Growing up in a Christian household was pretty tame in a lot of ways (not in a bad way Mum if you’re reading this…) so I often went looking for fun and excitement elsewhere.
My parents had fairly strict rules to keep me and my brother safe (thanks guys) but outside the house was a little bit of a different story.
Climbing on things, falling off things, sneaking into places, breaking stuff and being chased by dogs were regular features in my childhood.
The thrill of doing things that were a little bit dangerous and maybe would be frowned upon definitely filled a hole in me.
I “prayed a prayer” at about age 6 or 7 but like so many others I really gave my life to Jesus later on when I was 12 (shout out to the M:Powered Massive). I’m 27 now and in the last 15 or so years I’ve experienced the ebbs and flows of Christian life and the “normal” ups and downs. I’ve had times when I thought I could not be more in love with Jesus and I want to spend the night on the streets with Him loving the homeless or go and lose my life preaching the gospel in some forgotten village somewhere… And then I’ve had times when in my mind, reading a chapter of the Bible is considered my “good deed for the day.” Yikes!
I pretty much went to the same church until I was 18 but since going to university in 2007 I’ve hung out with lots of different kinds of Christians from all sorts of backgrounds, denominations, races and ages and watched their lives and allowed lots of them to influence mine. Many of these influences have been massively beneficial and have created in me a greater hunger and desire for Jesus and I’m so grateful for those people! Seriously! I hope you know who you are!
I’ve seen people handle their faith and their relationship with God in very different ways with some considering it to be an almost secret and personal matter while others travel the globe to shout about it.
At this point in my own journey I’ve decided that there’s no other satisfying way for me to live but in passionate, life-consuming love on fire for Jesus. I believe that as the ransomed ones, we all carry this DEEP longing to give our all to Him and spend our life on Him and Him alone whatever that looks like. We may not always be aware of it but it’s definitely there, deep calling out to deep! The call of the wild!
Something in our core stands in awe and greatly admires the lives of our heroes of the faith, past and present whose lives were totally sold out and laid down in love before God! Their unthinkable sacrifice for the cause of Christ resounds with something in our own spirits. We (dare I say it) jealously desire to know the intimacy they shared with God, the clarity with which they heard His voice and the incomparable power and conviction they found in Him to do the impossible. As we hear their stories our hearts burn within us but there’s a voice that speaks, often with the accent of wisdom that tells us to “calm down” or “be reasonable” or for those of us who’re young, to “wait until you’re older”. I don’t dispute that this voice often comes from well-meaning sources and is sometimes apt but I would like to respectfully challenge it as I also believe in some cases its source is not Divine. Since I believe that there is a root of wisdom in that voice I’m not going to deny it entirely but I am going to give a pretty one-sided perspective. I hope that’s ok with you friend. 🙂
“I’ve decided that there’s no other satisfying way for me to live but in passionate, life-consuming love with Jesus.”
I don’t know about you but personally I am amazing at excusing my lukewarmness, lack of passion for Christ and apathetic attitude by calling it patience, wisdom or even maturity when really it’s just apathy. I’ve been to Bible College so on a regular basis I can probably even whip out some Scripture to back me up and validate my avoidance of giving any more of myself or my life to God to do as He pleases. Part of my problem is though, the longer I spend in the Word, the more I find words and phrases that start to make me uncomfortable and make it difficult for me to enjoy my lukewarm bubble bath. Whispers of something greater, deeper and wilder turn my hot tub into an ice bath. I’ll share some of them with you and what they mean to me since you’re here…
In English we understand this word to pretty much mean giving something up for the sake of something or someone else at your own expense. We’re called to be a living sacrifice. I understand that I am in Christ so in Him I have everything I need and the Father will take care of me but I also understand that I belong to Him and everything I have is His. Because of this I’ve had a few moments in my life in which I’ve felt the Holy Spirit prompt me to give away something that I like or that I think I need to someone who doesn’t have that thing (or who does) or to buy something for someone even sometimes when materially I don’t have much myself. If I can be real with you, at the time I often don’t like doing this and it’s usually preceded by a “Kevin the Teenager” style whining argument from me. “But Looooooooord…” etc. After I’ve done it however guess what happens?
I get flooded with the peace and joy of God because Christ in me got to enjoy being Himself and He’s very happy about it! I realise that giving of myself sometimes even to a painful degree is in my DNA now because it’s in His. The Saviour was marked by a life of sacrifice.
Sometimes He finds a way to give me back what I gave away and more. Sometimes it doesn’t go down like that but He says that when we serve others we serve Him right? (Prov 19:17) Why would you expect something back from someone you’re serving…? I know a certain couple who at one time in their life knew that some people living nearby didn’t have any food or any money to buy it and so they decided to start giving most of their food to these people and would themselves go days without eating!! Some of us already have that voice speaking up in our heads “That’s not wise!” “You really have to hear the Lord on that one…” Let me repeat that I don’t necessarily think that this advice is wrong, I just believe that sacrifice is core to Christianity and sacrifice by its very nature, costs us something. If it doesn’t cost us anything, it’s not a sacrifice. On that note, let’s move on. : )
“Sacrifice is core to Christianity and sacrifice by its very nature, costs us something. If it doesn’t cost us anything, it’s not a sacrifice.”
“Count the Cost”
Luke 14:25-33 makes me cringe when I read it. If you can’t be bothered to look it up (I probably wouldn’t) here it is in the NIV:
25Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them,26“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.27“Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.28“For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?29“Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him,30saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’31“Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand?32“Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.33“So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.
Luke 14:25-33 (NIV)
Jesus talks here about thinking about how much you’ll have to surrender if you decide to actually walk out this Christianity thing. Banning Liebscher, a Christian leader and a hero of mine while preaching said “Salvation is free right? Yes, it just costs you your whole life.” I’m not talking about earning your salvation here or “striving” to earn something from God. Jesus is the only one who can save. But He’s pretty clearly saying here that life with Him and life without Him are as different as Life and Death. To walk with Him is to join Him in His suffering as well as in His victory. I’m talking about the heart of David that refuses to offer God something that cost him nothing (1Chron 21:24). Banning who predominantly speaks to teenagers and young adults went on to say “I am increasingly concerned with a generation whose Christianity has cost them nothing.” Here’s Banning’s preach. Listen to him, he’s pretty great.
As I said before I’ve grown up in the Church and a lot has been freely handed to me. I love my church and our leaders and so much great teaching has just been handed to me since I was a child. Some people become Christians and get mocked by their friends or thrown out of their families or even killed! I’ve fought many battles against God when He’s asked me to lay things down that I love and enjoy. I can remember a friend of mine who wasn’t a Christian highlighting a song in my itunes and saying “You shouldn’t be listening to that.” Ouch! I had to admit she was right and on several occasions I had to painfully go through my playlist with the Holy Spirit and it got A LOT smaller. He didn’t stop there however. I started to find that films and TV shows that I used to watch and love had to go as well. Again the voice of reason jumps up and says “Hey you can listen to whatever music you want, you’re free in Christ.” “God doesn’t care what you watch as long as you live right.” I think there’s some real truth in there and I’m not trying to make a point about what anyone should and shouldn’t listen to or watch or whatever.
I had to ask myself some questions about whether or not I was willing and why it was so difficult for me to give up those things and let them go.
This was a very small cost that was required of me and it makes me wonder if I’ve counted the cost at all since giving my life to Him. A few years ago I was privileged to speak to a young man who’d just been in a scrap with a member of his youth group about self-control and managing your emotions. He said something I found pretty profound. He simply said “Christianity is hard.” I think sometimes we can get so into teaching people that “God is a God of love” (which is true) and that “the Holy Spirit is a gentleman” that we end up accidentally telling them that God won’t ask them to do anything they don’t want to or that will cause them great discomfort. That’s simply not true and a quick reading of Scripture will show us that. I really don’t think “take up your cross” is a particularly pleasant invitation.
“You knew one thing about a man you saw carrying a cross, he wasn’t coming back.”
“Love the Lord”
Classic bit of Scripture this. Jesus says that the most important thing God has ever told us to do is love God with our whole mind, heart and soul and with all of our strength (Luke 10:27, Mark 12:30, Matt 22:37). Wow! This is one of those verses I think that you can hear so much growing up in the church that it loses its outrageousness and just becomes something that’s nice to do haha! I don’t really want to go too deep in this blog into the ins and outs of what it means to love God with our whole mind, heart and soul (except to say that I don’t think I’m doing it) but I would like to point something out I noticed about strength. If you were asked to do a physical activity with all of your strength, you’d understand that you were required to do it until you were exhausted right? Either until you were working at maximum capacity or until you had no strength left. If you’ve ever lifted weights in the gym there comes a point when you’re no longer capable of lifting anything more and your muscles max out. This is how you get your muscles to grow bigger and stronger. I think we’re on to something with that. Loving the Lord with all our strength leads to an increase in our capacity to love Him.
Personally I think the words “I love you” should never come as a surprise but rather should confirm the experience someone has already of you in their life because Love is a verb, a “doing word”. It should be like walking up to your employer after working for them for 20 years and saying “I work for you.” What’s my point? Erm……hang on…… OH YEAH! Telling God that we love Him is not the same as loving Him. Jesus makes it clear that loving God is caring about and acting based on what is important to His heart (John 14:15). Try and think back to a time when you’ve given of your physical or emotional strength and energy to accomplish something that you knew was dear to God’s heart and by the time you finished it you were absolutely shattered! (don’t feel bad if you can’t think of a time like that, just look forward to one!) Even though you felt like your arms or legs or whatever muscle operates your emotions was about to fall off, I bet you felt His pleasure! While it was going on I bet you were wondering where you were finding the strength! (I reckon that’s where running and not growing weary comes in) A few years ago I went on a 2 week mission trip to the Welsh valleys and would collapse into bed each night totally spent but to this day I still feel God’s delight for the people who were touched and changed and saved during that time. Thoughts about “not spreading yourself too thin” creep to mind and of course it’s “easy for you to say, you’re an energetic young man”. Fair enough. I just think that rationalising passion is like putting a basket on a flame. One of two things may happen. Either the flame will go out altogether or it will burn away the basket. There’s something about love that is fierce and untameable while not lacking discipline. To me, rational passion looks like dead religion. I’m not talking about being foolish but I am saying that the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom (1Cor 1:25) and that we need to increase in discerning the difference.
“Pretty much anything Jesus said about how to treat other people…”
Jackie Pullinger, another hero of the faith said that it was still difficult for Jesus to lay His life down even though He spent His whole life practising. But how crazy is that?! He spent His whole life practising! Anyway that is how He was able to get away with saying so many things that I find damaging to my own self interest! These things just do not compute with me!! If someone demands your coat, give them your shirt as well?!? (Luke 6:29) You what?? Not even asks, demands!! How does that make sense?? How about love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you?? (Matt 5:44) That’s waaay beyond passivity, tolerance and restraint. That’s pretty much “Dear Lord, please heal Jonny’s knuckles that he just broke on my face, amen.” Then there’s that old favourite when someone strikes you on the cheek, offer them the other one also (Luke 6:29). I’ll stop there. Whether or not you agree with the literal applications of these commands, the heart behind them speaks of a love for God and for people that reminds me a lot of insanity! That voice pipes up “Hey, God doesn’t want you to be a doormat, you’re the head and not the tail.”
But this love says “I won’t just be a doormat, I’ll be a staircase. If you want, you can walk all over me but I will do everything in my power to make sure that when you’re done, you’ve been blessed, elevated, propelled forward and you’ve seen something of Jesus.” Clearly a life implementing this kind of love requires supernatural power. Where does that power come from? What do we do about the other voice?
Truthfully? I don’t know. Everything I’ve shared with you is from thoughts that I am having and convictions that I’m feeling so I’m not going to pretend to have the answers. I’m still on a quest with all of this like everyone else but I’m starting to understand that I am far more able to be intentional about it than I’d like to admit! I know that I’ve said practically nothing of the rewards of running hard after God but I think we’ve got a pretty good grasp of that already. I hope that you can appreciate and maybe even identify with my experience, my honesty and my very one-sided thinking. If you feel like I’ve offended you in any way that is not my intention, I just want to be honest and move forward with anyone else that wants to. I don’t want to rationalise my passion for God because I’d rather err on the side of going overboard for Jesus than staying in the boat and never walking on water with Him, even if it’s only for a second. I want to be clear that I believe in being wise about things, I believe in not thrusting ourselves into danger for the sake of it or wiping ourselves out to the point that we can no longer function. I think that the voice I mentioned at times can be straight from the mouth of God through Godly people but at other times can be employed by the enemy or our own love of comfort to keep us as individuals and as the Church from entering into a greater manifestation of Christ in our lives. When we don’t know the overshadowing and enveloping love of the Father by intellect and experience we can be tempted to create doctrines and interpret Scripture in a way that will protect us and make us feel safe and secure in case God doesn’t, forgetting that the Holy Spirit is our Comforter because our lives are made to be uncomfortable. I do however think that we need to learn how to ask and trust God as our loving Father to set limits for us so that we can go wild in expressing our love for Him while being conscious of our limitations instead of setting our own limitations, living only within our finite means of love, grace, energy etc and cutting ourselves off from having to rely on Him.
For some people reading this, it will sound like utter madness and that’s fine. I’m only 24 and I’m sure my thoughts and opinions will change on certain things over time so if what I’ve said doesn’t stir anything in your heart and the Holy Spirit doesn’t speak to you, ok. I can’t force my convictions on you because I didn’t even get them for myself but I pray we’ll all come into a greater experience of Christ-likeness and raw life-consuming love for God in our Christianity. But let me talk to the people who are either stirred, excited or just plain frothing at the mouth while reading this! FAN THAT FLAME!! Sit and think about the excitement of throwing your whole life at Jesus in whatever way He wants and then pray and ask Him how to do it!! Find people, books, films and podcasts that don’t massage your apathy but rip it out of you and stuff your soul full of dynamite!!! BURN BABY BURN!!! Don’t allow people around you to quench your fire!! Honour every person for where they’re at in their relationship with God, don’t judge them, be gracious to them but don’t you dare settle for less than what He’s put in your heart! Press yourself into the secret place and ask God to impart His heart to you continually to keep transforming you to be more like Jesus!! Don’t give in after 2 weeks when it seems like nothing has changed. Press in!! Ask God to link you with others who are jumping out of the lukewarm bubble bath and putting on their robes of radical righteousness!! Our God is an all-consuming fire and you know you want your whole life to burn for Him!!
In the Luke 14 passage Jesus uses the example of a man building a tower to describe what it’s like to count the cost of giving our lives to Him. This tells me that after I’ve made the decision to follow Christ, there is a process I go through (building) in establishing a new life. How long does it take to build a tower? How long is a piece of string? Continually and intentionally building with the Chief Architect is what’s important. Why didn’t Jesus say a man building a house? I reckon that this continual building and laying down of bricks (or idols, whatever) should eventually lead to a life that is fortified against negative outside influence and that has a higher and greater perspective of the world than before. We’re all at different stages in this process. Some of us will be laying the foundations of our faith, understanding our new identity in Christ, others will be placing bricks, laying to rest old habits, attitudes and ways of life and some of us are figuring out whether or not we’ve got the correct change to make this decision to follow Christ and start building at all. Maybe you’ve given up altogether but could be persuaded to start again… Wherever you’re at, be honest about where you’re at and don’t convince yourself that you’re further on simply because yours is the tallest tower around you. Every house cat think it’s a tiger : ) Remember that His yoke is easy and His burden is light because He gives us the strength to carry it.
I pray that we will fully use the freedom we have been given in Christ to love God and that the Holy Spirit would enable us to pursue Him with unbridled passion like a wild stallion and that the Father would be free to tell us when we’re loving too much.
Thanks for reading!
“Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grace. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised.”
Song of Solomon 8:6-7 (ESV)
If you read all this way and didn’t go listen to Banning, you want to. Here he is again! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ekKgF8jxlk