Over the weekend I went to the EQUIP Ministry Wives Conference. (This was a little cheeky because whilst I am in ministry and I am a wife, I am not technically a ministry wife!) The conference topic was ‘Beyond Boundaries’ and I walked away with two helpful (but slightly tricky to integrate) pieces of application. Firstly, ‘boundaries’, the idea of which comes from the enormously popular series of books by Cloud & Townsend, are good commonsense to help me serve Jesus long term. I do a job with NO boundaries built in. There is no street, no fence, no garden separating me from the women I serve – we are all under one roof! To be able to care for them it is good for me to insert some boundaries – some limitations – that will help me to rest, to love my husband, to recover emotionally from my work – so that I can prevent burning out. In this way, I pray I might have many decades left of serving Jesus and his people. Secondly, whilst boundaries are wise and helpful, they are not primarily for my benefit. I am not to establish boundaries to protect myself – because the call to follow Jesus is a call to deny myself! I am not good at boundaries. I found it really helpful to see that some boundaries are wise for ministry life, because they help me to serve Jesus. Some other boundaries are much more about serving SELF – about protecting my self, my time, my heart – in a way that keeps others out.
Enter Tim Chester. The section I read this week tied in so perfectly that I am still feeling overwhelmed by it! In Section 2 of ‘The Ordinary Hero’, Tim writes about this denial of self - of how the call to follow Jesus is a call to follow the way of the cross. A call to die.
For some sisters around the world, this is alarmingly straightforward. In many countries, following Jesus is tantamount to government persecution, rejection from family and friends, unemployment, and martyrdom. For me, well, it is unlikely the Australian government will launch into a wholesale persecution of Christians. It is unlikely that anyone in my white, middle class family will determine that I need to die because I am a minister of the gospel. So what is MY call to martyrdom? Well, in answer, Tim quotes Jesus’ words in Luke 9:23: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’
So what does that look like? Chapter 6, ‘Everyday Martyrdom’ gives us some ideas. He asks, ‘what does the way of the cross mean when…’ and lists a series of daily moments. …When someone wrongs me? …when I’m tired and someone asks for help? …when people don’t respond to my hard work on their behalf? …when friends sneer at my faith? …when the washing up needs doing at home? To each of these questions (and more) Tim provides a quotation from the Bible, calling us to follow Jesus’ example of sacrificial death. I must confess, reading this, I felt the sting of my own sinfulness. Sometimes my boundaries are wise, but sometimes I think they might be excuses so that I don’t have to do something hard or unpleasant or undesirable. I hope you are with me in feeling the size and weight of the challenge of following the way of the cross!
As a balm for this sting, in the next two chapters, Tim calls us to consider the great joy and privilege of following Christ. He writes, ‘All the love I feel for Jesus attaches itself to the way of the cross… Why do I want to follow this hard road? Because it represents all that makes my Saviour attractive. I want to be like him.’
My husband has introduced me to the world of the TV show ‘Star Trek’. Whilst I have spent more hours watching this than I care to mention, there is a piece of wisdom I want to share. In the ‘Star Trek’ universe, there is a race of warriors known as the Klingons. They are proud and traditional, and their ability to fight is the predominant value of their culture. They have a proverb which captures their fighting spirit: ‘Today is a good day to die.’
Sisters, today we follow Jesus. We follow the way of the cross. Today is a good day to die.