“If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.” John 12:26
This verse gets my attention tonight. It makes me question where I’ve been, where I’ve spent my time today. Have I served my Lord today? Have I been standing and walking with Him? Did my footsteps walk in step with His. Did my vision follow His? Or did I just keep Him running in the background, like an application on my desktop, as I went about my business today?
I can’t ignore this verse, though my flesh wants to try. Because where He is, suffering and death generally aren’t far behind. Of course, He overcomes these curses. But in the natural, where He stands is often with suffering and death. And if I am honest with myself, these are the things I try to separate from. It’s not comfortable to be near them.
Everything about the American dream seeks to rise above these things. It’s not wrong to want to avoid them. Jesus Himself wanted to remove them. But how do we go about it? Do we seek to have our stones be turned into bread? Do we seek to put God to the test as we demand to receive what we believe in our hearts we rightfully deserve?
These are difficult questions, provided we are willing to unpack the soul’s suitcase and, with the Holy Spirit’s help, honestly examine the contents to discover what need to let go of. However, normally we are content as Christians to walk around and carry our leather “Christ-packs,” which are filled up with theology and intentions that haven’t taken root yet. We have pamphlets and e-books that assure us and others that we want to serve and follow Jesus. We even have one pamphlet tucked away to assure us that we receive honor from God.
But where are we standing? Where have I been standing today? What have I been doing?
I went out for dinner tonight. I purchased a bottle of apple juice at the gas station after filling up my car with a full tank of gas. I emailed PDF documents to complete a business transaction. I even went to a vending machine at school today and let it suck up two of my dollar bills.
How many people in the world could have done these things today?
There is so much suffering in the world today, much of it physical and much of it spiritual, too. But I’m growing to believe more and more that simply looking at and studying the suffering is not enough, even if it is succinctly documented for us in PowerPoint or Keynote, even if the powerful and dire images are delivered by .jpg or streaming video. We just don’t possess on our own the fullness of strength and righteousness of Christ to act in power. At least yet. But we have to walk by faith and into transformation.
I believe a lot of that transformative journey has to do with where our eyes are fixed. It doesn’t work to focus on the suffering. We have to be gazing at and walking toward Jesus. Something happens in that spiritual transaction that I cannot explain. All I know is that, when I am doing so, I can walk with the assurance that I am with Him. And somehow it doesn’t even matter where I am, even if I am standing near, or in, suffering.
Awful things are going to happen, things which will have no solution in the flesh. When one of the prophet-followers of Elisha realized he had lost his axe head which did not even belong to him, he cried out and bemoaned his human predicament and failings. It fell into the water and was gone. His eyes had been production-oriented and goal-oriented. He wasn’t trying to accomplish evil things. Very simply, his vision was just off.
“But as one was felling a beam, the axe head fell into the water; and he cried out and said, “Alas, my master! For it was borrowed.” 2 Kings 6:5
All of this man’s hope was swallowed and engulfed in death. There was no way, he reasoned, that things could ever be put right again, that he could ever recover what was now lost.
And so what did Elisha, this man of God, do? He threw into the water a branch, which represented the work of Christ, and caused that heavy iron weight to do the impossible: it floated to the surface.
Whether we want to or not, we all have to stand with Christ in His death. We may not feel drawn to it. We may even seek to avoid it for a time. But we must learn that He has overcome death and all that is impossible. We can never learn the meaning of His redemption and power until we are willing to stand with Him in the suffering.
His promise to us, as we learn to stand with Him, is that our vision will change. Because if we are standing with our Master, we will receive honor.
So what happened after the axe rose to the surface?
He said, “Take it up for yourself.” So he put out his hand and took it. 2 Kings 6:6
We need to grab ahold of this promise by moving in obedience. Let us not run to others for help in our distress. Let us not sulk in remorse and pity. Let us not beat ourselves up with condemnation. Instead, let us look up into the eyes of Jesus and behold all that He is doing now and all that He has already done.
He will honor us. He already has. Don’t believe it yet? What has He commanded you to take up? Just reach out and grab your own personal axe head. And then see what happens after you receive those things which you had written off as lost and dead. Behold, a new vision rises to the surface!