Losing My Life While Still Breathing
What if it was our goal to lose our life?
So often when we hear statements like this our minds immediately race to inspirational stories of martyrdom. Of Stephen, recorded in Scripture as the first martyr after Christ's death, who paved the way in exemplifying a faith worthy of dying for, and even mirrored Christ's words on the cross requesting forgiveness for those killing him. Or perhaps you remember the testimony of Jim Elliot, who along with four missionary colleagues lost their lives in an attempt to reach the Auca Indians in Ecuador with the Gospel. Or maybe you even have personal memory of news reports about the young, brave Mary Sameh George who lost her life in 2014 due to being targeted for her faith in the midst of ministering to the needy in Egypt.
When I hear the phrase "lose my life," my thoughts immediately go to incredible testimonies like these, and how their physical time on earth came to an end. The countless individuals who have lost their lives for their faith over the centuries clearly and unapologetically display what a life looks like which treasures Christ above all else.
And while I believe wholeheartedly that persecution can actually strengthen and grow one's faith, I am very grateful that I live in a time and place where I enjoy a great amount of freedom in proclaiming Christ. But does that mean that the principle of losing my life doesn't apply to me?
Paul's words in Philippians 1:21 come to mind,
"For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."
Am I missing something here? I surely hope if faced with losing my life due to proclaiming Christ that I would hold fast to my Savior, and count it an honor to give up my life for His name, but what do I do with the principle of "losing my life" if I never encounter persecution of that kind?
While Paul did go on to be martyred for his faith, when he penned these words from prison he was still very much alive. And what I find interesting about his letter to the Philippians in particular is that Paul carried a posture of death whether he wrote about being alive, or dying. In fact, he alludes that physically losing his life, and going to join Christ, may perhaps have been the more desirable option compared the cost of daily losing his life while physically remaining on earth.
Paul's example in his life mirrored the testimony that was marked by his death: whether breathing or eternally sleeping, his flesh had been put to death in order for him to live for Christ.
It was the same lifestyle that Jesus called his disciples to in Luke 9:23-24,
"Then he said to them all, 'If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will save it.'"
And Paul describes the acceptance of such a call in Galatians 2:20,
"I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."
The Lord alone knows the number of our days, and how our time on earth will come to an end, but regardless of the story he was written for us, we are called to actively attempt to loose our life on His behalf.
Can you imagine what that might look like in your life? I have to admit that there would be quite a few changes in my life if I truly was seeking to lay down my life daily for the sake of Christ. Our human nature is literally the opposite of this cross-life principle. Left unchecked, we always will naturally live a life of self-preservation, rather than trying to give our lives away.
Jesus was the master of taking human logic and law and flipping it on its head when trying to give us a glimpse of what his Kingdom looks like. Time and time again, our human intentions are put to shame when we read His words declaring that the "last shall be first" or that we should pour our energies into storing up "treasures in Heaven" rather than spending our days earning worthless possessions here on earth.
The Beatitudes scream these upside-down Kingdom principles, and tears were brought to my eyes this morning as I read through a devotional from She Reads Truth which eloquently and honestly contrasted such biblical principles against our human nature. (Read it for yourself here!) Matthew 5 records Jesus teaching Blessed are the poor in Spirit, although in reality we make it our goal to depend on ourselves and provide for our own needs rather than trusting God or relying on our community around us. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, though we give more thought and concern to our social media followings. Blessed are the peacemakers, even though our top priority will always be to win the argument. And here we arrive again at the topic of persecution when we read Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, yet we will live our lives making every effort to be sure that we remain in a comfortable and safe lifestyle, one which costs us nothing.
Who or what are you living for? And what do you count as your blessings? Are your blessings the comforts of your life, or do they match the description that Jesus gives? Are we looking through a lens which values the same things that the Kingdom of God elevates, or might our lifestyle and perspective more closely align with the culture around us?
Are you living each day in an effort to lose your life, or to build it up? To protect it? Keep it in your control? Fill it with comforts? Make it look better than those you compare it to on social media?
I will be vulnerable with you: When I hold my own life up to these measurements, my situation looks pretty bleak. And I find myself asking how does one even begin to lay down his or her life daily?
I think part of the problem in answering this question is that we are a people of extremes! And if you are anything like me, when I think of martyrdom I think of the physical loss of life. So in the midst of day-to-day living, when my life is not in jeopardy and persecution feels foreign, my thoughts naturally drift to the other end of the spectrum. It is not our human nature to wake up and begin to draft a to-do list for the day of ways to die to oneself.
But if we did write that list, what kind of things would even be on it?
Gloria Furman writes in her book "Missional Motherhood,"
"We might not lose our lives for the sake of the gospel, but we may be called to gladly sacrifice our comfort, excess, and reputation in order to nurture the physical and spiritual lives of the weak, vulnerable, and dependent."
I believe the act of dying to ourselves is often the sum of the mundane things that make up our days. Losing your life does not only have to be reserved for extremes. Here, Gloria is describing her role as a mother and mentor. She speaks bold worth and value into the work of nurturing vulnerable and dependent lives, and highlights the level of self-sacrifice it requires to usher the Gospel into these mundane spheres. She writes,
"The world says your work is mundane, but every mothering and discipling moment in your life is actually unique - unprecedented in history and never to be repeated. Your work in evangelism and discipleship done through the power of the Spirit gives Jesus praised that echoes in eternity. And this moves heaven to rejoice."
The work of losing one's life is learning how to view the sphere in which we have been placed through a Gospel lens. It is replacing our fleshly desires for comfort, wealth and status with God's priorities and purpose. And it is recognizing that the joy and peace of Christ comes when we pour out our lives on behalf of others, rather than hoarding the minutes and hours on earth that we have been given for our self-serving benefit.
Dying to yourself has everything to do with exactly where you find yourself.
"Would we learn to make much of Christ in our bedrooms, around our dining tables, on our Facebook walls, in our children's schools, in the waiting room at the doctor's office, in foreign lands and anywhere that Jesus would be pleased to send us."
And no matter how small you may deem the role you are in, or the sacrifices you are making, "A million deaths still add up to a million."
Let's make it our goal to lose our lives. As Jesus said, "For what will it benefit someone if he gains the whole world yet loses his life?"
My prayer is that God will continue to shape the desires of our hearts to match His Kingdom principles, that we may mimic His example of pouring out our lives for others, and that we may have the privilege of participating in His work of bringing hope to the lost and the lonely.
"The Spirit of the Lord God is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of our God's vengeance; to comfort all who mourn, to provide for those who mourn in Zion; to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, festive oil instead of mourning, and splendid clothes instead of despair." Isaiah 61: 1-3