“A flower if you bruise it under your feet rewards you by giving you its perfume”
Pledge Principal VI “I choose to follow Jesus knowing this confronts me with the unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and unknown. I do so with the purpose of letting Christ’s life reign in me as light before men for His glory.”
“Unfamiliar in the Familiar”
That thought surface in my mind as I was driving with one of my best friends of nearly 30 years in the summer of 2015. We had gotten into a discussion about our personal journeys in Christ. It’s good to have a friend like Mark. We don’t need to impress each other and the male testosterone competition disappeared decades ago. This is a friendship where we both can be transparent. Those type of relationships are developed over years of choosing to be vulnerable. They’re not created from formulas or forced fellowships, and for us men in particular they are too far and few.
Mark was sharing the reality of his own walk in Christ and how it would not have been the road he would have chosen for his life. In fact, both of us had our own stories involving brokenness that left more questions than answers when it came to matters of faith. Don’t misunderstand me, we weren’t questioning the certainty of our faith. What we were talking about was that over the years as our faith matured, our journeys were much different than we would have predicted.
It is crucially important to learn to “let go in Christ.”
Richard Wurmbrandt the founder of Voice of The Martyrs once wrote “A flower, if you bruise it under your feet, rewards you by giving you its perfume.” Mark and I knew God used the most difficult aspects of our lives to confront the areas requiring transformation. We had both dropped the assumption that flippantly equates Jesus as the “fixer” of our problems and had come to know “God doesn’t magically fix broken people. It’s quite the opposite actually he holds them up, sustaining them comforting them to the image of His Son. Our pain threshold is directly relational to how well we trust and rest in Him and allow Him to do this work.
I have often and still do fall into the trap of waiting for “my ship to come in,” and God to wipe away what’s adverse. Why I have persisted in this delusion now for some 40 years as a Christian is beyond me! Somehow, I took the view of perceiving the Christian faith like some great river, moving slowly in one direction carrying all the debris on this serene journey towards the larger goal of heaven. While I guess that’s somewhat analogous I mean after all the river ends up in the ocean which is a greater part of a smaller whole; this type of thinking has a tendency to unknowingly produce “Christian Fatalism.”
We tolerate and fail to believe God wants to lift us out of ourselves and improve our circumstance as quick as possible. He doesn’t enjoy bringing pain on us. Yet the Christian Fatalist in us says “oh its all just one big part of God’s plan!”
On a personal level we see ourselves in the “river” like the leaf on the surface with the rivers momentum carrying us forward in the will of God. What this type of thinking really is a lack of faith or understanding of who God is and what he wants to do in our lives. The linear momentum of our lives promotes this type of perception. When we think of our faith in this way we are adopting a faith that externalizes our control, our will and our ability to choose at the whim of some pantheistic consciousness that only penetrates our lives when it’s convenient which rationalizes our lack of purpose. It’s the “having a form of Godliness but denying its power” (2nd Timothy 3:5) Paul is describing of the pseudo believers who even in Paul’s day permeated the church. Read the rest of the passage through verse 12, you get Paul’s take which seems quite contrary to river analogy.
What we are prone to do is we subconsciously settle for a salvation that involves little confrontation with ourselves, the world, those we live with and more importantly… no death to self. Aaaah…, there is that “death to self” phrase so often mentioned in pious sermons but rarely exhibited! Yes, we don’t hear that phrase used much in church these days “death to self” and what it means. We do hear a lot of jargon about how to do this or that and make sure in conforms to a Christian veneer or some emotionally charged roller coaster faith that crashes when the real test comes.
In John 12: Jesus is in Jerusalem in the last week of his life. He is indirectly confronted by some none Jews (Greeks) who have obviously heard of him and concluded this Jesus is something completely different. They want to have an audience with Jesus. Can you imagine the questions they must have wanted to ask? Probably very similar to ones you and I would have been thinking. We’re not told if they got the audience but Jesus does respond evidently preempting their request with the following:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
We are called to follow Christ in all things; not just philosophically or morally but in relinquishing the toughest kingdom on earth, the self. We are to “die to ourselves.” We risk becoming no more than a self-righteous cynic flowing with the ebb and flow of eternal security patting us on the back. That’s unfamiliar to the 21st century church of programs and incorporations and the faith based linen closet which allows us to proclaim Christ with our mouths (I’ve done it) while our heart remains our own. We simply trade our former life like were changing clothes. Nothing really changed within and I might add, it’s not life, its not living. God has so much more than that for us!
I happen to think God has written the Gospel in the foundations of earth in every aspect of our lives. Consider before the springs comes, there’s a long winter were everything dies. Consider how the most fertile soil for the farmer is enriched by what has decayed.
There is nothing more unnerving, more confrontational, and yes, I’m afraid to say more emotionally taxing than this death to self. The new Creature we are meant to become referred to in 1st Corinthians 5: 17 does not and will not occur without the death to self.
A river also is filled with fish of various kinds and shapes working within the current and the ecosystem to maintain their habitat, or for our discussion maintain a semblance of something that looks like faith or a Christian life. Fish live and feed often maintaining themselves against the current. Unfortunately, more often than not do to our own willingness to flow with the current around us, we are content to sit in the current of life, live out our “Christian habitat” and allow the river to decide our course for us and like a rock in the river remain submerged, unremarkable and unnoticed.
The female salmon (depending on the species) spends one to eight years in the ocean before the instinctual call to return to her place of birth takes over. The males as well experience this “call” and drop everything they are doing and return to their birthplace. The journey can involve considerable distances and when the fish reach the river of their origin it’s a life and death struggle to make it back to the place of their spawning. Predators, exhaustion and the river all take their toll until the few salmon that make the trip successfully reach the spawning grounds, eggs are laid, fertilized and the salmon dies. It’s only through this process of giving up one’s own life resulting in death, which produces new life.
I think we could learn a lot from the salmon. Its life is one great journey from birth to death. It’s a necessary death of the self to continue the species. The theme of dying to the self is one of the great Christian principles of life that seems to have been replaced with a transitory faith that resembles a workout program or dare I say a self improvement seminar!
I’ve always found it remarkable Jesus confirmed in his call to his disciples telling them they would be “fishing for men.”
My prayer this week is that we each ask God to honor our desire to die to the self. To let go of the things we think are so important to start seeing the things that actually are. “Come Holy Spirit, take this life and teach us how to let go to truly live.”
J.P. Grier M.S. Counseling M.C.M. Pastoral Counseling
JP Grier is the founder and writer at SentinelforChrist.com – A network of Christians helping each other to press deeper in Christ.