"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." - Matthew 7:13-14
One lesson I have learned in the past month of blogging on politics instead of the teachings of Jesus is that the problems facing our country today are far more simple to solve and far less difficult to understand than the problem of following Jesus. I can write two posts a day on economics or politics without resulting in any deep exhaustion at all. But to write insightfully on discipleship is exhausting and difficult to write even one post a week. The problem of life transformation and articulating to others how this way works and how to walk in this way is exponentially more complex and difficult to practice and understand than fixing global finance.
Global finance is easy. Look to the great depression. How did it end? It ended when the US began to focus on arming for World War II. We ran up huge deficits to fund the war on totalitarianism, and America started working again. So, this path is basically what we need to follow. We need to fight a war on something like dependence on foreign oil and carbon emissions. We need to tool up for this economic war on energy imports as if our life depends on it. America will run huge deficits, but we will come out winning the economic war. In so doing, we will set ourselves up for another 50 years of prosperity. Problem solved. Now for more pressing issues and more difficult issues like becoming salt and light to a morally corrupt and self-centered humanity.
Difficult and Pressing
Every other time this word translated here as narrow in verse 14 is used in the New Testament it is translated as afflicted. The road we choose in following Jesus is a road which seriously constricts our freedom. It afflicts our choices, our momentary well being. This road is hard. This road of following Jesus is narrow and marked with moment by moment acts of self restraint and death to our ego and our impulses and we are called to do this through the power of God and not our own strength. This spiritual mandate only complicates the process all the more. Not only do we need to become loving but this love must come from God, and our victories must make us more humble and more worshipful. Nothing could possibly be harder to learn how to actually implement than the way of Christ.
The word used here originates from the idea of pressing grapes into wine. So, the idea is that you will be far more hard pressed trying to follow Jesus than anything else you or I ever attempt in life. Jesus teaches us, warns us in fact, that very few persist along this course long enough to attain the rest and peace that is promised.
The Problem of Discipleship and Becoming Salt and Light
The church is in crisis today. The outcomes of holiness are strikingly absent. In the church, divorce should not even be mentioned among us, but, instead, many church member's marriages fail. Greed is rampant in the world, but is not material self indulgence evident in the church as well? Christians, who are to find the path of peace, often experience tempers flaring in their homes. The cause of this is clearly a lack of training in the ways of Jesus Christ.
The root of this problem is that the way of Jesus, the way of death to self at the deepest level of our being, and the means of confession and conscious contact with God are not taught in the churches. I heard a preacher recently say, "So last week we learned to 'follow the Spirit'". I thought to my self, "Does he realize how difficult it is to follow the Spirit". Learning discernment to follow the Spirit into the path of self-denial and silence and meekness is harder than beating Roger Federer at tennis or Tiger Woods at golf. Yet, we teach it as if it is like taking candy from a baby.
I have a saying, "The Spirit is always saying the same thing". What the Spirit says is "follow Jesus". Following the Spirit is the most difficult thing in all of human experience. To follow the Spirit we need community and mentoring and discernment of our ego and our motives. We need to learn how to practice the presence of God in the midst of being threatened by people with different agendas than us. We have to learn to listen and prefer others and serve and love.
So, here we have a process to learn that is harder than brain surgery, and, yet, in our communities, we approach the task like we approach politics. Everyone has an opinion and everyone's opinion is just that an opinion.
What is needed is quite the opposite. If you wouldn't let a grade school kid perform open heart surgery, do not let a person with a temper, a struggling marriage or a control/ego problem teach people how to follow Jesus. Very few people are experts in the area of discipleship but it is our task to seek out experts and to dedicate our minds and our wills to becoming experts in this the most urgent and most strenuous of all human pursuits.