A Life to Overcome
Writing a different success story
excerpt from the same article By Jessica Haberkern
Everyone loves a good story, but few of us consider that God calls us to live one. Think about it: A good book or good movie includes an intriguing plot with travails and tension. The heroes and heroines of our favorite films chase conflict, and ultimately, they overcome. The girl gets the guy; the guy gets the job; Indiana Jones gets the grail and the girl. And yet, many Christians settle for a comfortable, unchallenging existence. If we don’t make room for tension, you and I run the risk of living a bad story. We will not be characters who overcome.
The gospels show us that Jesus was notorious for embracing conflict. Rabbi Jesus knew how to ruffle the feathers of those who heard Him teach, with comments like “eat my flesh” and “drink my blood” (John 6:56). But His controversial narrative didn’t end with His body suspended and beaten on a tree. Like every good piece of literature, the story of Jesus recounts a battle where victory abounds. He overcame obstacles like disease, sin, and death to bring glory to His Father in heaven. In fact, everything that Jesus said and did was postured around the kingdom of heaven. Fully man and fully God, He was living on earth according to heaven’s laws.
Jesus calls His disciples to live similar stories. The goal is, after all, to be more like Him. Yet the gospels also show us that following Jesus comes with great cost. Luke 5 describes what happened when Jesus called His first disciples, Peter and Andrew. The brothers had been fishing all night without a single catch, so after Jesus suggested that they cast their nets one more time, the pair was surprised to find their boat sinking from the enormous amount of fish piling on their deck.
Before shrugging off this account as a familiar tale, it’s important to dwell for a minute on what didn’t happen. The men could have taken the fish to the bazaar and sold their catch, because selling catch is what you do when you’re a fisherman. They could have thanked Jesus for the incredible blessing and upgraded their boat for the newest on the market. But they didn’t. Luke tells us that the men left everything behind “and followed Him.” Following Jesus cost them something—their job and families and a lot of money.
When I became a Christian, I didn’t consider what chasing after Jesus might cost me. I didn’t estimate how following Him would mean giving up my job, or that He would ask me to move far away from my family, or request that I surrender my dreams just as they were coming to fruition. When He invited me to follow Him, He redeemed me from an absence of identity and claimed me as His own. But what did He redeem me for? A nice house? A good job?
Recently, when I sat down one day to apply for a job in our new town, I was asked to give a statement about my career goals. Confronted with the conflicting propositions of losing my life for the sake of the gospel (Matt. 10:39) and the ambition to promote myself, I stared at the blank lines in the application for what seemed like hours. I wished that I was able to spout off a lofty career goal to obtain by the time I turned 50, but I suddenly felt as if maybe my occupation didn’t matter. “A mother to orphans” sounded much more appealing. Or “to illuminate the message of the gospel, no matter the circumstance.” Or how about this one: “To love like Christ.”
There’s nothing wrong with having a career. The kingdom benefits from Christians in the workplace, and people benefit from paychecks. I’m discovering, rather, that our careers do not define us. Nor does gender, socioeconomic status, or even our role as a spouse or parent. Although chasing Jesus into new territory raises more questions about myself than I have answers, I have begun to make room for a different success story. God is interested in the fabric of my very being—and in yours—particularly in those who deny themselves to give legs to the gospel. I am learning that losing one’s life for the sake of Christ means finding it at the feet of His throne.
One day every person will stand before the glorious, gleaming bright throne of God and will be asked to give an account for his or her life. Sometimes I like to close my eyes and picture myself there, Jesus in the place of honor at God’s right hand. In my vision, God doesn’t ask me to tell Him just any story. He wants to hear the one about how I’ve overcome.
“To him who overcomes” is written seven times in the book of Revelation, specifically in the letters dictated to the seven churches of Asia Minor. Every single letter closes with a promise of reward to those who overcome. While the letters extend more than ten promises of riches in heaven, I find one particularly striking because of where it puts believers in relation to the throne. “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Revelation 3:21 NKJV). Following Jesus isn’t merely a call to come and die; it’s an invitation to live in our Father’s embrace, as little children sitting on His lap.
I cannot say with certainty that when Jesus tells the rich young ruler to “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Luke 18:22 NKJV), He literally means empty your bank account, sell your lawnmower, and give your computer to the homeless guy on the street corner. But in order to be characters that overcome, we need to create room for the possibility that Jesus MIGHT ask that of us. He may one day call you to leave the things and people you love most. Perhaps He is merely inviting you to live a great story.