Westernised Christianity doesn’t seem to cost that much these days. Has it become too sanitised, or compartmentalised so that it doesn’t intrude onto the rest of our busy lives? Having grown up in a US church that fell apart due to an overbearing pastor I’m wary of being prescriptive. But a lot of the ‘discipleship’ I see around me doesn’t have much sense of ownership. People just don’t seem to take responsibility for their faith anymore.
Maybe our culture has rubbed off on our faith. Maybe we’ve allowed our walk to be shaped by the ‘anything goes’ and ‘do it if it feels right’ mentality. If discipleship doesn’t cost us anything, church can become a consumer-based club that’s critiqued and then left alone again until the following week.
This morning I was reading Leviticus. Yes, really. The list of rules and sacrifices that were necessary to atone for sin just to come near to God were enormous. We live in such a privileged age of grace, but do we abuse that because we’ve not experienced the high cost of being a disciple in the same way? Just think of Abraham – God tested him almost beyond limit.
As a parent, I find it hard to understand why God would ask him to sacrifice his own son. Of course God supplied a replacement sacrifice just in the nick of time, and the ‘exercise’ was all about testing Abraham’s heart and trust in God. But he had still got as far as tying his son to the altar…
In 2 Samuel King David said: “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” That really challenges me. How often do I give of my money, time or talents in a way that really costs? Is anything I do without high cost to myself worthless in the eyes of God?
In the recent BBC Africa series David Attenborough described a huge expanse of desert as a riverbed. I was immediately intrigued, and he went on to reveal that underneath was Dragon’s Breath Cave – the largest underground lake in the world. On the surface little was alive, apart from some lush green trees and bushes whose roots had travelled far underground to find the water source.
We too live in an often-parched atmosphere but it’s up to us to put in place the deep roots that will keep us connected to God. It doesn’t happen automatically. It takes effort. The TV show went on to reveal that no diver has ever reached the bottom of the lake, so no one knows how deep it is. And getting the crew down there to film it in the first place was a huge undertaking.
God never promised that staying close would be easy. In fact, in my life it’s been in exactly the times where I’ve felt the deepest loss, pain and anguish that I’ve felt God’s presence the most. Growth often involves painful circumstances and God didn’t make us immune from them.
Ultimately we can’t live a life pleasing to God without His Holy Spirit’s help, yet it’s our responsibility to open ourselves up to that help. Faith and obedience working together allow us to do that. Too often we talk about the ways in which we can stay close to God, but the reality is many of us don’t actually follow our own advice. We are still like those spiritual infants in the Bible, wanting to be spoon-fed and being tossed about and thrown off course by every obstacle.
It worries me that often our churches, in an effort to be accessible and attractive to all, miss out the message of the cost involved. Jesus said to the rich man: “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Luke 18:22). And to us all he is saying: “Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27). Jesus didn’t pull any punches about the cost involved – so should we?