For the last couple of years our congregation has been talking about simplifying our busyness and activity around a clear discipling focus, and being more effective in our ministry to our young people. Pretty early in these discussions, some people began to realise that if we are going simplify what we do and how we do it, and if we are going to prioritize ministry to young people, then there will be things in our congregation that will change. And that has made some people uncomfortable.
I came across an idea a few years ago that what worries people most about change isn’t the change itself, but what they could lose through the change. This idea makes sense to me because, in a congregational context, we connect with a particular church because we like what that church has to offer – its style of worship, its programs, or the way it does things. To think about changing any of that can be unsettling because why would we want to change something when it’s what we like? It makes sense that our natural reaction will be to resist any changes which could result in losing what we like or what we value, what matters or what’s important to us.
But then we come to Jesus’ teaching about following him in Mark 8:31-38. As we have discussed discipleship in our congregation over the last couple of years, I’ve been side-stepping the words of Jesus in verse 35 because they are extremely confronting and challenging. However, maybe it’s time that we listen to what Jesus has to say to us here. If we are serious about living as Jesus’ disciples and making disciples of others, and if we want to take Jesus’ message seriously (Growing Young, pp126-162) then we need to hear what Jesus is teaching us in these words.
I really struggled with these words all last week. I understand how they applied to early Christians who risked being killed for following Jesus, or how they apply to our sisters and brothers around the world today who face serious persecution for their faith. However, in our affluent, consumer culture, what does it mean for us to lose our lives for Jesus and for the gospel? Does it mean we need to join a monastery or convent to spend all day, every day in prayer and meditation? Or do we need to give everything up to become pastors in the church?
Our problem is that we tend to look for life in places that don’t actually give us what we need. We look for our sense of identity, belonging and purpose in things that don’t last or aren’t reliable, such as possessions, relationships, social media or experiences. Even in congregations, we can try to find our identity by belonging to a church organization, our belonging by having a pigeonhole in the church foyer or a shared family connection, and our purpose by being on a committee or a roster. If we try to find our lives in what we do for the church, then we will resist change if it looks like we will lose what’s important to us.
However, if we are willing to lose what we value, or what’s important to us, or what matters to us, if we are willing to lose where we try to find our identity, belonging or purpose, then Jesus promises that we will find something much better. In our children’s talk on Sunday, one young girl told me how she lost her Elsa and Anna dolls (the two main characters from Disney’s movie Frozen), but then she was given all of the Disney princess dolls in their place. That’s kind of what Jesus is saying to us – when we lose what’s important to us, what matters to us, or what we value, or when we lose wherever we are trying to find our identity, value or purpose, then we find something much better in him.
To ‘save’ our lives isn’t just about going to heaven when we die. Jesus promises us a ‘rich and satisfying life’ (John 10:10 NLT) in this world as well. When we are willing to lose what’s important to us, we can find a new and better life in relationship with him because Jesus has already lost everything for us.
I wonder what it would have been like to have been one of Jesus’ disciples, to see the things they saw, to witness the miracles Jesus performed and hear his teaching on the Kingdom of God. Then, for Jesus to look at them and tell them that he needed to go to Jerusalem where he would suffer, be rejected, crucified and die, and be raised to new life on the third day (v31). I can understand Peter’s reaction in verse 32 because it’s our natural tendency to want to hang on to life, not lose it.
However, it is through losing his life that Jesus gives us life. He was willing to sacrifice everything for us because what matters most to Jesus, what he values most and what is most important to him, is us. Even when we are so reluctant to lose what matters to us, Jesus lost everything by giving his life for us on the cross because he would rather die than see us lost in a world that promises us life in so many shallow and superficial ways, but ultimately can’t deliver. Each and every one of us is so important to Jesus, so valuable and so precious to him that he preferred to lose his life so that we can find life in him.
Faith in this good news changes our whole lives. We can find our identity in Jesus as he embraces us in a new relationship with God as his children whom he loves and with whom he is pleased. We can find a place to belong as members of the body of Christ, and sisters and brothers in the community of believers. We can find purpose for our lives as God calls us to participate with him in his work of redeeming, restoring and renewing all of creation. When we are willing to lose everything that matters to us in the faith that Jesus lost his life for us on the cross and in order to embrace others with the good news of God’s grace and love for us in Jesus, then we find a life that is full of God’s goodness, which is even stronger than death.
Jesus lost everything for us on the cross to bring us into a new life as God’s family and members of his body. We can find who we are, where we belong and what we’re here for in him because of what he lost for us. Then Jesus calls us to follow him along the same path, so others can find a new life in him as well.
What are we willing to lose for Jesus and for the good news?
More to think about:
- Generally speaking, do you tend to embrace or resist change? Can you give an example of a time when you have done that? What were your reasons for either embracing or resisting that change?
- What do you think of the idea that people don’t fear change as much as what they might lose through the change? Would you agree or disagree with that? Can you explain why?
- What do you think Jesus meant when he said that whoever loses their life for him and for the gospel will save it (v35)? What might it look like for you to lose your life for Jesus and for the gospel?
- Where do you look for your identity, belonging and purpose? If it’s not in Jesus, how might finding your sense of who you are, where you fit and what you’re here for be different if you looked for them in your relationship with Jesus?
- What would you find easy to lose in your experience of church? What would you find difficult to lose? How might losing them help someone else experience grace?