You can have all of this world,
just give me Jesus.
The lyrics of this beautiful old hymn communicate a classic Christian conviction: that the riches found in Jesus Christ are more valuable than all the riches this world has to offer. And by “riches”, we mean not only finances, but all material possessions and experiences. We know this life offers many delights we could chase. From seaside vacations to fine wines to an evening on Broadway, the landscape of the world beckons us to come and see, to sit and eat.
But this hymn directs our affections toward a different end. Instead of temporary pleasures, we seek the greater, more lasting delights found in a life faithfully given in pursuit of Jesus. He is the one great aim of a Christian life.
The aspect of this aim I fear we miss most often today, however, is that of suffering. While the Apostle Paul rejoiced in his privilege not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer with him, today we prefer just the former. And the results of our preference have been devastating to the impact and reputation of the church in our country.
One of the greatest reasons many churches in America today are stagnant is because we have bought into the prevailing cultural narrative that personal comfort is the primary goal of human life. Our doctrine is sound, our preaching is excellent, our facilities are second to none. We have more resources for Bible study at our fingertips than any civilization in history. But for all these advantages, we still lack one crucial ingredient: the basic capacity to do anything even remotely painful. We prefer the easy road. We choose what is familiar. We put personal preference over divine calling. As a result, we have inspiring worship services fueled by master teachers and professional musicians amplified through state-of-the-art acoustic technologies. Thanks to all this skill in the art of presentation, our mission could not be clearer. Yet our missionaries do not exist. The people in the pews have assimilated Jesus, just as they have assimilated all things, into their lifelong trajectory toward a cottage on a lake. Jesus leads me to green pastures and guides me to still waters. He is the comforter of my soul and my refuge in the storms of life. He is the Son of God ruling and reigning to set all things right, especially those things in life which disturb and challenge me. He is not an agitator. He is not a prophet. He certainly is not one who calls me to lay down my life for the good of others. Instead, he laid down his life for me so that I could keep my life for myself. We would never say that, of course, but our lifestyle choices betray us.
If the church is to reclaim our missionary identity, then we must embrace the mindset that underpins that identity. Namely, we must deny ourselves and take up our cross daily. That is, we must reject comfort as our highest aim and substitute sacrifice in its place. The ability to go boldly into the toughest places and situations on earth is only made possible by the personal conviction that failure, difficulty, pain, and suffering are goods in of themselves. We must become more like Paul, and rejoice in the privilege of suffering with Christ. We must renounce our desire to share in cultural comfort, desiring instead to share in Christ’s crucifixion. Only then will the church become the dynamic, mysterious, incomprehensible force God created it to be. Only then will people view Christians as genuinely unique, and not merely as fellow consumers who pursue their comfort through a divine lens, instead of the more common secular one.
Until the love of painful sacrifice is embraced, the church will remain just one more cultural option for personal therapy toward the great human goal of coffee shop variety comfort and leisure as our highest aim.
May our affections be formed again according to the words of the old hymn:
You can have all of this world,
just give me Jesus