Well, I pledge my head to heaven for the gospel.
Really, Lord? It couldn’t have been “His eye is on the sparrow” or something comforting like that? I tried to remember all the other words to the old Keith Green song, but the verses ran together in my mind, and I wasn’t sure if he was being “kicked and beaten, ridiculed and scorned” himself, or if that was the verse about his son. At any rate, I was wide awake now, and I turned my thoughts to prayer.
When we begin this life-long adventure of parenthood, we can’t help dreaming beautiful dreams for our children. Our love longs to see them happy, fulfilled, and well; and, if we’re honest, we wouldn’t mind too much if they made a big splash in this world. But more than any circumstantial goal, as Christians we long for our children to know God, to embrace faith and follow hard after Him, and when we see His Spirit at work in and through their lives, our joy is almost unbearable.
And herein lies the paradox. We want the best for our children, but “the best” God chooses for them may not be worldly accomplishment, external ease, and perfect health. We imagine a “good life” as one that ends at a ripe, old age, us sitting by the warmth of our cozy fire, surrounded by adoring children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, who’ve gathered at our side to bid farewell and receive our blessing. They listen in hushed silence as we speak final words of wisdom and benediction, and then they sing hymns of thanksgiving as we fall asleep in Jesus, a beatific smile lighting our faces.
Of course, it could happen that way. But when we pledge our heads to heaven for the gospel, we have to be willing to lay down any such expectation. We have to, because God never promised those things. On the contrary, scripture and history reveal that He often wastes His saints. And sometimes His will seems to make no sense at all — these seeds of potential falling into the ground and dying — until many years later, when we lift up our eyes, and the fields are thick with grain.
I awoke at 3:00 AM, and I prayed. For their safety, protection, and strength to endure long, busy days. For God to surround them with His angels, to guard their going out and coming in, and to put the fear of Him on anyone or anything that might assault them. I prayed for His beauty to be upon them, the good work of their hands to be established, and for all His purposes to be accomplished to the glory of His Name. I prayed these things, and I thanked God for plans formed long ago with perfect faithfulness, and I tried to still the trembling. Because it’s one thing for a mother to pledge her own head to heaven, and entirely another to pledge theirs.
And then it hit me. I was anxious, because I was missing the point.
It’s not about my pledge, not about my head, not even about their heads.
It’s about the gospel.
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:34-38 ESV
When the truth hits, it hits hard. Far too often I want just enough of the cross to have a powerful story to tell. I observe my sanctification, shape it into words, telling myself it’s for others’ edification, but there’s at least a pinch of “saving my life” mixed in — preserving oh-so-inspirational me for posterity. It’s for the collective good that I fast to be seen, pray to be heard, and carefully edit life’s messiness, revealing just enough brokenness to tug at hearts without causing disgust.
It’s for your sake, dear reader, that I follow at a safe distance lest I offend, and let’s ignore the obvious connection between avoiding offense and being ashamed, shall we?
(And, no, the irony is not lost on me that I’m sitting in my comfortable house, writing all of this on my blog.)
But them? They have websites and calendars but forget to update them. They go weeks or even months without stopping to blog, are too caught up in living life to tweet about it, and fail miserably when it comes to networking to their own advantage (though I do them the favor of gently reminding them about these “important” things). They’re running headlong into God’s call, and their lives are lost for His sake and the gospel’s.
Mine is a calculated, fashionable fast, while they joyfully and unselfconsciously pour out their lives, not to be seen, but to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke.
Passion can’t be faked. At the end of the day, the choices made reveal the names of our gods.
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Jim Eliot said that, and he was twenty-eight years old when he died at the end of a spear in a South American jungle. And Keith Green was twenty-eight when he got into a little airplane with his two tousle-headed toddlers on his lap, took off for a pleasant afternoon ride, and kept right on flying straight into the arms of Jesus. And Grace? Our daughter, who landed in Manila early this morning with Curtis and little Harper Sparrow and several others, all of them counting the cost, facing the risks to take the healing power of the arts to rescued victims of human trafficking — Grace is twenty-eight, too.
Do I have a premonition that something tragic is going to happen? Not at all. Do I have to be willing to bless the Lord’s name if it does?
He gives and takes away. It’s not enough to sing it. I have to mean it.
I awoke at 3:00 AM and prayed. And later that morning, I looked up the lyrics to Keith Green’s song.
Well, I pledge my head to heaven for the Gospel,
And I ask no man on Earth to fill my needs.
Like the sparrow up above, I am enveloped in His love,
And I trust Him like those little ones He feeds.
Good one, Lord. The sparrow was in there after all.
No matter whatever the cost, I’m gonna count all things loss,
Well, I pledge my son, I pledge my wife, I pledge my head to heaven for the gospel.
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Please pray for my beloveds. They’ll be in the Philippines for three weeks, conducting training sessions in the use of the Arts Aftercare toolkit, visiting aftercare facilities, and interacting with rescued survivors of human trafficking.
For those of you who like to feel like you know the people you’re praying for, here’s their Christmas video card. It not only gives a playful glimpse into their personalities, it also provides some factual info about their current adventure in the Philippines. It’s also hilarious. (I’m pretty sure Harper has a future in live news reporting.)
Oh, how I love them! Go in peace, my dear ones. Go with joy and laughter and utter abandon, knowing He goes before you to establish your way. Take up your cross and go. For the gospel.
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