I guess you’re supposed to count the cost of following Jesus before you commit your life to Him, but the concept just hadn’t occurred to me. Those Scriptures about losing your life and taking up your cross daily seemed a little overblown. Because for years walking with God, I never had to let go of much.
Sure, I lost respect from family and friends who thought I was an idiot for following Christ. I was ridiculed and laughed at for my faith. I put plans to move away and go to a great college on hold because God told me to stay and help plant a church in Connecticut. I was no stranger to suffering or sacrifice. But these trials didn’t ever scare me because I believed if I was obedient, that Jesus would give me everything I wanted.
I made Jesus my genie. If I was nice and obedient and served Him, I thought, He would grant my wishes. Any sacrifice He asked me to make was worth it because I believed He was going to make all my dreams come true eventually. I heard Psalm 37:4 and felt that it confirmed this prosperity-centered thinking. “Delight yourself also in the Lord and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” So I was going to delight in Him until I had all the things I wanted.
Being the only believer in my family? Easy. Church planting? Piece of cake. Because my eyes were on the prize: the life and the future I imagined He would surely bless me with, complete with hot Christian husband reminiscent of Brad Pitt and beautiful house in the safe Connecticut suburbs. (I was pretty unoriginal back in the day; cut me some slack.) All the fervor I needed was fueled by my confidence that if I ran God’s race I would be blessed. So I kept running.
I came to a point where I thought I could see the finish line. I thought I was about to obtain the life I had always wanted. I thought I’d been good enough for God that He was finally going to give me “the desires of my heart.” Plans were being discussed about the life I’d always dreamed of having. It didn’t look perfect, but it looked good enough and I was tired of waiting.
Almost everyone I knew was convinced I was endlessly happy, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. The spiritual unrest I was experiencing was unexplainable, because outwardly I had everything I wanted. But I would go to sleep at night in tears and I had no idea why. Food stopped tasting good and almost overnight I was down ten pounds. I retreated into the woods, running and walking countless miles every day to distract myself from the unease.
But all of a sudden, God took it all away. I was running in the woods behind my house to reach a place by the lake where I would go in the times when my confusion and heartache would build up. I cried to God, asking Him what was happening and why. He didn’t give me understanding but He did give me peace about letting go of the future I thought I wanted with the person I thought I wanted it with.
Signing up to be a missionary was my Plan B. It was me with my fist in the air, screaming, “Why won’t you just let me be happy, God? Why can’t I just have what I want?” And somehow, leaving the country and traveling the world seemed like it would get me what I wanted faster than staying put. So I packed my bags, and along with the malaria meds and travel shampoo I took with me the unanswered questions, “Why didn’t it work out? I thought it was going so well. Did I do something wrong? How could you let this happen to me, Lord?”
It wasn’t long before I was confronted with the fact that my motivation for going (and the motivation behind everything I was doing for God) was not pleasing to Him. I met a lot of people, some who traveled with me and others along the way, who lived lives completely surrendered to God. They didn’t hope to obtain prosperity or avoid suffering. In fact, they traded the former for the latter and rejoiced anyway. These people were seeing something that I wasn’t, and it scared me.
My entire squad was debriefing at a hostel in Kuala Lumpur after five months overseas. By this point I was officially exhausted. Life was anything but glamorous; I frequently found myself living in my leaky little tent, cockroaches crawling through my belongings, with nothing but terrible food to eat and a stench that wouldn’t leave me no matter how many times a day I showered.
And while I longed for the comforts of home, I also longed for the future I had envisioned for myself all my life. And I felt so confused over how I’d wound up living the farthest thing from it on the other side of the world. For months I would hold it together during the day for ministry, but in my head at night my thoughts were all spent hungering for that opposite-life, the comfortable one I used to live.
We all gathered up on the rooftop one night for worship and I wasn’t feeling too into it. But God met me there in my exhaustion and gave me a vision. I saw myself standing at the edge of this cliff, the unknown before me and the familiar behind. And He was telling me if I jumped that I would see more of Him than I ever had before, but I would be accountable for what I saw. I could never go back to the way things were; there was no way back up this cliff. Jumping would mean complete surrender, trusting God to direct my future.
Sharing this with my team, they obviously encouraged me to take that leap. But I held out for another month or two, not yet ready to really lay all my dreams and desires at His feet. I still thought my plan was better than God’s, and I still desired the comforts of this world over Jesus himself.
But God, in his great mercy, patiently worked on me as I deliberated. He continued to show me His grace and love, slowly convincing me that He is worth losing everything for. He brought me to a place where I heard stories of martyrs and rather than cringe, I envied them. He taught me what a privilege it is to suffer for Him, how imperative it is that I lay down my life – and all the plans I had for it – to gain Him. Jesus is my treasure and nothing in this world can satisfy as He does.
Now I run the race with my eyes fixed on the true prize. I would never want all the blessings of God if He wasn’t in them. When I thought I wanted anything but Him, I was believing a lie. He knew this when He spared me the life I thought I wanted. The familiar was comfortable; it meant keeping up appearances and playing it safe and putting God in a box. But that isn’t how I want to live, and there’s no going back even if I did. Real freedom isn’t when we have complete control over our futures; real freedom is when our desires become aligned with God’s will. Jumping off that cliff was no longer scary, because He made me truly want more of Him. And when we gain Him, we lack no good thing.
He has given me the desires of my heart. He has become the desire of my heart.