Happy new year everyone!! We hope you all had a wonderful Christmas filled with the peace, love and joy of Christ and are starting 2016 with a bang! CJ and I were blessed to be able to spend some time with loved ones over the holiday break, but we also took some time to reflect on the past year and all that our Father’s been teaching us. As we think back over 2015, we see where God moved in the small, quiet moments, as well as in bigger, more surprising ways. We’re hoping to share some of these things with you over the next few months (especially those that pertain to the new direction for Sonshine), but for this first blog post of 2016, we feel the need to focus on one particular topic that God has been laying on our hearts of late…what does it look like to live sacrificially, to serve unconditionally, to answer the calling on your life? Not only is this something that we feel is crucial for us to understand for ourselves, but for everyone, definitely worth contemplating as we look towards what this new year holds for each of us.
To set the stage, I have to go back a bit. If you’ve been reading our previous blogs, then you know that CJ and I have been struggling with lack of community in this small mountain town for nearly four years. In addition, God has been doing some major “shaking up” in our lives recently, which is definitely keeping us on our knees. Although it’s not been easy, we know two things for sure: God refines us through difficult circumstances and He’s preparing us for whatever comes next. As a result of much intentional prayer, we’ve come to believe that God is setting the stage for our next big adventure! At this point, we’re not sure where that adventure will lead (although we have some ideas), but we do believe that He’s calling us away from Colorado. As we prayerfully wait for direction, one of the questions that God has laid on our hearts is, “are you willing to give up everything to serve me?” Wow, that stopped us in our tracks! Everything? What does He mean by EVERYTHING? That got us thinking, what conditions are we putting on serving God? What are we holding onto for the sake of security? What fears might be creating barriers to us hearing and following God’s call? Or to be perfectly honest, what do we just not want to let go of, i.e., a comfortable lifestyle, a nice home, beautiful surroundings, etc. Through this process of prayer and discussion, not only has God been revealing to us more of His nature, but He’s also been gently exposing more of our hearts, leading us to a deeper understanding of our desires and passions, our fears, and our motives. All of this, we believe, is preparing us to serve God more fully. And although there doesn’t appear to be a straight path laid before us at this time, and we’re honestly not sure what that “everything” includes, we continue to pray with open ears and open hearts to whatever He has for us.
In the midst of all of this, we traveled to Texas and Louisiana over the Thanksgiving holiday to visit with family and friends. During our visit, both CJ and I were very open about our struggles and what God’s been teaching us. In our conversations with loved ones, we received encouragement and heard plenty of excitement around our vision for Sonshine, but there were also a few surprising responses. Having been laid bare in the previous months as we argued with God regarding our thoughts on the subject of our lives (including our wants and our perceived needs), we recognized some of the rhetoric coming from our friends. For the first time in a long time we felt not so alone, understanding that we may not be the only ones struggling with hearing God’s calling on our lives or defining what that kind of whole-hearted service would even look like! This got us thinking outside of ourselves (and looking beyond questions regarding our specific path), to the bigger picture…what does this look like in more general terms for each and every one of us as Christ-followers? Well, there’s only one place to get those kinds of answers, so that’s where we went..
In Luke 9: 57-62, Jesus talks about this very subject…
57As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
Each of these men initially appeared eager to follow Jesus. Yet after reading and re-reading this scripture, it became obvious that each man wanted to define for himself what following Jesus would look like. The first man offered to follow Jesus anywhere, but he didn’t truly understand the cost, the need for sacrifice…maybe he thought it would be more glamorous hanging out with a miracle maker! The second man seemed willing to pay the price, but just not yet. This was not an “if”, but a “when”….once my family is gone and I have nothing else to hold me here, then I’ll follow. And the third man, all he wanted to do was to say good-bye…at first blush, not sure what the issue was there. I mean, what’s wrong with saying good-bye, right? But after delving deeper, it seems to me that there was a heart issue with this last gentleman…his response wasn’t whole-hearted, he wasn’t in it 100%, he put something else before Jesus! Does this scare anyone else? I mean if we’re talking about a general outline of what it looks like to follow Jesus, here’s what I see: you’re pretty much guaranteed to be out of your comfort zone, it will require sacrifice, the timing will not always be convenient, your whole hearts need to be in it, and once you’ve been commissioned, you can’t look back! Wow!!
Let’s take a quick look at another scripture (Luke 18:21-29), which we believe provides additional clarity…
18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’[a]” 21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” 27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” 28 Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!” 29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God.”
Just one point I’d like to make here…after spending time meditating on this scripture, CJ and I came to realize that our focus in contemplating the question of what it looks like to follow Jesus had been on the “everything”, i.e., what was God going to ask us to give up? What would we have to sacrifice? I hate to say this, but I believe that we’ve been brainwashed, or at the very least, significantly influenced by the culture that we live in. And I don’t believe that we’re the only ones…we’ve have this discussion with fellow believers many times. Does God really want me to give up everything? Are all Christ followers supposed to be destitute? Let’s take another look at what the scripture says…”When he (the rich man) heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy”. Do you see it? It wasn’t his stuff that was important to Jesus, it was his attachment to his stuff that was an issue. Like gentleman #3 in the previous parable, this man put something (his wealth) before Jesus. He was unwilling to let it go…this is a heart problem, not an “stuff” problem! The key word is WILLING! In our culture, we’re so consumed with stuff, with security, with ourselves that we often miss the point completely. The point is, it’s ALL about Jesus!
So after having said all that, I want to go back to that original question that God laid on our hearts months ago, “Are you willing to give up everything to serve Me?”, and I’m a little embarrassed by our initial response…it sounds an awful lot like the guys in the first parable: God, I’m willing to follow you if ________________, but not if ________________. I’m sure everyone has their own “what” to fill in these blanks, but I’m not sure the “what” is as important as recognizing that there IS a what. That was the first step for us, recognizing that we were putting conditions on serving Jesus, defining for ourselves what it would look like. The next step, asking ourselves the hard questions! Am I willing to be uncomfortable or make sacrifices to follow Jesus? (This may look like leaving a safe comfortable environment, and moving to an undesirable neighborhood to minister to the poor and needy); Am I willing to pick up and go whenever and wherever He calls? (This may mean leaving a good paying job, even though you haven’t put enough in savings to support yourself, because God needs you on the battlefront NOW, not in 10 years when you retire and have a healthy 401K to depend on); Is there anything that I’m putting before serving Jesus? (Kids, parents, significant other, personal goals, work, comfort, etc). These are not easy questions, and uncovering the answers can leave us feeling raw and exposed. But they can also reveal barriers to us answering God’s calling on our lives! Then it comes down to our willingness. Are we willing to make Jesus our priority, following whole-heartedly, sacrificially and fully dependent on God? This may lead us out of your comfort zone, away from family, into the trenches, working a ho-hum job, etc. I guess what we need to seriously ask ourselves is what’s most important: a few years of being comfortable, living a nice safe and secure life or standing before the throne of grace and hearing our Father say, “well done good and faithful servant… you answered the call, displayed my glory, sacrificed for the good of all, and made the world a better place!”
One final thought in closing, not that we want to get into any deep theological discussion at this point, but CJ and I believe that the time is running short…and God is calling his army! Having said that, we’re praying that 2016 will be an amazing year of awakening for each and every one of us as we discover what it looks like to live sacrificially, to serve unconditionally, and to answer the calling on our lives!
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9