This following Jesus thing is hard.
I used to think that at some point I would reach a place of spiritual maturity and it would no longer be hard to follow Jesus. That I'd wake up one day to sunshine and blue skies and skip through the remainder of my days because I'd figured out the magic formula and was now immune to "hard".
It seems as if my daydream is nothing more than just that, a dream.
The longer I follow Jesus the more I realize... the hard isn't going away.
I'm not the first person to find this following Jesus thing hard. There's a really crazy passage in John 6 where Jesus' disciples are faced with hard. That's not the crazy part. The crazy part is what happens next:
"On hearing it, many of His disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?'... From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him." (John 6:60, 66)
When confronted with hard, they turned back and no longer followed Him. These weren't crowds of people who had gathered to hear Jesus for the first time. These were disciples, men who had left homes and jobs and families to follow Jesus, turning away and returning home. Because following Jesus is hard.
The even crazier part? Jesus let them go. He let them leave. He didn't follow them and beg them to come back. He didn't reason with them and offer compromise if they would just stay. No. He presented the hard truth and then let each individual decide what to do with that truth. Keep following or turn back.
After many left Him, He turned to the twelve and asked them a simple question:
"You do not want to leave too, do you?" (vs.67)
I don't think He was being harsh. I don't think He would have stopped them if they had said yes. He's simply asking, "Has this gotten too hard for you too?" He never forces anyone to keep following. He only offers a choice. Stay or go? Believe or doubt? Love Me or leave Me?
"Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.'" (vs. 67&68)
I've learned something about following Jesus. The longer you follow Him the more opportunities you'll have to turn back. But if you don't, if you choose to answer like Peter, then something changes. Something deep inside of you. It's still hard. It's still confusing at times. There will still be questions. But there's also something more. There's a "worth it" that overrides every "hard".
Yesterday I received news that was hard. Life altering kind of hard. Not going away anytime soon kind of hard. This morning as I was praying about it I fully expected to have a good cry. Because my pain is real, and my sorrow is real. And God can handle it (actually enjoys it, I believe) when I come to Him with my pain and sorrow and tears. I was right about one thing, there were tears. But I was wrong too. My tears weren't because of the hard. They were because of the good. Because HE is good. And He is near. And He never leaves us or asks us to walk alone. Instead He comes and He comforts and He promises (and His promises are always true) that there is a place where hard doesn't live and pain doesn't exist, but until that time and that place He is HERE. And here, in the middle of the hard He holds and He guides and He is enough.
He is enough. Just Jesus. He's all I need.
The house, the car, the job, the dog, the clothes, the food, the comfort, the friends, the family, the kids, the 401K, the vacation package, my reputation, my health, my dreams, all of it... it's just extra. Take it all, and leave me Jesus. Because those other things... they bring me joy, they bring me comfort and a sense of security. But Jesus? He alone has the words of life. He alone.
Today I've had a song stuck in my head. It's a song I learned in the early 90s when I first fell in love with Jesus.
You are the love of my life,
You are the hope that I cling to,
You mean more than this world to me.
I wouldn't trade You for silver or gold.
I wouldn't trade You for riches untold.
You are, You are my everything
Singing about Jesus being everything is abstract. And it's easy to sing about a hypothetical idea of wanting Jesus more than anything else in this world. It's just words, and we sing lots of words we don't mean. But what happens when the song is no longer an idea, but a real decision we must make? When the marriage falls apart, or the bank account is empty, or the diagnoses is life altering? Is He everything then? In the moment when your whole world falls apart, and you're faced with a choice do you walk away? Doubt? Leave? Most of us would say no. We would never leave Jesus. But we do. We may still act like believers, but in our hearts we don't trust Him. We still play the role of being a follower, but deep inside we pull back. When life comes crashing in and leaves a gaping whole we look to other things to fill it instead of Jesus. We pursue a new job, new relationship, new shoes, new hobby. We dive into parenting or volunteering or working. We turn back. We leave. I know. It's how I've dealt with hard my whole life.
And He lets us. He lets us leave when it gets too hard. Just like He let the disciples leave in John 6. Just like the father let the Prodigal son leave in Luke 15. It's our choice. To stay or go. To trust or doubt. To love or leave.
I've decided that while I may question, I may wrestle with how sovereignty and free will co-exist, I may be perplexed by the disconnect I sometimes see between scripture and my circumstances. I will not leave.
Where else would I go? Jesus is everything.