By Michael Risley
When I was in seminary, I attended Lake Avenue Congregational Church in Pasadena, California. Ray Ortlund was our Senior Pastor and our church family was blessed by God through his leadership and teaching. One of many things that I remember Pastor Ray exhorting us to do was to “Go hard after God!” Basically, he was telling us: make God your first priority; love Him with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind; and demonstrate your faith and love through your obedience to Him. In other words: don’t mess around, don’t be half-hearted; don’t get sidetracked; and don’t be lukewarm. A passage of Scripture that speaks of this perspective of going hard after God is Ephesians 5:15-17 which says, “So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.”
For us, as seniors, who want to “Go hard after God” and to finish our lives well, we need wisdom and perseverance in light of the difficulty in following Jesus and doing what the Lord wants us to do. In Mark 8:34-37, Jesus says to us, “If any of you wants to be My follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross and follow Me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for My sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?”
The Christians in Rome, the original audience of Mark’s gospel, knew that the cross was a savagely violent form of execution. When a prisoner carried his own cross to the place of execution, it signified submission to Roman authority. Jesus used the image of carrying the cross as an example of the ultimate submission required of those who follow Him; expressing a willingness to endure whatever may come. This Scripture teaches us that we should be willing to lose our life for the sake of devoting ourselves completely to Christ and to the Good News of salvation in Him–because nothing can compare to what we gain by choosing to follow Him.
Friends, don’t waste your life by missing the opportunity to make your life count for Jesus. Many people spend all of their energy seeking self-satisfaction and pleasure. However, even if we work hard and get what we want, at the end of our lives we will sense that our lives are empty and hollow. We will sadly realize we did not finish life well.
In contrast, if we are willing to give up our self-centeredness and instead live sacrificially for Christ–obeying His Word and helping others to know and follow Him–we will experience a depth of fulfillment, joy and peace which words cannot describe. We will have finished our lives on earth knowing life abundant now and then glorious Heaven forever.
When I was in high school, I played football; I wasn’t an All-Star, but I enjoyed the game. One thing that I didn’t enjoy were the practices, especially in the hot summer before school started in the fall. The first week of practice was called “Hell Week.” Now I don’t believe my coaches knew much about the Bible, but they did understand something about Hell. Let me just say that if you saw the running and training we did, and typically the gasping and vomiting it produced, you knew we were either stupid, insane, or willing to pay the price to play ball! You also might understand why the coaches were continually yelling, “Don’t quit! Keep going! You can do this!” When I think back on my years in high school, this training in football and the decisions to keep going and not quit have helped me immensely in the challenges of following Jesus. I have realized now that the cost of going hard after God is high, but the cost of not following and obeying Him is even higher!
Here are the words of a familiar hymn for most of us, and it speaks of the serious and courageous nature of a sincere faith in Jesus Christ:
I have decided to follow Jesus…no turning back, no turning back.
The world behind me, the cross before me…no turning back, no turning back.
Tho’ none go with me, I still will follow…no turning back, no turning back.
Will you decide now to follow Jesus?…no turning back, no turning back.