The name of the game for all Christians is: Lose it! The outcome is difficult, unpredictable, and usually results in a life of unpredictability. But in losing it, you might gain something unexpected and re-create yourself.
From the outset, this does not sound very wise, and as a father of two young adults, I would myself prefer the name of the game to be: Save it! Or even more strongly than that: Control it!
But no. Jesus’s advice in Luke 9:24 is: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.”
This advice from Jesus sounds almost irresponsible. It seems to be coming from an upside down philosophy of life when compared with all the logic that governs our very existence. Everybody wants to succeed. Our world is geared toward people who can succeed and who can save their lives. To say anything to the contrary sounds quite off the wall. Simply put, this sounds like crazy advice from Jesus. His advice is at least, to put it in a good light, quite counter-cultural.
But a little self-awareness should tell me that I should not be complaining about the upside down wisdom of the gospel. Not me. I love adventure and get a thrill from putting all my soul into ventures from which outcomes are unpredictable or are not easily kept under control. I seem to be attracted to impossible tasks, demanding ventures that might end in failure, attracted to places where the struggle is the greatest and where those who are lost congregate: a club for the homeless, a winter night shelter, an intercity area. After years of participating in a “lose it” lifestyle, the only thing I would like to say is that life has been great! It has been an absolute joy, full of struggles for sure, but God has been present in the very struggles of life.
Consider for a moment the wisdom of a move I took twenty years ago when I exchanged Rio de Janeiro in Brazil for Luton in the United Kingdom. I traded a career in show business in Rio’s busy night life for a life as a mission partner in Luton. But, what a great move that was! My life was transformed into something else. I could do exactly what I felt I was intended to do: to serve the church in a full time capacity and to be with people working for life-changing encounters in the community.
Luton, a multi ethnic urban context, boasted a variety of temples from diverse religions where I would learn a great deal about other World Religions of which I had known or experienced very little until moving there. The experience I had in Luton led me to study Islam, which helped prepare me for working with the World Methodist Council to lead the work of its Inter-Religious Relationships Standing Committee.
None of that would have happened if I had remained in Rio. I consider such redeeming experiences not reserved only for eternity but starting from now, on this side of life. Try to save your life too much, to control and preserve every aspect of it, to predict and plan every turn, and you will lose it. The joy of an adventure can only happen if one launches oneself into it. The only predictable outcome is that life on the cutting edge will bring faith to the fore. Life as an adventure is a life full of joy.
At breakfast in the manse, my wife Alison said something to the effect of: if she were the parent of the 15 year old boy who left home intending to spend a year away—inspired by George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London—she would get him out strait away onto an adventure where he could find himself, and I would add, find joy and faith and salvation.
An early gap year serving as a volunteer in a remote part of the planet would not go amiss. In losing himself in that way, he might find an unexpected self, more sensitive to the realities of life and the possibilities of a meaningful existence—and perhaps more considerate to his parents too! It would be quite risky but certainly character-building. It would be quite scary but certainly faith-building—in himself but especially in God. It would be quite demanding but certainly awareness-raising of situations of poverty and injustice. She would let the boy risk it! It might prove to be his salvation.
To risk it—to lose it—is an upside down logic if compared with the cultural environment all around us. The world is demanding for us to gain it and to control it. Jesus’ advice is totally counter cultural. It is the gospel against culture to use one of the types in the typology coined by Richard Niebuhr in the 1950s. The advice in Luke 9 gains a more mainstream dimension by leaning on more orthodox, neo-orthodox theology. I can even claim that Pope Francis totally supports the advice from Jesus as the present Pope himself advised youth to be “revolutionaries and rebels.”
The Pope, speaking to a crowd of more than 3 million young people in Rio de Janeiro, urged them to be revolutionaries and rebels. Pope Francis spoke against a culture of consumerism that de-humanizes people and said that it is through the window the youth represent that the future comes into being. He used words of enthusiasm and of hope for the idea of living adventurously for today. He criticized the restorationism of some groups and the utopianism of others. The Pope challenged the youth to live for today with enthusiasm and creativity instead of fear, to be revolutionary and rebel against the prevailing culture. He encouraged them to go against the tide—to go into the world to spread the generous merciful message of Jesus.
When Jesus said, “those who lose their life for my sake will save it,” he set a condition for a life that is open and adventurous: “For my sake”—this is the gospel condition for any risk taking. What does it mean to open our hands and let it all go for the sake of Jesus? It means to lose ourselves for the sake of the Gospel, for the values that Jesus represented, for the sake of goodness, mercy, grace, love, service to others. The goal is to achieve the change that shall bring the Kingdom of God near and to risk it all to engage with a life that will help to bring justice and peace.
What we want is not the sense of adventure inspired by ideologies that bring war, destruction and death. There is plenty of that in our world, from Wahhabism/Salafim’s interpretation of Islam (restorationism) to the xenophobic attitude in the West that claims a Christian justification for its exclusivist, hateful world-view. Certainly not. What we want is a sense of adventure that is inspired by goodness and love, which is a way of finding oneself whilst being a force for good in the world. That is the adventure taken in the name of Jesus Christ, in the name of love. That sort of Gospel adventure will bring life in abundance.
There is nothing more adventurous than to re-create oneself by the grace of God and the goodness of life. Not to go for it is risking to lose it!