My wife and I sat in the middle of the empty living room. Speechless, frustrated, and afraid, we just cried. Our first kid was due in a few months. We weren’t homeless, but we were pretty darn close. It was an income property that had gone terribly wrong. A crashing housing market and renters who neither paid nor took care of the property left it in almost unlivable conditions.
I desperately wanted to tell my wife—pregnant and all—that everything was going to be okay. But let’s be real for a second. We were in ministry. We had given our lives, sacrificed a bigger paycheck, and we had a kid on the way! What in the world was God thinking? I would be lying if I said I didn’t yell at God for a week straight. I would be lying if I said that I trusted God and moved forward. Instead, I sincerely questioned the whole ministry thing. If this Jesus life would be this hard, maybe it was time to rethink it.
But this moment had little to do with hardship. I knew difficulty would happen—after all, that’s life. It was about commitment. But in that moment and in many more moments to follow, my commitment to Jesus waned. But not my commitment to my wife or my daughter to come. Why? Simple. When I accepted Jesus, it was not about commitment. In fact, my decision to get married was much more thought through, calculated and prepared for than my decision to follow Jesus.
For months I agonized over when and how to propose. After she said yes, we spent nearly a year in pre-marital counseling, and then finally at the altar, we verbally committed to each other, for better or for worse. Each step of the way, we were continually reminded that marriage would not be all sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns all the time. Getting married was a moment. Being married was a process. Yet my understanding of discipleship was all sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns. It was only a moment. There was no counseling, no vows—really no commitment. It would never be needed
Isn’t that precisely what we teach our students?
Wouldn’t it be great if we could promise and deliver a hassle-free, stress-free, failure-free life for our kids and the students we lead? But the reality is that we are never guaranteed that Jesus will take on the role of the lawnmower parent and remove every obstacle and hindrance in our paths so that we might only know peace, prosperity, and unrelenting success. We are, however, promised difficulty, strife, and the filth of sin staining our lives—precisely the reason we need Jesus. Students need the tools and preparation for the journey ahead—as it is, not how we would like it to be. Which is precisely how Jesus intended discipleship to be. And it begins with finding commitment.
To get a handle on what this commitment looks like, I want to introduce you to a somewhat odd passage of Scripture. It doesn’t have the flair of a great miracle or the attention grab of a fascinating parable. It is a more subtle moment that speaks an incredible truth that we need to face and own before we dive deeper into discipleship and walk with our students across to the other side of the river.
In Luke chapter 9, We are invited into three different conversations that Jesus has with three different people, but all focused on the same thing (Luke 9:57-62). We sort of get to be a fly on the wall as Jesus helps these people to fully understand the commitment required of his disciples. We will call each of them prospective disciples. Each of them addresses a vital question. Let’s meet them.
Will You Surrender Your Identity?
I am sure you have met this kid. The new kid who is suddenly and incredibly eager for Jesus. The gospel has grabbed him, and there is no letting go—and do we ever celebrate—a prodigal son kind of moment. We support, encourage, and look for ways to use him as a leader. In fact, if we are honest, this initial enthusiasm is a dream come true and answer to prayer for anyone leading youth. This kid is our first prospective disciple. Except, Jesus doesn’t seem to react the way we do (Luke 9:57-58).
Jesus explains to this wannabe disciple that commitment means sacrificing his identity. Even the animals have a home, but Jesus does not, and consequently, neither will his disciples (Luke 9:58). When most of us think of our homes, our comfortable beds, and all the comforts and convenience of indoor plumbing, we begin to question just what Jesus is asking. Is he really telling this prospect that he will not have a home? This certainly seems like an odd qualification for discipleship. Would you still follow Jesus if homelessness was required?
The point Jesus is making here is much more significant than just homelessness. It’s identity. One thing we have in common with the first-century world is that we are often defined by where we live, the jobs we have, and the families we belong to. Homelessness strips us of that identity. Without our homes, we are strangers, wanderers, and rejected. A disciple of Jesus needs to understand that following means living as a stranger and (potentially) suffering the same rejection he did. Rejection requires an incredible level of commitment—a level many of us simply don’t have. Jesus calls disciples to live as if we are homeless—not bound by the markings of our families, jobs, or neighborhoods. Living rejected and homeless means being committed to and trusting God, confident that our identity lies in the only place that is left—with him.
Will You Reorder Your Priorities?
Now let’s meet the next student. She is faithful in coming to youth group does not seem to have a sense of urgency in living the life of a disciple. She has far too many more important things to be concerned with. With social media, the latest trends, Netflix, YouTube, and a persistent and paralyzing fear of missing out, there is little room left to commit much in the way of discipleship. Anytime there is a challenge to venture out to a mission trip, service project, or a chance to share her faith, there is always something that must come first. This is precisely the problem Jesus encountered with the second prospective disciple (Luke 9:59-60).
This call is similar to Jesus’ call of John and his brother, who immediately leave behind the family business with their father and follow Jesus. This man requests that before he follows, he is permitted to take care of much-needed family affairs. The request seems reasonable given the priority family had in Jewish culture. Children were called to honor their father and mother and to provide proper care for the sick and dying, and funeral preparations held high importance. Certainly, Jesus would understand and respect the man’s desire to do as God commanded.
Jesus is not saying stop going to funerals for your loved ones or stop caring about your family. The meaning here is much greater than that. Jesus is talking about priorities. The kingdom is more important than the comforts of the world. The kingdom is more important than your family. Compare the choices—spread the gospel and give people a chance for eternal life, or bury the dead? How many times have we passed by the homeless man on the street corner, leaving him hungry because we have someplace to be? How many times have we opted to hang with friends rather than spend a Saturday serving food at the local shelter? We all have priorities and responsibilities to manage every day at every stage of life, but none of these responsibilities should ever supersede the work of Christ’s Kingdom.
Will You Never Look Back?
Now for our final student. He has made the commitment. He put his faith in Christ. But shortly after, he realized that following Christ would mean no longer hanging out with his favorite group of friends, giving up the pornography on his computer, giving up the parties, drinking, and drugs, and coming clean to his parents. He continues to profess his faith in Jesus, but is often pulled back into his old life and old habits. What might seem comfortable, what might seem to define his identity will eventually lead him down a road where sin wins. Commitment means moving forward and not looking back. This is the plight of our final prospective disciple (Luke 9:61-62).
Even though this last request seems harmless and straightforward, it still serves as a warning. Throughout Scripture looking back has not always been the best idea. For example, The nation of Israel looked back after they left Egypt. Often Israel wished they had not followed Moses across the sea—they even thought they would be better off in slavery. Lot’s wife looked back on their way out from Sodom—which didn’t work out all that well for her. Looking back suggests an attachment to what once was, the old life and the old values. Theologian Darrell Bock suggests that it is possible that Jesus is warning us that in the desire to bid farewell, you risk your heart remaining attached to the old life. I think he is right. The busier, more connected and complicated our lives become, the harder it is to shed our old identity steeped in the pull of the secular world and the desires of our flesh. A commitment to follow Jesus is a promise to never look back. Nothing should ever be a higher priority than Christ or hinder your commitment to him.
Not friends, family, jobs, modern comforts, or social standing. What we are committed speaks to what we desire. Commitment takes us beyond just want we know, but into our deepest needs—as necessary as food and water. Commitment reveals what we love most and what we love most, we worship.