READ : Mark 8:35
How can you find something by losing it? Well, the answer to that question gets at the very heart of what it means to have salvation through Jesus Christ.
“How to Find Yourself” Sounds like a funny kind of search, doesn’t it? Someone asks, “How did you find yourself this morning?” You say, “Well, I just threw back the covers, and there I was!”
But for many people, it doesn’t seem as simple as that. Here’s a young man, confused and erratic; he can’t keep a job. We say about him: “He needs to find himself.” Or here’s a woman, insecure, flighty, evidently miserable. Someone remarks, “So-and-so hasn’t found herself.” The “finding,” for some, seems painfully difficult.
What do we mean when we speak like that? What’s involved in the process of finding ourselves? In part, at least, it’s a search for identity. A young man wants to know who he is. Maybe he’s been quite dependent on his parents or in almost constant conflict with them. Is he simply an extension of who they are? Or is he a distinct person in his own right?
A girl is closely tied in with a group of her peers. She talks as they talk, wears what they wear, shares their tastes in everything. There comes a time when she wonders, “Who am I? Am I simply a mirror image of all of these others? Are we interchangeable? Or am I somehow unique? And if I am, what makes me that way? How do I discover that?”
It may be also a search for direction. Many people don’t know where they’re headed in life. They aren’t sure what their gifts are. They haven’t discovered what they feel at home doing. They have no idea what contribution they are meant to make. They seem to be groping for a sense of purpose. Maybe they move around from one place to another, from one job to a different one, from one relationship to the next. They can’t seem to get their bearings. They struggle to get the ship of their lives “on course.”
For many, the effort to find themselves is mostly a search for fulfillment. They don’t feel satisfied. Their best hopes fail to materialize. They feel empty, deprived. “There has to be something better than this!” they tell themselves. “Whatever life is about, I seem to be missing it.” The yuppie ads demand: “Who says you can’t have it all?” These seekers are not that greedy. They’ll settle for a lot less, but they would like to be all they can be. And they don’t know how.
Here’s a word for each of us about finding ourselves, a word from our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s hardly what we’re expecting to hear. His counsel seems jarring at first. Listen: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35). Now I say that’s jolting and different because what Jesus rules out is the very road we are inclined to take. We all seek in one way or another to “save ourselves.”
Our Lord recognized saving ourselves as an almost constant temptation. Do you remember those experiences he had in the wilderness?
“If you are the Son of God,” suggested the tempter, “command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
For a man who had gone without food for weeks, that prospect was inviting, to say the least. It was a way of saving himself.
Again, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from the pinnacle of the temple. The crowd will love you for it. It will be a sign of God’s special protection over you. What a quick, dramatic way to win their hearts! Make it easy on yourself, Jesus” (Matt. 4:6).
Or again, “All these I will give you if you will fall down and worship me.” (Matt. 4:9). In other words, “compromise just this once. You can have all the kingdoms of the world without the shame and pain of rejection. Save yourself!” That was what he had to say “no” to again and again.
He heard the same siren song in the whispered plans of the multitude to make him a king. And what of Peter’s well-meaning advice after Jesus had prophesied his coming rejection and death? Peter objected, “God forbid, Lord, this shall never happen to you!” That is, “Don’t take the hard road, Jesus! Save your self instead!”
The taunt became a kind of chorus all around him as he hung on the cross. “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself . . . He saved others; he cannot save himself . . . Are you not the Christ? Save yourself, and us!” But no – in the wilderness and among the crowds, in the garden and on Golgotha, Jesus refused to “find” his life by saving himself.
How does the temptation come to you and me? Perhaps it’s to save ourselves from blame. When things go wrong in your family, it was your wife’s fault, or your husband’s. Your parents or those children of yours, they must bear the responsibility. “Don’t look at me. I’m not to blame,” you insist. When someone needs to take the heat, we’ll be sure to find a scape-goat. We’ll save ourselves.
Perhaps it’s ridicule we fear most. Who wants to be laughed at? So when truth is unpopular, when loyalty to Christ is met with sneers, we’ll be discreet. If challenged about where we stand, we’ll say nothing. We won’t run the risk of being scorned. We’ll quietly, deftly, save ourselves.
In more ordinary ways, we’ll spare ourselves inconvenience. Your children need you; your spouse craves a listening ear. But you’re tired and out of sorts. You’d rather not be bothered. Friends drain you with their troubles and sorrows, so you pull away from them. A colleague at work pleads for your help, but you haven’t the time. Can’t people see that you’re busy – busy saving yourself?
But Jesus wants us to know that we don’t find ourselves that way.
In trying to discover who you are, you may trample over the feelings of your loved ones, but that doesn’t help. When you take the easy road to compromise, it leads nowhere. You find that you’ve lost your way. And when you betray your husband or wife or children, when you stifle your conscience, all to win some elusive “fulfillment,” you’re bound to be disappointed at the last. When you try to find your life by saving yourself, you can end up losing everything.
LOSING TO WIN
Here’s how to find yourself, according to Jesus: “Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” He has just been telling the crowds and his disciples what it means to follow him. “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” That doesn’t sound like maximizing yourself, does it? It seems the opposite. Jesus calls for renunciation. He expects you to say “no” to yourself, to renounce all right to run your own life. Instead of saving yourself, he demands that you take up your cross. Anyone knows what that means. If you have a cross on your back, you’re headed out somewhere to die. The call of Jesus, if it means anything at all, means radically refusing to save ourselves.
Is our Lord saying that we aren’t meant to find ourselves? Is that whole quest misguided? What about a sense of identity? Is it wrong to search for that? What about direction, purpose for our lives? Shouldn’t we be concerned about that? And fulfillment? Are we to give up all hope of finding wholeness and happiness, satisfaction and freedom?
No, it’s not the quest that’s wrong; it’s the road we take to get there. Never forget it, friends; God is on the side of joy. He wants us to be happy more than we could ever want that for ourselves. He has breathed all our potential into us; why should he want to see it squelched? And didn’t Jesus say that he had come so that we might have life and have it more abundantly?
But the Lord knows something about us that we don’t know, or at least that we are inclined to forget. He knows that we can’t find ourselves by self-indulgence. We don’t gain our lives by trying to preserve them at others’ expense. Strangely, we never find joy by “looking out for Number 1.”
Instead, it happens this way, says Jesus: “Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Self-denial for its own sake is no virtue. Renunciation without a higher purpose is a pathetic waste. Denying yourselves is glorious only when you do it to follow Jesus. He wants you to say “no” to yourself so that you can say a great “yes” to him and his lordship. Losing your life makes sense and has a future only when you do it for his sake.
What does he call us to but to take the risks of love? He took them. Oh, how he took them! Because he cared for us, he laid aside his glory and came to share our life, our lot. He saw us burdened with guilt and stooped under the load. He saw us doomed to death and chose to die himself in our place. He risked everything for love and lost his life in the process. Or so it seemed. That’s what all the onlookers thought, at least. That was the end of him. “Poor wretch! He saved others but he could not save himself!” They didn’t know what was coming, did they? God raised Jesus from death to endless life, exalted him to the throne of the universe. After enduring the cross and despising the shame, our Lord found great joy.
He offers that now to us. “Here’s the secret of finding yourself,” he says. “It’s in belonging. It’s in giving yourself away.” When you recognize the love that has come to you in him, when you know yourself as valued and welcomed through him, and offer yourself in glad response, then you’re on the road to life.
But he says more: “Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” This commitment to Christ is personal, but it’s not private in character, not vertical only. He wants you and me to give ourselves to him so that we can take the risks of love for others. He wants us to pass on what we’ve received, loving as we’ve been loved, forgiving as we’ve been forgiven, caring as we’ve been cared for. He wants us to offer our lives for the sake of the gospel, so that the word of God’s salvation can be shared with all the world’s peoples, so that those from every tribe and tongue and nation can be gathered as his disciples. That’s what this ministry of Words of Hope is all about, sharing the good new with everyone, making it possible for every person on the face of the earth to know who Jesus is and what he has done for them. God wants us to lose ourselves, in other words, for the sake of Jesus Christ and in his great cause. He wants us to pour all our life’s energies into something far bigger and grander than our own security and success.
And where people do that, where they forget themselves to follow him, where they risk themselves in loyalty and love for other people, a splendid miracle takes place. Without realizing that it’s happening, they find themselves. They gain what they had seemed to lose. They discover and enjoy, beyond all telling, their true life.
Oh, friends, that’s the beautiful, open secret. Trust in Jesus Christ. Concentrate on pleasing him. Pour out your life in loving ministry to others, in witness to Jesus Christ and his grace. Surprisingly, wonderfully, along that road you’ll find the real “you” and the fulfillment you’ve always longed for. Believe it, friends, that is the faithful promise of the Lord.