I was having an eye-opening conversation with a friend recently. He has been at a place in his life where he is frustrated…tormented even. He has been struggling with a heaviness that was clouding his life. He serves the Lord with all his heart, has a wonderful family that supports him and on the outside appears to have everything together. After asking questions and getting to the root of his issue, it turns out that the thing he was most passionate about had been laid on the altar before God. He was afraid that his dream would become an idol. He had spent most of His life serving God sacrificially. Unfortunately the life he was living for the Lord was making him miserable, unfulfilled and on the brink of burnout.
I believe that somewhere along the lines in our walk with Christ where we decide to really give our lives to the Lord with abandon, we develop this mindset that carrying our cross means living a life of misery for Jesus and having to like it. We think that if we find ourselves unhappy in a life that we believe is “fully dedicated” to Him, clearly we have disappointed God. But what does it really mean to “take up our cross”?
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” Luke 9:23-25
The langauge here is pretty clear. Jesus wants us to die to ourselves. Let’s look at another translation. The message translation says:
“Then he told them what they could expect for themselves: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat—I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self.”
There are a couple of interesting things in this translation stick out to me.
- The metaphor – I feel this one is more relevant to today’s culture. God is in the driver’s seat (none of this co-pilot nonsense). He’s in control.
- Suffering – While it says do not run from suffering, Jesus isn’t asking us to run “to” suffering. Someone once told me that Jesus never ran from anyone or to anything. He always knew where He was going. He always led the way. I like how the verse says “follow me and I’ll show you how.”
- Finding yourself – I like the wording about finding your “true self”. I believe Jesus wants us to die to who we “think” we are. He knows that without Him our identities are rooted in fear and selfish ambition. But once we lay that down and follow Him, He’ll show us who we really are. Living a life of confidence in who He says we are is true humility.
My Dreams, His Dreams
Many people believe that when they deny themselves, they have to deny their dreams as well. After all, aren’t “MY” dreams selfish? Anything that makes me happy clearly isn’t from God and is self-seeking. I am called to live a life of sacrifice and suffering, right?
Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4
Almost paradoxically, David writes this Psalm in the midst of tribulation. He writes in the midst of feelings of abandonment and forsakeness. He doesn’t say “humble yourself and in your humilitation, God will give you a check mark in the Book of Life.” He gives us great encouragement…but it is conditional.
Last week my friend Cris wrote this line in her post. I had to read it a few times for it to really sink in:
“God gives me the desires of my heart, then He goes and gives me the desires of my heart.”
When we fulfill our committment (delight yourself in the Lord), He fulfills His promise. First he gives us our desires. He purifies our hearts and motives. From that place of abiding in Him, He places His desires in our hearts.
Once those desires have been placed in our hearts, He then goes and gives them to us. He does it for two reasons. The first is because they are “His desires”. He will receive glory. Secondly, He does it because He loves us. He wants us to serve Him with joy. He’s not about heavy yokes and burdens.
The Martyr Complex
I have seen too many people take on a martyr complex when it comes to serving the Lord. I believe many people that think they are serving the Lord, are really serving themselves.
If you don’t feel one ounce of grace to accomplish the work that “God has called you to”, you may have called yourself to it.
I’m reading “The God Who Smokes” by Timothy Stoner and one particular passage stuck out to me. This is what he says:
“In my childhood, I had wanted to be a writer. As I grew up the dream was flattened under the logical and spiritual weight of making my life ‘count’ for God.”
For some reason, many of us believe that making our life count for God means voluntarily living a life of “suffering for the ministry”. This is much different than embracing suffering for the Lord “when it comes”. Some people seek out the most difficult lifestyles, and think that will please God because of their self-sacrifice. I believe these people are in grave danger of burnout because they are going in their own strength.
God is not looking for self-appointed martyrs, He’s raising up sons and daughters. No good father is going to allow His sons or daughters to go without everything they need. No good father is going to want his children to live a life of suffering and lack. A good father is going to tell his children, “you can do anything you want when you grow up!”
Identifying The Idol
Here are a few practical questions you can ask yourself to evaluate if your dream is your own selfish ambition or God’s dream:
- Can I delight myself in the Lord? If you can continually delight yourself in the Lord when living out your dream, then God is the one who put this in your heart. Are you enjoying what you do and thus be able to always give thanks? This should be reflected when you interact with people, weather you are playing a professional sport or you are a missionary in Zambia.
- Can I give God the glory? My friend Jason wrote a post recently about the Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne. This kid couldn’t stop talking about God when he won. His testimony went out before millions of people just because of the position that God put him in. How’s that for a big dream given by God?
- Is my life bearing fruit? External fruit is important but don’t forget internal fruit. Ask yourself if you are continually growing in your relationship with the Lord. Not just in knowledge but in character. The first signs of real fruit will always start in your home. Is their fruit in your marriage? Is there fruit in your children?
If you are currently living a life “dedicated” to God in full time ministry, these are good questions to ask as well. You may come to some sobering conclusions when you answer honestly.
I believe that we give God the most glory when we are living lives that are full of joy and passion. There is no better testimony of God’s goodness than to see a person that lives an incredible life and always points back to God in everything they do.
I believe we are a generation that can redefine what that looks like. Not all of us are going to be full time on the mission field. Not all of us are going to be pastors, teachers or worship leaders. But all of us are called to be leaders. There is no spectator Christianity.
Let’s live fully alive. Let’s let God define who we are and find our security in that place as His sons and daughters. Let’s delight ourselves in the Lord. Then let’s start dreaming!
Do you believe the dreams in your heart line up with God’s plan for your life?