I’m not sure which came first: the chicken or the egg. I’m referring to a cycle that is being lived out especially in western, wealthy Christianity and in my very own heart, as well. Here’s the cycle:
We Christians believe we have a small calling, so we call on a small god, and we grow a small faith. Our small faith fuels our small calling, which in turn perpetuates our belief that our god is small and asks us to do small things.
I am as attracted to this small cycle as anyone. All around me are messages to pursue safety and comfort. The goals in my community are health, good education for our kids, a strong retirement account, and plenty of sports on the weekends. We’re all pursuing it—even in our churches. We’re cheering for one another as we chase our small dreams and claim that it’s what our small god would want.
We can identify the calling, the god, and the faith as all small because they’re all doable within our own power. We are neck-deep in self-help theology and we applaud one another when we look within ourselves, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, or do whatever it takes to self-realize. And if the God of the bible doesn’t match our small calling, we rewrite what He says.
Perhaps the Christian church in America has exchanged God’s true calling, God’s true character, and the true faith that He wants to impart to us for a manageable and safe small cycle. But Jesus destroys the small cycle when He calls us to follow Him and die.
Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). This calling to deny ourselves, to take up our crosses, and to follow Jesus is no small and manageable calling.
The truth is that scripture calls us to live out a big, risk-taking, self-denying cycle. To answer this call we need a huge God who is capable of doing huge things. We need a faith that is robust and doesn’t reject hard things a priori but acknowledges that the hard things are, in fact, what God has designed for our good and His glory. This cycle—the opposite of the small cycle—acknowledges that our calling is big, our God is big, and He will impart to us a big faith to carry out our big calling.
The calling that Jesus places on His followers—to deny ourselves and to lose our lives—will present itself in as many unique ways as there are unique Christians. Our God is creative and we are His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10). Our callings will be as diverse as we are—but they will all demand us to deny ourselves. Our callings may be coping well with what God ordains in our lives, such as serving our families or neighbors, walking through a terminal diagnosis, or stewarding well our abundance. Or our callings may take us out of the ordinary, for example, to the mission field, to inner city work, or to adoption.
Whether our callings are in the seemingly routine tasks of normal life or in extraordinary adventures in far-off places, we are all called to deny ourselves. And we will be unwilling to do that if we worship a small god who gives us a small faith. We must fix our eyes on the true God who is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). Because, “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in [us]” (Romans 8:11). The one true God who created the heavens and the earth, the one who willingly gave up His Son for us, the one who raised Him from the dead—He who is able—calls us to big things, in His big name, requiring big faith.
The small-cycle life prevents us from being willing to lay down our lives in Jesus’ name. Our will-power and our desires cause us to prioritize ourselves. We think God couldn’t possibly want me to stay in this marriage; God wants me to be happy; God made me this way; God wants my kids to be safe; God doesn’t want me to be foolish and live there. As my dear friend recently said, “My will power tells me to get out of this difficult situation. My abilities tell me to run away from this hard life.”
But when we surrender ourselves to the big cycle—when we acknowledge who God is and what He asks of us—we are empowered by Him. We find that “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3).
Whether our calling is to cross the street and love our neighbor or it is to cross an ocean and bring Christ to a dark nation, we followers of Jesus need to know His character in order to grow a faith that reflects Him and responds to the task that He gives. Daily (hourly!) we must reject the small cycle. We must renew our minds and remember who our God is, grow faith that His Spirit gives, and answer His true call to deny ourselves.