A poor widow, in Jesus' days, put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. Jesus called her "Truly this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasure; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on" (Mk 12:42). This is the kind of commitment Christ calls us to: to burn our ships and follow Him completely.
What does it really mean to follow Jesus? Following Him involves four aspects of our lives.
Get Your Priorities Straight
From the beginning of His ministry, Jesus called His disciples to follow Him (Mk 1:17; Jn 1:43). One day, a scribe in the Jewish law, said to Jesus, "Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go" (Mt 8:19). Jesus challenged the man to count the cost of completely following Him. Jesus said, "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head" (v.20). This does not mean that Jesus was penniless and homeless. Rather, Jesus was letting the scribe know that the call and demands of His ministry forced Him to live as a nomad. If the scribe wanted to be Jesus' disciple, then he, too, would be moving about from place to place.
We are taught from a young age that a central priority in life ought to be finding a stable and well-paying job and working toward the American dream of home ownership. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that and fortunately, most of us can follow Jesus without living as a vagabond. But sometimes following Jesus requires us to pull up stakes and move to a new town across the state or to another state. It is simply a matter of determining what is most important in life-following Jesus wherever He may lead or planting yourself on one location that appears to be safe and secure.
Another man approached Jesus with a commitment to discipleship, but this man wanted to bury his father first (Mt 8:21). He asked Jesus to wait for him before leaving on His next ministry assignment. Jesus' response to the man was to grab his gear and go-"Follow Me"-and let those who are spiritually dead (who have no interest in following Jesus) bury those who are physically dead (v.22). Jesus was not being insensitive to the man's commitment to his family or to honor his father. But when other commitments conflict with our commitment to Christ, true disciples must always follow the Lord.
When our commitments do conflict, the struggle is not between something evil and something good but between something good and something better.
Again, it is a matter of getting our priorities straight. We do not necessarily have to become gypsies or forsake our families. But if the choice comes down to following Jesus or putting our security and families first, then our allegiance to Jesus and His will must take priority. The priority was Jesus first-all others second.
Get Rid of Your Prejudices
The Pharisees often criticized Him for keeping company with "tax collectors and sinners" (Mt 9:11). Little has changed since the first century. Tax collectors were just as despised then as IRS today. But in Jesus' day, Jewish tax collectors were considered traitors because they worked for the Roman government. Tax collectors were also often corrupt, charging more taxes than required and pocketing the difference.
From the Pharisees' perspective, Jesus was guilty by association. Their underlying accusation against Jesus was this: How could He, if He claimed to be a good Jew who followed the law, turncoats and thieves? Jesus' response to the Pharisees' criticism was to do the unthinkable-to call a social pariah to become one of His own disciples. "Jesus saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector's booth; and He said to him, 'Follow Me!' And Matthew got up and followed Jesus" (v.9). Jesus was making an important point about what it means to follow Him completely: "God is no respecter of persons" (Acts 10:34). Jesus "sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1Sam 16:7).
We test some's fitness to follow Jesus by their race, their education, their social status, their gender, and even their politics. For instance, we just know that someone who is politically liberal could never follow Jesus wholeheartedly. So we are convinced that Christ must be a political conservative that we conclude that all Christians are conservatives and all conservatives are Christians. I know that is a bit of an overstatement, but many of my conservative friends cannot believe that a liberal could really love Jesus.
Get Your Pleasure Aligned
We often define "pleasures" in terms of living in a palatial home, eating fine meals, and driving a luxurious car. We think pleasures can be purchased-which is probably which the rich young ruler had such a hard time accepting Jesus' challenge to sell everything he owned, give the money to the poor, and follow Jesus (Mt 19:21). The desire to control our lives goes back to humanity's original sin in the Garden of Eden, when Eve "saw that the forbidden tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise" (Gen 3:6). So she ate a fruit.
Today we call her sin self-centeredness-the lust to satisfy our selfish desires without any concern for the well-being of others or the commands of God.
Claiming ultimate control over our lives is the very definition of selfishness. But that attitude is antithetical to following Christ. Jesus said, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me" (Mt 16:24). Discipleship requires self-denial. Some people erroneously equate self-denial with pushing aside an extra piece of dessert or giving up a favorite television program to read their Bible. If only it were that easy. Denying ourselves means aligning our desires with God's desires. And whenever there is a conflict between what we want and what God wants, God wins every time.
Jesus tells us that, if we want to be burn-the-ships kind of disciples, we must submit to His power over our lives. We must surrender our desire to control our lives to God's control. The essence of discipleship is not a makeover of your life but a takeover of your life. Like Jesus, we must say to God, "Not as I will, but as You will.“
Get a Handle on Your Possessions
Placing your desire to control your own life under God's will for your life requires a radical readjustment in your thinking. But it is necessary if you are going to live an extraordinary life for God. But don't be surprised if, after you commit yourself to self-denial, Jesus asks you to demonstrate that commitment in a tangible way.
When a wealthy young man approached Jesus with a question about eternal life, Jesus tested his level of commitment to God by telling him to "keep the commandments," specifically, the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and fifth commands (19:17-19). The fact that the young man claimed to have kept all of them revealed his pride. And the fact that the young man still questioned what was necessary for salvation revealed his despair in not finding it through living a good life. So Jesus answered, "If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me" (v.21).
Jesus is not teaching that salvation comes through selling your possessions and giving everything away. If that were the case, then Jesus would be teaching that salvation comes through good works, which would defeat the whole purpose of His death and resurrection and our need to place faith in Christ. Jesus' conversation with this wealthy man revealed who or what was actually in control of the young man's life. This man had allowed gold to become his God. If this man was truly willing to follow Jesus, then he must let go of all rivals to Jesus' authority in his life.
Does Jesus require us to get rid of our possessions? Not necessarily. There is nothing wrong with having money and possessing the things money can buy. Abraham, Job, David, Lydia, Joseph of Arimathea, and others in the Bible were wealthy individuals who led God-honoring lives. The Bible never terms money as "evil" but does singly out "the love of money" as a root cause of "all sorts of evil" (1Tim 6:10).
We live in a materialistic society where our creature comforts rival our commitment to Christ. The temptation to make and horde money exerts a powerful pull on almost all of us. Therefore, we must be careful to get a handle on our possessions, seeing them simply as gifts from God to enjoy responsibly. However, the moment your house is no longer a pile of wood and brick, or a fine meal is no longer fuel for your body, or your bank account is no longer digital numbers in a computer, then you have to question whether your possessions control you or whether you control your possessions. Burning the ships to follow Jesus completely requires courage. For Elijah, burning the ships meant having the courage to confront Ahab and challenge the Israelites to choose God or Baal. For you, burning the ships means deciding once and for all who is in control of your life: you or God.