I don't think we get God. I think we think we do, but we don't. The more I study and the further along I get in life, I realize that most of us are still worshiping a plastic Jesus instead of the authentic one. We worship a plastic Jesus because we want to live plastic lives, all neat, clean and simple. However, our God is complicated and life is complicated. We have a God who is willing to get his hands dirty because that is what our lives require. He makes tough decisions and demands some very difficult things from us. We have tried to candy-coat him over the years because there are some difficult things to explain to people and if we don't then people may not decide to come to church. However, we need to get real again.
The fact is, the number one thing at the center of everything our Father does is eternity. The one thing he is constantly working towards is preparing us for eternity. This makes our hearts his first priority and not necessarily our creature comforts. This is why we often do not see eye to eye with our Father because we do not maintain the same priority. Consider for a moment a situation we find in Matthew 4. Perhaps it is rather tame compared to some of the other things Jesus will demand of people later on and perhaps you have not given this situation much thought, but for poor Zebedee Jesus was trouble. We read:
As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-20)
And then, what seems to be an unrelated incident:
Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. (Matthew 4:21-22)
This was a significant moment as Jesus called these men because three of them, Peter, James and John would later become the inner three, the ones Jesus took with him when he left the others behind. However, for poor Zebedee this meant disaster, or at least the appearance of one. If nothing else it meant more work for this man. It turns out that Peter was partners with Zebedee in this small fishing business. More importantly, Zebedee just lost three men from his team. His world was changed by two simple words, "Follow me". Later we will also discover that Zebedee's wife was one of the women who traveled with Jesus, supporting him with finances and looking after the needs of his group. Meanwhile, Zebedee is back home trying his best without his wife, sons and fishing partner. How fair is this?
Our Father's work is not about what is fair here but about what needs to be done to get people into the Kingdom. Over the centuries our God has asked very difficult things from his people. The example I continue to bring up is Hudson Taylor because I can almost taste the devastation of the sacrifices he was asked to make. In his mission in China he ended up having to bury several of his children over the years and then his wife. According to today's gospel he should have been over there in fancy clothes, living in a big house, and driving a big car. Instead he was dressed in native dress, living in a small home and sacrificing his food so his fellow workers could survive. The sacrifice that gets me though is when he had to make the decision to send his children back to England to live with friends, for their own health and safety, while he continued on. Hudson Taylor loved his children very much and this sacrifice effected him deeply.
Today people would never believe that God would ask that of us. He would never tear a family apart for his mission. He wants us all to live in nice homes, driving nice cars, living nice lives with our nice families. This is our plastic life worshiping our plastic Jesus. The reality of what we live every day should remind us that life is messy and so is the Father's will because his priority is different than ours:
This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3-4)
Our comfort is not his priority but our eternity is. When we sign up with Jesus we also sign up for this mission and we will be called upon to make sacrifices and to let go of many of our notions of who God is and what he would or would not demand of us. He will sacrifice one life to win a soul to the Kingdom because the fact is the first life is already safe. We have this distorted view of our life here because it is difficult for us to see it through eternity. The Apostle Paul is good at getting us to see more clearly.
The Apostle Paul was called upon to suffer and sacrifice a great deal. It never seemed that he got a break and even in the end he died a prisoner far from home. However, Paul refused to look at things from his poor perspective and he forced himself to look at everything through the mission we have and eternity:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
We fix our eyes on what is unseen because what is unseen is eternal. This is the priority of the Father and is the reason why he will require sacrifices that people today deny. He will separate parents from children and demand people to live in poor conditions. He will expect us to give up our most prized possessions and will sometimes allow us to fall ill and die. He will require us to miss meals and live in used clothes. He will do and have us do whatever is required to give everyone the opportunity to enter the Kingdom. If you think this is too much then I remind you of what it cost him.
At the end of the day I believe Zebedee was well saved and pleased to make the sacrifice of giving up workers, his sons, his wife and some of his wealth to support Jesus in the mission. We know this because in that culture his wife would have required his permission to leave to help Jesus. I think it was hard for Zebedee to carry on without them because sometimes those who are left behind to continue on make the greater sacrifice. In the end, we all have the same mission, same goal, and the same destination. Let's not be afraid to get our hands dirty.