Article by: Jennifer Barritt, Middle School Youth Pastor
The little girl looked at her mother with a grin. “Mommy! I love you!”
Her mother immediately knew what was coming. “I love you too, Sweetie.”
“I love you more!”
“I love you most!”
The mother tried something different this time. “I love you more than chocolate!”
“Ooh. I love you more than chips!”
“I love you even more than the entire world!”
“I love you even more than I love Jesus!”
As if the sun went out, the entire room grew colder as the mother’s face grew stern. The little girl wasn’t sure what she’d done, but she knew it wasn’t good.
Slowly, carefully, the mother said, “Oh no. We can’t ever say that we love anything or anyone more than you love Jesus?”
The little girl digested that for a moment before asking, “But Mommy, don’t you love me more than you love Jesus?”
If possible, the room seemed to chill a further degree as the mother said, “I love you so much, all the way to just beneath my love for Jesus, but I love Jesus more than anything in this whole, wide world, and you need to learn to love him that much too.”
It was not an easy lesson. I was six years old, maybe seven, when I had that conversation with my mother. I recall the confusion and hurt I felt, realizing my mother loved someone more than me. Since then, people have suggested that my mother was wrong to say it, that she could have said it another way. Why couldn’t she have said she loved me the same as she loved Jesus? These friendly, kindhearted people were trying so hard to be helpful but were perhaps missing the true point of this lesson, and let me tell you, this was one of the most powerful lessons I was ever taught.
So, what was the lesson?
Have you ever heard the biblical phrase from Luke: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26) For first-time Bible readers, this can be a stunner. Do you recall the first time you ever read it? Perhaps you were already wiser than me, or maybe you had a teacher reading it alongside you, explaining all the while, but I did a complete doubletake. What on earth could Jesus mean? Jesus wants me to hate my family? Most of you reading this will probably be thinking, No! Of course, Jesus doesn’t want you to hate your family! He’s all about love. And – you’re absolutely right. The words are calling us to do so much more than hate. Instead, they call us – command us – to love more than we’ve ever loved before. To love God so much that by comparison, our love for the people we love most appears to be like hate. Wow!
The difficulty, of course, is that in our worldliness, we have become accustomed to the idea that we can be lifted to the same level as God. That is why so many people have struggled with the lesson my mother taught me all those years ago. You can’t tell your child you love something or someone more than you love them! They’re too important. We’re too important as people, individuals and humanity!
We shut our ears to the idea that we are not special, that we are not all-important, and that we are not practically perfect. We cringe at words like sin, punishment, discipline, judgement, and repentance because many don’t honestly believe that God deserves to be in the judgement seat, that he has the right to judge us, and we are justly accused. We ignore Paul the Apostle’s charge to “… not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” (Romans 12:3) We forget Moses’ similar charge to Israel: “Do not say to yourself, ‘The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.'” (Deuteronomy 9-10) … before he goes on to list all the ways Israel failed between leaving Egypt and entering the Promised Land. We have raised ourselves; we have raised humanity not to be seated at the Father’s right hand through Jesus Christ but to be sitting on the throne where only God rightly belongs.
But, Beloved, we “have been raised to a new life with Christ” so that we can “set our sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honour at God’s right hand,” rather than the “things of earth.” (Colossians 3:1-17)
When we become believers, we are not always warned to count the cost of following Jesus; the cost of complete obedience to Jesus. Is it a costly thing? It will cost us all that we are! We know to put to death early things like sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed, idolatry, anger, rage, malicious behaviour, slander, dirty language, and lying… to name a few from Colossians 3… but what if the cost is the call to love Jesus even more than you love your child?
Those of you who have climbed the mountain with Abraham and have laid your Issac on the stone altar know whether or not you will still praise God even if he asks you for everything. Perhaps your battle has been similar to Job’s. Everything is lost, taken from you, and you still choose to praise God. Your daughter chooses a lifestyle not in accordance with God’s truth, and you are sometimes put in positions where you could so easily compromise to make sure she still feels accepted. Your business partner asks you to help him with some shady dealings, and you risk losing him, even the business if you choose to honour God instead.
The most poignant life lessons are never easy. They are, however, crucial if we want to continue shining Jesus’ light to the world and our loved ones. More importantly, they reveal to us where our treasure truly lies.
Our challenge today is to eschew anything that steals our love from Him, who so rightly deserves to be loved above all else. Today, is there something or someone you love so much that you’re missing out on what Jesus has for you? Are you so in love with money that you hold back from giving? Are you so in love with comfort that you refuse to go where Jesus is calling you? Are you so in love with your happy family that you compromise God’s truth to try and hold it all together?
Today, is there anything you wouldn’t give up if God asked you to? Could I humbly encourage you to lay that person, situation, or thing at the foot of the cross? To trust God with it and press on as a follower of Jesus, who endured the cross for the joy set before him? (Hebrews 12:2)
God bless you, Beloved.