Following Jesus is hard.
Even as an adult Christian, I find a life of obedience extremely difficult at times, especially considering our present culture. There are times I just want to fit in, to do the things everyone else is doing without having to wrestle with a moral dilemma. I’m in my forties; you’d think I’d have moved past the whole “popularity contest,” but I have to be honest: sometimes I just want everyone to like me. And choosing God’s ways over the ways of the world isn’t exactly a sure fire way to make that happen.
If it’s that hard for me, with all my age and maturity and wisdom (I hope you’re catching the sarcasm here), imagine how hard it is our for children.
I got a first-hand glimpse of it a few weeks ago. My son is in the pre-teen stage. He’s past the age of cute Bible stories and fun Jesus songs. He’s starting to ask questions, to grapple with this whole “faith” thing on his own, rather than just taking our word for it. And that’s a good thing–we encourage questions and discussion, as both my husband and I believe the Bible can stand up to scrutiny. But it isn’t just the intellectual side of faith with which he’s grappling; it’s also the practical side.
For the most part, we’ve kept our children off social media but it’s inevitable, in this day and age, that they are going to be exposed to it in one way or another. And, as always, there is a particular internet challenge floating around that my son was told about at school. It isn’t terrible, as far as internet challenges go, but it isn’t exactly something someone who calls himself a Christian should participate in, either. And, though he normally ignores these types of things, this was the first one he felt pressured to participate in. Not by his peers, but by himself.
Everyone else was doing it, and it looked like fun. He wanted to fit in. He wanted to be included. He wanted to enjoyed himself.
The only thing holding him back, it seemed, was Jesus.
And, for the first time ever, my son began to worry if it was really worth it. Was being a Christian–following Jesus–really worth it? Was it worth feeling unliked and left-out? Was it worth missing out on the fun?
These may have been the questions pestering my eleven year-old, but I can bet (if you’re anything like me), you’ve wondered them at times too. After all, we live in the time of YOLO and FOMO; we have to live for the present moment, constantly seeking instant happiness and fulfillment, because the world tells us that’s the most important thing. No, not only the world–it’s what our flesh tells us is the most important thing.
And what Jesus tells us…is the exact opposite.
In Mark 8:34, Jesus “called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Denying ourselves is in direct opposition to what the world tells us to do– in direct opposition to what we want to. I want to do what I want to do. “The heart wants what the hearts wants,” as our culture is so fond of saying. (Side note: if you really want to know just how depraved this sentiment is, google where it came from. Go ahead. I’ll wait.) Jesus tells us to deny ourselves because “the heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9); our emotions and desires don’t always equal what’s best for us. Following Jesus does. And following Jesus sometimes means we have to deny all those other things to do it.
It’s a big command. One that requires daily, if not hourly, sacrifice, on our parts.
But is it even worth it?
The next verse gives us insight:
“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8: 35)
You see, no matter what we do in this life, the simple and painful truth is that all of us will eventually die. No matter how many trips you take, experiences you have, partners you keep, parties you throw–we will all end up in the grave. Period. You can spend every single day of this earth living out your YOLO or trying to quell your FOMO…but you are still eventually going to die. All of those things you have to “give up” in order to follow Jesus will eventually come to nothing. Because it. all. ends.
On the other hand, if you choose to live a life of denial, picking up your cross and laying down your wants, dreams, and desires as a sacrifice to Jesus, you will, in fact, end up saving your life. As a wonderful pastor of mine put it: “Salvation is free…but following Jesus will inevitably end up costing you something.” You may lose out on world experiences, momentary popularity, fleeting acceptance (all the hallmarks of a life well-lived, according to our flesh) but you will save your soul.
“…what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and wicked generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:37-38).
So when it comes to the question of whether following Jesus is worth it, it all comes down to perspective: what do you value more?
Temporary fun…or eternal life?
Fleeting fame…or never-ending love?
Worldly acceptance…or a heavenly one?
Desires of the flesh…or peace in your soul?
We were made for another world, and our daily battles will never cease until we are at home with our Father where we belong. But as we struggle against culture, against the enemy, and even against ourselves, I pray truth will always win out.
And the truth is….that it will always and forever be worth it in the end.