The thought I have for today is the cost of discipleship: that is, the cost of following Christ and of being consecrated to Him. In our recent ladies’ Zoom meeting two of our more mature members were asked to speak of what consecration meant to them. They struck a note of the reality of it: the privilege, but also the cost of it, which is something that we cannot hide; indeed, we do a disservice to younger Christians if we leave out that note that brings a challenge. Our hearts often will rise to a challenge and respond to that clarion call of God: Come and follow Me. Christ Himself said: Take up your cross and follow Me. Take it up every day, and you will be My disciple.* Especially when we are young we will respond to a challenge like that, and as we grow older there is nothing in us will ever want to turn back. I think I can truly say I have never known anyone who has really consecrated their life to God who has regretted it and wanted to do something else with their life. Rather, our prayer would be: I wish I had given Him more, and given it earlier to Him. He is no man’s debtor.
In our own country we discovered how the human spirit will respond to a challenge. Prior to the beginning of the Second World War many people were pacifists, and indeed we all would like peace, but not always peace at any price. When Neville Chamberlain, having struck some kind of deal with Hitler in 1938, came back from Munich and said: ‘Peace for our time,’ he turned to some of those with him and admitted: ‘I shouldn’t have said that’ – because people grasped it, and he knew that it was not actually true. When the war broke out, very quickly Churchill was asked to take over the leadership of our country. He surely was a man under the hand of God for that purpose, and he inspired a nation with his words of courage and his rise to the challenge. He did not say: ‘It will be peace … It will be easy … There will be no hardship, no suffering, no cost.’ He said: ‘We will win, but there will be blood and sweat and toil and tears.’ And did the nation rebel against that? No. All over the land, in every quarter of it, people rose to that challenge and suffered hardship and self-denial in order to win one day the victory.
We have a greater than Churchill who is calling us. We have the Lord God Almighty, who through His Son Jesus Christ has shown us the way and said: Come and follow Me. I particularly hope that if any of you who are younger are reading this, you will feel the answer in your own spirit, quickened by God Himself, and say: ‘Lord, what else could I do with my life but to be a follower of You?’ You will find your spirit answering that challenge, as do we all – except that we have a fallen part in our nature. The book of James warns us:
Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)
The New Testament uses very strong language. In our day a lot of biblical language is watered down, and sometimes everything is made to seem that ‘it’s a cosy, comfortable life, and you can mix a bit with the world in order to win people, and you don’t need to be too extreme, and these old Pentecostals were a bit too narrow in their views’. But they were powerfully used of God! And there is a challenge that comes to us where love of the world that is inside us, as part of our nature, has to go to the cross, because friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God.
Now we have to live in this world; we have to mix with people. It’s not that we view people as our enemies. The enemy is the love within our own natures of that that is contrary to the will of God, materialistic, self-pleasing, often just totally wrong and contrary to God’s laws and the laws of holiness. We have to take ourselves on and daily say Yes to God and No to ourself. It’s the illustration of consecration that was given to me when I was about 13 years old, wanting to know how to give my all to Christ, and I’ve never found a better definition of consecration than that.
And shall we regret it? Shall we not find that we become separated unto God? There’s a lovely part in the Old Testament that tells of the story of Elijah and Elisha. Elijah the prophet knew that his days were numbered, and there was to be a successor in Elisha. He called him, and Elisha made sacrifice of his oxen and plough, and came after Elijah. The day drew near when Elijah was going to be caught up into heaven. He tries to make Elisha go away, and Elisha won’t go away. And we read again and again these words: They two went on. Ultimately separated from the other prophets, they travel on together alone until that moment when Elijah is caught up in the chariot of fire, and his mantle falls upon the waiting Elisha.
It is a greater than Elijah into whose companionship we are called. So the corollory of the truth that ‘friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God’ is that if we are no longer friends with the world and our worldly nature, we become friends of God. To walk with Jesus Christ a pathway of friendship – how beautiful! They two went on … and it becomes our soul and God. We find ourself walking in a peculiar dependence on Him and a separation to Him, where we love Him and His commands, and the things that concern His kingdom. Increasingly the things in this world that held such an attraction for us begin to wither away, and we’re able to live in the world (because we’re still in the flesh), and yet not part of it.
We see in other lives that have gone before us such an example. This week some of us were at the funeral of Marion Leeming, 87 years old when she died. She served many years of her life in the Congo as a missionary and continued to have a missionary heart and zeal to the end of her life. Did she suffer? Was there a cost in following Christ? There was. She left her homeland, she left the comforts of it, she suffered a lot of physical hardship in the Congo. Made of stern stuff, she was a soldier of the cross. She suffered danger. The rebellion that led to the independence of the Congo came at the time when they were missionaries there. On subsequent occasions when there was unrest and war, she suffered great danger. She suffered months of separation from her children, whom she dearly loved. She suffered ill health, but she soldiered on to the very end, saying in her last days that she loved Jesus more every day. What a testimony to the worth of a life separated to God!
A number of years ago the Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow had a special photographic exhibition of people from all over the world, including the very famous such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and further back, I think, to Churchill. The photographer commented, I think, that Billy Graham was his favourite subject. There was on display a photograph of him as an old man sitting on the verandah of his house with his big dog, a beautiful picture of a man who looked totally happy, totally at peace. Beside it was the photograph of one who had been a bitter, cynical atheist, critical of Billy Graham and others; I think it was a picture of him tearing up a Bible, something like that. But there was also a portrait of him in his old age. My memory is that he was a drunkard and gambler who probably committed suicide at the end. The photographer himself was drawing the contrast between the two. Who chose the better part? Was there a cost? There certainly was for Billy Graham: separation from his family, his homeland, labours, journeyings oft, difficulties with health at times, facing slander, criticism, all sorts of hardship – but radiant to the end with the life of God.
Oh, don’t we feel – don’t I still feel – the draw of the eternal, the privilege of being called by God? We don’t do God a service by giving our lives to Him. It’s a privilege when He calls us, and the time to answer that call is when He is calling and saying: Come and follow Me.
Yielded, Lord, to Thee,
Wholly Thine for evermore,
Yielded, Lord, to Thee.
* Christ’s words in the first paragraph above are slightly paraphrased.
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