Thursday, April 02, 2009

Even Unto Death...?

There I was, standing and looking out over the Pacific Ocean in San Diego. In my ears played the refrain of a song off of ORU Music Ministries' album, "Until the Whole World Knows." While I enjoy most of the album, the one song that seemed to stick to me is one called "Persecution." Dark I know, right-but it's awesome. The basic premise of the song is that true worship and purification happen through the trials that we face and our willingness to walk through them and still sing out praises to our God. We eventually will join with the elders (that's for you Kelbert) and the scores of saints that have gone before in singing that our God is holy and is worthy of all praise. It's a haunting reminder that this life is not all that there is, and that our ultimate goal, our chief aim, is to bring about the praise and glory of our Lord.

Then I started thinking, what about those elders who have gone before me? In particular, there's this line in the song that really jumped out at me. As the song is resolving, the worship leader says, "we will be as those who boldly come before the throne and sing the elders' song...even unto death." Really? Unto death? The weight of that line is massive. The idea that we are called to sing worship to God, even in the face of death is a daunting reminder of my failure to even come close to that. It's so easy to praise God when things are going well, or more solemnly, when things are not going so well so long as there is an innate belief that it will all resolve itself to our good. But what of the idea that our praise and worship is to be extended even at the point of our death- when it is apparent that things are not going to work out like we want them? What of the stories of the saints and elders like Stephen who, even at the point of his death could look up towards heaven and see Jesus and then with his last breath speak forgiveness over those who were killing him? What of Paul and Silas, of the Apostle John, of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela who could believe in and worship a Savior in spite of facing and embracing death in a very real and tangible sense? What do we do with those stories in a worldview that has no idea what it really means to "face death all the day long" as Psalm 44:22 says. Am I really willing or ready to worship God to the point of my death? Do I value His love and sacrifice to that point, or is it merely idle chatter and pretty (albeit haunting) songs that fill my day with no real connection to my actual life?

Let's take a step back. Is there anything for which I am willing to die? I would dare say that at this point there isn't- and that scares me. Martin Luther King, Jr. said "if a man is not willing to die for something he is not fit to live. " Could I extend it slightly and say that the person who has not found something worth dying for has not yet begun to live? I mean, consider it- if there is nothing for which we would be willing to sacrifice everything, then how can we accurately love anything? Do I rightly love God if I would not be willing in more than word to lay down my life? Is God enough, or do I think that adding to Him is necessary in order to fully appreciate and embrace life? Further, by adding to Him, do I take away from who he really is? Hint- the answer is yes.

And there's still one step further this journey is taking me. Am I willing to myself. Now, I am not referring to the oft used reference of "death to self" referring to a subduing of passions and desires in pursuit of some as yet unattainable divine goal or spiritual "attitude." I am talking of my willingness to put upon the altar of my life any dreams and ambitions to see if, when tried by fire, they last and are found to actually be God's plans. We all make plans- it's in our nature to do so. We take into account our ambitions, abilities, desires, and any number of other factors in order to create a plan for our lives that we intend to walk out. Often, these plans are built out of a desire to do the will of God for our lives (however elusive that may seem to be at times), and we strive with all earnest to see them come about. But would we be willing to lay them down? I mean, Saul knew that he was doing God's work, and pursued it with as much vigor and fervor as he possibly could. Then God stepped in and changed everything. Moses was completely content living a life of luxury in the palace of the king until a situation arose that shook him to the very core of his being and sent him fleeing into the desert (where he would spend the remainder of his days). Abraham was a good man who became righteous simply because he "believed" when God called out to him. The key factor with all these people? God stepped in and they were willing to be changed. The key question for me? Would I be as willing to let everything I knew, everything I felt "called" to do, everything I was sure of be held by the master and shaped into what it is he precisely wants?

I sure hope so.

In truth, the Bible is replete with stories of men and women who were pursuing their plans and passions, only to have those plans shaken by an encounter with a very real God. Fishermen left their trade and their families to pursue an unknown man with a panache for pissing people off, shepherds left the comfort and familiarity of their flock to confront an army, and women left behind the established order and societal conventions in order to ensure that the gospel was preached and established. The ultimate flexibility of these people's plans met the immovability of a sovereign God's plans for each of us and the restoration of the world to Himself. I pray that I might be one who, as these did, would be willing to lay down what is firm in my mind for what is ultimate in His heart.


Nichole said...

I hear lots of a Rachel Raju conversation in this post. :)

CelestéMarie said...

wow, i feel like the issue you were really getting at in the last bit is exactly what i've been living out in the last 4 months here in china.
i can't express what i really want to say and you know why...but it's one thing to speculate and write about such deaths...and another to actually see all the dreams and ideas of success you've held to your chest so tightly all these years go through that fire and ask yourself did G* call me to be successful in my terms or are His much different?