The pitch to become a follower of Jesus often runs something like this (from those of us who preach): What do you want out of life? What’s your dream? Want to trade in your crummy life for an awesome one like I’ve got with my smoking hot wife (Talladega Nights reference intentional) and super cute kids? Just look at our family picture for the love! And then come to Jesus and you can have an awesome life just like us!
The appeal is often that Jesus is the path to a “better” life, in some cases the means to an end that has already been established by us. And of course you can make a case for all the ways that a life of following Jesus is better than the alternatives. Jesus said He came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly. There is so much to be said about the joy, peace, and whether overused or not, yes even “purpose” that comes along to a life with God.
Yet if “better” is a fair word, it is at the very least a truncated account of what a life with Jesus has looked like for a lot of us. Not that Jesus hasn’t brought meaningful, good changes to our lives… but perhaps it hasn’t meant that all the dreams you had for yourself have been fulfilled now because of your faith. Perhaps you thought you knew where life with Him would take you—a certain idea of the kind of job we would have, home we would live in, spouse we would marry, kids we would raise, success we would earn. But what about when Jesus is not a magic carpet ride to get you “there,” to that place that you already wanted to go?
What if following Jesus meant that some dreams had to die that were painful to let go of? What if the fairy tale didn’t have the end that you wanted? What if in beholding the loveliness of Jesus, you became all the more disenchanted with yourself along the way?
I want everybody to follow Jesus. I just don’t always know that everything about that life is going to get “better” in the way that we might expect. I know things about him I can’t unlearn or un-know. He is the truth. If and when life doesn’t seem like it is “working” at all (much less “better”), the beauty of Jesus is still the truth at the center of things. An anointed life can still be a hard life, and you may well come to moments when you would just assume give up because you are just so tired or discouraged with your life or with yourself.
But you don’t cash in your chips. Not because the life you’ve got now is objectively better than the one you started out with. Did Jesus offer you some kind of 30-day money back guarantee on any of this? You keep going because you can’t deny the truth of him and you can’t deny the gravity of grace. And like Peter, it is ultimately as simple as this: “Where else can we go?”
When life is not “better”, the gospel offers nothing if not the absolute certainty that you are loved. Not an offer of a life without chaos or ambiguity or pain. But you will never again know a life without love. How would you escape it?
7 Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. 9 If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, 10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If there is a way that the life you are given is better, it is insofar that it is better to know love than to not. That’s the sweetness that doesn’t leave you even when your world is not “better,” but rather bursting into flame.
(Now if you will excuse me, Olan Mills is here and we have to take some awesome pictures to remind you that our lives are awesome and yours can be too!)