“Lord, I lay down my life for you.”
“Really? Will you lay your life down for me?” Jesus asks Peter in John 13:38 (NLT).
Will I lay my desires for my career, my free time, my ambitions, my relationships, my reputation for Our Father? Well, I don’t know. I’m willing to lay down maybe one of those, maybe I’ll give one night a week to serve a person or a community. Maybe I’ll begrudgingly accept that the reason I didn’t get those jobs over the years: God didn’t want me to have it.
See, Lord, I’m sacrificing my will!
So I thought. I thought this could the extent of the sacrifice.
Except that once we pray the prayer, we have asked God to do more than what we may realize. When fear debilitates us or anxiety overcomes us, and we question God’s will for our lives. For me, it’s at that moment that I realize I don’t really trust God. I don’t really want to sacrifice my complete will. My reputation matters more, maybe.
If this resonates, have hope. We are not alone in our desire to follow Him with everything, while also questioning his means to that end.
SOME EXAMPLES OF BIBLICAL FOLLOWERS
God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, showing arguably the most extreme example of sacrificing one’s own will for God (Genesis 22). Imagine how sick Abraham must have been on his walk with his son — the walk he thought was probably his son’s last.
There were times when Joseph probably wanted to seek revenge on his brothers for the wrongs they had committed against him, but instead, Joseph sacrificed his own will and radically forgave them (Genesis 50:15-20).
Imagine Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego wanting anything but a death by a burning fiery furnace (Daniel 3). They may not have been willing to worship the gods or golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar set up, but I bet they were afraid. They knew to pray for their own will to be sacrificed, though that didn’t mean their fear was fully eradicated as they declared their unwillingness to worship these gods.
Stephen gave a powerful speech about the gospel, knowing his death would be imminent as a result (Acts 7). He did so with remarkable boldness… he did this by sacrificing his own will, an infectious influence of the Holy Spirit.
Through these stories above and many more throughout Scripture, we see His plan is more beautiful than ours. Sometimes he does not grant our immediate request so that he can do what we have always been asking in the long term — to become more like Him, to trust Him more, to indeed sacrifice our wills.
THE NEW FORM OF SACRIFICE HE ASKED OF ME
When I first began studying the Bible years after having become a Christian, I realized how little I knew about the faith I claimed to possess. How little “faith” I had, altogether. One of the verses in the gospel that revealed this to me was when Jesus said we had to lay down our lives for Him.
After years of me asking for Him to do that, I have seen mild progress. A little sacrificing here and there. That is, until these past two years, when I began falling in love with a guy who was all of the things a gal could hope for: a caring, humble, Bible-loving prayer warrior…who is Catholic.
As a Christian who did not know until her first Bible study in 2013 that Jesus had even said the words “lay down your life,” I also missed out on all the hatred that seems to exist between denominations of Christianity, (which, by His grace, I now know). I really didn’t know what the differences in evangelicalism and catholicism were, at least not more than a surface-level knowledge. And over the past two years, the Lord has shown me an incredible amount of grace, forgiveness, and compassion as I walk through the murky waters of trying to unpack the theology that created the divisions in our body of believers. Sense-making has become a necessary pastime for me.
Denomination differences are heartbreaking in many ways, but I find myself mostly humbled by the realization that God brought me to this journey because He wants me to lay down my life. He wants me to admit I can’t know everything. He wants me to have some bold conversations with people who think that one side or another has everything wrong as if one side is supposed to be evangelized to the “true” theology. God’s glory and mission (Acts 1:8) is accomplished in both denominations, yet the enemy has been somewhat victorious at convincing some that this cannot be true. I now grieve at this divide daily, and I am finally grateful that the Lord has invited me to join Him in this grief. I never could have imagined even three years ago that this would be the case.
Now we see in a mirror dimly, but one day we will see in full. (1 Corinthians 13:12)
STEPPING FORWARD IN PRAYER
I ask that you join me in continuing to pray this bold prayer that I began praying in 2013 and find out what God is going to do as we learn little by little, day by day, what it means to lay down our lives for His sake.
To start, we can lay down at the foot of the cross and choose to remember what He has done. And when we do consent to anxiety or desire for control, we can ask for God’s mercy, and He will grant it. The mercy He gives is himself. He gives us himself, more and more, each and every time we ask for mercy. That’s the jawdropping beauty of the cross: Jesus already showed us what the purest sacrifice looks like.
May we dare to ask for and accept the unexpected crosses. May we welcome the Holy Spirit fully and be open to sacrificing our own will to participate with Him in His sufferings. May we learn more each day what it means to trust Our Creator, knowing that He will catch us every time we stumble, question, or forget who He is and who we are in Him.
Lord, I ask that you heal the resistance in our own hearts to laying down our lives for Your sake, and I ask that you heal the resistance that divides believers across denominational backgrounds. May the unity that You long for increase in us all. May we fervently pray the meaning behind the words of John 17: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” Heavenly Father, we look forward to one day seeing in full, knowing that you have shown us in the mirror dimly, but that it is more than enough for us to trust You. In your beautiful Name, Amen.