Black Friday is an interesting day. While several myths have surfaced regarding the roots of the title for the day following Thanksgiving, the term “Black Friday” only began to spread around the country in the late 1980’s. Since then, it has expanded to a four-day period, including “small business Saturday/ Sunday” and “cyber Monday.” Over the past decade, in order to increase profits, retailers have opened stores as early as Thanksgiving morning.
I have known some individuals who camp out in the cold until the doors open in order to lay hands on the deals that they have deemed to be worth the stress. I also know others who stay at home or with family on the day following Thanksgiving. Some do so out of fear of crowds, and others choose to stay out of stores because they do not believe in the idea of capitalistic materialism encroaching in on family time and holidays. Personally, I cannot handle UV lights (migraines), standing in long lines, extreme temperatures, loud noises, exertion, crowded places, concentrations of germs and smells, and spending large amounts of money. As a result, you will never see me out in a store on the day after Thanksgiving.
Whatever your reasoning to shop or not to shop on Black Friday, I hold no judgement. I have only come to share a word that God laid on my heart during a time of stillness and rest on “Black Friday” afternoon. As I rested on the afternoon of November 23rd, I heard the Spirit whisper to me about our deal-seeking culture and our dependence on “cheap grace.”
I rarely spend full price on a purchase. I am a deal-hunter, and I absolutely love second-hand shopping. Half-off is rarely cheap enough for me. I’m more of a 75 to 90 percent off kind of girl, and I don’t feel a twinge of guilt about it. It is my belief that most merchandise is marked up so high that to pay full price is almost always akin to being robbed.
The kingdom of heaven, however, is quite different.
As humans, we are often bargain shoppers with God. In seeking a set of theological doctrine to follow, the modern church, especially in the West, is looking desperately for a “discount God.” We don’t want to spend much on our faith. We don’t want to have to pay a lot out front. We are looking for a theology that requires little-to-no sacrifice and very little life-change from us. We are hoping to find a God who is a nice accessory to our already half-way-decent life. We don’t want God to require anything of us, but we desire that He give us abundance, answer our prayers, and serve as our spiritual vending-machine when we need Him. He better not step on our toes, however. We certainly do not want to have to adjust our schedule, our relationships, our habits, or our priorities for Him. We would like to give Him a little bench right at the periphery of our lives, where we can use Him as we need Him.
But to place Him on the throne in the center of our lives? Unacceptable.
Throughout the gospels, Jesus talks about this mentality frequently when He encounters individuals who seek to follow Him but only want a “discounted Jesus.”
When Jesus spoke to the rich young ruler in Matthew 19, together they checked off a to-do list of the commandments that this man followed. The ruler actually had committed quite a bit of energy and resources to being a God-follower, yet Jesus declared him incomplete. He said,
If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.
The rich young ruler found this statement to be heart-breaking. He simply refused to pay the price that Jesus required for discipleship because he owned too much.
In Luke 14, when confronted with large crowds seeking to follow Him, Jesus made a seemingly outrageous statement regarding the cost of discipleship:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
God is expensive. When we follow Christ, He calls us to pay everything to follow Him, even our lives. Following God is not always about abandoning family, being destitute, or selling all that we have to the poor, but He calls us to a place of absolute surrender and willingness.
When we choose to follow Christ, we must hold our entire existence out before Him with open hands.
Our lives become His: Entirely His. No exceptions. No holds barred. Nothing secret, nothing more sacred than God. This is the heart of the true Christ-follower.
Like the rich young ruler, for some, the cost is too high. For some, the cost is even offensive.
How dare He say that we must deny my family?
How could He call me to abandon my achievements?
I have worked my whole life to attain this status. It is rightfully mine.
How could He ask me to let go of my hard-earned material wealth? It’s all I’ve ever wanted.
And Jesus says, “Don’t you see? That’s why you must lay it down. Because it distorts your vision of Me. In itself, it isn’t a bad thing, but it is too big in your eyes. When I am Lord, you cannot hold anything higher than you hold me. So it must die. If you are still greater than I am, then you must be willing to die.”
Some of us stand, terribly offended, furious, fuming, and we storm away, outraged at the cost that Jesus has placed on discipleship.
Still others bow our heads with the rich young man, in agreement with the terms of Jesus’ deal, but unable to let go of our beloved life. In tears, we let go of the hand of the Savior, and we walk away. We feel that we cannot pay the cost, and we are grieved.
Some of us try to bargain, trying to re-write the deal: Okay, Jesus, I hear you. But what about just this part of my life? I can let you in my weekends. I can give you Sundays and Wednesday nights. But the rest is really important. I absolutely must have that promotion that I’m up for in a few months. It’s non-negotiable. Surely that’s reasonable, right? Ultimately, when we try to find a way to pay half-price for discipleship, we still end up frustrated because the lingering call remains: “Pick up your cross, lay down your life, and follow me.” And we cannot abide it. So we either shut down the voice of God in our lives, silencing the Spirit, or we choose to walk away.
Some of us pursue better deals elsewhere. Other religions require less. They only demand that you make certain adjustments. Some even allow us to maintain our current lifestyle without changing anything. Some offer buy-one-get-one deals, and some offer a complete mail-in refund. Some look too good to be true, and we buy in to the shiny package deals.
Some of us seek fulfillment in cheap items: Sex, addiction, temporary pleasures, media, entertainment, unhealthy relationships, food, or numbing habits. The Dollar Store of life is stocked full of empty promises.
And still some of us approach God’s offer as Jesus describes in His parable in Matthew 13:44-46:
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
With great joy, something in our soul whispers: “This is it. This is the One my soul has been seeking. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and I believe it. Nothing in my life holds candle to the richness of being in His presence. I want to follow Him. Somehow, He is written into the fabric of my being. Somehow, His word resonates with something in my soul that seems to have pre-existed my entire existence. I believe and will follow Him because the Spirit testifies within me that He is the one my heart has been seeking all along.“ And with open hands, we step forward, allowing Him to take our hand.
We invest our lives in discipleship, Costly discipleship, and we discover that we, in fact, never actually lost anything. In actuality, we somehow gained the whole world when we laid down our lives to follow that Savior. When we thought that we were putting ourselves to death, we were actually being reborn into the fullness of whom we were designed to become all along.
No, the cost of discipleship was no real cost at all. We surrendered the world for the sake of Christ, and we found that we were given the keys to the eternal Kingdom of God. We laid down our loved ones when we surrendered to the Lordship of Christ, and we discovered that we placed them in the hands of the almighty God, who took better care of them than we could have provided for them in a million lifetimes. We sacrificed our careers and our livelihoods for the sake of the Kingdom, and we were given greater fulfillment and breadth of reach than we could have ever dreamed. We discovered that it was never about money or scarcity, but all about gratitude, abundance and joy.
And we bow before the feet of our Lord, who gives us back our initial payment with the interest of heaven.