[These thoughts are “inspired” by the Spirit, the Word and Francis Chan, in no particular order. I recommend his book entitled, Crazy Love.]
Failure…an ugly word. But it’s very real. Most of us are scared to death of it.
In the career field, failure can mean the difference between a six-figure income and the unemployment line. In relationships, it can determine whether we grow old together or seek a divorce attorney. In our educational pursuits, it can bring us a diploma or extend our stay. In life…it means we’re human. That’s not an excuse, it’s a fact. failing is inevitable in some form. Obviously, the level of failure and the type of failure will determine the resulting consequences. However, I would venture to guess that most of us want to avoid it if at all possible.
What do we do to avoid failure? How do we respond when we have failed and decide we are desperate to change it? In particular, when we come face-to-face with the reality of our lukewarm, apathetic or flailing spiritual condition, what is plan A? For most people, it is to immediately start thinking, “I need to try harder…to quit playing around and get serious.” Or, we may ask ourselves, “What are the things I need to do in order to get this turned around?” The idea is “trying harder.” As a result, we start the list…pray more, read the Bible more, go to church more, resist temptation more, etc., etc. Now don’t get me wrong, none of these things are wrong things to do. More Bible reading, prayer, church attendance and less sinning are all very good things. But this is not the starting point for successfully following Christ with the type of abandon and passion to which He calls us. Francis Chan points out that focusing on “trying harder” is self-centered…it is a focus on us…it brings glory to us. That’s a wrong approach, for sure.
When we look at the problem of the church at Laodicea (Revelation 3), which was described as the lukewarm church, we get a clue about what we need to do for our problem of dealing with failure and fully following Christ. Notice the description of the Laodiceans:
15 “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish you were one or the other! 16 But since you are like lukewarm water, I will spit you out of my mouth! 17 You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. 18 I advise you to buy gold from me — gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. And also buy white garments so you will not be shamed by your nakedness. And buy ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. 19 I am the one who corrects and disciplines everyone I love. Be diligent and turn from your indifference.
Jesus instructs them to take care of their spiritual poverty, their spiritual nakedness and their spiritual blindness. I would say these are pretty blatant failures. I would also say many of us can relate to such deficits…whether that describes us before we came to faith, or whether it describes particular seasons of our lives to a degree. The question is, how do I do that? How do I obtain pure gold, white garments and eye ointment? These, of course, are spiritual symbols, but from where do they come and what are they exactly? Well, Jesus answers that question in the very next verse.
“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.
The answer is…Jesus! I know, that sounds like the cliché Sunday School answer to every question. It is either, “Jesus,” “The Bible,” or “pray,” right? Well this is not a cliché. Jesus is telling the Laodicean church…you need ME! James put it this way, “Come near to God and he will come near to you” (4:8).
Obviously, we know, for salvation…forgiveness and eternal life…we must come to Jesus and let Him in. We must trust in Him. However, this does not just apply to initial salvation. It applies to all of our life with Him! We need Him to change us. We need to let Him be our all. It all boils down to loving Jesus…or as He put it, “loving God and loving others.” In other words, we don’t need to try harder, we need to Love more.
For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love.
There it is…”faith expressing itself in love.” We need to love Jesus more…to love God more. For, when we are loving Him, we are running toward Him…we are pursuing Him. Running toward God in a loving relationship makes it hard to take time to sin…to fail. And, when we do, it is a momentary thing that can be quickly resolved as we continue our love relationship with Him. This also keeps us from the obligatory checklist religion that is way too common in American churches. That kind of journey will become tiring and empty very quickly.
So, What If I Don’t Want to Love Jesus More?
I tell people all the time, God is a big God, be honest with Him…He can take it. Just like your best friend to whom you can tell anything and not be worried that you’ll be rejected, God can handle whatever you need to tell Him.
In the midst of life and all of the mess we find ourselves in, we can be brutally honest and transparent with God. If you find that you don’t love Jesus in a way that frees you to live in relationship and obedience to Him, then tell Him that. Ask God to help you love Him. That’s the starting point. Honestly asking and confessing this to Him will enable a cycle to begin. You see, asking God to help you love Him will invite Him to begin to do that work in your heart. As He does that work, you will pray more. As you pray more, your love for Him will increase…etc., etc.
So…here is an assignment:
Read Psalm 63:1-5 and ask yourself, “Does this describe my life?” If you feel your life comes up short in comparison, then begin to ask God to help you to love Him more.
Francis Chan suggests a prayer similar to the following. You pray your own words from your own heart, but this may be helpful to get you started.
Jesus, I need to give myself up. I am not strong enough to love You and walk with You on my own. I can’t do it, and I need You. I need You deeply and desperately. I believe You are worth it, that You are better than anything else I could have in this life or the next. I want You. And when I don’t, I want to want You. Be all in me. Take all of me. Have Your way with me.