Let’s pick up where we left off last week: “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29).
Is Jesus always trying to separate us from friends and family? Is that what he really wants?
I don’t think you can make a rule out of this. I think the real point is: We’re always to choose Jesus first. Whatever their proximity, Jesus’ brother and sister and mother are those who choose to do God’s will (Matthew 12:50).
That said, Jesus is warning us of the division his presence, and our allegiance, may cause. We may indeed be forced to choose a side. But Jesus promises that no matter whatever, and whoever, we leave behind for his sake, we “will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.”
Since we’re already considering this, let’s look at it from a couple other angles:
- Is the abundant life Jesus promises us simply a pleasant existence among a bunch of “Christian friends”? To be honest, I think that’s the way most American Christians live it out. Jesus addresses that too here. We may not have to leave our churches behind, but we’ll almost certainly need to step outside of the human comfort of them, in order to fully follow Jesus.
- A perhaps lesser-acknowledged yet much larger fact is: We are never alone in our relationships. Jesus is always there, in our midst, whether we acknowledge him or not. To believe anything different is to cultivate the kind of relationship Jesus says we need to lay down. Conversely, the friendships where we know Jesus is ever-present, and where we put him first, are the richest friendships we will ever have. If you’ve ever experienced this, you know this to be true.
The Bible repeatedly tells us that this world is only temporary, that everything in it will pass. That doesn’t just go for the present world system and its evils, but even the people and things we love. This is a tough truth to accept. We’re being prepared for an eternity with Jesus. We must learn to love him first. Will we be reunited with those we love in heaven? One could make biblical arguments in both directions. But Jesus makes it clear that our ultimate priority must be him.
The good news behind this tough fact is that loving Jesus doesn’t obliterate our love for those here on earth—rather, it transforms it. Remember, “laying it down” is really about laying our selves down. Much of our love for others is about what we get out of the relationship. We love others, or are attracted to them, because they make us feel good, special, important, worth something. That’s not a bad thing. The problem occurs when we base our lives upon those feelings, and rely on those around us to constantly replenish those feelings. When those people or feelings fail us, we’re devastated in more ways than we’re even aware—because when that happens we also begin to feel, however vaguely, how far we’ve let ourselves drift from God.
No matter what our worth to others, we’re worth so much more to Jesus. Likewise, no matter what others are worth to us, Jesus should be worth so much more. As we learn to live out of that reality, we not only enter further into the presence of that infinitely greater love but can now truly share that love with those we love.
Yes, I’m talking very loftily here. It’s true, we seldom live in this place. But I fear that many of us have given up even trying to pursue Jesus’ love because of this—that we have found even his “easy yoke” of obedience too restraining. The fact that we have given up is the principal reason why we settle for something—or in today’s case, someone—less than Jesus.
As one of my favorite songwriters, Bill Mallonee, phrases it: “Love is just a plea / Deepest point of need / We take a reasonable facsimile, most of the time.” We desire to feel something, and Jesus just seems too far away, so we unwittingly (or bitterly) turn away from the One who’s right next to us—the One whom we’d see if we’d only truly desired him long enough to see past the troubles we’re facing right now.
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him…. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures (James 1:12, 16–18).
So let’s start living as “firstfruits.” Let’s begin cultivating the deepest and most satisfying relationship we can ever have—our relationship with Jesus—and allow him to transform our earthly relationships into what he desires. Let’s lay it all down, and move on to receiving his life and living it out day by day.
Lay It Down Today
Between Weeks 4 and 5 you’ll find an “interlude”—a retreat time you can either do on your own, or better yet, with your group. Let’s begin preparing for that today. Take a fifteen-minute mini-retreat, as soon as you’re able to do so.
For the first ten minutes: Quietly reflect on that time when you first drew close to Jesus. Whether you focus on one specific moment or that general season of your life, try to really reflect and recapture the sense of what that time was like. Who was with you (or who were you close to, at that time)? Where were you? What were some of the sights, sounds, and smells you associate with that time? What were you thinking and feeling? Replay all of it in your mind and heart.
Then: Take another five minutes to quietly reflect on where you are right now in your relationship with Jesus. Where you are in comparison to those first days, and why?
Finally, think about Jesus coming alongside you right now. What’s different from before? What’s better? What do you miss from that first time you drew close to Jesus?
Close by thanking Jesus for the brief time you’ve spent with him, and how your relationship with him has grown over the years. Ask him also to begin preparing you for the longer time you’ll be spending with him in a couple weeks. Also, if there are places where you feel you’ve “lost your first love,” ask Jesus to restore and rekindle your heart toward him.