A Dormitory Door Mat
There are these two roommates Walter and Craig who live on the fifth floor of the Barnhart dormitory at the University of Oregon. Craig is on the football team. He’s pretty sure he’s one of the best athletes on campus. He’s really into his sport and his friends, like a lot of guys are during their college years. Two of his favorite hangouts are the weight room and wherever the current party happens to be. He’s a Grand Theft Auto and Madden NFL kind of guy.
But his roommate Walter is different. He’s kind of bookish, if you know what I mean. He’s a good student. He belongs to the college writing club. He’s watched all the Lord of the Rings movies multiple times—on Blue Ray. He’s an English major but he’s taking a physics class, just for fun. He’s more of a Minecraft kind of a guy.
Well one day Craig has a chance to move into an apartment off campus. The day the apartment comes open is the day before a home game, and he wants to move in right away so he can have a victory party after the game. He already invited a bunch of his friends. Getting people to come to his party was no problem. But getting people to help him move wasn’t working out. Not a single friend was available. So, even though he very much preferred not to, he asked Walter.
“Hey, I need you to help me move my stuff over to the apartment.”
“I’d like to but I can’t,” Walter said. “I have a midterm and a group project presentation tomorrow.” He also said yes to a request to give a presentation at his writer’s club right after the midterm. And his parents were arriving for a visit after writer’s club. But Walter was too embarrassed to disclose that to Craig.
“I don’t really see a problem,” Craig said. “I only need you for like, one hour.”
Walter didn’t respond but Craig could see the reluctance on his face.
“Come on Walter, don’t be selfish.”
For some reason every time Walter experienced a pang of guilt he thought of the dentist’s needle injecting lidocaine into his gums. Except instead of his gums, he imagined the needle penetrating his heart. And instead of pain followed by numbness, there was just pain. Craig had a knack for triggering that response in Walter. So did his dad. So did his mother. So did a lot of people.
And there was that word: selfish. A Christian can’t be selfish, can he?
“Okay,” Walter said, “I’ll do it.”
A full four and one half hours later, Craig let Walter go. On his way back to the dorm his phone rang. It was one of his group project partners, the only one in the group who was at all interested in helping with the project. At least until now. “Something came up,” he said. “I can’t do my part.”
Now the whole thing was up to Walter. He thought about letting the project fail, at least in part. He could present in a way that preserved his own grade. But that thought brought out the dentist’s syringe, the one filled with guilt. What would his dad think if he did that? What would his mother think? What would God think?
Have You Felt Like This?
Have you ever felt like Walter? I know I have. He’s trying so hard. He’s esteeming others higher than himself. He’s dying to himself. He’s denying himself, like he’s supposed to, right? he’s simply following Jesus’ words: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves…” And that’s what he’s doing, so he must be doing precisely what God desires for him–right? (Philippians 2:3, John 12:24, Luke 9:23)
Well you’re right, he is right–and he’s also wrong.
Of course he’s right to esteem others higher than himself. And he’s right to die to himself. And he’s right to deny himself. Jesus said, “…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:42-44)
Then he said, “…even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
We all know why Jesus came. He came to die and, to love like Jesus loved, so should we. As Bonhoeffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship: we should die every day.
But here’s where he goes wrong. And here’s where I go wrong, and where you go wrong. We go wrong when we go from someone who serves like Jesus to someone who serves like a doormat. We go wrong and we become a pushover when we leave out the Holy Spirit. To see an example of someone who died to themselves and yet followed the leading of the Holy Spirit we have to look no further than Jesus Christ himself.
Jesus Christ, the one who “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” did not die, until the Holy Spirit’s time for him to die came upon him. Think about it: Right after he was baptized by John, and having just received the Holy Spirit, Jesus went out into the wilderness where he fasted for forty days. There Satan came and tempted him three times. The third time they were on top of the highest part of the temple where Satan tried to persuade Jesus to throw himself down. But God didn’t want Jesus to die in Satan’s timing. So Jesus denied Satan’s request. (Luke 4:9-12)
Not long after that Jesus was teaching in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. He read from Isaiah a messianic prophecy and explained that the scripture was referring to him, to Jesus. The people who heard that didn’t take it well. They were so offended, they were so outraged, they took Jesus to the edge of a cliff and attempted to throw him off. But God didn’t want Jesus to die in the people’s timing, so Jesus resisted. He muscled his way through the crowd, and he escaped. (Luke 4:28-30)
In his third year of public ministry, Jesus made the statement, “…before Abraham was born, I am!” He was referring to his own divinity. And when the Jews heard this, “…they picked up stones to stone him…” But God didn’t want Jesus to die in the timing of this group of Jews. So, “…Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.” (John 8:56-59)
The last unsuccessful attempt at killing Christ outside of God’s timing occurred one winter day when the Jews asked Jesus to tell them if he was the Messiah. At the end of his reply Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” And that lit them up. They picked up stones to stone him, they tried to seize him, they tried to kill him. But God didn’t want Jesus to die in their timing, so Jesus “escaped their grasp.” (John 10:22-39)
How to Know When to Die
So, surprisingly, it’s okay for you to deny someone’s request, as Jesus denied Satan’s request. And it’s okay for you to resist and escape, as Jesus escaped. And it’s okay for you to hide yourself, as Jesus hid himself, and slipped away from the temple grounds. It’s okay.
You might be asking yourself right now, “But when? When is it okay? And how do I know when it’s okay to refuse a request, or resist a crowd, or hide? And we’re also supposed to die to ourselves, so how do I know when to do that? How do I know when to die?”
Did you ever notice not one single miracle from Jesus is found in the biblical record, until after he received God’s Holy Spirit? Jesus Christ made every decision not to die–as well as his final decision to die for us all–after he received the Holy Spirit. And that’s how it is for you and me. Without following the leading of God’s Holy Spirit, we’ll find ourselves trampled upon. We’ll find ourselves walked on. We’ll find ourselves dying to self but outside of God’s timing–and God doesn’t want that. (Luke 3:22)
You know God doesn’t want that because you know that Jesus refused requests, and resisted the crowd, and hid himself, and escaped. And you know that at the pool of Siloam there were many gathered there that needed healing, but he, the Son of God, the One through Whom all things were made, the One Who is the Light of all mankind, He didn’t serve them all, but only served one man with healing. And you even know Jesus didn’t rescue John the baptist when he was on death row. Jesus Himself didn’t serve everybody, but only served those who the Holy Spirit led him to serve. (John 9, Matthew Chapters 11 and 12)
So to love like Jesus we can’t just die at every opportunity. Because if Jesus only died when led by the Holy Spirit to die, if Jesus, only served when led by the Holy Spirit to serve, how much more do you and I need to die and serve only when led by the Holy Spirit to do so.
So the key to not letting that dentist’s needle inject guilt into our hearts, the key to breaking free from that guilt that can so easily plague us, the key to loving like Jesus is to ask for, and follow, the leading of God’s Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the key.
And Jesus said if we being evil, know how to give good gifts, how much more will our Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. Jesus also told us how to ask. He said if you want something from God, ask boldly, like the man who had the boldness to ask for loaves at midnight. He said to ask persistently, like the woman who persistently pestered the unrighteous judge. (Luke 11:5-13, Luke 18:1-8)
So ask. Ask God for His Holy Spirit every day. Ask ten times a day. Then listen to His leading and refuse requests, resist, hide, and escape according to that leading. And also die according to that leading. Take up your cross, deny yourself, and die to yourself according to the leading of God’s Holy Spirit.
That’s what Jesus did.
You can too.
Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
[HT Unborn Word of the Day, Crucifixion of Jesus was the Sixth and Final Attempt on His Life, March 11, 2008]
[Image via Tony Roberts – Creative Commons]
The illustration at the beginning of this blog post is a fictional account inspired by true events.