Following Jesus is Quite a Work Out

Do you work out? Personally, I like to run. Going out with my dog Austin and jogging a few miles is a great way to keep in shape, brighten my mood, and wear the dog out so that he’s mellow and napping while I do my work.

Running is really good for me, but I don’t always feel like doing it, especially when the weather outside is either frigid or roasting. I don’t have time today, I think to myself. I just don’t have the energy. The best thing I can do is get out there anyway.

I’ve learned over the years that what I think I want is often not what I actually need. If I’m telling myself I don’t have the time, energy, or inclination to go running, that usually means that I need to exercise more than ever! If I get out there and put in my time on the road, I feel so much better. The exercise produces the energy I didn’t think I had.

The kingdom of God is like that. At first glance, the way of Jesus can seem like a big distraction, a giant detour from the life I’ve planned out for myself. I’ve got my own priorities, which I expect will make me happy, healthy, and successful. I want life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!

The only problem is, neither liberty nor happiness are outcomes that I can produce. In contrast to the claims of the Declaration of Independence, the gospel is not a promise of happiness. The good news of Jesus is rooted in the abandonment of my own desires, and the embrace of service to others.

The way of the kingdom is the chance to be a community of people in recovery, practicing repentance and inviting Christ’s love into the world through our broken lives. The good news is not merely happiness for me; it is an invitation to discover a life of profound fulfillment as we participate in healing the world.

The gospel of Jesus is a profoundly other-centered way of relating to the world, one which loves first and asks questions later. In contrast to the popular gospel of happiness, the good news of the kingdom means surrendering my own desires in order to be faithful to God’s loving intention for the cosmos. It means accepting this intention, living by it, even when I really have no idea where this path leads.

This can be a hard sell. I’ve spent my entire life in a culture that presents personal satisfaction – happiness – as the highest good. Have it your way is an enticing motto, but ultimately a deceiving one. As many others have discovered, the more I eat of this Burger King gospel, the emptier I feel. When I seek to fulfill my own desire above all else, I find that desire has no end. The hunger becomes insatiable.

In contrast to the unrelenting hunger of self-will, in Jesus I discover point of reference beyond myself who┬áis faithful and true – a master who is more beautiful and loving than my own whims and desires.

I’m presented with a choice: Who or what will be my master? Will I serve the loving intelligence who creates and sustains the cosmos? Or will I bind myself to systems of reward and punishment – the carrot and stick of human motivation?

In spite of everything I have learned, I’m still tempted to choose my own restless hunger over the nourishment of Christ’s kingdom. The false gospels of our culture continue to lure me in, because they offer the illusion of control, predictability, safety. I can pretend that I am in charge.

One hallmark of God’s presence and power is that he offers no guaranteed outcomes – only love, and the promise that all things will be made new. Jesus offers me a vision of a world transformed, a living alternative to the deadness of the status quo. But I have to admit that I’m not running the show.

Despite the challenge to my ego, I am convinced that this gospel is worth embracing. It’s good news precisely because it does not give me what I think I want – prosperity, security, and comfort in the eyes of the world. Instead, it is the hard decision to go running in the midst of winter. I push myself out the front door, not because I love the cold, discomfort, or interruption of my daily routine, but because I trust that there is fulfillment that lies on the other side of sacrifice.

How about you? Are you ready to suit up?

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