I wonder if any of Alastair’s readers engage in Lent disciplines. Probably you’re all very reformed and if you do anything, it’s probably reading through the whole bible (or Calvin’s Institutes) in six weeks. But for the average man on the Clapham omnibus, the most common Lent discipline is still ‘giving something up.’
I’ve done this in the past, and it’s hard. Whether it’s chocolate or the internet, those six weeks can feel like a very long time when you’re always thinking of the thing you’re missing. But at least you know it’s only for a limited time and you can gorge yourself come Easter Day. It’s infinitely harder to give things up permanently. Try asking anyone who’s ever stopped smoking.
Jesus calls his followers to give up much more than the occasional treat, or favourite pastime. He calls us to give up everything most dear to us – even our own most dearly loved families and homes. That’s scary. But, as always with the Lord, the promise offered to those who take up the call is so great as to overwhelm the hardship we may suffer.
Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.”
Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.
However generously we give of what we have to follow the Lord, he is more generous in what he gives back to us.
These words of Jesus have been close to my heart for the last couple of years as I have been thinking about the decision to move to America and they have been a great comfort to me now that I am here. I’m not a natural traveller, I have no curiosity about life on the other side of the world and moving here has felt like a big sacrifice in terms of relationships with the people and places I know and love.
But Jesus’ promise has proved itself true. There are people here who are to me as brother and sister, mother and father. There are places that are becoming important to me as I build a history with them. For everything that I have given up, he has given me back manifold.
and from these dear friends:
Hard as it has been to make this move, still Peter’s words are a rebuke to me. I have not ‘left everything’ to follow Jesus. Neither in my sinful heart, nor in my material life do I feel anything like this sense of full abandonment. So I pray that this Lent season will be one of learning to leave everything behind to follow him.
…and in the age to come, eternal life.
For now, the blessings Jesus promises are mingled with the hardships and persecutions he also warns of. Part of what Peter expresses is that we remember, and in our hearts hold onto, what we have given up. Like those who have given up chocolate for Lent eyeing the Crème Egg with longing, we let our minds linger on the job, the home, the family, the car, whatever might-have-beens we hold most dear. And these loom largest when the life of following Christ is hardest, when the promised persecutions hurt deepest.
So it’s wonderful that this promise doesn’t end with the fulfilment in this age. There is an age to come which won’t be marked by persecution or by wistful longing. There will be no homesickness then, for we will be at home with the Lord, forever. There will be no one to wrest us away from our families or our lands. There will be no sickness, nor mourning, nor crying nor pain.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
Ros Clarke is an OT PhD student at Westminster Theological Seminary and Scholar in Residence at Cresheim Valley Church. All of which cuts down on time for sewing, knitting and watching American Idol. You can find out more about her thoughts on the bible, life and the weirdness of America at http://ihaveaquestion.blog.co.uk.