What do we do when following Jesus gets hard? When what He teaches challenges everything we think we know and believe? Or worse yet, what we want to be the truth? My head spins with the endless spiritual battle for my affections. I want so bad to have it both ways – God’s and mine. If we’re totally honest with ourselves, done we all want to have life both ways, ours and God’s, especially when we don’t want to do the hard things or believe the difficult truths?
The thing is, as long as I try to make my way and His way meet, I am trapped in a maelstrom of ineffectiveness. I leave myself open for the devil’s dishonesty as he feeds the fodder of my selfish desires, and confusion ensues. My ways collide with God’s like opposing currents vying for my loyalties, my time, and my affections. I find myself whirling around a vortex that threatens to pull me under if I don’t grab His hand – His truth – for rescue.
This is where I found myself recently, deceiving myself in order to cling to sinkers the devil camouflages as life preservers. The longer I cling to what I want to be my truth, the closer I am to the vortex, and the more powerful its pull.
It’s not anything the world would define as a big deal, but it’s getting to the heart of what really holds my loyalty. What really drives my desires as measured by what captures my thoughts and my time. In that sense, it’s a very big deal. The biggest deal of all, because where our hearts are, so is our treasure.
When my thoughts and emotions swirl out of control, my first defense is to blame my hormones, and sometimes it is. But the reality is, most of the time it’s because of sin; it’s because I’m tempted when I’m drawn away by my own desires and enticed (James 1:14). “Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (verse 15).
James asks, “Where do wars and fights come from among you (or in my case, within you)? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?” (James 4:1, parentheses mine).
Yes! That’s exactly what happens. My desires for comfort and pleasure, which I define as what I want when I want it the way I want it, war within me and I get lost in the battle. We might not think it’s that big of a deal, until we read James’ words in verse four: “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
In whatever way we seek to be a friend of the world – in whatever way we want to align ourselves with culture’s values, pressures, and pleasures, we are an enemy of God. That’s not to say we never rest, relax, and recreate! But when the world and it’s ways become our familiar companion, it is in direct opposition to God, whether we intend it or not.
How, then, do we escape the powerful pull of the vortex of selfish desires?
Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up (James 4:7-10).
It’s not exactly the ear-tickling answer we desire, but it is the branch of truth we can cling to in order to be pulled from the whirlpool and into the arms of Peace Himself. Either we will cling to Him, even when His truth offends and is hard, or we will walk away, like many of His disciples did when His teaching was hard and/or offensive.
Like when He is teaching the Jews in the synagogue in Capernaum and proclaims, “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him” (John 6:54-56).
Scripture goes on to recount, “Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can understand it?’” (verse 60), to which Jesus responds, “Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (verses 61-63).
Many are offended and walk away; they “walked with Him no more” (verse 66). So Jesus turns to His twelve disciples and asks, “Do you also want to go away?” (verse 67).
And look at the words of Peter, which have become the cry of my heart:
Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God (verses 67-68).
Jesus is the bread of life. His flesh and blood have eternal life. His words are words of eternal life. EVERYTHING ELSE IS DEATH.
He is it. We are either His friend or enemy. That’s a hard truth, because we want to be a friend when it’s easy, and we want another choice when it’s hard.
In the emptiness of everything else I’ve sought for significance, satisfaction, and strength, I have come to the place where I can truly say, “Lord, to whom or what shall I go?” There is no other. Jesus is IT.
Will you go to Him? In any and all circumstances? That is what He is teaching me, and while it’s tough to remain in a rough spot while clinging only to Him and none of the temporal comforts and means of relief the world can offer, it is the only way I have found true peace, even as the vortex vies for my affections.