“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for me will find it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or, what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26)
What do you have to give up to serve the Lord?
Well, for starters, you give up your sin and guilt, your anguish and your lostness. You give up your waywardness and fears, your selfishness and your pride. You give up being lord of your own life and master of all your own choices.
Paul called this “presenting your bodies as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1).
It’s a daily exercise, by the way. While we wish we could do a one-time-works-forever thing, it’s not to be. “I die daily,” said the apostle (1 Corinthians 15:31). And so do we, if we get this right.
Before long, as we grow in Christ, we begin to realize that not only did we give up a lot of bad things to come to him and to serve him. But now, he is asking us to give up some good things which happen to be outside of his will for us.
I gave up marrying some nice people because he had someone even better in particular for me. I gave up going to those other schools in order to go where he sent me. That sort of thing.
And I gave up a lot of television watching to spend my nights in church visitation or other ministries.
In exchange for giving up the lesser things, you get a new purpose in life, a new direction that does not end when your earthly life ends but continues out into eternity. You get a new peace, one that passes understanding, and a new joy, completely indescribable. You get a new family, the redeemed of the Lord, and a host of friends and companions along the way.
You get the knowledge that you are becoming an arm of the Lord, doing his work—the greatest thing in the world.
If my own ministry is typical–and I’m betting it is–you get ten thousand people to bless your life and an untold number to pray for you and encourage you. You get the opportunity to make an everlasting difference in human lives in ways that matter most. You get the sure and certain knowledge when you come down to the end that your life has counted, that it was not wasted or spent for foolish things.
A friend of mine likes to call herself “God’s favorite child,” a reference to God’s blessings that seem without number or limit.
If we who serve the Lord for a lifetime feel that we are always unworthy (We are! See Luke 17:10), and that we are forever the worst sinner ever to walk this earth (Paul did. See 1 Timothy 1:15), it is also true that we feel an overwhelming sense of God’s blessings that roll in like the tide, one after another after another…
Do we ever feel we have given up anything for Christ? I cannot imagine anyone doing so. In fact, “this momentary light affliction is working for us an exceeding weight of glory far beyond all comparison….” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
What really costs is disobedience. The price rebellion against God exacts from us is heavy and never-ending.
Consider this story.
The inimitable Bruce McIver, longtime pastor of Dallas’ Wilshire Baptist Church, used to tell of a man in a former church who was without any evidence of human giftedness. This man could not stand before a group and say a word. His attempts in the business world all came to nothing. His family life was in shambles. And yet, he was faithful in his church attendance.
One day, Bruce and the man found themselves in a car alone traveling to a funeral. That’s when the man decided to open up to his pastor and ended up giving him a lesson he never forgot.
The man said, “Pastor, I want to tell you something that I have never shared with anyone before. You are going to find this hard to believe, but when I graduated from high school, I was named most likely to succeed. At commencement, I won the orator’s medal. People used to come up to me on the street and say, ‘You are going to make your mark in the world; you are destined for great things.’
“As a young adult, I got the definite impression that God wanted me to devote all those gifts to the Christian ministry, but I resisted that call. I had other things to do, more important things, I thought.
“For twenty years, every time I set foot in the church, that beckoning appeared. It was constant. But I continued to deny it.
“That was long ago and you see what has happened.
“All my native giftedness has atrophied from disuse. My business ventures have failed. Even my family life is a grief. I really have missed it.
“I’m telling you all this so that perhaps you can use it. Sometimes when you are speaking before young people who have their lives before them, I wish you would tell them about me. And then say , ‘It may cost a lot to say Yes to God, but it costs even more to say No.’”
Is this typical? Perhaps not. We have all known people who ran from God’s call and became successes in the world and received a great deal of acclaim. But without asking them, the rest of us know something. When they go into their room at night and lay their head on a pillow, nothing is right. They are missing something vital. The center has evaporated from their lives.
The way of the transgressor is hard (Proverbs 13:15), whether that one is an unbeliever who has resisted the wooing of the Holy Spirit from the beginning, or is a Christian who somewhere along the way decided to say ‘no’ to the call of God.
“My yoke is easy,” said our Lord. “My burden is light” (Matthew 11:30).
Only the faithful know this. Everyone else fears all they would have to give up to come to Jesus.