Friday, May 8, 2009

Giving Up What We Can’t Keep, To Gain What We Can’t Lose

Martyr Jim Elliot (1927-1956), missionary to the Auca people in Ecuador, often expressed this classic piece of wisdom: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” I recall a wise older pastor[1] giving it to me five years ago and I always wondered the source. Now I have found it!

The entire quote he gave me went like this... “God’s Word will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from God’s Word. He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

There are a myriad of things that we can never possess in life; one of these, and the most significant one, is having ultimate control over our life. Yet, we seem to struggle for years, and for many, through the whole lifespan--not acknowledging this fact--enduring torment. In a way it’s senseless, and altogether meaningless--certainly when looking back from the end-of-life view.

Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” –Mark 8.35 (TNIV).

We are apt at skipping over the fundamentals thinking we’ve got them covered. The interesting thing about this verse above is that it’s every bit as hard and all-encompassing to achieve as it is to achieve anything Jesus preached during the Sermon on the Mount.

In fact, it sort of sums it all up--as a foundational unit in the base program of the Christ-follower’s life.

Think about total daily surrender of our desires and selfishness. Think about reality. There’s a divide, a great abyss between the two, it doesn’t matter who we are.

So, how do we get there, or is living like Jesus Christ only something of an ideal? I don’t think Jesus meant for us to think only idealistically. In fact, that’s the Devil’s program, right there!--one of them at least.

Assuming we’re already Christ-believer’s, and conceding Jesus’ statement is conditional, chasing the ‘lost’ life in order to truly save our life (hence finding it) requires us to consistently give up on our own personal desires, plans and dreams and to start loving others as we do ourselves. It’s the perfect search[2] of selflessness and wisdom.

And this can’t ever be done overnight. It’s a process of practising the practice over the years and decades, commencing with the seconds and minutes. It’s about training. It’s about listening to, and cooperating with, the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. It’s about becoming a professional Christlike human being. And if this is our sole focus, all other things we need will be given to us.[3]

Enter the concept of good faith, and right living before God and with humankind.

When we give up what we cannot keep (our life and control over it) for a life in God, we get to keep a slice of eternity (here) as a sort of ‘down payment’ on life kept in eternity (to come) with God--something we cannot lose, provided we remain in him.[4] I think this is what Jim Elliot meant in his quote at first.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] I acknowledge Pastor John Edwards.
[2] Note the difference here between perfection and a ‘search.’ Searching like this is a devoted investigation, toward spiritual progress, not spiritual perfection.
[3] Matthew 6:33 (TNIV) says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” What are ‘all these things?’ To name a few, these are what we’ll eat and drink, and what we’ll wear. We can extend this out (safely) to any material possession. What we truly need, God will provide.
[4] See John 15:1-17. Jesus’ command for those ‘remaining’ in him... “Love each other.”

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