(From the archives)
It’s Time to Die
In a previous post we saw how important it is not to die indiscriminately. It was a post for people who can’t say no, as you might gather from the title: How Not to Become a Christian Doormat.
This post is probably more important and for a greater number because this post is for all of us who don’t want to die. And at some point everyone of us will have to. I’m not talking about the physical death of our bodies necessarily, but rather the time when the Holy Spirit will tell you, “Yes, it’s time. It’s your time to die now. It’s your time to submit to My will and not your own.”
You and I and every single one of us will encounter God in that way. Every single one of us will be called upon by God to die, and frequently.
Frequently because we’re commanded to love, and love so often demands that we die to our own will. And there are all kinds of ways to do that, there are all kinds of ways to die. You might be called to die by allowing that guy at work to take the choice assignment, or by agreeing to your wife buying a new pair of shoes, or even by simply turning off the TV and engaging with the kids.
Or, it could be something much harder.
A Tale of Two Fathers
When I was growing up in Chicago I had this friend I used to play with named Danny Rodriguez. He was a great kid from a great family. And his father, Mateo Rodriguez, was one of the nicest and most likeable people in the neighborhood, everyone loved him. Tragically, Danny died in a car crash when he was still a young man. His father, the nicest and most likeable person in the neighborhood, turned to alcohol for comfort. Not long after, he began beating his wife. His abusive behavior became worse and worse until she finally obtained a restraining order. One night Mateo showed up at his wife’s house drunk. He began banging on the door. She called the police. He pulled out a gun. There were shots fired. And when it was over, Mateo Rodriguez lay there dead on the doorstep.
There was another man in the same neighborhood, the same age as Mateo. His name is Alex Rivera. But, starting out, he had an entirely different reputation from Mateo. Alex had a reputation for his own crazy kind of meanness. He liked to hit women, roll drunks, and engage in other cowardly behavior. Everyone in the neighborhood was sure Alex would die young or land in prison. Like Mateo, Alex also suffered a tragic loss, but he didn’t lose just one son, he lost two. The first died of cancer, the second died in a car crash. But unlike Mateo Rodriguez, Alex turned to Christ for comfort. And in the process he died to himself and he was transformed. He became a committed Christian who, to this day loves God and loves people.
And today, everyone seems to love Alex.
How Jesus Loved People
Speaking of Jesus, Matthew 26 says,
…he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)
He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42)
…he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. (Matthew 26:44)
It was time for Jesus to die. He just finished his last supper with his disciples. Judas was already on his way back with “a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders.” (Matthew 26:47)
So it’s really looking like this is it, this is his time to die. And what does Jesus do? He goes to the garden and checks in with his Father–three times! And each time he says: your will Father, not mine. Three times he checks in. And after praying the same thing three times, out of love for his Father, he denies his own will and does what his Father wants him to do.
So of course Jesus loved us to the point of death. He died on the cross for the sins of the world. But in a way, he died before he died on the cross: he died to himself, he died to his own will, when he said to his Father, three times, Your will Father, not mine.
Love Like Jesus
To love like Jesus, we have to die, to ourselves. Our will has to die. And we have to submit to God’s way and God’s will. And also, to die like Jesus, we have to pray like Jesus. Think about that. If Jesus prayed three times to confirm it was God’s time for him to die, how much more do you and I need to pray?
And after submitting his will, Jesus followed through and did what he said he would do: he died, physically. (And he died in a way we’ll never understand because he was separated from God for the first time while he hung there on the cross.) (see Matthew 27:11-66)
So to love like Jesus, we must die as he died. And yes it has to happen in the Holy Spirit’s timing, you may even have to pray three times, or three dozen times, but we have to die to ourselves, as Jesus died, according to God’s Spirit.
The Difference Made By Dying
Both Mateo Rodriguez and Alex Rivera suffered a brutal loss, but each responded differently. What was it that caused one to go one way, and the other to go God’s way? I submit that it was the way in which each of them died. When Alex lost his sons, he decided to die to himself. He gave himself up for dead so to speak, and he submitted himself to God.
He recognized he would never understand the why behind the loss of his two sons. He recognized God’s sovereignty. He realized God was his maker. God made his heart, soul, and mind. And God created the 100 trillion cells that make up his body.
And Alex recognized that He, God, made neutrinos and quarks and protons and electrons and redwood trees and whales and Half Dome and the earth and planets and stars and galaxies and comets and everything else that makes up the cosmos.
Alex recognized that “these are but the outer fringe of his works.” (Job 26:14)
Alex recognized he will never understand all the whys behind the business of a Person like Him. He knew he could never understand why, but he also learned it could not be because God does not love us–because God lost his son too. And He suffered that loss so we can be with Him in heaven.
So Alex decided to die.
And do you see the irony here? When Alex decided to surrender his will, when he died to himself in that way, that is precisely what allowed him to be reborn–as a Christian.
Then there’s Mateo. Mateo made a decision not to die. Mateo decided he would rather rage than die. And when he made that decision to remain in his rage, and not to die, he lost the opportunity to be reborn. And do you see the irony here as well? The irony is, in the end, Mateo’s own rage consumed him, and he died anyway. But not in the way that leads to rebirth, but in the way that leads to a dark and tragic end.
Having Your Own Way
Many of us live in a very privileged culture today. In most cultures throughout history there was an emphasis on changing yourself to adapt to your environment. But in modern culture, in the industrialized nations, we emphasize changing our surroundings through technology to adapt the environment to ourselves. We’re used to fulfilling our desires, pretty much on demand. And the result of that is, today many of us live our lives for the sake of entertainment.
On the surface that might seem like a good way to go, but in the end it’s shallow. Soren Kierkegaard said, “The person whose life is dominated by entertainment is not master of himself at all. He is a slave to his impulses.”
When we live for entertainment, when we succumb to our impulse to turn to entertainment, it’s often at the expense of turning toward God. The game on TV instead of church, a video game instead of prayer, social networks instead of reading God’s words.
And look at what God says about people who decide not to die to themselves. He first describes these people as those who
…knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise they became fools… (Romans 1:21-22)
And now watch what happens. God gives them up to their desires! When He let’s them turn away from Him, he does it by letting them have their own way.
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts… (Romans 1:24)
Your desires. Having it your way. Refusing to die and to allow God to have it His way, as Jesus did in the garden, it might seem good in the moment, but it leads to death. The wrong kind of death. It ultimately results in death but not the kind of death that leads to rebirth. Insisting on your way over God’s way leads to a dark and tragic end.
To Love Like Jesus, Die Like Jesus
So do whatever you have to do, to bring yourself to the place where you surrender your will to God. If Jesus prayed three times then you and I might have to pray three dozen times, or three thousand times.
But do you see? That doesn’t matter. Even if we have to pray three thousand times, we have to do it, because what’s at stake is too great.
What’s at stake is our call to love like Jesus.
What’s at stake is relationship with our Creator in heaven, your relationship, and the relationship of those who see you reflect Christ’s nature.
What’s at stake is all of eternity.
“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me'” (Matthew 16:24 ESV)
The names of the two families who lost sons have been changed to protect their privacy.