If you were asked today how someone could have eternal life, what would your response be? Until recently, mine would be an explanation of the sinner’s prayer…maybe a bumbling but heartfelt trip down the Roman Road…an explanation of repentance and Christianity.
It’s what I’ve heard all my life in church services. It’s what I’ve been trained to do. It’s a common and comfortable routine. It’s on all the tracks and bookmarks we hand out. Offered at the end of every sermon. Printed in our beautiful bulletins in Sunday School.
I don’t believe it’s wrong. But I don’t believe it’s entirely right either. God has been opening my eyes to a method that may be more right. More accurate, more life changing. Maybe there really is a better way, a better response, a better explanation. And maybe we’ve missed it.
Maybe I should do it the way Jesus did.
Jesus’ answer, when He was asked how someone could have eternal life, was not quite as routine and easy as the one I‘ve memorized. There were no bookmarks with verses. No line to shake your hand and congratulate you at the end of service. No immediate rewards visible.
Jesus said one thing only. “Deny yourself, take up your cross. Follow Me.”
Those aren’t fun words. But they are His. So they must become mine too.
I live right smack in the middle of the American Dream. House in the suburbs. Two jobs and two cars, three kids. All we are missing is the white picket fence. I enjoy my gourmet coffee. The leather bound books in my library. Eating at nice restaurants with my husband on weekends. Occasional trips to the mall for new clothes. Hair appointments to cover the gray. I order the latest Bible studies when they come out, take an occasional vacation to the beach. The American Dream. I wake up in it every morning. And I thank God for it every day of my life.
Last year I traveled to a third world country. I was shocked to realize that not everyone is living the American Dream. Not everyone has the option of gourmet coffee to start their day. It was eye-opening and life-changing for me. I can’t go back to who I was before. Even if there are some days I want to. Some days I would gladly choose to forget the images of innocent children with big brown eyes searching mine for relief from hunger.
I had a hard time fitting myself back into the American Dream when I came back. Hard time burying my head in the sand on the beaches of my vacations. For the first time in my life, I saw people who were just like me, but had nothing. It made me sick to my stomach.
Jesus said Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.
Asking myself lately if I have done any of the three.
I don’t feel very denied in my daily life. Don’t feel like I have sacrificed anything. Don’t feel like I am carrying a heavy cross on my back. And it’s hard to argue that I have followed Him anywhere, since I am right here in the town where I was born, safe and secure in my routine.
Jesus didn’t offer to lead them in a prayer. Didn’t offer to take them to church. He didn’t give them a visitor welcome packet and show them a list of available Sunday School classes. He didn’t tell sinners that life would get easier. Better. More comfortable and secure.
Jesus’ answers were very different than the ones we’ve been taught and drilled on.
Jesus’ answers were about denial and suffering. About doing without. About giving up the temporary comforts that are offered here for the eternal ones that we will inherit “someday.”
I am beginning to see that I am way off track. That I have really never “denied myself” much of anything in my relationship with Him. That I have not carried my cross visibly enough. That I have not suffered enough in His name to brag on my walk with Him.
I am beginning to realize that I have tried to lead Him instead of following Him. Tried to map out the plan of my Christian Life and show Him the Power Point presentation.
I think a life of following Jesus when He was physically walking here on earth looked very different that our weekly trips to church look today. I want to start that dusty journey.
I think the first step is the hardest. I think it starts with awareness and a willing heart. I think I have to start somewhere. And I am determined. Follow Him. Take up the cross. Deny myself.
But in true denial, following Him, carrying my cross, I will gain riches I can only imagine!