Episode 1. The Road Less Travelled
Our preference in life, if the truth be known, is for things to be easy. Success, prosperity – sure. That’s where God’s blessing must surely be. But Jesus … well He calls us to journey with …
Our preference in life, if the truth be known, is for things to be easy. Success, prosperity – sure. That’s where God’s blessing must surely be. But Jesus … well He calls us to journey with Him, on a road less travelled. And it’s not always what we want it to be.
Adversity is a fact of life. It happens in all areas of our lives, at different times. In our finances. In our relationships. In our jobs. In our families. In our health. In our own thoughts and emotions.
Last year on the program I shared a series of messages with you called How to Stop Your Family from Falling Apart. And quite a number of people wrote to me and said, in effect: well, my family has already fallen apart. What about me? And so later this year we’ll be chatting about marriage separation and divorce, losing a loved one, singleness, childlessness … because things don’t always follow that old fairy tale ending … and they lived happily ever after.
My preference and your preference is that life should be easy – if not completely easy, then at least ten or 15 or twenty percent easier than it is just at the moment. Just a little bit less of a struggle. Just a little bit easier. Oh – and no major catastrophes. No major disasters that cause us pain.
And the key here is expectation. My parent’s generation went through World War II – my dad fought in the German army on the Russian front. My mother lived through air raids and the bombing of her home town Graz in Austria. And when I look at those people from that generation – whether European or Australian or wherever they come from, their expectations of life being easy aren’t as high as perhaps yours and mine are.
My generation – the baby boomers – we were born in the 1950’s and 60’s in a golden era of prosperity and hope. Our parents, having suffered much through WWII worked hard to give us a better life. All the modern electric kitchen gadgets, televisions (okay, black and white, but televisions nevertheless) motor cars, all those things happened post World War II – and they indeed gave us a better, more prosperous life.
And so, we boomers carried on that tradition with our children – Gen X and Gen Y – who carried it on with their children – the millennials … and so it goes on. As prosperity boomed in the west, our expectations of what is normal became incredibly inflated. Prosperity is normal. Peace is normal. Success is normal. And of course, the advertising industry chimed in, feeding us, bombarding us constantly with images of success.
Now, what I’m describing doesn’t apply everywhere. There are plenty of people listening today who live in desperate adversity – in refugee camps, in war–torn parts of the world. But even as I travel through those parts of the world, what I see is that the lure of the prosperity of the west beckons. Media is global today. TV, the internet is global. And so people feed on this inflated set of expectations – and we begin to imagine that success, peace, prosperity and comfort are the norm – or if not quite the norm, at least those are the things that we should aspire to.
Comfortable house – tick. Nice car – tick. Healthy superannuation fund – tick. Private schooling for our children – tick. The latest techno-gadgets – tick. The latest fashions – tick.
And for men and women of faith – those of us who believe in Jesus – we tend to drop this worldly model of success onto the Bible, we try and create our own blended theology of success. We expect that following Jesus should be easy – and when they discover that it isn’t, many fall by the wayside. Surely if God loves me He wants to bless me – why am I having to deal with all the problems and challenges and issues and conflicts and adversity? Either there’s something wrong with Him or there’s something wrong with me … I don’t know but something isn’t working.
Have you ever thought that to yourself … or perhaps, if you haven’t quite articulated it that clearly, as I talked about it, you find yourself nodding your head in agreement …. Yeah …. Yeah …. That’s right. That’s what I’m feeling.
So before we can really talk about following Jesus with confidence – and hey, if I’m going to follow Jesus, if I’m going to call Him my Lord and my Saviour, then I want to follow Him with a quiet confidence in my heart – but before we can talk about that, we need to deal with this expectation gap. Have a listen to this exchange between Jesus and a couple of would–be followers whom He met along the way:
Now when Jesus saw great crowds around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. A scribe then approached and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Another of his disciples said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead. (Matthew 8:18–22)
It seems to me that Jesus isn’t calling you and me to a life of comfort. Following Jesus is a journey and from what I can see here – Jesus isn’t promising you and me a big house with two living areas, four bedrooms and a double car garage, in a nice suburb. He’s setting out the reality – plainly and simply – that following Him is an uncomfortable journey.
I often wonder how that second guy felt, the one who’s father had just died. Jesus I really want to follow you, but my dad’s just died, and I have to go bury him first.” I remember when my father died, I don’t think I’d have missed his funeral for the world.
And Jesus replies – Follow me and let the dead bury their own dead. The only words that I can come up with to describe that is harsh and unfeeling. If I’d have been that guy, I’d have been thinking – Do I really want to follow this Jesus??
But Jesus here was making a point – a strong point – about what it means to follow Him. It’s not a life of comfort or compromises. Here it is again – Jesus:
Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish. ’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:23–35)
My friend – have you counted the cost? Are you expecting an easy ride with Jesus, or do you see the stark reality that He’s painting here? Of course we go through times of great blessing in our relationships and in our circumstances from time to time. Well, most people do. But what Jesus is saying here is that suffering and sacrifice are the norm for a Christ–follower.
Most of us are worried about the single most important person on the planet – me! What’s in it for me? We’re constantly asking ourselves. What do I get out of this? But Jesus said:
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves (Luke 9:23–25)
If we have the wrong expectations of Jesus, then we are never going to be able to follow Him with confidence. Some days it’s going to be hard. That doesn’t mean we’ve failed. It means that that’s what Jesus promised.
So – let me leave you with this question: In your heart of hearts, what are you expecting of Jesus? Are you expecting what He promised, or are you expecting what the world tells you, you should be getting?