All In

Jill on the Camino

How does uncertainty affect your faith and your passion for serving Christ? What happens within you when you’re anxious or afraid about the future? When life starts to collapse around you, what’s your instinctive response?
We may suddenly feel abandoned by God and desperate to take matters into our own hands. We may feel that God isn’t coming through for us, or we may question God’s activity in our lives. In our fear, frustration or discouragement, we may back off our commitment to Christ or lose our passion for ministry. We may find ourselves more easily get distracted or unable to focus on God or on our priorities. Or worse. We may slide into trying to comfort ourselves or satisfy our needs in ways that feel good at the moment, but wind up harming ourselves or others.

At such times, we need to make a move. Our discombobulating circumstances are giving us an opportunity to go deeper in our spiritual life, but the decision about which way we are going to go is ours.

We have to make a choice. We can succumb to our instinctive reactions and continue drifting, playing it safe, or making self-defeating choices.  Or, we can go the other way.

We can seize the opportunity to go “all in.”

I’m alluding, of course, to the moment when gamblers decide to wager all that they have on the game at hand. They cannot possibly know for sure if they will win, but in order to be successful they must put enough money into the pot to stay in the game and enough to make winning worthwhile. And sometimes, this means going all in, risking everything on their bet.

In life, all of us are placing bets every day. We invest ourselves and resources into a relationship, a job, an experience, or any number of other things. With each investment, we are betting that this way of living will pay off for us in one way or another—yielding more love, more money, more opportunity, more fun, more satisfaction, more meaning, more something—better than if we invested in someone or something else.

With each decision, each of us is making bets related to our spiritual life, too. The more we wager on what we can get out of this life for ourselves, the less we are investing in God and in Christ’s call on our lives. And vice versa.

Following Christ is not a game, to be sure, but, to use Pascal’s language, living by faith does require a wager. Since none of us has ever seen God or been resurrected from the dead, we cannot know for sure that there is life after death or if faith in Christ is the key to eternal life. But we can place our bets.

We may not know for sure if the Holy Spirit is really at work in our lives or how God is going to provide for our needs, but we can choose to trust and live accordingly. We can resist the temptation to slide away from God or stay stuck in the quagmire of doubt and fear, and put our faith into action in concrete ways. We can say “yes” to the Holy Spirit and deepen our commitment to Christ and others, and “no” to competing impulses and loyalties, letting the chips fall where they may.

Where the need to make spiritual choices becomes real to me is when I start to freeze up because I feel anxious about the future or about my ability to preach, teach or write effectively. I feel it when I’m talking to those who are suffering or who are struggling with intense, honest intellectual questions, and I have to decide if I am going to melt away out of fear of upsetting them or openly affirm my faith in God’s goodness and activity in our lives.

I feel great inner tension when I am invited to minister in a country where I may not be safe, and I have to decide if I will accept the call or hold back out of fear. Like many people, over this past year, my investments and the market value of my house dropped significantly, and contributions have failed to keep up with expenses. Do I pull back to protect my interests or press forward with the ministry with fewer assurances for myself?

In each situation, I cannot remain neutral or passive. I have to make decisions.

What about you? Are your circumstances right now forcing you to make some choices? Is the Holy Spirit calling you to stop hedging your bets and go all in—or, at least, more in than you have been willing to go up to this point?

Today is the 25th anniversary of my ordination. On June 3, 1984, the pastors and elders of my church laid hands on Jill and me as we knelt in front of the congregation. We were committing ourselves to serve Jesus Christ for the rest of our lives as ministers of the Gospel.

Now, twenty-five years later, I humbly rededicate myself to this calling. By God’s grace, I want to live my life for Christ as fully and faithfully as possible, all in.

[Jesus] called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? (Mark 8:34-37, NRSV)


Filed under In Practice, Prayer

2 responses to “All In

  1. Cheryl

    Happy 25th Tim. May the next 25 years of ministry reveal deeper mysteries and joys in serving God, as well as strength and wisdom in serving. It has been great being on the journey with you. Your sister in ministry. Cheryl

  2. Liz

    These are very encouraging reminders, Tim. Thanks for words that keep us moving in the right direction. We’ve experienced these challenges in our own lives in recent years and seen it in the lives of nearly all of our friends, and have often observed Christ followers go through the stresses of learning to really trust God, not circumstances, and to press on in our efforts to stay focussed on what is really meaningful, real, and lasting: A relationship with the one God who loves each of us and who is fully in control of the future and the universe.

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