An Unexpected Invitation
“Hey, are you free if I stop by this afternoon? I’d love to talk something over with you…”
I saw the text pop up from a friend in the middle of a morning that was less-than-amazing. I had been up a good part of the night with my baby, so I was fighting the grumps as I went through the motions of getting breakfast for the three other kiddos, putting on the laundry, and getting everyone ready for the day.
It was the end of a long, busy week. I felt behind on everything and weary in every way. It had been full of interactions with people, and although I love being with people, my naturally introverted self felt all “peopled out.” My afternoon had unexpectedly opened up, and I was looking forward to relaxing and working on an art project while the kids napped, and maybe even putting on a documentary in the background (I’m a big fan of documentaries).
All that to say, my initial reaction to my friend’s text wasn’t exactly excitement. I started coming up with all the reasons I could just say no—and believe me, there were lots of them. But every time I went to respond, I felt the gentle restraint of the Holy Spirit. I knew that God had allowed my afternoon to be freed up so that I could spend time with this friend who needed encouragement. And in this case, the only reasons to say no would be purely selfish. So, I had a choice to make: would I spend the afternoon on myself, or would I spend it loving someone else in Jesus’ name? Would I spend it on momentary pleasure or on eternal investment?
By God’s grace, I chose the path of obedience and told her to come over. And what spiritual refreshment and encouragement I would have missed out on if I had said no. The very decision I thought would drain me, God used to minister to my own heart. How close I had come to forfeiting an interaction that pointed both my friend and me back to Him.
Two Ways to Live
There are really only two ways to live: for ourselves, or for God. We can either live selfishly for things that won’t last past this life, or live for eternity, being a part of furthering God’s imperishable Kingdom. There’s no in-between. The world, our own flesh, and the Devil are constantly trying to trap us into thinking that living for ourselves is the best way to spend our days. We hear all the time things like, “Life is short—do what makes you happy,” or, “Treat yourself; you deserve it.”
Everything from nice cars to mascara, from relationships to drive-thru food, the marketing hits right at the self-centered tendency to live for what is going to make us feel good in the moment. It tries to convince us to discount everyone else and put ourselves first.
But what we see in Scripture is so vastly different than these messages. God’s way is completely counterintuitive to our natural way of thinking, but He says it’s what truly brings eternal joy and fulfillment.
1 Peter 1:22–25 says, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’ And this word is the good news that was preached to you.”
Our lives are short. They can be taken from us at any moment. Even a “long life” is a mist when measured against eternity. And in Christ, we’re given the incredible opportunity to leave an impact that lasts far beyond our years on earth. But this doesn’t come by serving ourselves and indulging in our own pleasures. It comes by laying down our lives for the sake of loving others and being the hands and feet of Jesus to those He brings into our path.
The Narrow Path
This isn’t the easy path. No, it will most definitely mean suffering and sacrifice in small or large ways. It might mean giving up quiet, alone time for an introvert. It might mean stepping out of the fast lane to worldly success and going off the grid and minister to orphans and widows. Whatever it is, it will mean denying ourselves, taking up our crosses daily, and following the example of the One who gave everything to set us free from sin and death.
To the world, it looks like we’ve lost our minds. Give up our own time, energy, and resources to love others instead of doing what we want? But for the Christian, this is an incredible privilege. In Christ, we’ve been invited to love others as God has loved us. We’re given the commission to show this world who Jesus is by being His hands and feet to “the least of these” (Matthew 25:34–40). He says that others will know we are His followers by our “love for one another” (John 13:35).
This doesn’t mean, however, a miserable, joyless existence. No! Living in this way is what truly brings satisfaction and contentment. Living for selfish pleasures today might bring feelings of happiness in the moment, but it fades as quickly as it came, leaving us restless, discontent, and aching for something more.
But that “more” can only be found in Jesus, in giving ourselves fully to Him. We were made to live for His glory, and when we surrender to His will for our lives, the joy doesn’t fade—it only grows deeper and more precious the more we see how beautiful and perfect God’s plan is.
The more we get to know Him, the more we see how trustworthy, kind, loving, and wise He is. And the fleeting pleasures of the world become easier and easier to say no to as we experience the glorious, all-satisfying delight of living for our Savior and King.
God knows when it’s just the right time for us to have the freedom to rest, to have fun, to decline another commitment. When we approach these things from the foundation of love for Him rather than a sense of entitlement, they become sweeter, more restful, and they cause us to treasure the Giver of the gift more fully. When done in God’s way and in His time, they will never hinder our love for Him or our love for others. And often, He gives these things in the midst of our obedience in unexpected and beautiful ways.
How do we begin to orient our thinking around eternity rather than on the temporary pleasures of this life?
It starts by surrendering ourselves fully to Jesus. We must remember that our lives are His, not ours. 1 Corinthians 6:19–20 says, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” Every single day, we make the decision from the moment our eyes open to say, “God, my life is yours. Help me to live in obedience to you today, finding my joy and contentment in you.”
Saturation in Scripture
To continually keep Jesus before us, we need to be spending daily time in His presence. The things of this world will so easily distract us from Him if we’re not intentionally fighting to keep our eyes fixed on Him. And, to obey Him, we need to constantly be learning what He says obedience to Him looks like. This means becoming diligent students of Scripture. If you’re not sure where to start with studying Scripture, I would recommend using resources that are going to help you go deep into the Word, and get it deeply into you. One of my favorite books on this topic is Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin. I would also encourage you to use the Well-Watered Co. studies—they are an excellent starting place!
Start by Serving
Our “default” disposition should always be one of service rather than self-centeredness. I have a couple of questions I ask myself when I’m evaluating this. First, “Am I doing this for myself, or out of love for God and others?” And second, “Will this be a detriment to God’s priorities for my life?” For example, if I have the opportunity to do something that’s going to be at the expense of loving my husband and children (even something good), then I need to say no. For each person it’s going to look different (and even different from situation to situation), so it requires each of us to seek the Lord for His wisdom every single day. But when we’re seeking Him, He’ll always make it clear what obedience to Him looks like.
Friend, let’s not be deceived into thinking that we deserve to live for ourselves. What we truly deserve is the death that Jesus, out of His great love, took in our place. Our only response, then, should be wholeheartedly living for Him out of gratitude and love. Scripture says that Jesus endured the cross “for the joy that was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). And today, we have the opportunity to lay down our lives to love others in His Name, having a joy set before us, too: spending forever in the presence of our glorious Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.
A missionary named C.T. Studd, considered by many to be a hero of the faith, wrote a poem that beautifully captures the joy of living for eternity, and I think these stanzas are the perfect way to end:
“Only one life, the still small voice,
Gently pleads for a better choice,
Bidding my selfish aims to leave,
And to God’s holy will to cleave…
“Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
And when I’m dying, how happy I’ll be,
If the lamp of my life has been burned out for Thee.”
Your friend, Heather
Bio: Heather Cofer is a wife and mother with a passion for encouraging others to love Jesus with all their hearts. This comes through writing, leading worship, and being actively involved in life-on-life discipleship alongside her husband, Judah, who is one of the pastors at their church. She is a regular contributor to the ministry of Set Apart Girl, and you can follow along on Heather’s journey through her Instagram or Facebook.