“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them.
“Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”
“We can,” they answered.
Matthew 20:22 New International Version (NIV)
Today, I was thinking about the times in my life when I refused to see Jesus for who He was. During those times, I believe that I presented myself as a martyr in hopes of somehow making the people in my life love me more. For whatever reason, those who were supposed to love me were focused on other things and their love wasn’t always apparent to me. I took that to mean that I wasn’t important to them and in fact, that they probably didn’t love me at all. But looking back, I understand that we can’t always show people how much we care about them in the way that we would like to. Sometimes, we are overtaken by pain that cripples our ability to show love. Other times, we are overwhelmed by how much we love someone and we either hold back or we smother them with it. Since we aren’t perfect, it only makes sense that an emotion as powerful as love would be hard for us to control. But God gave us the best example in the Son He sent down to earth. God gave us the teacher, but many of us decided to drop out of school before we could learn the valuable lessons He provided.
Even as I write this, I understand that what I want to say here may not come out exactly the way I want it to. My understanding of where God has been with me is almost overwhelming at times and when I try to tell others about the things He has done for me, I sometimes miss the mark. I want to be able to share just how great His healing has been in my life, but in truth, I’m the only one who can realize this in absolute clarity. My situation is just that…my situation. And your truth will come from the experiences that He gives you and from where He has walked with you through those experiences. What I know for sure is that there were times when I was sure that I was being punished for not being worthy of God’s love. I was certain that these things happened to me because He didn’t love me. I realized later that there were lessons in each of those things that were meant to show me the power that God had given me to overcome challenges. Instead of seeing the trials, what I needed to see were the victories.
The longer it took me to figure out what I needed to stop doing or saying or thinking, the more opportunities He gave me to practice. And where I still refused to accept God’s will, I ended up being more focused on showing the world why they needed to love me instead of showing them how much I loved them. Jesus did the opposite when He came to us. He spent no time trying to convince the world to love Him. His time was spent trying to get people to understand that He loved them and that they should love one another. So, this thing we do. This desperate plea to make others see how great we are or why they should like us or love us or worse…worship us…this is where we have missed the point. Once God lives in us, we are supposed to be showing others how much we love them. And often, our need to gain their approval keeps us from giving until we get what we think we need or simply, what we want.
We forget that the sacrifice He made for us cannot be duplicated. And in fact, we aren’t supposed to try and gain the sympathy or admiration of others in order to prove that God loves us or that He has made us into something special after a period of brokenness. Sadly, there are those who prefer to spend their lives seeking the love and admiration of others in order to heal the brokenness in their lives. Or those who seek God’s healing so that they can look down on others who are still broken. Instead of allowing God to fix what’s wrong, they look for the answer in others or in addictions or preoccupations with anything and everything but Him. Or if they really do allow God to heal them, they never learn that the point of being healed is to help others receive healing. And everything becomes about the sacrifices they believe they’ve made instead of the one that Jesus made.
I see now that there were so many times when I thought He had taken something from me and I was absolutely wrong. He had actually given me something that I needed to grow stronger and to help me see the point of showing others how to love Him. I still miss the point on nearly a daily basis, but things are a lot clearer than they were when I thought I was the answer. Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us, yet many of us continue to see our sacrifices as being so much more painful than what He gave. I wonder how many of us have said to God, “If You will just take all of the pain away from the people that I love, I will gladly give You my life,” Did we would actually mean it? Or did we give Him just the little bit that we could force ourselves to let go of and hope that He would keep them safe? What would it look like if the “sacrifices” we think we make were anywhere near the scale of the sacrifice that He made?
I don’t say these things to make anyone feel bad, I’m just trying to give some perspective. Often we see our meager offerings as something that should make God want to pat us on the back. We think that the little bit of money or time that we spend on God’s work should put us in some great “Christian Hall of Fame,” when in reality, all it really warrants is a participation certificate. It is our job to serve Him. And if we are seeking compensation, recognition, or admiration as part of what we are willing to “give” Him, we might as well keep it to ourselves. It’s really not a gift at all.
In this season of “giving,” I often wonder how many are giving things that are worth getting and how many are simply putting things into circulation so they can be counted among the givers. When we stand before God, will we present Him with something that He wants or will we expect Him to receive a cheap knock-off of the soul He truly loves? It’s all well and good to give things, but when it all comes down, are you loving the people in your life? Are you giving them a part of you that has meaning? Or are you hoping that they’ll be happy with a materialistic representation of who you want them to think you are? The stuff is good, but a genuine relationship with you is always better. Just as a genuine relationship with God is always better than some shallow interaction with Him. Try it on this season, it’s one gift You’ll never want to exchange.
Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Peter 4:9-11 New International Version (NIV)