Many years ago, I was having a conversation with a loved one about life as a Christian. The conversation turned heated, when it shouldn’t have. I was immature in my beliefs and was seeking to win an argument instead of being a patient testimony of love. The other said something that has stuck with me all of these years. He commented that the life of a Christian is “putting your head in the sand,” because the only way someone could possibly believe in a living God as described in the Bible would be to ignore all of the evidence to the contrary that a rational mind would witness. Christians must naturally create their own reality in order to ignore the obvious, that the world is all that we can touch, hear and see. Stuck in the fairy-tale, we pick and choose those parts of the real world that fit into our paradigm. Head in the sand. Simpletons ignoring reality. The easy life?
I knew it then but I really understand it now. Life as a follower of Christ is not the easy life. Sometimes I wish I could put my head in the sand. Or at least run and hide. And I’ll tell you why: our lives are not our own. They belong to Christ. Let me tell you why this is so difficult, for me at least.
As I write this, on my left a bag of chemicals is hanging next to me, dripping through a thin tube into a direct line to my heart. On my right is my wife and companion, the one who for nearly three decades has also had a direct line to my heart. They both sustain me in their own ways. Together, Kim and I, along with our four children, are fighting for life as we know it. And we’d love nothing more than to hear these simple, magical words: “you’re cured.” Unfortunately, medically speaking, there is no cure for metastatic colorectal cancer. At least not yet. And as you’re reading this, I’m sure there are some words you’d love to hear. Words that promise peace and rest but which you’re afraid you’ll never hear.
As believers, we proclaim that all things are possible with God. And so we pray by faith for what seems impossible. And not just for ourselves, particularly for all of our friends and family with deep needs, difficult circumstances, intense pain and struggle. We watch as the struggles continue and we resist discouragement and we pray again. And again. This is far from easy.
There was once a man, though, who was wanted by the establishment for crimes against the state. He was essentially an outlaw, but he had a band of loyal men following and protecting him. And they went from town to town, serving the poor and needy throughout their country. Fatigue was frequent, but the hero found refreshment in prayer, of all things. At the story’s climax, the man and his gang took refuge in a grove of trees, but as they rested, one of his gang betrayed him, selling their whereabouts to the authorities. Sensing his imminent capture but desiring one final, private moment of prayer, the leader asked his men to stand guard as he stepped away to a secluded area. So deep was their exhaustion that his men could not stay awake to do their duty, so one can only imagine how tired was their leader. But here, on his knees, was the turning point of humankind.
“And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’”
Of course, those were the words of Christ from the garden of Gethsemane, here from Mark 14:36, willingly submitting his life to God.
Imagine now, for a moment, if he had said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me,” and that was it. What if Jesus had said,”Lord find another way to redeem your people. Find another way to do your work. I want my life. It is what I value most.” Perhaps he and his band of outlaws would have fled. Perhaps there would have been a sword fight and an escape. However it would have played out, it would have been easier than going to the cross. I doubt we would know, though, because it’s hard to imagine the Bible still containing a New Testament, for who would have devoted and given their lives to pass on that story. Our world would be an unimaginably different place.
I’m not sure what I’d have to write about either. I imagine the cancer would still be there but the hope wouldn’t. Perhaps I wouldn’t need it anyway. If Jesus hadn’t made the choice to submit, then I suspect I’d still be an atheist. I could rest in having performed my ultimate purpose in life, having passed on my DNA to another generation. Are there awards for being a Darwinian Success? A Lifetime Participation award? Not to belittle my life, but really, what good is it if it isn’t good for others? If it doesn’t fit into a much bigger story?
So thank God Jesus did make that world-changing choice.
I tell you this because it is the story of my life and anyone else who follows Christ. To submit to God’s will is our calling because Christ did so on our behalf. We pray on the one hand for God to perform miracles in our lives and those around us. But so long as the specific thing for which we pray doesn’t happen, we are called to devote ourselves to serving others because that is our purpose. If that means battling cancer, then it means battling cancer for God’s glory, whatever that looks like. If my part of the story ends today, tomorrow, next year or well after my kids have kids themselves, and though I’d give almost anything to hear those magical words, it is imagining what He might do with me that keeps me writing these blog posts. The inescapable plot of my life.
My hope is that my life is testimony that being a Christian doesn’t entail burying your head in the sand, no more than it does for ostriches (that’s a myth, too). But if I could go back and have that conversation again, I hope it’d be different. I’m not saying anything dramatic would occur because it isn’t up to me to convince anyone of a truth buried deep in their hearts. But I hope it wouldn’t be heated. Just warm. Love and sincerity the brick and mortar of lives being built together. One big, giant home where Jesus lives. My life is not my own. And that is precisely why it’s worth fighting for.