Thursday, March 1, 2018

I Abandon My Ambition at the Foot of the Cross

During this school year, Psalm 84 has become one of my favorite psalms. I remember hearing it as a teenager, but God brought it back to mind for me one Tuesday night. I went down to the BCM at NKU, where I did my undergrad, last semester at a worship service focused on prayer. I began to pray through this chapter. It begins by exclaiming the joy of being in God’s presence:
How amiable are thy tabernacles, O LORD of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God. Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God. –Psalm 84:1-3
There is a longing for the people of God to be in His presence. In quiet times there is nothing better; my heart is filled after spending time in prayer or worship. But being in God’s presence isn’t always an easy thing:
Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee. Selah. Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them. Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools. They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God. O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer: give ear, O God of Jacob. Selah. Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed. –Psalm 84:4-9
The psalm doesn’t sugar-coat. There are times of great trials in the life of the Christian, whether by circumstances that God uses to grow us, or through persecution. We only know a sliver of what that can entail, as we can read accounts of thousands who have given their lives for the cause of Jesus and know that we are not (currently) faced with that. Even in America, though, we have seen people lose their businesses because they followed God’s commands over the world’s demands (and because, I supposed, there aren’t any other places to order wedding cakes and flowers).

Coming from a large Christian community and a comparatively somewhat conservative business school to law school on a liberal campus has given me a greater appreciation of being in the minority, where following Christ is not always welcomed. With this in mind, the remainder of the psalm says this:
For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. O LORD of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee. –Psalm 84:10-12
That Tuesday night I made a vow. It doesn’t matter what persecution I face. If it costs me career opportunities, that is my cross to bear. If I am derided, that is my cross to bear. If I am abandoned by friends, that is my cross to bear.

Why? Because Jesus bore His cross all the way to Calvary, and then He was nailed to it and lifted up in humiliation and anguish to pay for my sin and purchase me back from the chains of it. He gave everything, suffering the worst kind of persecution.

The Valley of Baca
When I consider being yelled at by a homosexual classmate because of my beliefs about homosexuality, or being ridiculed and threatened for advocating against abortion, or being considered radical for ordering my life around an ancient Book, it all seems as nothing in light of the crucifixion, and I have a great peace that comes over me in the face of such situations. God is with me. Even if it is not reciprocated, I can still show love to these individuals, because God’s love has taught me how to love—unconditionally.

Psalm 84 says that we will pass through the Valley of Baca, a desert place. It literally means “Valley of Weeping.” And when we pass through it, we become well-makers and the rain fills the pools, because no amount of sorrow is a match for the love of God. Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary had this to say:
Those are truly happy, who go forth, and go on in the exercise of religion, in the strength of the grace of Jesus Christ, from whom all our sufficiency is. The pilgrims to the heavenly city may have to pass through many a valley of weeping, and many a thirsty desert; but wells of salvation shall be opened for them, and consolations sent for their support. Those that press forward in their Christian course, shall find God add grace to their graces.
I don’t want to capitulate and join the ranks encamped in the tents of wickedness. It might be an easier and more popular lifestyle, but it is not for a child of God. I would rather be a doorkeeper in God’s house. I would rather have a lowly position in God’s will than a mighty one outside it.

Because following God requires surrender. One of my favorite songs from my favorite worship band speaks of this:

I give You my life;
I give You my trust,
You are my God;
You are enough,

My heart is Yours,
My heart is Yours.
Kristian Stanfill performing "My Heart is Yours"
Take it all,
Take it all,
My life in Your hands.

I lay down my life.
I take up my cross,
You are my God,
Whatever the cost,

My heart is Yours,
My heart is Yours.
Take it all,
Take it all,
My life in Your hands.

And all to Jesus I surrender.
All to You I freely give.
Oh, I will ever love and trust You;
In Your presence I will live.

Just the music alone would bring tears to your eyes. The message is one of total surrender to God. When we surrender to something or someone, we can’t surrender to anything else. That is inherent in surrender. “Whatever the cost,” we choose to follow Him.

Surrender is complete. It requires surrendering our passions, our talents, our fears, our finances, our relationships, our ambition, our needs, our desires, our sin, our everything. That may mean missed opportunities. That may mean derision. That may mean lost relationships.

That may mean for me one day choosing between a certain position or following Christ. It may mean me losing a job because of what I believe.

What will the choice be? Are we willing to accept the consequences of this life-changing decision?

As for me, I abandon my ambition at the foot of the cross.

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