Summary: Jesus’ description of a successful life is different than that of most folks.
Bishop Will Willimon is the resident bishop for the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church. But before he was elected bishop in 2004, he was dean of the chapel at Duke University – one of the most prestigious universities in America. He tells this story from his days at Duke about the day the students received a representative from Teach America on campus. Teach America tries to recruit some of America’s most talented college graduates to go into some of America’s worst public schools. This is how Teach America tries to make America a better place.
This woman stood up in front of a large group of Duke students, a larger group than I would suppose would come out to this sort of thing, and said to them, “I can tell by looking at you that I have probably come to the wrong place. Somebody told me this was a BMW campus and I can believe it looking at you. Just looking at you, I can tell that all of you are a success. Why would you all be on this campus if you were not successful, if you were not going on to successful careers on Madison Avenue or Wall Street?
“And yet here I stand, hoping to talk one of you into giving away your life in the toughest job you will ever have. I am looking for people to go into the hollows of West Virginia, into the ghettos of South Los Angeles and teach in some of the most difficult schools in the world. Last year, two of our teachers were killed while on the job. And I can tell, just by looking at you, that none of you are interested in that. So go on to law school, or whatever successful thing you are planning on doing. But if by chance, some of you just happen to be interested, I’ve got these brochures here for you to tell about Teach America. Meeting’s over.”
With that, Willimon said, the whole group stood up, pushed into the aisles, shoved each other aside, ran down to the front, and fought over those brochures. That evening I learned an important insight, says Willimon: “People want something more out of life than even happiness. People want to be part of an adventure. People want to be part of a project greater than their lives.”
That’s what the disciples had signed up for – an adventure. After all, its not everyday that somebody calls out to you to leave your ordinary lives behind and follow them. The disciples were ordinary enough, they were fishermen & tax collectors, young and old, single and married – they were ordinary people with ordinary hopes and dreams for their lives. But Jesus called them to leave their ordinary selves behind – and they did. He gave them little more information than “I am going to make you fishers of men” – although they may not have known what that meant. But though they didn’t fully understand his words, they couldn’t mistake his power. He spoke with power. He acted with power. And it didn’t take long for other people to start noticing, too. Pretty soon lots of people were following Jesus. The disciples became big shots because they were so close to Him. So many people began hanging around Jesus, in fact, that He often had to get away with the Twelve Disciples to have some quiet time to teach them. On this day, they learned that when they signed up for this adventure, they signed up for a whole lot more than they originally bargained for.
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” Whoa – back up a minute there, Jesus. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Save your life by losing it. What is that supposed to mean?
In these words, we find, surprise(!), that God’s definition of ‘a successful life’ is different from our own. In order for your life to be a success by God’s standards, I have three words for you (and they are not my own, by the way) – they are LOSE, PAY and STAY.
First of all, LOSE. Nobody likes to lose – especially me. I get it honest, though. I can actually remember as a child playing old Atari games against my Dad. My Dad never played, so I would usually beat up on him at the start of the game. But after I got a big lead, I would start feeling sorry for my dad (after all he did take time out to play with me), and I would let up, not play as hard, and before you know it he would come back and beat me – and then I would cry. The funny thing is that I would feel all sorry for my Dad when I was beating him, but he never felt sorry for me when he beat me. Maybe he figured that losing built character. Or maybe he was just glad to win. I don’t know. But in order to win in God’s game, we have to lose – we have to LOSE SELF-GLORY.