My church recently moved into a beautiful new building, and the first Sunday was incredibly special. So many hours, so many hands of help, and so much heart went into creating a space to worship God and welcome people into a deeper relationship with Him. I sat in back, in direct view of the house full of attendees. I began to join in worship and quickly became emotional over the beauty of the work that God was already doing.
Many months back, my husband and I had been invited to pledge a monetary amount towards the building. We ended up with a number that was quite a bit bigger than either of us ever expected to hand over to a church. As we became more confident that the number was from God and not ourselves, we committed. It was a bit scary, but there was a lot of excitement and celebration over what God would do. And then months passed. And excitement faded. And it got harder as I continued to write a monthly check that wasn’t buying me anything. My mindset shifted. It went from the things of God to the things of man.
Jesus calls this out in Peter when he tells his disciples that he must suffer and die. “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. This shall never happen to you! Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.’” (Matthew 16:22-23)
Yikes. But I think it can be so instinctive for us to respond like Peter. “I will always be responsible with money, Lord! I’ll never give away more than what I have leftover.” “I will always step in and help my child! I’ll never let him get hurt.” “I have a great plan for my life! I’ll never let anything get in the way.” Sometimes I think we can be so focused on our own ideas of what is right and noble.
We can have good intentions, but our sight is distorted when our minds are on the things of the world and not the eternal things of God.
I hear Jesus continue like this: “Crowd – this is important. Let’s all talk about this. If you want to follow me, you have got to submit to my ways. You have to let go of your ideas and desires – for good. Instead, step into my plan, my way of life. Because when you do – when you give up your stuff for my stuff – you will find true life. What’s the point in achieving great things of this world if it only lasts for such a short time? If you walk away from me for the sake of yourself, what do you really gain? Is anything worth more than an eternity with me?” (Paraphrase of Matthew 16:24-26/Mark 8:34-37)
Jesus commands his followers to “take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). Jesus would die on a cross. Criminals died on crosses. The cross signified death, which means following Jesus is not a one-time decision, rather, it is zillions of decisions to do things his way, because the old method of doing things our own way has died. It isn’t about earning our position in heaven, rather, it’s about becoming more like the One who is already seated there.
It can be hard. It can be so, so hard to trust God and to keep going when it seems like he isn’t there or like he’s not doing anything. It was hard to keep writing that check each month when I could think of so many “better” ways to spend it. But that church service was just a glimpse of God’s glory and a reminder that He is always worth it. It was such a burst of life, a fulfillment of God’s promise. I never could have fully imagined just how incredible that first day would be, and I never can fully imagine just how incredible the entire revelation of God’s glory will be. It will be so beyond worth it.
Stepping in: What scares you about turning from your own ways and instead following God’s ways? What excites you about living His way?
Journeying further: Jesus called Peter a stumbling block for getting in the way of his obedience to his father. What are your stumbling blocks? How can you immediately identify them and cast them out of your way?