During a recent Bible study, I was challenged to pick a verse out of the Sermon on the Mount, write it down each week, and commit it to memory. Without hesitation, I chose this verse. I felt as though the Lord was trying to get my attention about something, so I decided I better write it down and see where He leads me with it.
He led me to place quite simple to understand but oh so hard to actually grasp (or rather, act upon).
In Matthew 6:19-21, a verse that precedes this, Jesus says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I have always loved this verse. It’s a wonderful reminder of where we need to fix our eyes. But as God does with His Living Word, this verse I’ve read countless times before took root in me in a different way this time.
This past year, I have been studying the Bible with a heavy emphasis on facing the idols to which we cling. Those idols can be tangible, tactile things, such as our homes, jobs, cars, wardrobes, gym membership, etc. But I would argue that it’s the intangible ones that are harder to deal with. Idols such as approval from others, pride, comparison, and beauty.
A dear friend recently reminded me of a church prayer experience I attended years ago, during which participants were challenged to identify things of this world that we had not surrendered to the Lord (which included burdens, and yes, idols). We then had to pick up a rather heavy suitcase which represented those things and proceed to carry the “extra” baggage throughout most of the prayer experience. It was an experience that I think of now and again when I am feeling burdened. I’m reminded that we’re not meant to carry that heaviness around, whether burdens or idols. Of course, entering through the wide gate, I could bring all that baggage with me, as there would be plenty of room. But Jesus tells me that road leads right to destruction. (And, oh, by the way, it will be a hot mess because a whole lot of other people will be there, with their baggage too.) I imagine it would be chaotic and full of disorder and despair. A bit like the world feels right now. Friends, that’s not freedom.
As I think about the narrow gate, the harsh reality is, all my stuff would not fit through it. My current baggage is not only heavy, but there’s also too much to squeeze through the narrow opening. So, I am left to ask myself, “What do I need to let go of so I can fit through the gate?”
How good it would feel to simply drop all the heavy bags and just walk smoothly through the gate without the burden of worrying about whether it will all fit, or how heavy it is to carry around! I long for the freedom of carrying less baggage, less weight. So that leads me to asking myself a few questions:
What is in my suitcase(s) right now? What are the things of the world that are weighing me down? What are the burdens? What are the tangible and the intangible things?
What does God say about each of those things?
What do I need to let go of right now to lighten my load? How might God fill the absence of any of those things?
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying we need to sell all our worldly possessions and be missionaries (though praise God that He does call some to that). Nor am I implying that it’s easy to just off-load our feelings and burdens. But what I am saying is that everything we have is the Lord’s. We should lay it all at His feet and not carry it around with us (Psalm 55:22, Matthew 11:28-30). He is our Helper (Psalm 54:4, Hebrews 13:6). He will provide what we truly need (Psalm 68:19, Philippians 4:19).
Right before the pandemic, our family sold our house, and coincidentally, closed on it just as the pandemic was making its way across our country. Thankfully, we fell upon a temporary place to stay, so we packed up some things and headed to our temporary home. But alas, shortly thereafter, the purchase of a new house fell through, which left us without a house at all and several months of trying to find a new one. As we began our spring/summer of living out of suitcases, I had a scarcity mindset. (After all, the pandemic was upon us and we were living out of a suitcase of uncertainty there too.) Therefore, I packed up a LOT of things to bring with us to our temporary stay… things I was afraid to put in storage “in case we needed them.” Every square inch of our minivan and sedan was filled with stuff I thought we might need. As the summer went on, move after move (there were 11 moves in all), we began to shed more and more of it. Six suitcases became two. Bins of miscellaneous items went over to storage. By the last move, we could fit everything in the trunk of the minivan without even having to put the seats down. And it felt, well, lighter and easier, even though the circumstances around us would tell us we should feel burdened and worried.
In the beginning I was holding on to things “just in case,” because I wanted control in a situation which quite frankly, was a bit out of my control. I was feeding my scarcity mindset. But the more and more we shed along the way, the more and more freedom set in. I was originally worried about not having what we might need, when in actuality, when I released those things, I didn’t worry about them. Freedom! Because we were also living so uncertainly, we did rely heavily on prayer for God to meet our needs. He not only met them, but He also multiplied them. And because our hands were freer from baggage, they were open to receive what He had for us. Jesus gives us wisdom and assurance about this later in His Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:25-34:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Jesus is encouraging us to release our baggage so that we can experience His freedom. When we let go of our baggage, it enables us to focus less on ourselves and more on Him. A deeper relationship with God is what sets us on the narrow path, so that we may enter through the narrow gate. This is one case in which we want to travel light and where less is more! He wants that for us, and His word assures us He will indeed take care of us.
Dear Heavenly Father, I’m so grateful that You are a Lord of abundance, and that Your abundance looks like freedom from the things of this world to which I cling. I pray that You convict me when I am carrying baggage that I am not meant to carry, and that you help me lay it all at Your feet. I deeply desire to walk the narrow path and enter through the narrow gate, and pray that You guide my heart in doing so. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.