Is It Enough?

"Then said Jesus unto His disciples, 'If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." Matthew 16:24...."Is God at work in hard places? And does He expect us to join Him in those hard places? ...Would He really allow people who love Him dearly to fail? And, if so, is this a God who can use even holy failure for His purposes?" Nik Ripken

Nik Ripken is not the real name of the man who authored the above quote. He is unable to give his actual name because doing so would put both his loved ones and those he ministers to at risk of deeper persecution and death. He has ministered in areas of intense suffering, danger, and persecution for more than 25 years. Everything he has experienced has crushed all of his western ideas as to just what "success" in service to Him really is. In the forward to his book, "The Insanity Of God," he asks, "Would I choose to trust this God who I could not control? Would I willing to walk with this God whose ways are so different? Would I, once again, lean on this God who makes impossible demands and promises only His presence?"
I once thought I knew what it meant to "be blessed." My idea of this was to feel fulfilled, highly useful, and always moving forward in all ways, especially ministry. I didn't spend a lot of time thinking on the fact that such "blessing" depended mostly on outward outcomes. Things that happened to, and for me, not what was really going on within me. Prayer, ministry, service, all of them focused more on outcomes given by Him instead of upon Him. His heart, His Life, His Presence. I thought that if believed, obeyed, and did all the right things, He would, indeed, He must, bless all the efforts and bring about all the desired results. What I didn't see was that this gave all the real control to me. It took some time before I realized that He called me to trust Him while at the same time knowing I could not control Him. I couldn't control where He sent me, what He commanded of me, and what the fruit of it all would be. Would I follow a God whose ways I most often didn't understand and couldn't predict? Could I rest in a God who does make impossible demands, while giving no guarantees except that of, as Ripken says, His presence?
We can be so flippant with Christ's call to "take up our cross." Most times we think that cross looks like the one we see in most church sanctuaries (if indeed they even display it). That cross is usually high grade, polished wood. It is beautiful to behold, but it is not the cross of Christ. The cross that He carried was rough, ugly, an object of disdain. Few would choose to display it in their fellowship. Fewer still have any desire to take it up. We're very sure of where we believe the beautiful, polished cross will lead. We've no idea where the rough, rugged one will. But we have this deep suspicion that it will be to places our flesh will hate, and our suspicions will be right.
I don't read as much on the spiritual level as I once did. Not because I've lost my love for it, but mostly because I find so few works of real spiritual depth, and I don't say that with any pride. It's just that most such books here in the west are focused on how to get to where we want to be and have what we want to have. Difficulties are minor, if they exist at all. Jesus makes a way for us, and that way will include little, if any suffering. If there's a cross in the journey, it's off to the side, and only partly, if at all visible. The Lord takes us to good, always fruitful places. He would never lead us into impossible ones. He does not say "Follow Me," while promising us nothing but Himself. But that is exactly what He does, and I wonder if that is what causes so many to "turn back and follow Him no more," when the reality of that truth sets in?
Little, if anything of my 35 plus years of ministry has been what I expected it to be. The outcomes I was sure of have not been the outcomes I've experienced. The blessings I thought to have, have not been the blessings I've actually received. But to my amazement, they've been better than I could ever imagine. He's taken me to and through places I would never have chosen, while revealing to me aspects of Himself I could never have hoped to know. I've learned and continue to learn the meaning of faithfulness. Mine, to a lesser degree, and His to the greater. All along the way have been opportunities to minister without guarantees of outcomes, just guarantees of chances to show forth His love, His Presence, and His Life. And I've found that this is what His calling is all about. Could it be that you might be learning of that yourself?

Oswald Chambers said that Jesus Christ was a failure from every standpoint but God's. In the end, that's the only viewpoint that matters. He calls us unconditionally. He directs us in the same way. All control, all the outcomes are in His hands. He invites us to trust Him, depend on Him, believe Him. Questions do arise. He doesn't promise satisfactory answers to them. He does promise Himself. Is that enough? Is it enough for you?

Pastor O
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   July 2019   
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