It was not a difficult choice. At 15 years old when God turned my life over, I was all in. It was not a difficult choice. When God called me to ministry I was all in. If God called me to Zambia, I was ready. If he called to China, I was ready. When God called our family to Okinawa, we put little thought to the sacrifice we made. We were all in. God was worth following to the ends of the earth. To Oklahoma, yes. To Louisiana, absolutely. The guiding theme of our family is a commitment to Jesus words:
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?
There have been times where the sting of leaving everything behind has hurt. Learning to be first time parents while living in a foreign country was difficult. Jesus was worth it. Walking through depression on multiple occasions and the feelings of isolation in ministry were challenging. Jesus was worth it.
This season in our lives has introduced us to a new challenge. The emotions might be as great as any season I have faced up unto this point. My grandmother is facing her last days in a long battle with Alzheimer’s. Soon, she will be freed from her body of death to join Jesus and experience the glory of heaven. My family is a close family. Growing up we would visit my grandparents every Monday night. Even now, my family lives within blocks of one another. In this time, I sit 10 hours away watching my mom struggle with losing her last parent.
Here is where I am walking. I am struggling with guilt. This past week I loved on two families walking through the loss of loved ones. I prayed over a saintly senior woman and kissed her forehead as I knew her time on earth was short. I ministered to the people God had called me to, all the while feeling the guilt that I could not minister to those that are closest to me. I am struggling because I cannot give to my family what I give to the church.
Our church is good to us. I know in an instant they would tell me to do what I need to do to take care of my family. But our home is Vidalia. Our children go to school Monday through Friday, and I preach on Sunday. Taking off to San Antonio is just not possible all the time.
When Jesus talked about following him, he called us, he calls me, to sacrifice for him. His words hit home today, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” No, I don’t hate my parents, but following Jesus is costly. Jesus is worth it.
The calling of Jesus is difficult. The Bible tells this story of an encounter with Jesus “To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’”
I have learned the most difficult struggle of ministry is not the financial sacrifice. God always provides. It is not the stress of business meetings and church politics. God is in control. For us, the struggle of ministry (and probably most pastors) is going where God calls you. It is living hundreds of miles away from those you love. It is building friendships in a place where most people have been friends from birth. It is ministering to your church in a way in which you cannot minister to your family. It is living in a place where you don’t always have a natural support system. Following Jesus is costly. Following Jesus is worth it.
We love our church. God has been gracious to give us friends at our church who love us. God has given us a church with many people who have accepted us and befriended us. I know in reading this, you will probably want to tell me to get on the road to San Antonio. We will when it is time. I guess this week the sacrifice of ministry became real to me. It was a sacrifice I never realized my pastor growing up made. Will you pray for your pastor? Whatever church you go to: Pray for the pastor at your church. If he has not experienced this yet, he will.
Following Jesus is costly. Following Jesus is worth it.