Father, my days are passing by at light speed right now. My plate is full, and my mind is racing. Thank you for calling me out of the madness to join you for a moment beside a quiet stream. Thank you for the ways that you restore my soul every time I spend even a little bit of time truly meditating on your words. Help me to live a healthy rhythm of life: be glorified in how I work, relax, meditate, pray, and serve.
We’ll close out this chapter tonight by reading Mark 8:34-Mark 9:1. Read it through a few times, stopping to consider the words and phrases and ideas.
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” (Mark 8:34-9:1 ESV)
As a child, teenager, and young adult, I had a lot of ambition. I decided sometime around the time I was twelve that I would be an actress and live in New York City. I began auditioning for roles in local theater productions and had no trouble getting cast. When I was sixteen, I was in my first professional show, and when I was nineteen, I was on the road, earning a salary and working full time as a touring actress. At twenty-three, I took a train to The City carrying my suitcase, guitar, and a backpack full of headshots and resumés. I arrived there with $47 to my name, and began hitting the pavement the following day, working as an office temp and auditioning. I was cast in my first show two months after I got there—a one act play. And shortly after that, I was on As The World Turns for the first time. I was constantly pounding the pavement, determined to make it big.
Throughout all of that time, I had faith. I had grown up in a faithful home, had learned to love and fear and honor God as a small child, and had continued attending church even when I was no longer required to. I did spend some time exploring other faiths, partly out of curiosity, and partly because I didn’t want to be a Christian just because my parents were Christians. But I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t believe in Jesus—when I didn’t know him as the way, the truth, and the life.
All the while, though, I know that I was primarily concerned about the life I was trying to achieve. I was eager for success as an actress, and throughout those years, I drew much of my sense of self from where I was in my career, who I was hanging around with, what parties I was invited to, what celebrities I knew. And, while I didn’t know this at the time, the truth is that all of that made me a pretty insecure person. And not a happy person. I was chasing something that was always just out of reach. I was trying to quench my thirst by drinking from fountains that were at best polluted, and more often than not, totally bone dry. There was a deep, deep longing inside me for a really great life. But I just was not able to make it happen for myself.
I clung to that life—or, at least, the dream of it— with all my might. At times, I compromised my faith, compromised my morals, compromised everything I knew to be true, all because I wanted the life I imagined for myself more than I wanted whatever God might have had for me. I did not want God’s best—I wanted what I wanted.
Thankfully, God broke through to me when I was twenty-four. Through a series of conversations, circumstances, and moments of prayer, I finally saw the ridiculous choices I was making. I realized that I could not make the life I wanted—the beautiful life, the adventurous life, the inspired life. And I could not give myself a clean conscience. No matter what I did, I was under the cloud of knowing that I could never have the life I wanted while keeping God at arms length, inviting him only into the areas I was willing to give up. I realized that it had to be all or nothing with God. “Lord of all” means lord of ALL. If Jesus isn’t Lord of all in my life, he’s not Lord of anything in my life.
So, after a battle that went on for months, I lost my life for Christ’s sake. I told God that if there was any part of my life he wanted, it was his; I didn’t want my life anymore. I confessed my sins, asked for forgiveness, and asked for redemption. “I’ve heard all my life that you’re a ‘redeemer.’ Redeem this,” I prayed.
I don’t know what I expected. But I do know that, as I look back on the past thirteen years or so, God has done so much more with my life that I could ever have imagined. My life in Christ has been one adventure, surprises, joy, satisfaction, deep & meaningful relationships, and an abundance of grace. And after giving up acting for years in order to pursue ministry and service, new doors of opportunity to act opened to me a few years ago, and it seems as if God has given it back to me. I’m holding it loosely, but enjoying the opportunities as they come.
I guess all of this is to say, I highly, highly recommend losing your life for the sake of Christ. The paradox is, when you “lose” your life for Christ, the life you get in return is unimaginably better than what you lost. But you have to take that step of faith first. He can’t place something new in your hands if you’re still holding something old.
I will add, however, that this is not without it’s warnings. Life In Christ is not Life Without Suffering. There is that bit about taking up our cross and following Jesus! There will be sickness and loss, persecution and confusion, rejection, and tremendous disappointment with God. There will be divisions among family members and friends—when you follow Christ, not everyone will celebrate with you. No, following Christ is not a life free from harm. God is most certainly not “safe.”
But he is good. So, so very good. And sometimes the affliction is actually a gift. I know this first hand to be true. I look back on some of the biggest disappointments I went through, when I was so tempted to take my life back into my own hands, because I didn’t like what God was doing. But I didn’t. I kept choosing, day by day, to stick with him. And now I see those huge seasons of sorrow as the gift they were. God said “no” so that he could give me a better “yes” later. I couldn’t imagine it at the time, but now, in hindsight, I see it clear as day. The faith part, of course, is to “see” this without the benefit of hindsight. To believe it before it has happened.
To believe that whoever will save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for Christ’s sake will, in fact, find it.
It’s self-examination time. While I did have a real turning point back in my early twenties, the fact is that following Christ is a daily choice—not a once-off thing. No matter how spectacular or dramatic your conversion experience might have been, you have to wake up again tomorrow and choose—again—to go after Jesus (even as he is the shepherd who is also going after you!), deny yourself, take up your cross—and follow.