But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor. Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour?’ But for this purpose I came to this hour’” (John 12:23-27).
It was Mark Twain who was credited with saying that the two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. I would add to this that the discovery of calling, as important as it is, is nothing if not answered with the consecration to see it through. We all know that if you want something of value you will have to pay the price for it. “You get what you pay for,” we say. It seems the same is true if one wants to live a life of significance. The true response to the Master’s call to be a disciple cannot be bargained down to a minimal price. To follow the Master will cost us our life.
We are not necessarily talking about martyrdom here, though we would be foolish to think that we’re past the days when people died for their faith when we’re seeing a genocide taking place right now in places like Syria and Iraq. The courage of these Christian brothers and sisters is astounding and not unlike that of the first and second century martyrs who died for the Faith in ancient Rome. Certainly, they merit the title, Christ followers, in the most literal sense of the term.
While presently safe from such extreme persecution here in the West, we have seen violence touch our shores as the threat of radical Islam has made its presence known in places like New York, Paris, and San Bernardino. Perhaps even nearer to us is the marginalization of Christians and the biblical worldview by the secular progressive who want to silence the voice the Church in the public square. The voices that once pled for tolerance have shown a vitriolic intolerance toward all things Christian in our day, seeking to shame or bully believers into silence about such issues as the sanctity of life and marriage or the role the believer’s faith should be allowed to play in public life. Already we have seen the suppression of religious faith by those who feel that our Christian convictions should stay in the church house and not be allowed to influence policy in areas like education, medical research, or government.
We must realize that all truly oppressive regimes in the past began with the suppression of the opposition voice. That is why Christians must be bold to stand up, even if it means putting popularity, promotion, or prestige on the line. In concept, we are a free nation, but if we do not fight for our right to speak and be heard, there are plenty who will be more than happy to take that right from us. Thus, the believer’s responsibility to stay informed and act responsibly regarding his civic duty is non-negotiable.
However, while everyone is certainly responsible to play a part in guarding our freedoms, it is not necessarily the place where everyone has their calling. We are all gifted differently and for different purposes. The key is to know where God has called us to invest those gifts and then do so with all our might. “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:0-11 NIV).
We’re all called to serve, but we’re not all called to serve in the same way. It was clear that Jesus knew why He had come into the world, and He knew that to accomplish that purpose, He would pay with His life. However, with His next breath, He made it clear that, in one sense, the same is true with anyone who would claim to be a Christ follower. “He who loves His life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also.” (John 12:25-26).
To be a Christ follower, then, means to give one’s life in the service of the Master, in whatever field of service He has placed us and with the gifts to which He entrusted us. There are businessmen giving their lives in service to Christ right now in places of influence, where corporate policies are shaping public perceptions. When we look at the lives of men like Dan Cathy of Chic-Fil-A, or David Green of Hobby Lobby, we see brave men who took very public stands for biblical values and suffered the vitriol of those who oppose objective, moral values. In some cases, such a stand may cost much more than what can be measured in a quarterly financial statement.
Atlanta Fire Chief, Kelvin Cochran, was fired for sharing his Christian convictions, even when it had nothing to do with the exercise of his office. Chief Cochran had self-published a book entitled Who Told You That You Are Naked? in which he essentially wrote that homosexuality is a sin. The passage took up about half a page in the book, but it was enough for critics to make charges of “discrimination” and have him removed from his position. While this has no doubt been a very challenging time for Chief Cochran, it has also provided him a platform to address this injustice and bring much needed attention to the true discrimination being expressed toward people of faith.
There is always a cost to stand for Christ. Sometimes that cost comes from the loss we suffer at the hands of those who oppose us, while at other times it comes from the ceaseless devotion our calling demands. When we look at history, we find individuals whose lives were totally spent in obedience to their particular calling. Martin Luther, John Wesley, William Wilberforce, and many others serve as examples to us of men who turned the world upside down (or right side up), and, in doing so, paid a great price. In fact, they paid with their lives.
As all my friends, students, and parishioners know, William Wilberforce is a great hero of mine. He was born into a time when the Church of England exerted little to no moral influence whatsoever. Rather, it was the Methodists, led by John Wesley and his brother, Charles, whose revivals helped to save Britain from complete moral decay. Along with them, George Whitefield, the great evangelist who helped fan the flames of the Great Awakening in America, and John Newton, former slave ship captain turned Anglican priest and author of Amazing Grace, helped turn the tide spiritually. However, at the time, the Methodists were not considered “respectable” by those in the elite circles of society, and it was left to one, William Wilberforce, a young member of Parliament, to bring the battle of biblical morality center stage in his nation. He famously wrote in his diary, “Almighty God has set before me two great objects: the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners (morals).” To this cause he indeed gave his life. He succeeded so completely in both arenas of labor that it is not an exaggeration at all to say that he assisted in changing the world in his time.
However, when we look at all of these men, Wesley, Whitefield, Newton, and Wilberforce, it is apparent that their lives were wholly spent in the cause to which Christ called them. Fighting great opposition, they labored on against what must have seemed insurmountable odds. One entry in Wesley’s diary shows the tenacity these men had to possess to stay obedient to the heavenly vision:
Sunday, A.M., May 5 – Preached in St. Anne’s. Was asked not to come back anymore.
Sunday, P.M., May 5 – Preached in St. John’s. Deacons said, “Get out and stay out.”
Sunday, A.M., May 12 – Preached in St. Jude’s. Can’t go back there, either.
Sunday, A.M., May 19 – Preached in St. Somebody Else’s. Deacons called special meeting and said I couldn’t return.
Sunday, P.M., May 19 – Preached on street. Kicked off street.
Sunday, A.M., May 26 – Preached in meadow. Chased out of meadow as bull was turned loose during service.
Sunday, A.M., June 2 – Preached out at the edge of town. Kicked off the highway.
Sunday, P.M., June 2 – Afternoon, preached in a pasture. Ten thousand people came out to hear me.
It is hard to say just how deep was the impact of this handful of men, but we can surely say at the least that between the revivals of Wesley in Britain and Whitefield in America, along with the tireless efforts of Wilberforce in Parliament, the world was so changed that we are still living the light of that change today. Indeed, much of what we have by way of values in the West can be traced back to the efforts of those brave men who knew why God had raised them up and committed themselves wholly to His purpose. And yet, these men do not stand on their own. They too were preceded by the likes of Luther, who brought reform to the Church at great personal cost in a time when the ground was still wet with the blood of reformers martyred before him.
All these and more took up their cross and gave their lives to the call of God. Now we must ask ourselves, “What is the field of endeavor upon which I am willing to give my all?” All of us are called, but the real question is, “Who will answer the call?”
It is a fascinating fact of history that many of those whose names are famous today would have died in anonymity were it not for the fact that the crisis of the hour demanded that they answer the call. The great gifts in men such as the Founders of our nation would have gone unnoticed had they not recognized their duty to address the evils in their times and use what the Lord had entrusted to them for the sake of those living, as well as those who would follow after.
Likewise, there are gifts in each of us that will never find expression, never bear fruit, until we answer the call of God in this hour. It is only when the demand of the moment meets the supply of heaven that truly great deeds can be done. It is when our lives are planted like a seed into the soil of God’s purpose that a harvest rich in blessing can touch generations to come.
Dr. Randy Bunch is the pastor of West Kern Christian Center, located at 1000 6th Street in Taft, California, as well as a graduate advisor and adjunct professor at Summit Bible College in Bakersfield, California. He is the author of several books, including his new devotional, Immutable: Changeless Truth for a Changing World. For more information, or to purchase your copy, go to immuntablebook.com. For more information on the ministries of WKCC, you can go the ministry’s website at wkcconnect.org.