Letting Go for the Best
Are you willing to give up something good in order to obtain something better? This is a question we all face at one time or another in the course of our lives. For example, when you decide to move from one job to another or from one city to another or to stop renting and buy a house, you have to let go of what you had (the old job, the old neighborhood or your hard-earned savings) in order to obtain what you believe to be better. The risk of course is that what you end up with does not turn out to be better than what you had. In some ways, life is a series of these kinds of tradeoffs where you must decide if the reward is worth the risk. Is it worth it?
This is also a key question in discipleship. In the seeker’s class recently started at church, appropriately called Starting Point, we wrestled with the question “Is it worth it to follow Jesus?” We looked at how some people in the bible chose to follow Jesus when called while others turned and walked away. In particular, the story about the rich, young ruler in Matthew 19:16-22 seemed to crystalize this question. In the passage, a young man approached Jesus and asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds by outlining several things. First, He said to keep the commandments which the young man apparently had done. Then Jesus said “go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” In other words, do this and you will receive exactly what you asked for, the treasure of eternal life. However, verse 22 says, “when the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.”
In our Starting Point class, we examined why the young man was not able to follow Jesus, even though he approached Him. The group recognized that it was because he loved his wealth more than he loved God (and yes Jesus zeroed in on that). Ultimately, the man did the emotional math in his head and determined that it wasn’t worth it. But more specifically, as well-intentioned as he was, the man had not given his heart to God and thus, wanted to hold on to his idols. Very astutely, someone in the class said it’s like the monkey and the banana. And he went on to explain that the way you catch a monkey, who is fast, quick, and agile, is to put a banana in a jar or in a hole in the wall. When the monkey sees the banana, he wants it so badly he reaches in the jar or the hole to grab it. But because he’s now clutching on to the banana, he can’t get his hand out. So he’s stuck. If only he released the banana, he could pull his hand out and run to freedom. But he’s so intent on having the banana, there’s no way in the world he’s going to let it go. So he’s trapped.
Idols compete with God for our heart’s devotion, don’t they? Whether that be love, money, sex, politics, family, youth sports, etc. Sadly, we can turn anything into an idol, a God-alternative, what Tim Keller calls “a counterfeit God” in which we tie up our lives, clinging to what we think is good but ultimately missing the best. And like the young man or the monkey, we cannot let go. Beloved, Jesus is worth it! He is better than anything this world can offer. Don’t get taken. Don’t get trapped. Let us hold loosely to the things of this world and say with the psalmist in Psalm 73:25-26, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”