Following Jesus is wonderful. He is with us and strengthens us in the darkest times. But following Jesus also requires a level of sacrifice. In the West we have developed a culture of instant gratification where sacrifice has to be avoided at all costs.
However, sacrifice is the very foundation of our faith. Jesus sacrificed himself so that we could have access to the fullness of life he promised. He also said that if we are to follow him we need to deny ourselves and pick up our cross (Matt 16:24), though self-denial is something almost unheard of in our culture and time. Jesus also said that in this life we will have troubles and afflictions, but that he has overcome to the world (John16:33). It is all about perspective.
Elijah was one the greatest prophets of Israel. Through the power of God he performed many signs and wonders but it cost him everything down to his very reputation. Near the end of his ministry he throws his cloak around Elisha, as a sign that his mantle and legacy had been passed on to Elisha. Elisha was a farmer with many responsibilities but he does not waste time. In 1 Kings 20:21 we read this:
“So Elisha left him (Elijah) and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the ploughing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. The he set to follow Elijah and became his attendant.”
When he receives the call to follow he does not come up with a plan b, or a way of keeping his assets as something to fall back on to. He burns his ploughs and leaves his entire life behind to follow a call. Now this must have been very sacrificial for him to do. No plan b meant no ploughs. No trade. No money. Self-denial.
As we embark on this new adventure moving to Brazil, we are aware that sacrifice must be involved, that we need to burn our ploughs and follow. It has been hard, and there is more to burn actually. But we pray it will open the way for God to do miracles in our lives and the lives of others. We have come to believe that it is impossible to experience everything that God has for us without sacrificing and surrendering our all.
I don’t know your context and I know that not everyone is called to do what we are doing. In fact, I know for sure that some people are called to stay exactly where they are to bless people in their work place, university etc. But we are all called to live a sacrificial lifestyle. We are all called to burn our ploughs and follow Jesus with our crosses on our backs. What does that mean for you? What does a sacrificial life look like for you at work, uni or school? How would it change you relationships? How would it change you activities?
The cross of Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice, led to life. Elisha’s burning of ploughs led to a fruitful ministry. On the other side of sacrifice there is growth, life and promise. Whilst we don’t sacrifice with that in mind, it is encouraging to know that God honours us when we choose self-denial and sacrificial living.
Today I have been reminded that this walk of ours, this journey of faith, includes sacrifice. It includes the pain of sad goodbyes. It includes the smoke of burning ploughs. It is messy and never easy. But I am also reminded that in taking that road we will be honoured and that on the other side there is life and promise. May we all choose to sacrifice that which is precious for the sake of knowing Jesus. The apostle Paul writes:
“Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.” (Phil 3:8)
When we choose a sacrificial lifestyle we gain Christ himself. It must be worth it all!
“Lord Jesus, help me to burn my ploughs, to carry my cross and to follow you with abandon. Help me to deny myself for the sake of knowing you more deeply. May you be first in my heart. Amen.”