Written by Ryan Karayiannis.
"Now this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." John 17:3
When I realised the COVID-19 pandemic was not like anything I had ever experienced before with regards world-wide change and lockdown; I felt myself going through a number of emotions. I panicked what this might mean for the safety of my wife, my family and friends. I worried what this would do for my mental well-being and financial security through work and I wasn’t sure how I could possibly survive with the social restrictions. I basically looked for all the ways I could protect the comfortable kingdom I have worked hard to establish.
I’ll be honest, even as I write this now and reflect on the different ways I responded to the news I can’t help but feel slightly embarrassed. I know many people who will read this have been through heart-breaking times, losing loved ones, mental illness struggles, financial losses or abusive relationships: all more painful and troubling than my concern to keep things the way they were in my pre-COVID bubble.
But even more alarming for me is that I know I often talk a good talk about my belief and my choice to follow Jesus. In fact, I love to get lost in a world of information and knowledge about Him. I have for the majority of this past decade talked about and known of Jesus.
My life resembles one which could be justified as worthy of ‘living for God’ – but what was gently revealed by a patient and loving Father during March 2020 was a heart that was comfortable with many things other than Jesus. I thought I knew Jesus well, but my greatest comforts were the social, financial and health benefits of living in a wealthy country in the western world with plenty.
It is safe and easy to study and read from the comfort of my own home, especially if the fire is on and the comforts of this life are all ticking over nicely: health, wealth and prosperity. But the moment these are thrown off my inner life and dependency on Jesus are revealed. One writer once put it like this: “Your private world will make or break your public life.”
In other words, your beliefs, your faith and your true dependencies are revealed when our public worlds are disturbed. My kingdom had been shaken and the walls around it proved fragile and unable to withstand the strain of life. I realised I needed something stronger to build my life on – but what does this look like?
Remarkably, while on a run, I was listening to a brilliant Canadian Bible teacher, Danielle Strickland (the talk is referenced below) as she shared some of her life journey and learning about when to hold on and when to let go as we follow Jesus.
It was during this run, while Danielle was sharing about surrender, I felt the Spirit give me an opportunity to surrender, something I felt like I had done years ago. But this was a new surrender, a deeper sense of surrender. A surrender of my own way, my control and my own little kingdom.
I’ll be honest, I had a lot of built-up anxiety and anger, trying to hold onto control – but I couldn’t hold on any longer. The slow process of letting go of control initially felt painful, almost the opposite of what life teaches me to do. It seemed bold and good that I would want to protect and provide, ensure a good income and do something ‘important’ with my life. Again, on the outside this looked great. But I sensed I was being invited into something more than a well thought out life plan.
Deep down inside of me, I know Jesus’ way is best. I know it is good. I have seen the evidence in my life to prove this. And, again, honestly, I didn’t want to carry the pain and worry anymore. I wanted to be what Paul writes to the small church in Galatia: someone who walks in the Spirit. But this wasn’t at all about ‘doing’ – this was about ‘being’.
The surrender of my kingdom included what I believe is best and safe for my wife and my family and entrusting them to God that He loves them more than I do, so all I would need to do would be to follow. It was a surrender of the significance I thought I could establish by doing lots of good things for Jesus embracing the significance that Jesus gives me through His life so I can start doing life WITH Him rather than FOR Him.
Again, this was an unravelling process. The words Jesus said to the disciples recorded in Matthew 5 rung true: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted”. I mourned my way, my kingdom, what I believed to be safest and best. I felt shame that I could disguise a noble life for one rooted in insecurity and fear.
But, most importantly, the release brought comfort, the release made way for peace. I made my way home feeling a sense of joy and excitement to share with Lou. I think this was the first time I had felt something for a while. Something good. Connection with the Holy Spirit, being held by someone greater than I in a Kingdom that is unshakable. My surrender meant I could now experience the presence of Jesus – and I do not believe there is a greater place to be.
I remember reading someone’s thoughts on what Dallas Willard’s first moments might be as he passed into eternity. They said: “I wonder if it will take him a few minutes to realize he has slipped into eternity”. In other words, Willard truly believed we can walk, here and now, in the presence and beauty of Jesus. We do not need to wait to one day die to get to know Him. Eternal life begins today as we get know our Father. Importantly, eternal life is not how much we can do for Him. Eternal life is knowing Him.
Inevitably, this will come at a cost – the cost of my own kingdom and the release of the weight of being in control in order to embrace His life. We must lay down our dependence on comfort, control and our way to embrace dependency on Him, His way and His control.
For much of my life I have known about Jesus. For the most part of the last decade I have followed Jesus - or at least tried my best amidst my own shortcomings and circumstances. But what I am trying to understand and embrace now, is that life with Jesus is best done abiding in Him, walking in His Spirit and embracing His way in order to know my Heavenly Father.
Danielle Strickland - Hanging on and Letting Go: