My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
A brother I know was called to go on a preaching tour of some months. His wife, to whom he was very attached, was in poor health at the time. A friend had sent me with a last- minute letter to him, and as I came in sight of his house, unseen by him, I observed him come out, walk a little distance, then stop, and after a little hesitation begin slowly to return. I did not wait, but sensing his conflict of spirit I went ahead to the river-boat by another route. On his arrival there I handed him a letter with the words, “May the Lord bless you,” and his answer revealed that he was quite at peace. When after some months he came back from the tour I alluded to the incident. “Yes,” he confessed, “as I stood there, I felt I could not leave her and the children with no help and very little money, but as I was retracing my steps the verse came to me: “No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” So I turned back again and went down to the boat. To hold on to the plow while wiping our tears- that is Christianity.
How much like Christ do we really want to be? Many of us have placed limits on what we release to God for His use. We take it literally when we read that Jesus told us to count the cost and we do. We measure our involvement in the church by what we “have to give up” rather than “what opportunities we have been given.” Reading the above story may give us thrills at the dedication of such a person who would place the ministry first. On the other hand it may give us chills for we consider such a decision as foolish or fanatical. Some of us would wag our heads at the seemingly uncaring minister who left his ill wife to go preach the gospel. In our modern churches, we have become convenient consumers. When it fits our schedule, we show up but it there are other things on that schedule and church interferes with planned activities, the church comes in last. We want a costless salvation. Being asked to invest committed time and to place the ministries of the church at the top of our list of priorities is viewed as over demanding and legalistic. Our attitude is that the church ought to be glad that we show up occasionally and if we serve in any capacity we should be recognized as though we have done something outstanding.
Is this the true image of Christ that we are supposed to grow into? I think not. Let’s consider Him for a moment.
If there had been a conversation among humans as the Trinity were planning the redemption of mankind, I wonder if they would have considered that plan excessive and too sacrificial. But that wasn’t the view from the perspective of God. It wasn’t too much for Him to choose to give up His Son. What makes it more amazing is that He decided to do so for those who were still rebelling agains Him. Paul describes it this way:
“But God clearly shows and proves His own love for us, by the fact that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
John in his gospel sums it up with that wonderful verse we all know:
“For God so [greatly] loved dearly prized the world, that He [even] gave His [One and] only begotten Son, so that whoever believes trusts in Him [as Savior] shall not perish, but have eternal life.
God went to extravagant extremes to redeem us in giving up heaven’s treasure-His Son.
Jesus took it even farther in His “no reserve” by first of all giving giving up His deity and becoming human. In light of our modern attitude, don’t you think that’s a little fanatic for a king to vacate his throne for rebels? And while this might seem a bit much, Christ went even farther by giving up His life and dying for us even before we chose Him. He took a risk by investing in fallen humanity who had rejected Him over and over. Too extravagant?
In his first letter, John writes these words:
“See what an incredible quality of love the Father has shown to us, that we would [be permitted to] be named and called and counted the children of God! And so we are! For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.”
1 John 3:1
You see God kept nothing in reserve. He gave it all up for us. The apostles patterned their lives after Christ and they too held nothing in reserve. I wonder if we were them, how many of us would have quit after the first beating or imprisonment. I wonder how many of us would choose a dungeon to write the letters of the New Testament or to be so busy complaining about our circumstances that we would miss the visit of Christ as John experienced on the Isle of Patmos.
The history of the church tells of those who went far beyond leaving a sick wife with the children at home to go preach the gospel. Many of them not only gave up comforts but their very lives. Hebrews in the faith chapter- chapter 11 tells of those who held nothing in reserve even in suffering.
“Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured [to death], refusing to accept release [offered on the condition of denying their faith], so that they would be resurrected to a better life; and others experienced the trial of mocking and scourging [amid torture], and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned [to death], they were sawn in two, they were lured with tempting offers [to renounce their faith], they were put to death by the sword; they went about wrapped in the skins of sheep and goats, utterly destitute, oppressed, cruelly treated (people of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and [living in] caves and holes in the ground.”
Today as I am writing this devotion, around the world in oppressive nations missionaries are giving up comfort, leaving families and friends behind, taking families with them to strange and often dangerous environments. Many of them suffer hunger, weariness, loneliness, and immense work loads. They do so with gladness for they have seen the heart of the Savior and His great love for humanity.
My prayer today is that Christ would capture your heart in such a way that whatever He asks you to do would be a privilege and not a chore.
Dr. John Thompson