He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it". 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? (Mark 8:34-37)
In the Twilight Zone episode entitled A Nice Place to Visit, which aired in 1960, a bank robber named Rocky is killed by police in a robbery attempt. In the afterlife he finds himself in a place that caters to his every desire, every luxury, convenience, and entertainment is at his fingertips. Early on, he is ecstatic and wonders how he, a sinner, could've found enough favor with God to end up in Heaven. After awhile, however, Rocky becomes bored and dissatisfied. It seems as though having everything his heart desires just isn't enough to make him happy. In fact, he grows increasingly miserable every day. Finally, at wits end, he asks his host if he can leave 'Heaven' and go 'to the other place'. In a shocking revelation (the likes of which being what made the Twilight Zone series famous) Rocky's host begins to laugh and inform Rocky that he WAS in â€˜the other place' and he could never leave.
Certainly a dramatic story... and certainly a story with a kernel of truth. We've all had the experience of feeling empty and unfulfilled even when we have acquired most everything we could want or need. We' e all spent time, energy, and money buying bigger, better faster, and more things we think will finally bring happiness to our lives only to find out it was just another wild goose chase. After having this experience a few times we would think we would learn our lesson... but so often we continue to do the same thing: chase after the things our culture (our consumer culture) tells us we must have to be happy like fame, fortune, pleasure, comfort, convenience, etc. The truth is that we can never have life and life to the fullest by living for ourselves. The more we get, the more we have, the more we indulge in, at some point just serves to make us tired, irritable, and feeling empty. We thought we were entering Heaven... but realized we got caught up in Hell. It's a terrible twist of events.
In the Mark 8, we read of another 'twist' that is counterintuitive to us. Jesus says "For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it". For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? It turns out that the path to true happiness and full life is to give ourselves away to Jesus. If we follow him, do what he did, and live by giving, serving, and generously sacrificing for God and for others we will find true life and true happiness. And this true life and happiness is found even when we don't have a lot of stuff and even when the living and working of life is hard.
On p. 127 of Right Here Right Now Alan Hirsch and Lance Ford they spend some time talking about how the wealth and prosperity of the United States has NOT increased our sense of happiness or well-being. In fact, quite the opposite is true. It seems that the more we get... the less happy we are. Christians who are everyday missionaries must both themselves overcome the temptation to equate consumption, material possession, wealth, fame, pleasure, comfort, or even safety and security with happiness, and also live in such a way that shows the Jesus lifestyle of giving, serving, and generous sacrifice for God is the path to true happiness even though it is often without material reward.
May you live fully and happily this week as you give yourself away to God in Jesus... and may your life's example help God set others free.
For more in-depth discussion check out this week's video by the authors Lance Ford and Alan Hirsch Laodicean Cul-de-sacs posted on this blog