It was about this time last year. I was still in my first trimester with Noah, and was completely exhausted by about 7pm each day. If I went to bed too early, though, I would wake up super-early, and then the next day I would be even more tired, so in the evenings I would usually read to keep myself awake until at least 9.
Well, one day in particular was just brutal; I was mentally and physically beyond exhaustion. I’m not typically one to enjoy sitting and watching much television, but this particular evening, the only thing I could imagine doing while waiting for 9:00 to roll around was sitting and watching a movie. There was no way my eyeballs could handle scrolling back and forth to read, and no way my fingertips could handle browsing the internet. I really don’t think my words can sufficiently convey how desperate I was this particular day to collapse onto the couch and just be mindlessly entertained.
So. After we got our son in bed, I trudged down the stairs, grabed my laptop, and crumpled onto the couch to stream a movie. I found some romantic comedy on Netflix, put on my headphones, and started watching.
After about 15 minutes or so, Jim asked if I was streaming something. The apartment we were in at the time had slow internet, and so his football game wasn’t streaming as well as it had been before I started my movie.
I answered, “Yep,” and went back to watching my movie…
A little later Jim said, “You know, the more things we have streaming at once, the slower it will be.”… “Yep.”
Now, in my mind, I knew that the thing to do was to die to myself by turning off my movie and letting Jim finish the football game. But I didn’t care. As ashamed as I am to admit it, I vividly remember knowing full well that that is what I, as a Believer, should do, and saying to myself, “I don’t even want to think about that right now.”
Instead, I justified myself. I mean, I was pregnant for cyring out loud! – I deserve this! I never stream stuff, and, the football game Jim had on was one he didn’t even care about! He just had it on because it was the game that was going at the time. Not to mention it was just on in the background while he was reading on his computer! This was a no-brainer!! I had every livin’ right to watch a movie that particular evening, so I did, and it was fabulous.
The next morning, I made some coffee and went into our laundry/sewing/play room to read. I was reading in Matthew 6: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” And the next part of the verse read very clearly for me: “You cannot serve both God and Rachel.”* At that moment, the events of the previous evening flashed through my mind.
I’ve known that particular verse of Scripture for years, but that particular morning, the part that says, “you will be devoted to one and despise the other” made full sense. As I was busy serving myself the previous evening, I knew that obedience to God would mean dying to self and serving my husband. But instead, I had disdain for the very thought. I despised the idea of serving God in that particular way at that particular time, and so despised God.
Now, I love my precious Savior. I talk to Him all the time. He helps me through countless moments every day. It broke my heart to think that I had at that time (and every day in various ways), despised Him.
But at the same time, I really really love serving Rachel. She’s really demanding, but oh so fun to serve… But no one can serve two masters.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.’” (Mt 16:24-25).
Jesus invites us to find life. Find life by losing it. That’s how His kingdom works. It’s waaay above what the wisdom of this world could ever come up with. Dying to Rachel would mean such freedom for me! She makes demands constantly, and if I could tear away from having to serve her, just imagine how fruitful my life could be! I would be free to live for that which is infinitely more valuable and worthy than myself.
Of course, the problem is that it’s so stinkin’ hard to die to self! However, Jesus doesn’t ask us to do it alone. While on Earth, He daily let go of His status as God to take the role of a servant. Daily took up His cross. And although no longer walking the Earth, He continues to serve us daily, behind the scenes. So when He invites us to take up our cross and serve, He is inviting us to accompany Him.
In my Christian life, by far the most precious moments of fellowship with God have not been during worship services, or climbing scenic mountaintops. They have been in the midst of unglamorously serving, and particularly when the people I’m serving are unappreciative (just as I rarely appreciate what Jesus does for me on a daily basis). Those moments often occur when I’m doing laundry, or changing yet another diaper of an uncooperative child, or cleaning up a stranger’s mess. It’s the least glamorous moments – during times that my heart naturally wants to be bitter, but when I, instead, uncharacteristically remember to turn my eyes away from myself and I realize that Jesus is right alongside me, sleeves rolled up, serving these very same people knowing he won’t receive gratitude.There is an incredible bond that forms when two people are suffering in the trenches together, bleeding and sweating (whether literally or figuratively) for a common cause.
The Apostle Paul spoke of this very thing as one of the things He counts all as loss so that he could attain: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death (the continual dying to self), and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead (not the physical resurrection that is guaranteed for all believers, but the new, “resurrected” life that Romans 6:4-7 speaks of – one not enslaved to sin and self) .” (Phil 3:10-11)
I love the fact that only in our God’s upside-down Kingdom would dying bring life. Only there would the King of Kings be a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. And as follows, only there would suffering and dying bring the sweetest companionship with Him.
Still, it takes a conscious choice. A day-by-day, moment-by-moment choice of who our master will be. We have no shortage of masters to choose from, but we can only serve one. Oh, that narrow road.
*The passage reads, “You cannot serve both God and money,” but it was clear what message the living and active Word had for me that morning.