Following With a Purpose

I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. 2 “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” 3 I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly — my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.

4 I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. 5 I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. 6 I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. 8 I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well — the delights of a man’s heart. 9 I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.

10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
 I refused my heart no pleasure.
 My heart took delight in all my labor,
 and this was the reward for all my toil.
 11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
 and what I had toiled to achieve,
 everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
 nothing was gained under the sun..
[Ecclesiastes 2:1–11 ~ NIV]

“As I sat on the platform, waiting my turn at the pulpit, my mind began to drift back in time… to scholarships and honors earned, cases argued and won, great decisions made from lofty government offices. My life had been the perfect success story, the great American dream fulfilled. But all at once I realized that it was not my success God had used to enable me to help those in this prison, or in hundreds of others just like it. My life of success was not what made this morning glorious — all my achievements meant nothing in God’s economy. No, the real legacy of my life was my biggest failure — that I was an ex-convict. My greatest humiliation — being sent to prison — was the beginning of God’s greatest use of my life; He chose the one experience in which I could not glory for His glory.
Confronted with this staggering truth, I discovered in those few moments in the prison chapel that my world was turned upside down. I understood with a jolt that I had been looking at life backward. But now I could see: only when I lost everything I thought made Chuck Colson a great guy had I found the true self God intended me to be and the true purpose of my life.” [Charles Colson, Loving God, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), 24–25]

Jesus said, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26a ~ NIV 1984). Jesus had just told his disciples that He was headed to Jerusalem where he would be seized and killed by the religious leaders. When Peter balked at this, Jesus rebuked him and said that Peter was more interested in what he wanted than what God had in mind. Then, He laid out for them the way that a true disciple of Christ must live. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

Too many Christians want to avoid the first two requirements Jesus gave. To deny ourselves — to choose to withhold “good things” that we desire — runs contrary to human nature. Beginning as very young children, we cry out for what we want. As we grow, we learn how to manipulate our world to get what we want. The older we get, the more we pursue what we want. Yet, Jesus said if we want to follow Him — to be with Him — we must deny ourselves. Most assume that He is only speaking of denying ourselves of the things we want in our lives, but Jesus meant much more. He literally meant we must lose ourselves — our self-made identity, personal ambitions, previous accomplishments, everything that we hold so highly in our lives — give it all up and choose to go Jesus’ way.

And what is Jesus’ way? We must take up our cross and follow Him. Now, a cross is more than an inconvenient burden or unwanted event in our lives. A cross has a purpose and that purpose is ultimately to glorify God. When Jesus took up the cross it was to become a sacrifice for the redemption of mankind. The purpose of the cross was to fulfill God’s plan to be reunited with His children who were separated from Him by their sin. The glory of God was revealed through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. When we take up our cross, whatever form it may take, it will provide an opportunity for God to be glorified. The glory He receives will not likely be in the suffering or pain that we endure from the cross, but in how we respond to it all.

Every day we have this choice to make. We can pursue life as the writer of Ecclesiastes did, only to come to the same conclusion that it was all meaningless in the end; or, we can accept the call of Christ to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. In so doing, we know that we will suffer — it’s a certainty and not merely a possibility — but, by following Christ, it will have a purpose. As we live with Jesus, our purpose will yield great joy and contentment not found when we live only for ourselves.