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Wide Open Spaces: Beyond Paint-by-Number Christianity by Jim Palmer



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Signposts: Daily Devotions

Written by Jim Palmer

Sunday, November 28

Sell everything you have and give it to the poor. Then come follow me.
—Matthew 19:21


On my journey I came to these two questions: What do I want with God? and What does God want with me? I was surprised by what I found when I drilled down to the truth of each. Turns out, God’s reason for wanting me was much better than mine for wanting God. Let me explain.

A wealthy man once approached Jesus and asked what he needed to do to “get eternal life.” His power and wealth had enabled him to acquire all he desired in this life, and he thought it prudent to set his sights on the afterlife. Surely heaven could be negotiated at some cost. 

Jesus played along and began inquiring into the man’s religious devotion, which was quite impressive as he revealed how dutifully he had obeyed many commandments. Jesus responded by instructing the man to give all his possessions to the poor and come follow him. Matthew 19:22 says, “When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.”

What the man wanted was an eternal life insurance policy, to “get eternal life.” Jesus, however, was interested in drawing the man into a relationship and said “come follow me.” The man was bargaining for his mansion in heaven, while Jesus was offering intimacy with God.

For years I thought the big payoff of Christianity was a ticket punched to heaven when I die. My day-to-day Christianity was mostly a glorified behavior modification and self-improvement program. The scriptures represented a set of moral principles and biblical guidelines for living a successful life and positioning myself to be blessed and helped by God.

Jesus asked the man to give away all his possessions because Jesus knew this was the one thing the man could not do. The man’s identity, security, and well being were contingent upon his earthly wealth and power. No person is truly free as long as they are dependent on something outside themselves for peace and personhood.

For this man it was his wealth, but it could just as easily have been vocational success, physical appearance, the performance of his children, his standing or popularity among his peers, even his reputation as a religious man. There are all sorts of things we rely on to produce something for us that only God himself can satisfy through his presence within us.

The road to knowing God more deeply often involves letting go of the one thing you know you are simply not capable of releasing. I often wonder why the rich man didn’t just admit to Jesus’ he could not conceive of ever being able to surrender his dependency on his wealth. If he had done so, the man would have been exactly where Jesus wanted him to be, aware of his own human inadequacy and primed to experience God’s sufficiency.

Sometimes I wish God would just cooperate with my agenda of what I want in life. It’s not really all that unique and almost always centers on my being financially independent and a distinguished person in the world. 

The good news is that God desires much more for me than simply punching my ticket to heaven. God wants me to know him personally and intimately, which is the only thing that can satisfy the deepest longings of my soul. In the end, God’s reason for wanting me is so much better than what I too often am willing to settle for.

God, let me know your sufficiency in the midst of my inadequacy; I can’t surrender this on my own.

These Signposts originally appeared on explorefaith in 2006.