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Asking a Lot

Today I was struck with a realization of how many people we encounter in scripture, of whom God asked a lot—way beyond what we might think of as a “standard” level of commitment. 
By PAUL ZILMER
Read Time: 3 minutes

We know that the living God asks for our loyalty, our perseverance, making His priorities our own.  And then, from time to time, every Bible student notices something that reminds us of just how much God has expected of someone we read about.

It makes us reflect on whether we could have responded in such a faithful way ourselves.  Which is the intent, of course.

Today I was struck with a realization of how many people we encounter in scripture, of whom God asked a lot—way beyond what we might think of as a “standard” level of commitment.  It’s easy, in fact, to build a list as long as you like.  A sampling:

  • Noah and his family are asked to abandon any pretense of a normal life, devoting their entire lives to the foolhardy project of building a gigantic ship.  And then, when the flood comes, they endure the loss absolutely everything and everyone.  After coming out of the ark, it’s not over!  They must begin their new life with almost nothing, and the rest of their lives are spent in yet more backbreaking labor.  (Gen 6:13-14, 7:22-23, 9:20)
  • Abraham, a city dweller, is asked to leave behind everything and be a nomad.  (Gen 12:1)
  • A long succession of women, from Sarah to Elizabeth with many in-between, suffer the heartache of childlessness while yearning to have a family.  They don’t know, ahead of time, that it is a matter of waiting for the Lord’s timing—as far as they know their hopes are over.
  • Joseph is asked by God to endure years of slavery and injustice, for a good end he can’t imagine in advance.  (Gen 45:4-5)
  • David, though anointed to be king, has to endure years of being hunted as a criminal, his life in constant jeopardy. (1 Sam 23:15-18, 26:17-20)
  • Abigail is called on to endure years of remaining loyal to an awful man, Nabal, never knowing there would be an end.  (1 Sam 25:3,14-26)
  • Isaiah is asked to endure humiliation and exposure to the elements, walking around naked for 3 years.  (Isa 20:2)
  • Jeremiah, as a young man, is told to never marry or have a family. (Jer 16:1-2)
  • Baruch is asked to labor in constant danger to assist Jeremiah, and is told he would never have the comfortable life he yearns for.  (Jer 45)
  • Ezekiel, as a teaching device, is asked to endure the death of his wife, the delight of his eyes, without mourning for her. (Eze 24:15-18)
  • Daniel, apparently a teenager, is ripped from his home and carried into exile, where he is made a eunuch in the enemy’s court. (Dan 1:1-8)
  • Mary is asked to endure ridicule and rejection over her pregnancy.  (Luke 1:26-38, John 8:41)

I suppose we all occasionally think about what we would have done, how we would have held up, in the place of one of these people. It suddenly hits home just how much God asked of people like this.  Of course this is far from a complete list—you’ll think of others.  At some point we reflect that it’s not actually fair.  Why should so much be asked of them?  But then, when we consider how many people God asked so much of, we start to realize this isn’t actually extraordinary.

And eventually we are drawn to think, what of me?  Where do I stand in relation to what our God asks, the same God these people served?  Whether we feel like less is expected of us, or we feel like we’ve been asked to endure a lot, any honest appraisal concludes that we don’t all have the same experience in this life.

Where do I stand in relation to what our God asks

If we have a notion that there ought to be “fairness” in the sense of equal challenges, we are going to be disappointed.  But if this thinking isn’t the right road, what is?

I believe Jesus gives us the answer.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)

And on a later occasion,

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”  (Luke 14:26-27)

We miss the point if we don’t realize: what Jesus says is truly extreme!  It is giving up the life we might have envisioned, just as was expected of many of those mentioned above.  It is being exposed like Isaiah, enduring like Abigail—while keeping a positive attitude!

Above all, it is willingly shouldering the instrument of our own death, as Jesus did.  To “hate” our own family and our own life, in the sense of putting them far down the list of our priorities.  Jesus is asking a lot.  He is asking a lot of every person who comes to him.  The specifics of what it looks like will vary from person to person—hence the “unfairness” perception.  But in reality he asks the same of everyone, a standard level of commitment.  He asks everything.

Love, Paul

 

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