I nearly died when I was seven years old.
Alright, so maybe that’s a tad bit dramatic. But to be fair, I did think for a few terrifying moments in my seven year old life that I had indeed seen my final day on this earth.
Let me paint the picture for you- My family and I had traveled to Astroworld in Houston, Texas for a day of fun, as we often did. On this particular day, I suppose my Dad decided it was high time to begin making his boy into a man, and as a result, invited me to join him on the Texas Cyclone, the park’s massive wooden roller coaster.
While I had never ridden a coaster before, and this particular structure was pretty intimidating to look at, I obliged my Dad and joined him on the ride. Though some of the details of that day are fuzzy now, I vividly remember almost immediately believing that I had made one of the greatest mistakes of my life.
The ride was high…and fast…and incredibly rough. For the majority of the ride, I was hanging on for dear life, fully expecting my skinny, seven year old frame to be launched off the side of the track at any moment. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, but what did happen is that I said to my young self, “I don’t think I will ever do that again.”
In the couple years that followed, I kept that promise to myself, and avoided roller coasters like the plague. In due time, though, Dad asked again if I would accompany him on another thrill ride- not the same one, mercifully, but another that he thought may suit me better. I did, and while it was still pretty scary, I found myself enjoying it just a little bit.
More time went by, and I began to grow more and more comfortable in my coaster riding skin. Eventually, as I matured, I realized that Dad was really on to something here. Sure, these rides may test the limits of my sanity at points, but in the end, they are a ton of fun. To avoid them, as I had originally promised myself I would, would have meant missing out on some great thrills and great memories with family and friends.
Ultimately, I realized that in making that very first request those many years ago, Dad was inviting into something with him- something that he believed I would genuinely enjoy. His heart toward me was good, even if I had a hard time seeing and experiencing that initially. In time, as I pushed myself to “follow him” in this really simple way, I gained something that otherwise- by playing it safe- I never would have known.
So what does this childhood lesson have to do with following Jesus? Based on what Jesus Himself has to say about it, I’d say everything.
In inviting people to enter into a relationship with Him, Jesus pulls no punches about what to expect. In Matthew 7:13-14, for example, he makes it clear that the road after Him is a “narrow” one that is often “hard.” But even as He reveals the challenges of that road, He makes a promise- This, He says, is the one and only road to “life.”
Jesus also tells us that there is another choice we can make- We can travel the “wide” road, one that is easy and quite popular, one that is paved and directed by self. Jesus admits that initially, this seems like the way to go, but in the end, it’s a deception, a massive miss leading to death and destruction apart from Him.
Now let’s face it- That’s a pretty hard sell for most of us. We like life our way. We like being our own boss. We like calling our own shots. To give all that up to follow Him on a harder road- even if it does lead to “life”- is a pretty scary proposition. Which leads us to the question that I believe we must all eventually grapple with when it comes to where we stand in relationship with Jesus. It’s the burning, inescapable question of faith.
Can I really trust Jesus?
I mean, is Jesus really shooting straight with us here? Are we sure that He knows what He’s talking about? If your answer to those questions is no, then there’s no way you’re ramping off the “wide” road and following Him down the “narrow.” But if you believe Him- even in the face of some real fears and questions- then you’ll make the leap, and go after Him.
The only reason I got on the Texas Cyclone that afternoon 23 years ago is because I trusted my Dad. And the only reason that I got back on another coaster after that horrific experience is because I trusted my Dad enough to try again. Looking back, I can see that He was on to something, but without the benefit of hindsight, all I had was trust in His heart toward me, and the reality that He actually knew what He was talking about.
Similarly, on the front end of following Jesus, facing down the uncertainty of what a life with Him might look like, all you have is trust or distrust in His heart toward you, and in the fact that He is speaking the truth in what He says, however hard it might be to hear. And let me tell you- The fact that He was willing to walk the “narrow” road to death on a Cross for you and for me, undeserving rebels that we are, gives me a clue that trusting Him is well worth it.
I don’t know where you are in your journey of faith, but I know that this is the ultimate issue you must settle in your heart, the ultimate question you must answer. If you’re considering the claims of Jesus, I implore you to ask it, and to rigorously evaluate your answer. If you’re already following Jesus and facing a difficult time in your life, and perhaps wondering if this whole thing is worth it, I encourage you to go back to the question, and likewise thoroughly examine your response to it.
I, for one, believe that Jesus can be trusted far more than anyone or anything else in this life, including (perhaps especially) my own sinful heart. Do you believe that? Your answer will determine your response to His invitation to follow down the “narrow” road to real life.