In Matthew 19, there is a popular story about a rich man who approaches Jesus, asks about eternal life and confirms all the commandments he has been following. He then asks, ‘“What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then, come follow me.”’ (Matthew 19:21)
I had studied this passage in the gospels of Mark and Luke in months past, so I was quite familiar with it. I found no accident in the commandments that Jesus initially offered the man, as they all had to do with loving the people around him, neglecting to address the commands to honor the Lord and keep him first. So when Jesus told the man to sell all his possessions and give away all his money, it was clear that Jesus was exposing the man’s true love.
I understood it intellectually. I knew 100x over that God commands to be first in our lives, he deserves to be first in our lives. But I didn’t even realize that none of the passage had actually impacted my heart until I began to pray it.
“What do I still lack?”
I prayed it more than once. I’m really not sure how I anticipated God to respond, but within a couple weeks, I recognized God had answered my prayer. I was thinking about it as I was vacuuming one afternoon, and that’s when it hit me. After numerous times through this passage, I finally understood what Jesus was saying to this man, what he was saying to me. I understood what I had been praying. What the man lacked was what the man had loved more than God. And whatever we are loving, trusting, or relying on more than God affects our relationship with him. I had been asking God to show me what was in the way of loving him most.
It wasn’t a cute answer to my prayer. In fact, it seemed so unspiritual and so insignificant to my faith that I hardly recognized it as His response. I argued – shutting this thing out felt irresponsible, besides the fact that I didn’t even think this was a barrier in our relationship. But the more I battled God and tried to rationalize my way out, the more I realized how great of a stronghold he had revealed.
While selling all my stuff and giving the money away would undoubtedly be difficult, it would give me a moral boost to know people are helped and some suffering alleviated. But to do something just for God? To do something that seems to impact no one else, something I have no desire to do on my own, something that threatens what has become my identity? That’s tough. And that’s risky.
But the risk is not foolish. And the risk is not in vain.
Jesus promises an eternal reward, and it will be better than we can ever dream. But in the meantime, it can feel far off. So in the meantime, I just walk. I grow closer to God, my Heavenly Father, and I find that he continues to leave me with a desire for more of himself. It feels so backwards, but somehow, in leaning into his promises, into his commands, into his Word – into him – He begins to unearth joy and freedom I didn’t even think was possible. And the more I get to know him, the more the temporary things of this world begin to fade.
“… I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…” – Philippians 3:8
Read: Matthew 19:16-30
Stepping in: What does this passage teach you about God’s commands? Why do you think God wants to be first in our lives?
Journeying further: Would you pray for God to reveal something you love more than him? Do you want to “be perfect”, or do you pursue holiness? Talk through what that looks like with a close friend.