And he said to them all, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” Luke 9:23
He was a relatively successful businessman with a good marriage and two great kids. Involved in his church, he actively participated in ministry outreaches. A good-natured, outgoing man who didn’t know what a stranger is, he could sell refrigerators to Eskimos and that’s also what made him a valued team member in ministering to others. When he saw God touching the lives of people he had reached, he began thinking, “Perhaps God is calling me to do this all of the time.”
That’s when the battle began. “How could I do this full time when I haven’t realized all of my dreams and goals in the business world? I’d feel like I failed at business, so how could I succeed in Christian work?” he thought.
Perhaps you can relate to his struggle. Actually, I’ve often wondered if the men who walked away from their nets and their small fishing fleet on Galilee did not wrestle with the same issue after Jesus walked by and said, “Follow me!” He still calls men to walk away from their nets to the uncertainty of walking by faith.
On more than one occasion, Christ called men who resisted holding out a few more weeks, months, or years. “I’ve bought a piece of property and need to go inspect it,” one said. Another: “I need to go bury my father and then I’ll be back.” Wait until I realize my dream, and then I’ll be back, money in the bank, feeling good about my success, and then I’ll consider whatever you have in mind.
Unrealized goals and aspirations can keep you chained to the boat and keep your pursuing your dreams rather than moving to the level of significance in life. When Christ calls you to serve Him, He attaches no prerequisites to his invitation—like, “Make your first million, then come sign up.” There is always unfinished business, which means you have to give him your unrealized dreams and hopes.
Deitrich Bonnhoffer put it, “When Christ calls a man, he calls him to come and die.” So is surrendering your dreams and ambitions part of dying to self? “If any man will come after me,” said Jesus, “let him deny himself and take up His cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23), and a man who takes his cross has no further agenda. At that point He becomes a slave to Jesus Christ.
The problem is that our culture’s definition of success as equaling money, position and power has so penetrated our thinking that it is necessary to deprogram ourselves or else we struggle with a failure concept. Success is not money, fame, or reaching a point of significance in the world. Rather, true success is seeking and finding and doing the will of God for your life.
It’s true, some have turned to Christian work simply because they failed at everything else and thought it would be an easy way to make a living and still do some good in the world, but by and large anyone who is worth his salt will always have unfulfilled goals and dreams, and it is that kind of motivation which will contribute to success from God’s perspective.
Combating the mentality of our culture is what Paul was talking about when he wrote the Romans, saying, “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you” (Romans 12:2, The Message). The battle for your mind is a very real one. Never forget it.
Resource reading: Luke 9