Jesus doesn’t give us any room to misunderstand what it means to follow him: following Jesus means surrender. “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways…”
Ezra, chapter 4; Psalms 113 and 127; Luke, chapter 9
Psalm 127:1-2 (NLT):
Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted. Unless the Lord protects a city, guarding it with sentries will do not good. It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones.
Luke 9:23-25 (NLT):
Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?
Unless the Lord Builds the House…
Yesterday, I reflected on Ezra 3, and the priorities of those who rebuilt the altar before starting work on the Temple itself (“Getting Our Priorities Right”). Today’s passages reinforce the importance of priorities, with two additional illustrations. First, the psalmist tells us that trying to move forward according to our plans will lead to failure if God is not at the center of our plans. Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted. Unless the Lord protects a city, guarding it with sentries will do no good. Unfortunately, we often forget this basic truth.
Unless the Lord builds the house affirms that we need to seek God’s will, not expect God to “bless” our will. Even when we think what we’re doing is “right,” we still need God’s direction. Notice that the psalmist does not say, “Unless the Lord approves the building of the house…” No, the statement is, unless the Lord builds the house… Ultimately, we must remember that everything comes from God, and everything belongs to God. When we go our own way – no matter how well-intentioned we may be – our work is wasted.
Turn from Your Selfish Ways
Jesus affirms that we must seek God’s way instead of our own. The fact is that Jesus affirmed that throughout his ministry, not just on one or two occasions:
- He taught us to pray, “May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10)
- “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:33)
- “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21)
- “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God” (Luke 12:21)
- And, in today’s passage, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me”
Jesus’ statement is in Luke’s account of Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah, and Jesus’ response. The disciples may have believed that Jesus was “the Messiah sent from God” (Luke 9:20), as Peter declared – but they didn’t understand what that meant. They likely expected the Messiah to reestablish the earthly kingdom of Israel and restore the Promised Land to God’s people, the Jews. We see evidence of those expectations later in chapter 9:
- The disciples arguing with each other about which of them was the greatest (9:46)
- John boasting that they had stopped someone from acting in Jesus’ name because he wasn’t “part of the group” (9:49)
- James and John asking Jesus if they should “call down fire from heaven” to burn up a Samaritan village which didn’t welcome Jesus (9:54)
Those attitudes help us to understand why Jesus said that anyone who wants to follow him must turn from your selfish ways. We need to be vigilant every day against Satan’s attempts to get us to substitute our judgment and our desires for God’s will. That’s why Jesus taught us to pray, “Your will be done.” And that’s why he modeled that kind of surrender for us (Philippians 2:6-11). Daily surrender and obedience is at the core of following Jesus!
Father, thank you for reminding us that we must turn from our selfish ways each day. Satan is persistent, and he is clever. He will always try to convince us to substitute our will for yours. Guard our hearts and minds against his attacks and his deceptions. Unless you build our spiritual house, our work is wasted. Unless you guard our hearts, no amount of “sentries” will protect us. Help us to surrender to your will for us today, and every day. Amen.