They didn’t just abandon him, they left him with hired men…they left him in God’s hands. As Peter would later declare, “We have left all we had to follow you!” (Luke 18:28). Am I willing to leave everything to follow Jesus? Are you? He may not actually ask you to leave everything, but are you willing to? Is there something you have that you love more than Jesus?