Dear Christian, Have You Truly Devoted Your Life to Christ?
Do you ever question your own devotion to Jesus?
Maybe you listen to that man's testimony and question if your life has had a radical change like his did.
Maybe you listen to that woman's story about how she laid it all on the line for Jesus and you question whether your faith could ever be as big as hers.
Maybe you have witnessed others willingly risking their lives for Jesus' sake, all to show someone else Jesus' big love. Meanwhile, you're just scared to even open your mouth and speak Jesus' name.
You hear of people who are persecuted, tortured, and murdered for their faith and wonder if you can likewise be devoted enough to God to lay down your life?
Maybe you haven't fully committed every portion of your heart to the Lord. Maybe you are finding it difficult to leave your past life in the past.
Maybe deep down inside your heart, you're wondering if Jesus is truly worth the risk and worth the wholehearted devotion?
Maybe you're just simply scared to commit to Jesus.
Read: Acts 9:1-22
Do you ever think about how God uses people in our story? That no matter who we are, to be used in someone else's conversion story requires us to choose to set ourselves aside and to follow God's leading.
While we read of Saul's conversion (also known as Paul), we also read of Ananias' call to go to Saul, a man who had a reputation for being evil with murderous intentions against those who followed Jesus Christ. You can appreciate Ananias' fear, can't you? For all he knew, this is how he would die. God assured Ananias of His plan for Saul's life. Do you notice this part? God doesn't assure Ananias of Saul's conversion, but that He has a plan for Saul's life. This assurance was enough to send Ananias to Saul's side in obedience to God's call. Ananias set aside his own reservations, his own life, his own self to respond in obedience to God's call to go. This resulted in an incredible change in Saul's life.
Not only did Jesus meet with Saul in a profound, audible, and life-changing way, but the Lord sent Ananias to come alongside Saul. God's incredible goodness and Ananias' obedience paved a way for the most unlikely conversion of the most unlikely missionary and church planter that the world has ever seen!
Saul would leave this experience with Jesus a completely changed man. Instead of seeking to imprison and murder God's people, he would spend his life pointing the way to Jesus. Instead of being Jesus' enemy, he became Jesus' ambassador (a lot of times, an ambassador in chains).
So as we talk about living our lives devoted to Jesus, let's consider the life of Paul (formerly known as Saul).
Paul knew the value of a life with Jesus versus a life without.
Have you ever given thought to what your life was like before Jesus interrupted it? Have you thought of where you would be without Jesus? It doesn't take long before one finds themselves profoundly thankful for the life that Jesus has given us. It also doesn't take long to realize that the old life just doesn't compare when held up next to this new life in Jesus. My life before Jesus was empty and aimless. I had a lot of points in my life where I didn't see the value of my life and thought a lot about ending it. I could never imagine trying to go back to feeling that way. I can't even imagine trying to live my life without Jesus. I've tasted the gift that Jesus offers and there's just no turning back! Thank God my story has a "BUT" in it! BUT JESUS came into my life through the obedience of a youth pastor who was passionate about His life in Christ.
Paul also had a similar thought process. He had experienced this incredible life that Jesus offered and he couldn't turn away from it. He couldn't turn his back on Jesus and return to the life he had before Jesus came into it. In 1 Timothy 1:12-17, Paul shares about Jesus' incredible mercy and grace. He shares of Jesus mission to save sinners and that no sinner was off the table, including him. Paul passionately shares with Timothy a few simple and life-changing reasons why he can't go back to his old life.
Paul understood that pursuing Jesus was a lot of work.
In Philippians 3:12-21, Paul uses words like straining and pressing on towards the goal. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, he shares about disciplining his body, exercising self-control, and doing what it takes so that after he's done preaching he's not disqualified from the race. Paul understood that pursuing Jesus meant leaving his sin behind and doing whatever it took to finishing his race well. He understood that finishing would involve sacrifice, self-control, and endurance. He understood that finishing the race would involve easy moments and hard moments, but that no matter what moment he found himself in, he would continue to strive to finish the race well.
Pursuing Jesus reminds me a lot of John the Baptist (John 3:30) when he told his followers that he must become less and that Jesus would become greater. John the Baptist spoke of a transition in both his and Jesus' ministries. John the Baptist would fade into the background and Jesus would become more visible and greater. When I think of pursuing Jesus and adopting a devotion that secures me a place in heaven, I think about letting Erin fade into the background and allowing Jesus to take center stage. The more I live my life and mature in Jesus, the more He needs to be seen and the less I need to be seen. This process is a ton of work, but all that work will be entirely worth it when I've attained the prize.
Paul understood that sacrifice and suffering was part of extravagant devotion.
In 2 Corinthians 11:23-30, Paul shares of the ways he has suffered for the sake of Christ. It's interesting to me that Paul shares this long list of particulars in how he's suffered. The interesting part? That he didn't just suffer once and give up on this "Jesus-thing." He got back up and continued in the mission that God had called him to, knowing that every instance would likely end in more persecution, more risk in death, more people who wanted to see him dead, and the torture that could be involved. Paul wasn't put off by it. In fact, He seems to kind of marvel in it. In Philippians 3:7-11, Paul shares his thought process behind suffering. He shares how he considers everything garbage in comparison to Jesus. He shares about how he's happy to suffer like Jesus did. Paul knew what life was like before Jesus, and he knew what life was like after Jesus. He knew that Jesus was absolutely worth it and, for him, there was no turning back to his old life.
When I think of this idea of sacrificing and suffering for the sake of Jesus, I think of the love I have for my own children. I have a son who is a type one diabetic and there hasn't been a moment when I haven't wished that I could take his place. I've often wished that it was me suffering from diabetes rather than him. Day in and day out, I see what my boy goes through. I see those moments when he doesn't feel good because his blood sugars are off. I see the frustration when the number on his meter doesn't match up with his expectations. I see the exhaustion of stubborn highs and lows. I know the risks, I know the suffering involved, and even knowing all of that, I'd still be happy to take his place. Most of us parents would be happy to suffer and sacrifice to have our children be healthy and happy. We would be happy to sacrifice our own lives for theirs and most of us wouldn't even hesitate to do so.
When we zoom in on this willingness to lay down our lives, to sacrifice and suffer for our children, what we're seeing is an extravagant and sacrificial love. We're happy to do this because we love and value our children above our own lives. This same devotion is what Paul is talking about when he talks about his willingness to lay down his life, to suffer for Jesus' sake, and to sacrifice the comforts of this life in order to gain eternity with Jesus as his reward.
Are you willing to follow Paul's example and Jesus' command to take up your own cross (Matthew 16:24-26) to follow in Jesus' footsteps? Are you striving to be extravagantly devoted to Jesus, much like Paul was?
So many times we might be running the same race that Paul talks about and we come across a runner who just seems to be doing it better than us. Maybe they cause us to question our own devotion to Jesus. Or maybe you haven't even hardly begun the race and you're just discovering how much work this race is going to be. Regardless of where we are in this race, the goal is Jesus. The goal is simply, truly, and genuinely loving Jesus. As we go along in this pursuit of Jesus, we'll find that our whole lives change as we keep our eyes on Him. Like Paul, may we always be reminded of how worth the sacrifice Jesus truly is.
To encourage you to keep your eyes on Him, I have a simple devotional under the "Free Devotionals and Bible Studies" tab that is called, Simply Being Thankful. It's a simple 30-day email devotional that includes a couple of verses, a short devotional, and a question or two to get you thinking. You can grab it here. May it remind you of the richness of your life in Christ!