Going Deeper: Tyler Ralph "What Holds You Back?"

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.    - John 14:6 (NIV)

I think enough time has passed that I can be honest with you guys. When I first met you guys, I thought you were all crazy. So now you know.

I thought that depending on a God you couldn’t see was nuts. That’s why I thought you were crazy. I thought to depend on anyone else was a sign that people were just too weak to hack it.

Turns out I was right. I am too weak to make it. I am too flawed to have the ability to rely on my own strength. Too corrupted by the world to rely solely on my own judgement. That is the beauty of it though, that I don’t have to make it on my own. Jesus says: “Come to me all who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am meek and humble at heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.” And now I’m not even sure why I wanted to be completely self-reliant.

When I got sick this year there were some very low points for me. And what I gained out of that time was an understanding of just how much I depend on my own strength. When the thing you are relying on is suddenly taken away from you, it’s a tough lesson. Maybe that’s why I’m now seeing our Watchword in terms of the obstacles that distract from the way Jesus is leading.

Why does Jesus say, “I am the way”, if not because people were trying to find their own way to make it in life. Like the Pharisees and other religious leaders who were busy trying to earn their way into heaven, by following certain religious practices, to try and be perfect. As if they could earn their way into heaven. We know Jesus had strong words for them in his time on earth, because they were the example that people were looking to for guidance.

So when Jesus spoke our Watchword passage to his disciples he wanted them to know the right way. He said it in a way that was totally unambiguous, meaning no one could twist his words and find a different meaning. It was black and white. Either we accept Jesus as our way to the Father, or we risk hearing the Father say one day, “I never knew you. Get away from me…”

If we are really going to personally accept the Watchword God has given us, then we need to ask ourselves if Jesus is “100%”, FULLY the way in our lives. And if He is not the sole direction in our journey, then we need to put our finger on what it is that is leading us away from his guidance. We need to identify those things, so that we may prayerfully ask God to take them away.

Each time we sat in a small group to discuss the Watchword I heard someone describe “the way” as an analogy of driving to Jo’burg. OK so if Jesus is “The Way” and we are talking about the road to Jo’burg, then I would think of it like this. Imagine you are here in White River and you had to drive your car from here to Jo’burg. But you’ve never been before and you have no GPS, no phone, no street signs, no map, nothing to help you navigate. That is how I imagine our life journey without Jesus’ direction. You are lost, and so all that is left is to rely on your own instincts without any proper guidance. And if you ever made it to Jo’burg it would be purely by dumb luck.

Now for us here we are Christians, and we do follow the teaching in the Bible, but we are not in Jo’burg, we have not yet arrived and if we want to stand at the gates of Heaven one day and be ushered in as good and faithful servants, I think we must continually re-exam our lives. We must be willing to pick apart our motives for our decisions, our values, our culture, the way we spend our time, everything really, for the sake of our own personal growth. Because all of those things are distractions to what matters. We must be searching for clues along our drive, to stop sometimes and try and read the situation, to search for people who we trust to help give us direction. In real life that means we need to be prayerfully seeking our Father. But we also need to have people in our lives who help give us perspective and direction.

Maybe we are in danger ourselves because we think we are going the right way, but really we are on our way to Swaziland instead of on our way to Jo’burg. What if we don’t even know it, but there are other things in our lives that are guiding us slowly away from the true path. And Jesus says, “No one can come to the Father except through me.” So if there is only one road to Jo’burg, are we on it or have we taken a detour somewhere.

So maybe the best way, is to look at what God is actually saying about “the way that Jesus is leading”. As we reflect more on this Watchword it will hopefully help us to uncover those things that we are blind to or simply don’t want to face. Because anything that pulls us off the right course is a road block that must be removed. We have to learn what Jesus actually teaches us about “The Way” so that we can imitate Him.

Mathew 10:37-39

“If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy or being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.”

To me this is one of the ways the Watchword is offensive, as George says. Because it is causing me to examine the things in my life that take priority over God. Which in theory sounds nice, but it’s not easy, and it makes me feel defensive. And it is even tougher when the things causing me to be side tracked are good things, like family. So to think about the love I have for my family possibly being a hindrance to my relationship with God is tough to swallow.

My parents, my siblings and I are a close knit family. We all lived in the same city and strived for the same things, valued the same things growing up, we were all headed in the same direction. But they never approved of us being here in Africa. They would fly us home tomorrow if I said we want to come home. It’s tough for them and it hurts them that we are here. And being that we are a close family it hurts me that my decisions have impacted them like that. And in the beginning of our time with Hands it made me sway back and forth in my decision to stay in Africa or get back to Canada and carry on with my life.

 And when I think about this passage I think about being here and serving the most vulnerable as a portion of my cross to bear, and that my desire to do right by my family almost steered me away from that. I placed a higher value on pleasing my parents than on pleasing Christ. Had I walked away from God’s calling on my life and gone back to Canada, my life and my walk with Christ would have been shaped totally different.

Anything at all that prevents us from putting Christ as the number one in our lives, even if it is inherently good, is dangerous. Loving your family is good, but if you love them more than God and if it stops you from doing what God is calling you to, then it becomes a stumbling block.

God is saying let go of the life you have and you will find a new and better life. Let go of those worldly things that give you security, let go of those ideals you have grown up with that have no real value or purpose in your walk with Christ. Do that and I will breathe new life into you, I will renew you.

But that’s not easy. The things that our parents and society taught us were true all these years are deeply imbedded in the back of our minds. They will not go gently without a fight. It will be painful to let go and will cost us much. Not everyone will be able to follow the example of Jesus because they will be unable to let go of the things that come from this world, that have be taught to them since they were born.

Jesus’ message is not easy for people. He says:

Mathew 10: 34-36

“Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword. I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. Your enemies will be right in your own household.”

He wants us to understand what it can cost to follow His teaching and to also be aware of the hidden pitfalls for us. I had to choose to follow Christ and be here despite the fact that it hurt my family. Despite the fact that my best friends now feel a bit like strangers when I see them because we’ve been gone so long. I’m not even sure how many birthdays, weddings, births, deaths and whatever other events we have missed spending with our family and friends back in Canada since we’ve been here.

The cost of following Jesus is big. When someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

Luke 9: 58-62

Jesus replied, “’Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.’ He said to another person, ‘Come Follow me’. The man agreed, but he said, ‘Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.’ But Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.’ Another said, ‘Yes Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.’ But Jesus told him, ‘Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.’”

Again that one stings a bit, because it pokes me where it hurts. Right in the spots that the Watchword pokes me, and it’s sensitive.

I know there are things that cause me to look back and falter. I value things that I have grown up with in my culture like money, title and financially planning for my future.  I mean, how could planning for my future be a bad thing? But Jesus says that where ever you keep your treasure there your heart will also be. Meaning if I find my security in things and store up my treasure here on earth that is what my eyes will see more and more, and my heart will long for more and more things to build up that treasure. And we cannot worship both God and money because we will hate one and love the other.

The problem is really that I want a backup plan. If God comes through then great, but if God doesn’t come through then my backup plan will save me. But that is not really living by faith.

We often know the things in our own lives that misguide us and don’t belong there, but they remain there because we find a way to justify them. Otherwise how could we know they are wrong and yet those things are still present in your lives? Things like selfishness. We may protect our “me time” like it is more important than anyone else. And we are able to justify that because the world tell us, we deserve it.

It could be selfishness for you, but whatever it is for each of us, that is the thing God is asking you to give up this year. He was poking at it when George shared the Watchword, and continued poking at it when Lynn shared about the race we are running. 

Jesus told the rich man to give up all his possessions to the poor and come and follow him. And that was the one thing that man could not do. But it is also the one thing he needed to do.

I really believe God is asking us to work out something big in our lives that is affecting our journey. Why else would He have chosen this Watchword for us? It makes me nervous, because anything that has hung around this long in my life, I know will not go away easily.

I remember Levy sitting with a CBO and talking about the cancer in their CBO and saying they must cut it out to survive. He was being very descriptive about cutting out the cancer and using gestures, and Dan was almost passing out. But I think that is what this year is going to be for us, that cutting process. At times it is going to be painful as God helps us to cut away the pieces that don’t belong there. And it is going to take a huge leap of faith on each of our parts. We cut away the dead branches so that new life can grow.

When I was young I remember the day I came of realize that the way I thought was different from other kids. When I was little I remember trying to explain to my class this feeling in my head that I HAD to do these funny ritual things, like always have my papers in a certain way on my desk or else it just felt wrong in my entire body. No one in my class knew what I was talking about when I tried to explain that.

But as I grew up the feelings got stronger. I developed rituals all over my house and even outside of my home that took up almost every waking thought. Whatever I was doing at any given moment, that nagging voice was in my head reminding me to do those rituals. I had to do things like arrange everything in my room just perfectly. Sometimes I had to move a book back and forth 50 times before it “felt right” to me. It didn’t really make any sense and I hated it, it ate up my insides. It made me anxious and angry. I felt like I was out of control. I had to keep on doing these things, every day, all day.

My parents hated it too, because they felt so helpless watching me struggle with these rituals. They would try to reason with me and usually it just filled me with frustration, rage and embarrassment. I remember when my challenges started to be noticed by others outside of my house. When I would do homework I would be writing and erasing the same thing until I literally had holes in my page, which was part of my rituals. Homework would take hours longer than it should have. Two separate times I had teachers hold up my work to the class when it was full of holes and everyone would laugh at me. It was really tough for me because it just seemed to fuel the fire.

What I have is called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD, which is an anxiety disorder. What it meant for me was that I was in a constant state of anxiety and stress. When others were laughing and playing I was trying to silence the voices in my head. And with OCD the voices are driven by fear. For me those voices told me if I didn’t do that thing with the book, then something terrible would happen. So if I didn’t make sure everything was perfectly straight in my room then someone in my family would die. It sounds crazy, but that voice is convincing, I promise you.

Of course I call it a voice, but it’s not like I actually heard anything, its just a feeling a had inside that was driving these obsessive rituals.

It got bad enough, that when I was 16 years old that my parents finally convinced me to see a phycologist, and that took a lot of convincing. You kind of learn to accept your life as what it is, and also strangely find some comfort in it. But the phycologist taught me tools I needed to fight this OCD. And helped me realize that I didn’t need to be burdened by these things anymore, I didn’t have to just accept them. But…..No matter how convincing these tools the phycologist had were, none of them worked unless I was willing to take my first step in faith. That first step was by far the hardest. For the first time I would have to say “NO!” when the voices in my head told me to do something and trust that everything would be OK. No one in my family would die if I didn’t do what the voice said and if anything did happen during that time it was not my fault. It was really, really tough for me to believe that, but I had to trust the psychologist, in faith I had to follow his way in order to overcome my problem.

Well again I am faced with a leap of faith. To trust that Jesus is the way, is to let go of my security nets again, take a step out in faith and trust that God will guide and protect me. Again it feels tough because there is comfort in the things I have come to trust, that my culture says are OK, that make sense practically. But God is saying, there is only one road and my word is all the assurance you need, trust me.

For those who have been in a Maranatha Workshop, you will remember at the end of Day 1 people are asked if they want to accept this Jesus. If you do you come and stand in the circle and people will pray for you.

You cannot take a half step in. If you do, you are in danger, at some point, of pulling both feet out. You must commit with both feet.

Mathew 7: 13-14

“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.”

It’s not easy to follow Christ, but we must strive to be more and more like Jesus. We push each other and hold each other accountable. Helping others grows us, but we also need guidance ourselves. We are called to both be the sheppard and the sheep.

Whatever truths you may have heard in these past few weeks, hold on to them. Whatever God is poking at in your life don’t ignore that thing, hold on to God’s prompting. We know what we must do and we know it is worth the fight.

Mathew 19: 29-30

“And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life. But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.”

What a reminder for us to stick to the true path. God promises that his plan is much greater, and if you think what you have stored up here on earth is special, then wait until you get to heaven and see what following Jesus has brought you. You will have more than you can imagine, things much deeper than the treasures of this world. The happiness we experience here will be nothing compared to the joy that will be found in the Father.

Remember at the end of Lynn’s talk last Friday he asked us to write down those things that weigh us down. Let that list be our starting point. Let’s take those things and bring them before God. We share our challenges with others and ask them to walk with us and pray for us in that. As those obstacles are removed, our path will become clearer.

We must seek to better understand Jesus’ Way so that we can become more like Him.

I just want to close with this verse:

Psalm 18: 30-36

“God’s way is perfect. All the Lord’s promises prove true. He is a shield for all who look to him for protection. For who is God except the Lord? Who but our God is a solid rock? God arms me with strength, and makes my way perfect. He makes me as surefooted as a deer, enabling me to stand on mountain heights. He trains my hands for battle; he strengthens my arm to draw a bronze bow. You have given me your shield of victory. Your right hand supports me; your help has made me great. You have made a wide path for my feet to keep them from slipping.”