With recent events in the Middle East, the attention of many Americans has been drawn to the members of our armed forces, the men and women who have volunteered to fight to defend our nation and its interests.
We have heard stories of great heroism and of tremendous sacrifice. While seemingly 99 percent of our troops are upbeat and confident, the media still manage to find those few who are disgruntled and will freely express their dissatisfaction with their current situation. Of course this is their right, a right that they are fighting to defend, but I found one complaint intriguing from a Christian perspective.
One young man was quoted as saying he joined the Army only for the benefits. He never believed that he would actually have to go to war. He took the oath to protect and serve his country, but his motivation was the GI bill as a way to pay for his college education. A soldier surprised to find himself at war seems bizarre, and yet there he was in the desert of Iraq with a rifle in his hands, dumbfounded by his position.
He had to have suspected that he might be called upon to do what he had been trained to do, yet his motivation was strictly personal. He must have factored in this possibility, I thought, but then again he seemed genuinely shocked to be at war. For him the honor of serving his country was not enough. He had signed on for the benefits: money for his college education.
As I watched this young man, I wondered how many of us have signed onto Christianity for the benefits alone and gave no thought to the fact that we were dedicating ourselves to serving Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Being a Christian does have some great perks. When we sign up, we instantly become part of a comparatively safe and supportive community. We have some place to go and know that we belong. We can sing some good songs and enjoy most of the sermons, have coffee and cookies afterward and every once in a while have a potluck supper, which quite literally adds gravy to the deal.
And, of course, free eternal life insurance goes with membership. It is a great thing to know that at the end of our lives, Jesus will be standing there with open arms waiting to embrace us for all eternity. Membership has its privileges: food, friends, family and a future. How great is that?
All of these things are great beyond our ability to express, but I started to wonder how many of us would have signed up if all that was promised to us was to share in the life of Jesus? Jesus told us that if we followed him, chances are we would be hated because of him (Matthew 10:22; 24:9; Mark 13:13; Luke 21:17; John 15:18).
He did not promise earthly success or great riches. When a young man volunteered to follow him, he replied, "Why, I don’t even have a place to lay my head" (paraphrase of Matthew 8:20). Granted, he did say that his disciples would never hunger or thirst once they had tasted of the living water and the bread of life (John 4; 6:35), but on psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, these basic needs are on the lowest rung of the scale.
Jesus used simple analogies to describe the life of a disciple, such as put your hand to the plow and take up your cross. Discipleship requires sacrifice, and often it requires suffering.
Some of us who are pastors find ourselves in positions where our livelihood is threatened by decreasing attendance or decreases in giving. We might be asked to continue our work at half salary or possibly no salary at all. Suddenly we find ourselves in the middle of a desert with a rifle in our hands, confused, much like the young man discussed above, and we are forced to ask and answer this question: Is Jesus enough? If the bottom falls out of our financial situation—is Jesus enough? Is it enough to know and serve the Lord?
Peter had to confront this question—is Jesus enough to risk everything for, with little hope of anything in return? Paul had to confront this question—is Jesus enough to give up my success as a religious leader and my potential to one day sit with the Sanhedrin? Each of us who seek to serve the Lord must confront this question as well—is it enough that my work pleases the Lord?
Only one of the 12 was asked by Jesus to step out of the boat. Peter alone was asked to do this, and what a privilege it was for him. As he began to sink, I don’t believe he was thinking, "Hey, how great is this—I get to drown for the Lord." But from the perspective of time, we can see what a privilege and even an honor our Lord gave to Peter that day. Some of us find ourselves standing on the edge of the boat, being beckoned by our Lord to step out into the unknown and follow our Lord, and we ask ourselves, Is Jesus enough?
Can we trust him to do for us what he did for Peter? Can we believe him when he says to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you? (Matthew 6:33). We cannot make things happen on our own. Even with the Lord’s help Peter could take only a step or two before he began to sink.
I have come to see that success or failure is not the issue here—rather, it is answering the question of Jesus’ ultimate value in my life. Is Jesus enough? Absolutely! Even if there were no eternal life in the presence of the Lord; if there were no assurance of salvation; knowing Jesus and the privilege of being asked to follow him, right now, wherever he leads, is more than enough. So here we stand with water up to our knees saying with Peter: "Lord, Save me!" (Matthew 14:30).
Michael V. Houghton Sr.