Jesus, Only Jesus
How long does it take, and how do we find ourselves there? That disconnected feeling, that sense of soul-emptiness that comes when we haven’t been attending to our First Love as we should?
This week, I’ve been more keenly aware of the question as I’ve had contact with people we’d term “prodigals.” In two cases they are people who have had long-term struggles, seemingly falling in an out of love with Jesus, as they regularly substitute rivals for their affections for Him. They have a history of trying to fill that yawning, empty, God-shaped hole with addiction, diversion, and all the wrong people.
In two other cases, these prodigals showed all the signs of being on the right track for years. There were no major falls, both had been in foreign missions work, one was a team leader in several countries, yet they both have seemingly turned their backs, walking away from all they professed personally and proclaimed to others. As I read the Facebook page of one gal, it is full of profanity and new age quotations, and I am stunned at the change—finding myself time and again shaking my head in dismay and praying for a “Road to Damascus moment” for this dear person. How could it go so far off the rails? Was it ever real for them? Will they, like the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable, “come to themselves” and return to the waiting arms of the Father? (Please, Lord!)
These people came to mind as I thought about the anthem, Jesus, Only Jesus. They are the cautionary tale, the example of how dangerous drift can be in our lives—because for the vast majority of people who have professed Christ, we do not wake up one morning and say, “Today is the day I abandon my faith.” For most who go off course, it is a matter of drift, not shift. It is those little, daily choices, the substitutes for true satisfaction—found in Jesus, only Jesus—that take us, almost imperceptibly at first, far from our heart’s true home. We can even delude ourselves (and others) that things are just fine, but it is just that: a delusion.
It happens when we put other things first, “just this once.” If I can only get this and that accomplished, I’ll be able to relax and get back on track. But there is always something more, another deadline, another distraction, and little by little we drift until there are none of the recognizable landmarks, and we wonder how on earth we got there—if we are fortunate enough to notice! Far too many drift beyond caring. They satisfy themselves, or attempt to, on substitutes. Much like someone on a diet of candy, the sweet and gooey mouthfuls feed the craving, but the short-lived rush is followed by a blood-sugar crash that keeps the unsatisfying cycle in motion, never nourishing, never meeting the true need of the body. There is nothing, nothing in this life—no person, no experience, no delight, no success, nothing—that satisfies our hearts and souls other than Jesus, only Jesus.
And yet we try. Human beings have been called Idol Factories. We are always looking for something to fix things instantly, something we can control so the outcome fits our desires. Many people walk away because they “tried God, but He didn’t work” for them. He has disappointed them by not coming through when they prayed, not solving their problem, or maybe it seemed He was the problem. St. Teresa of Avila is famous for saying, “If this is how God treats His friends, no wonder He has so few.” We may have sat with this disillusioned friend who came to the point that, because God didn’t fix something in their lives to their satisfaction, they decided they were done—maybe you’ve even been there yourself. Have you been at a loss for words to try to help them get back on course, or at least your words have had little impact?
Truth is, at some point, we all face it, and it generally occurs after we have first experienced that drift we talked about above. We are confronted with a God who doesn’t operate in our boxes, who is uncontrollable and uncomfortable, and we are left with the choice of whether to throw in the towel of our faith or to find refuge in the very arms of the One who has brought us to that point. Hosea sees this clearly when he invites Israel, “Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us, but he will bind up our wounds” (Hosea 6:1).
We come to the same point as the disciples. Jesus had just delivered some difficult, offensive truth, and the crowds, unable to accept it, were leaving Him in droves. He turned to the disciples and asked them if they were going to leave, too. Their answer wasn’t, “No! We love everything You are telling us. We don’t have any trouble buying in.” They simply said, “Where else should we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Everyone faces those moments when the choice is to walk away or to swallow hard and press in, with the understanding that our only hope, the only answer is in Jesus, only Jesus. We see that, although we are broken, only Jesus can bind up the wounds. When our plans for the future lay shattered, only in Jesus can we find purpose in the ashes of our dreams. When people abandon or betray us, only Jesus can give us the gift of faith to hold onto His promise that He will never leave us nor forsake us—even in those times when He feels very far away. When our sins and our failures are higher than our heads, only in Jesus do we find full forgiveness and His own righteousness in exchange for our filthy rags.
Where are you in relation to Jesus right now? Have you been substituting anything for the One and Only person who can satisfy your soul? Are you experiencing any drift? If so, stop right now. Now. Stop and confess, and show your true repentance by turning your eyes to Him for some quality time in His presence.
Have you gone beyond drift to a bit of hardness of heart born of disappointment in His ways? Again, stop. Take stock. Do you need to join the disciples in acknowledging that, as uncomfortable as His ways and His truth can be, there is truly only One who has the words of eternal life? Jesus, only Jesus! Realize that you are not merely submitting to His sovereign will (resigning yourself to your fate), you are surrendering to His sovereign love. There is no safer place to be than in Jesus, only Jesus.
Do you have a prodigal in your life? Don’t give up praying. Don’t give up loving. Don’t give up hoping in Jesus, Only Jesus; He is truly our hope, our righteousness—pray that they will see that for themselves.
by Sheri Cook, Director of Special Ministries