Jesus wants you to do the next thing in your walk with him. The next act of repentance, the next act of forgiveness, crush the next idol, love the next person above yourself, refuse the next temptation, tear down the next boundary.
And he wants you to do nothing else.
This might sound like a surprising statement, but I think it’s true, and marvellously freeing.
Have you ever felt wearied by the weight of change that Christ requires of you? Aware enough of your own sin to see how pervasive it is and realise you have no clue what most of it looks like? Beginning to realise just how far short you fall?
Yeah, me too. That’s the beginning of wisdom, I think, but just the beginning.
If you ever meet anyone who claims the name of Jesus but doesn’t know that they need to change in a wide array of ways, or isn’t noticing that their sin pervades their every act, then they’re either a very new Christian, or woefully arrogant and in spiritual danger.
All of us need to change in 500 different ways. I am significantly more like Christ than I was when I started following him, aged 13. I sin less than I did then too, I think. It doesn’t really feel like it though because I am with burgeoning spiritual awareness much more aware of my sin and my lack than I was then. More than that, I’m aware of how little I’m aware—I don’t notice sin. If every wrong thought we ever think about God is enough to have us cast into the outer darkness, and it is, then there are few moments if any that some stray thought doesn’t honestly and truly require the cross for me to continue living.
That’s not the whole story—we are wonderfully loved by God—but it is a true story that anyone who follows Jesus comes to have some sense of.
It’s why we should never be upset if someone accuses us of sin, because they are, on-balance, likely to be right. Even if the admission stings, or they haven’t got the particulars correct. The same is of course true of them too.
Which can, if we aren’t careful, feel crushing.
We can know that we’re redeemed from our sin, that Christ has gifted us radical freedom, and still feel like we’ve been given a heavy burden to bear.
We might feel that way if we’ve understood that we’re called not just to enjoy freedom but to follow Jesus our master. We’re meant to become like him, by following his way of repentance and forgiveness, we’re supposed change from glory to glory as we look at him (2 Corinthians 3).
Which, when we’re aware of a sliver of the size of our failings, is honestly a lot.
But we read that Jesus’ yoke is kind and his burden is light (Matthew 11). We assume that what he asks of us cannot have that sort of crushing weight to it. So, what does he ask of us?
To channel Frozen 2 for a moment—which, if you needed my opinion, has a significantly better story than Frozen in every way that matters (which tells you what I think of the story of the first film), and I will fight you on this—ahem:
He asks us to do the next right thing.
That’s it. And that’s always it. That’s all we can ever do.
If, to invoke John Calvin, our hearts are a conveyor belt of idols, we can only ever be concerned with the one in front of us and then set about gleefully smashing it. It’s a trick of perspective, stand right at the end of the conveyor belt, crouch down and you’ll only see the next one.
It won’t always be idol-smashing, but it will always require sacrifice. That’s the way of Jesus: death, then life. Darkness, then light.
I’m reminded of a favourite passage in a novel not many readers will know, Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson. Which, to not be too spoileriffic, I’ll say nothing about except that the character in question is tormented by the weight of their past misdeeds. In a climactic moment when they decided whether or not to be a hero, they come to realise:
The most important step a man can take. It’s not the first one, is it? It’s the next one. Always the next step.
Jesus feels the same way.
Why does this matter? Because the Lord who loves you is not asking you to do ten thousand impossible things before breakfast. He’s asking you do one hard thing at a time. There’s time enough for thinking about the others after this next one.
I, when confronted with seemingly impossible situations, which is more often than I would like, find this hugely comforting. All I have to do is do the next right thing.
If I didn’t manage the last right thing? Ok. Let’s do the next right thing.
Because we walk a path of gift, there is no recrimination, just an invitation: get up and try again.
That’s where we learn the really valuable skills, like hope.
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