How do we reconcile Jesus’ promise of an abundant life with what He says about the sacrifice required to follow Him? The two are difficult to reconcile, and individuals and churches can emphasize one more than the other. A Christian friend prayed for something that sounded like a request for comfort and ease. When I asked, she earnestly told me “But God wants to bless us!”   Some churches emphasize suffering and sacrifice to the point that the gospel seems like bad news, not good news. Sometimes we think of abundance and sacrifice like oil and water — believing that Jesus says life will have joys and sorrows. None of these interpretations capture the gospel’s unique nature.  What Jesus is saying is that the abundant life He provides and the sacrifice He requires make each other possible.  Living faithfully in this tension takes time and discipline. Living this life takes intention. 

Jesus tells us that following Him requires deliberately choosing to walk through a small  gate and to travel a narrow road:

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  Matthew 7:13-14

Jesus asks us to walk a path that requires making the central choices of following Him and finding our identity in Him. This goes against our cultural grain. As American consumers, we are bombarded by choices. We are so steeped in choice that parents routinely ask very young children to choose between options.  Choice is marketed as a ticket to freedom and even identity. It can be difficult for us to understand how making a choice and sticking to it could lead to an abundant life.  In my experience, living with Jesus at the center of my life has been, by far, the greatest and most fulfilling choice I’ve ever made. 

So what have I sacrificed? Unlike what I have imagined, most of my  sacrifices have not been noble. They have not been heroic. They’ve usually been messy and  due to my own shortcomings. Following Jesus has meant giving up the comforts of conformity, often haphazardly.  It has meant trying to follow the way of Jesus, falling into legalism, and realizing that outward constraints are the way of the broad path, not Jesus’ narrow way. At times It has meant being marginalized.  At the end of the day, any sacrifices have been far outweighed by the life Christ provides.  You know why? Following Jesus has meant walking away from my dream of being the star of my own life and realizing that a life centered on Jesus is far better. It has meant gradually sacrificing more of all I have, and receiving an infinitely better life in return.  

Thanks to Tim Keller, who points out in this meditation on Psalm 126 that joy doesn’t come when sorrow ends.  Sorrow must take place before joy can be experienced.  

  Don’t Waste Your Sorrows – Psalm 126 Meditation 

by Sherry Sommer

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