I’m sharing My Hazardous Faith Story as part of a synchroblog connected with the release of Ed Cyzewski and Derek Cooper’s new book Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus.
I’m a big fan of books about radical discipleship. “The Irresistible Revolution” by Shane Claiborne had me sobbing, and “Radical” by David Platt had me cheering. I’m looking forward to reading “Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus” by Derek Cooper and Ed Cyzewski.
But if I’m honest, I’m not a big fan of actually living those things out. I am a big fan of comfort and security. I am more likely to invest my time, money, and energies into building up my own little kingdom, fitting it out with strong, safe walls and a cushy, self-sufficient infrastructure, than I am to invest my talents in the kingdom of God.
I’m working on it, and God is working on me.
Some of this is just human nature. But part of my aversion to hazardous discipleship springs from having lived a rather hazardous childhood.
The Hazards of Hazardous Discipleship
During my years in Africa, I pined for a “normal” life, and vowed that I would create one for myself when I was an adult.
No getting pulled over by police officers with assault weapons, looking for a bribe.
And while we’re at it, let’s trade malaria for the stomach flu, the raging ocean for a small northern swimming hole, and have chipmunks instead of vipers nesting under the patio. All family members present for birthday parties and important childhood events, please, instead of off ministering to others, and extended family within driving distance, okay?
So it’s not surprising that this topic brings up such a confusing jumble of emotions for me.
I know that the “normal life” I worked so hard to build isn’t normal at all–that it is, in fact, a product of extreme privilege. And since the ravages of poverty, hunger, war and treatable disease have decimated the lives of people I love, I ache over the suffering it causes in a very personal way.
Hazardous discipleship, radical living, sounds exciting in books. It can stir up our sense of adventure, feed our righteous desire to stop human suffering and our prideful desire to be a sort of super-hero.
But in real life, it really hurts.
Just so you know.
The Dichotomy of Discipleship
I am glad that more books are coming out about the cost of discipleship, about the need to pick up our cross and follow Jesus wherever he leads. For too long, prosperity has been mistaken for virtue, the American dream for a godly life.
Christianity has never been about prosperity and comfort.
But still, there’s part of me that wants to jump up and down, waving my arms in warning. It’s easy for the commendable pursuit of a surrendered and sacrificial life to slip into a certain spiritual stridency. Gratitude is overpowered by guilt. Works take priority over relationship. Grace slips subtly, oh so subtly, into our own version of the law. And the abundant life Christ offers us is exchanged for a harsh spiritual asceticism, one that impresses people standing at a distance, but can leave those closest to us with a whopping case of spiritual freezer burn.
The answer, I think, is to focus on conforming our hearts instead of our lives, on living in relationship with Jesus, rather than living up to standards we see as righteous. Our lives need to conformed, of course, but if it doesn’t spring out of our conformed hearts, the fruit we bear may be sour and set our children’s teeth on edge.
Paul speaks to this a lot, and 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 sums it up nicely. If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Discipleship is full of dichotomies that are difficult to reconcile. The Jesus who told us to pick up our cross and follow him is, after all, the same Jesus who insisted that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. We have to be careful not to fall to the temptation of chasing impressive crosses instead of following the gentle Jesus, or seeking lightness and ease by spurning a yoke that sometimes chafes. And that, my friends, is a hazardous but crucial line to walk.
Check out other posts in the Hazardous Faith Stories synchroblog!