Begin With The Basics: The Path is Narrow
Sunday, February 20, 2011 Comments (0)
As long as I’ve been in ministry, which began for me as an eighteen year-old summer youth minister, I have measured my effectiveness by the number of people involved in various ministry activities. We had this many people at Bible Study. We had this many people in Sunday School. We had this many people in worship and this many people join the church.
And though ministry is most definitely about people and helping people move closer to God, you have to wonder why we ministers are so obsessed with the numbers of people we are able to work with when Jesus clearly told us not to expect a big response. “Small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life,” said Jesus, “and only a few find it.”
Jesus did not mean by that teaching that the number of people who receive the life he came to offer is limited by available space. Jesus did not mean to portray God as a kind of Celestial Fire Marshal who shuts the doors to a venue when a certain number of people occupy the room. Jesus instead was calling attention to the fact that the number of people who will ultimately experience the life he came to make possible will be determined solely by those who choose to experience it, and unfortunately, that number, according to Jesus, will be smaller than any of us thinks. “Small is the gate and narrow is the road, and only a few find it.”
Contrary to what some may say, Jesus wasn’t exaggerating with this teaching. There are too many places in Scripture where Jesus warns his hearers not to possess a false confidence. Though many might say that they want to follow Jesus, the fact of the matter is that few people are willing to do what it takes to follow Jesus. Few people are willing to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow after Jesus.
For whatever reason, we humans seem to be wired to do as little as we have to do to get by. We seem only to be interested in the minimum. “That’s not in my job description.” “I only have to do this much for the assignment.” “I’m only obligated to give this much.” We seek the path of least resistance, until we come to understand just where that path eventually leads and only then are we willing to consider doing all whatever is necessary to make a situation the best it can be.
I have a friend that I see three or four times a year. The last time I saw him he had lost about thirty pounds. He had gone on a strict diet. He had started a rigid exercise program. He looked fantastic. And so I asked him about the weight loss and how he managed it. “I watch everything I put into my mouth. I walk three miles a day. I have changed my way of life completely.” “What made you do it?” I had to know. “What was your motivation? What was your inspiration?” “Oh, that’s easy,” my friend replied. “One day I went to the doctor for my annual physical, and when the blood work came back, he looked at me with as serious a look as I had ever seen him have and then he said to me, ‘If you don’t change the path you’re on, you’re going to die.’” “If you don’t change the path you’re on, you’re going to die.”
I can’t think of a better way to couch this teaching of Jesus. “If you don’t change the path you’re on, you’re going to die.” Indeed, the dominant theme of this teaching of Jesus is “life” and the means by which we come to that life. This teaching calls into question two grand assumptions that most people carry with them through their everyday existence: (1) that all paths lead to the same place; and (2) that most people will eventually find their way there. Jesus cancels out both of these assumptions by pointing how the way to the life he came to offer is the path less traveled and most people miss it because it is the more difficult way and requires the greatest effort. “Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
What about you? Are you confident that you are on the right path, or are you guilty of going along with the crowd, which in effect is taking you farther and farther away from Jesus?
Max Lucado is one of the best selling Christian authors in the world. In one of his books, he tells the story of how dangerous it can be to follow the crowd. One morning, he got up early to catch an early morning flight to a speaking engagement. He was tired and when he got to the gate, it wasn’t long before he dozed off while waiting to board his plane. He was aroused from his sleep by the noise of the crowd moving toward the entry ramp to the plane. He quickly gathered his belongings, got in line, and found his seat on the plane. As soon as he sat down, he slipped off for another nap.
When he awakened to the bright morning sun that was pouring through his window, he heard a strange message. A flight attendant said, “Please raise your seats to their upright position and make sure that your tray tables are locked and your seatbelts are fastened as we make our final approach into Houston.” There was only one problem. Lucado was headed to Denver. What happened? He had napped at the gate, missed his correct flight, and awakened to join the crowd on a plane that was headed in the wrong direction.
Fortunately for Lucado, it was possible for him to make his way to Denver by getting on another plane. But it’s not that easy for people who are on the wrong path in life. Following the crowd that seems to be going in the right direction will take you to the wrong place. Discipleship is not a popularity contest. In order to experience the life that Jesus came to offer you must be willing to follow him on the road that is less traveled.
What does that path look like, and more importantly, what does it require of us?
In the first place, it requires that we sell out. It requires that we yield to Jesus everything that we’ve got. Every now and then, you’ll see a store that has a “Going Out of Business” sale. Sometimes that’s because the business couldn’t make it. But other times that’s because the owners of the business have decided to retire and are ready for a new situation in life. Our “selling out” to Jesus suggests both. We can’t make it in our power and we’re ready for the new situation that only Jesus can make possible. But according to this teaching, neither of those things will happen as long as we try to hold on to our life or be satisfied with the minimum. Following Jesus means ultimately that we yield our life to him and offer him the best that we have. It means that we sell out.
It also means that we step out. It means that we step out from our comfort zones to be able to follow hard after Jesus. It means that we refuse to take the path of least resistance, but that we welcome the opportunity and the challenge of living for Jesus in every aspect of our existence. It means that we step out from the crowd because we take seriously Jesus’ teaching that discipleship is not a popularity contest. It means that we are willing to turn our eyes toward Jesus and no one else. It means that we are willing to step out.
And finally, it means that we are willing to seek out. It means that we are willing to look for ways that we can faithful in our everyday affairs. It means that we are willing to join our Sunday life with our life the other six days of the week. It means that we are so serious about our discipleship that the decision to follow Jesus is a decision that we are willing to make every single day of our lives. It is a continuous decision. It means that we are willing to seek out.
Can you take those steps this morning so that you enter through the narrow gate and follow the narrow road, which is the road less traveled?
Back in 1993, the NCAA Division II cross-country championship was held in Riverside, California. 128 runners from across the country gathered in Riverside to vie for the title. Unfortunately, on of the turns on the 10,000 meter course wasn’t very well marked. In fact, it turned out that only 5 of the 128 runners stayed on the right path.
Mike Delcavo, of tiny Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado, was one of the runners. He was in the middle of the pack when he came to the turn in question. He made the correct decision, but noticed that others had taken a different path. To his credit, Delcavo began waving at the other runners to follow him, but only four did so. Can you blame them? 123 runners took the wrong path, because that is where the majority was going. As he thought he might win the race, the pack appeared back in front of him around another turn, having run about a kilometer less than he had. Race officials huddled up after all the runners had crossed the finish line and determined that the abbreviated course that the majority had taken would be considered the “official course,” which meant that Mike Delcavo, who took the correct path, ended up finishing 123 of the 128 runners.
You say, “That’s not right.” And I agree. And more importantly, so does Jesus.
Remember that when you come to your next fork in the road, and though you see the crowd herded and headed in a particular direction, don’t mindlessly follow along with them. Be looking for Jesus, for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Be one of the few. Be one of the faithful. Be one who gets it right.
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