Monday, December 15, 2008

Following Jesus Doesn't Work

Greg Boyd is fast becoming one of my favourite writers. His book last year, Myth of a Christian Nation was one of the surprise successes over here in the UK (for a book so focused on the US). In this article he starts by recounting the story of a woman he encountered:

I met a middle aged woman one day who told me she had given up on Christianity. “It just didn’t work for me,” she said. My response was: “What on earth made you think Jesus was supposed to work for you? The truth is that you were supposed to work for him.”

The language we use so often betrays us, as it did here. He continues:

It seems that many assume Jesus is supposed to be our personal magical genie who grants our wishes, at least some of the time. Such a magical view of faith is catastrophic, for people abandon what they thought was the Christian faith when it doesn’t work. And worse, people think they’re embracing the Christian faith when it does.


How often have I silently thought this. If I pray enough, give enough, do enough good works etc then life will be okay. If I care about the poor enough I will always have a home for my children. In the end, Jesus does not promise these things - at least when you look at the experience of those who follow God in Scripture. Greg points out the experiences of Mary, the mother of Jesus (who despite being 'favoured' had to watch her son crucified and die a painful death) and John the Baptist, left to languish in prison and suffer some serious doubts.

We, here in the western church, seem to expect an easy life as a 'right', conveniently forgetting scriptures such as,

But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that (1 Tim 6:8)

Greg expresses it this way:
To follow Jesus authentically is to die to everything the flesh-self holds dear, whether we actually lose them or not. We must die to the quest to avoid of pain and inconvenience; die to the quest for pleasure, power and fame; die to the security of our homes, family, friends and nation; and even die to the certainty of our opinions. Every attempt to gain a personal sense of worth, significance and security by what we do, what we accomplish, what we acquire and who we impress must die.

In the end, to follow Jesus is to lose my life. I would like to do that - I just sometimes wonder if I can.

Jesus commands this much, not because he is mean, but because he is more profoundly in love with us than we could possibly ever imagine. And he knows that it is this false, self-centered way of living that is keeping us from true life. When we have truly died, we discover this. To be free from the self that is addicted to the question: What’s in it for me? is to be truly ALIVE and free.

It is to enter into the kingdom of God.

But, as Jesus always taught, you can only find this life if you complete loose your life.
If you’re focusing on this life, here and now, following Jesus doesn’t “work” and we should stop telling people that it does. But if we’ll die to the attempt to make things “work” for us, we’ll discover a deeper LIFE that no longer cares about what does and doesn’t work for us. We’ll discover the LIFE of the Kingdom.

I couldn't say it any better myself - I only hope I can live it!

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