Confession 343: Sometimes, the Cost of Discipleship is Loneliness

You people aren’t faithful to God! Don’t you know that if you love the world, you are God’s enemies? And if you decide to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God.  Do you doubt the Scriptures that say, “God truly cares about the Spirit he has put in us”?  In fact, God treats us with even greater kindness, just as the Scriptures say,

“God opposes everyone
    who is proud,
but he is kind to everyone
    who is humble.”

 Surrender to God! Resist the devil, and he will run from you.   Come near to God, and he will come near to you. James 4:4-8 (CEB)

Yesterday, our Sunday school class was watching Part 3 of Priscilla Shirer’s series He Speaks to Me: Preparing to Hear from God.  In this section of the study, Shier stresses the importance of living a life “set apart” in order to position ourselves to hear God speak.  She makes the statement that living a life set apart can be lonely.

Later, in my husband’s sermon, the focus was on Peter’s denial of Jesus in the courtyard of the High Priest’s home.  Peter, who had just said to Jesus, “I will follow you even to death!” now sits by the light of a fire and says, “I never knew that man!!”

So often, we look at the disciples with pity and judgment.  Those silly fools, we think.  How could they not understand?  But really, are we better?  How often do we deny Christ?  How often do we turn away from those teachings we know to be good and true in order to be a part of the world?

The truth is, if we’re honest, that being a Jesus follower really is a lonely life.  And most of us don’t like feeling lonely.  We might not, like Peter, say out loud, “I never knew that man!”  But, do we need to use the words?  Or is it clear that we deny Christ in our actions?

Just so we’re clear that this is not going to be some sort of holier than thou self-righteous soapbox post, let me tell you how I deny Christ:

I deny Christ when I focus so much on winning an Xbox in a charity raffle that I forget to enjoy time with friends and family

I deny Christ every time I get irritated with my husband for something stupid and indulge in bitter thoughts

I deny Christ when, in the evenings, the kids only have time for one book and I choose Captain Underpants over a Bible story

I deny Christ each time I sit down to a meal and forget (or choose not) to give him thanks and remember him

I deny Christ when I place my kids above everything else, teaching them that they are the most important people in the world, rather than training them to be humble and mindful of the needs of others

I deny Christ every time I gossip with my friends, tearing others down and sitting in judgment rather than building up and encouraging

I deny Christ every time I sit and cringe inwardly when someone makes a sexist, racist, or homophobic remark but say nothing about it.

I deny Christ when I tune out the rest of the world and focus on my own little me bubble, forgetting that I am called to his hands and feet

I deny Christ every Sunday during the Pastoral prayer when, instead of talking to God, I make lists of things I want to get done

Do you see how easy it is to deny Christ?  And so often, our motives for denying Christ are because we don’t want to stand out.  We don’t want to be set apart from the world–we want to be in the world.  We don’t want to say to our girlfriends, “You know, I don’t really want to see that movie.”  Or, tell the sports coach, “We’re not going to participate this year  because games are held on Sunday mornings.”  We don’t want to say, “I’m not going to buy anything today because there’s nothing I really need.”  Or, “I can’t go to dinner Monday night because I have Bible study.”

The thing is, in choosing this world over Christ, we’re denying ourselves access to God’s presence, his love, his peace, and his wisdom.

Peter realized, immediately, his denial of Christ.  Scripture tells us that after his third  Peter remembered Jesus’ words and  went out of the courtyard and wept bitterly.  Fortunately for Peter, and for us, God’s mercy is unending.  Jesus appeared to Peter after his resurrection.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?”  “YES!” came Peter’s vehement reply.  “Then,” said Jesus, “Feed my sheep.”  In this moment Peter, the denier of Christ, becomes the leader of the church.  He brings Christ’s followers together, and they live in fellowship and unity.

Even though choosing Christ can seem lonely at times, the truth is that we are never alone.  Not only do we have God’s Spirit, we have a community of fellow believers around the world.  Just as Jesus sent the disciples out in pairs, so he has given us companions for the journey, too.  Who are those people in your life working to follow Christ?  Who can you go to when you are feeling alone in this journey?  Talk to them about how you’re feeling.  Read the stories in Scripture about others who have faced the loneliness of their faith.  And talk to God.  Ask him for his presence, his peace, his love, and his wisdom.

As we get ready to make our entrance once more into Holy Week, think about ways you can work to be set apart from this world, and focused on Christ.

Blessings and Peace,