This story in the Washington Post caught my eye the other day. The article’s title sums up the story, really. “American ISIS Fighter Who ‘Found It Hard’ Returns to Face Criminal Charges.”
After reading the article (and realizing that this could definitely pass for an Onion headline), I was instantly reminded of Christ’s parable of the sower in Matthew 13, and the seed that fell into the rocky soil. It sprang up quickly and eagerly, but its roots were shallow and the plant withered under the scorching heat of the sun. Mr. Khweis was eager to join the fight, but ultimately failed in his mission when the road became more difficult than he wanted to walk. Obviously, in this case, we can be thankful he did fail. But I’m interested in the principle here, and as I scoffed at his failure to count the seemingly obvious cost of his actions, I had to ask myself…
What about me? Have I counted the cost of following Christ? And am I living as if there is a cost? Or do I think I can live the Christian life in perfect ease and comfort without it costing me anything?
In numerous passages throughout the gospels, Christ calls his disciples to deny themselves daily, to die to themselves, to take up a cross, to forsake everything to follow him. These commands aren’t a call to an ascetic or monastic life, but rather a call to follow the example of Christ, who humbled himself and came to earth as a suffering servant in obedience to the Father. And not to result in a works-based obedience, these commands also urge us to love and treasure Christ so supremely that anyone or anything in this life pales in comparison to knowing and following him.
Reading this article afforded me the opportunity to pause and reflect on how I am doing with this. Am I taking steps forward, dying to my default setting of “me first” in order to further the kingdom? Or am I retreating from the mission, backing away from the hard choices and withering because I am foolishly fixated on my self-centered happiness above all else?
As it probably is with you, it is a little of both for me. Sometimes I believe and live like Christ is that pearl of great price that I would give everything for, and many times I must confess my sin where I am holding too tightly the things of this world. For me, it’s usually money, approval, and comfort.
We are so easily distracted, and desperately need God to work in our hearts and minds to help us to see that following Christ whatever the cost is the best and truest happiness there is. And we must to fixate on the gospel. It is only when we see what God has done for us in Christ as truly the greatest thing, the best treasure, that we will see everything else in life as less meaningful, less worthy of our affections. Only then can I make the hard but important decisions about my money, my time, and my relationships in a way that says I am willing to give up some or even all of those luxuries in order to love others and to exemplify to the world the type of self-denying servant that Christ was.
So let’s not fail in our mission because we can’t let go of the ultimately unsatisfying and short-lived pleasures of wealth, comfort, safety, and self. Let’s joyfully live out the cost of discipleship because we know that anything lost in this fleeting life is pennies compared to the riches we have in Christ!