I was asked to speak on how I let God prevail in my life.
It’s a good question, and one I’ve spent a lot of time considering. A couple years ago, I was going through some old journals, and thinking about where I was and where I was headed. At the time I was busy, trying to do all the right things, but somehow I felt like my faith was growing weaker, not stronger. I thought about how I kept hearing people say, “You know of Christ, but do you know Him?”, and how bewildering and impossible that felt. My heart felt hard. I felt tired. I prayed and studied, trying to understand why I was struggling. I think I can explain my answer best through a favorite scripture story, found in Mark 10. It begins with the image of a young man running. Christ is walking down a road, and this young man runs to him and falls down on his knees.
Then the young man, looking up at Christ, asks an urgent question, “Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”
Christ responds with what sounds like an initial answer, but with what I believe is the beginning of the boy’s instruction. Christ lists off commandments–don’t steal, don’t lie, honor your father and mother, etc.
I believe this is a young man who was used to thinking about goodness and righteousness in terms of lists. I can almost hear his mental, “Yes, I don’t steal. Don’t lie. Honor my parents. Check, check, check.” He looks back up at the Lord and says, “Master, all these I have observed from my youth.”
Here, there’s a sudden pause in the narrative. Mark writes that “Jesus, beholding him, loved him.”
I think we can pause here too, and love the young man. I love him because I see myself in him. If all is well in Zion, if all the boxes have been checked, why does the young man run? Why is he here? Lepers fall at Christ’s feet; blind men call from the side of the road; fathers of dying children run–but why a wealthy young man who is diligently obeying all the rules of his faith? What does he sense, deep down, that’s equally desperate?
King Benjamin knew: “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.”
Or from Christ Himself: “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.”
Doing good is necessary, but it’s not goodness itself. As Christ told the young man, “There is none good, but God.” What we are asked to do is be Christ’s disciples, to follow Him, obey Him, worship Him. If our hearts are set on being good or being enough, on perfectionism, on gold stars, on clean records, on having it all “under control”, we must be honest with ourselves–we have become disciples of “being good”, disciples of our own self-image. We are still trying to be in charge. Like the rich young man, we are trying to use Christ for our own ends. For me, when I begin making an idol of my own goodness, I can sense that eternal life is out of my grasp. I feel anxious, unworthy, unchanged, unconverted. Like the young man, I also start running around asking, “What else am I supposed to be doing? What is it?” But even in those moments it’s often still all about me. Am I good? Am I safe?
We can’t take Christ out of Christianity. You can’t be a disciple without a Master, you can’t turn “Come Follow Me”’ into “Come Follow It”. Christianity isn’t a set of abstract principles and doctrines or spiritual checklists, it’s an allegiance to a Person. It’s a voluntary binding of oneself to the Master.
If any of you, like me, have found yourself becoming a disciple of “being good”, we can take comfort that Christ looked at that young man, and loved him. Surely he saw all the fear and striving in the boy’s heart–how hard it was for him to try to be in control, how dissatisfying and frightening. Surely he sees the fear in our hearts too.
Having asked the young man to consider his long list of obedience, having let that unspoken question, “So why are you here?” hang in the air, having loved him, Christ asks the boy to do the one thing that actually matters: come follow Him.
“One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.”
Giving up all the boy has means no longer having the material means to reassure himself, protect himself. It means truly giving up on his own perceived control, his own perceived righteousness, and finally doing the will of the Master. It means casting himself on the Lord, holding nothing back.
When I try to let God prevail in my life like this, to truly give my will to Christ, like the young man I also find myself stumbling. It scares me. I think, what will happen to me if I’m not looking out for me? What is Christ going to ask of me? What if He wants my weekends? What if He wants my money? My ego? A surrender like this really does feel like death to the natural woman; no wonder Christ tells the boy he will have to take up his cross to follow Him. In other words, spiritually speaking, the young man will have to die the shameful death, the death the world despises and can’t understand.
The young man went away sorrowing–unhappy in his servitude to himself, too scared to take that leap of faith and truly follow Christ. I’m also stumbling. I often find myself retreating to my to-do list or my goals, trying to dodge Christ Himself. I seem to only have the courage to consecrate myself a day at a time, or even an hour or a conversation at a time. Slowing down and praying often is helping. I’m trying to really ask now, “What does Christ want me to do?”
I can testify to you that when I do this, I find Christ is really there. He’s ready to be my Shepherd whenever I’m ready to obey. He’s commanded me to do things, and sometimes they’ve been hard things, but the work has felt meaningful. I feel His peaceful presence more in my life. I bear testimony that He is meek and lowly of heart. I am moved by how often He is simply asking me to try to really love someone.
I know there are many of you here who’ve already learned the lesson I’m just now learning. I can tell you’ve forgotten yourself because His light shines through you, and Christ’s promise is fulfilled: your light really does cause me to see your good works and glorify the Father in Heaven.To all of you who’ve made yourselves least in the kingdom out of love, thank you.
I want to close with the verses that immediately, and by no accident I think, precede the story of the rich young man.
Mark 10: 13-16:
“And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them.
But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.
Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.
And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.”