I remember the day Jesus broke the fear of death in me.
January 12, 2016, Turkey. We were supposed to have been up north in Istanbul visiting the Blue Mosque at Sultanahmet. For some reason, our itinerary brought us south to the ruins of Ancient Pergamum instead.
Atop the ominous cliffs of the Upper Acropolis, a stone’s throw from the ruins of the “seat of satan”, we received news that a bomb had gone off at the Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet. We later found out that 10 German tourists died in the incident.
That evening, recovering from the shocking news and our “near miss”, we huddled for a time of prayer. Our leader said: “It could easily have been us that died at the Blue Mosque today. I think it’s fitting that we thank the Lord for His mercy, that He saw it fit to preserve our lives.”
“Many in this room will one day be called to go into places where safety will be a real concern. The fear of death is what will keep us from stepping into that calling. I believe He’s showing us today that our lives are in His hands; He alone determines the length of our days.”
“Let it not be said that any of us here did not fulfill all that God has ordained for us to accomplish on our time here on earth.”
As we worshiped, the fear of the Lord fell in such a holy way that I had not experienced before and have not since. That night, as awe gripped me and Love filled me, the fear of death was broken.
Jesus everything I count as loss
To know You and be known as Yours
To share with You in Your suffering
To be with You in glory
The Apostle Paul was no stranger to life-threatening situations. Following his encounter with the risen Christ enroute to Damascus, Paul went from persecuting followers of Jesus to being persecuted for following Jesus.
He was imprisoned many times; flogged almost to death even more times; beaten; stoned; shipwrecked; and bitten by a snake. Amidst perpetual trials, tribulations and threats of death, Paul planted, pastored and reproduced churches in multiple cities; raised spiritual sons like Timothy; and gave us almost half of the New Testament.
Yet, at the end, the reward of His life was this:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him. (Philippians 3:8)
Have you ever wept over a passage of Scripture? I remember the moment I preached this passage at PenHOP’s Burn Internship. I got as far as “that I may gain Christ” before I completely lost it; I don’t even know how I managed to finish the sermon.
That day, this realization hit me: I did not want to come to the end of my life, when I would see my Jesus face to face and bring him my accomplishments and accolades amassed “in His name”, only to find that I had arrived with a cold heart. It terrified me that I might one day find I had gained a huge ministry but lost a burning heart.
Was I more passionate about what He could do through me, or who He is to me? Could the songs I sing still ring true should I find myself wasting away the last years of my life in a prison cell? Was I willing to share in His suffering that I might partake in His glory (Rom. 8:17)?
Jesus let my days be lived for You
The vapor of this life be given too
Set this heart toward eternity
To be with You in glory
All of life is a vapor. If we truly lived like we believed this, how different would our lives be?
Recently, the story of John Allen Chau has been making headlines. He has been called a martyr, a fool, a reckless adventurer. What the world thinks of him is not the point; the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Cor. 1:18). But what stunned me was that some of John’s most scathing criticisms came from within the Church.
It brought to mind a young girl who, though not attacked by an isolated tribe, had in effect given up her life the moment she broke an alabaster jar of costly oil at Jesus’ feet. In one instant, she emptied her entire life’s inheritance, forfeiting her dowry and wasting with every drop the security of her future.
And like what happened recently, her act of extravagant devotion incensed those meant to be closest to Jesus; the same men who would eventually become the leaders of the Church, and eventually die gruesome deaths for His sake.
They said, “Why this waste?”
Something is only considered wasteful if its cost is disproportionately higher than its value. Their indignant objections revealed this sad and sobering truth: in that moment, to the disciples, Jesus was not worth a year’s wages.
Jesus then publicly vindicated her, affirmed her act of devotion as beautiful, and charged his disciples to tell her story everywhere the gospel was preached.
I believe He did that for several reasons: to honor her sacrifice, to show what extravagant worship looked like, but most importantly, so that every time the disciples retold the story - in Jerusalem and as far as in India - their hearts would be gripped again by the question Mary’s lavish act provoked.
How much is Jesus worth to you?
Would we count our lives more worthy of preservation than our King who gave up His with no reservation? Would we exchange our heavenly treasures for temporary earthly pleasures?
The first time I sang my song “Reward” outside of the prayer room in Penang was in Minnesota, in the living room of a mentor together with his family. It was a sweet time of communion with the Lord. As we sang, I heard a friend sobbing. I asked her afterwards what had made her weep that deeply. She replied: “You were singing my life verse.”
I believe God is raising up a generation who will make this cry their life verse, who will count all things as loss for the sake of knowing Jesus, who would lose their lives that they might gain Him.
Even unto death.
Come and be my exceedingly great reward
You’re the treasure that I would give my whole life for
What would it profit me to gain the world but lose my soul?
I know my life is not my own.