There is a cost to following Christ. It is not something you typically hear in the usual evangelical advertisements. I am not talking about “being a Christian” per-se. I am talking about when a Christian gets to that point in their life where they see a need in the world, and they want to do something about it. It is a call of conviction where you want to go to battle to make the world a better place. The point when a Christian wants to change the status-quo, instead of live within it, they often find themselves suddenly alone.
The False Promise of Institutional Idealism
The great lie often told by mostly well-intentioned motivational speakers is that if you serve Christ you will be blessed. While this is true in many way, but the problem is that it creates the illusion that serving Christ or “doing the right thing” is met with immediate worldly reward. “Here comes an honorable man! Roll out the red carpet!” It sounds almost silly, but the truth is that many “do gooders” start out with an expectation that their good intentions will be greeted with warm reception.
When we are children, we receive praise for doing “good” in our communities. Many churches use AWANA, a literal merit badge system for memorizing scripture and doing other achievement oriented activities at church. This can create an illusion that “doing the right thing” and receiving support and praise from your community are the same. In fact, many of us high-achievers and people pleasers can make it all the way to adulthood without ever having to confront loved-ones.
The Root of Social Problems Start In Our Own Neighborhoods
The reality is that most of the problems in the world are a product of an unspoken social conspiracy. By this I mean that most systematic and serious problems are the ones we all contribute too. Poverty, discrimination, prejudice, or apathy are seldom the sins of a few, but of a community. When we seek to correct an inequity or change a destructive behavior in our society, it is not monsters and demons we are fighting, but often our own friends and family. There is no welcome mat for such things, only suspicion and resentment.
Think about the battle this country had in eliminating segregation. Those who stood for equal rights were not fighting foreign invaders or criminals, but their own neighbors. There is nothing which hurts more than going against people who you love. This is the cost of following Jesus, it is often a choice to be outcast from the community you once called home. Of course, we are not called to treat others as enemies, but to love even those who persecute us.
The Moment Our Heart Breaks
For those of us who grew up in the Church (any church), many of us embraced the simple teachings of love and forgiveness of Jesus. “Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so…” As we grow up and see the poor around us, the downtrodden, the hurt, and the outcast we want to reach out. Suddenly, we start to find out why there is so much pain around us: because it has gone unattended.
There is crushing moment when we realize that our own communities have barriers and prejudices against others. That when we reach out to those alienated from our communities, we find ourselves becoming the targets of the same fears and judgments. When our own friends, families, and mentors look at us with raised eyebrows and turned shoulders. Worst of all, we find we have been raised with our own prejudices which we now trip over as we try to pursue healing.
It can take years to work through this. I went through my own “back and forth” of wanting that feeling of family and community back, but also realizing how much I had to abandon if I wanted to be accepted. Your heart just cries out in frustration, “Where is the compassion of Jesus I was RAISED to believe in? Was it all just talk? Was it a lie?” Or as Black-Eyed Peas so poignantly asked, “Where is the love?”
Counting the Cost of a Noble Cause
Human beings are social creatures. As children, we mold our behavior based on the feedback of others. There is nothing harder, and nothing that hurts more, than trying to learn to live and act without the approval and acceptance we once thrived on. There is a reason the Spirit is a “light to our path,” (Psalm 119:105) )because without a strong internal compass directing our actions we have no choice but to be “tossed about by the waves of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14) around us.
None of this is to discourage the pursuit of change, but to prepare the heart for it. It is a choice; to put the possibility of a better outcome above and beyond our immediate comfort, safety, or social acceptance. Many of the greatest people in this world worked for change they never lived to see, but accomplished nonetheless. You don’t climb a mountain without training, planning, and preparation. You don’t seek to change the behavior of others without resistance.
To choose a “noble cause” is not something that should be done lightly. Christ does not ask us to follow him out of good intentions, but out of sober determination. If you begin a path of service in the hopes that rewards and blessing of a worldly nature will befall upon your great virtue, then you are going to pee your pants at the first sign of trouble. To stand for something, and to do so with love and grace for those criticize and persecute you, is the journey of sainthood.
Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
– Luke 14:25-33 (ESV)
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