“Enter through the narrow gate.”
Jesus speaks in parables and metaphors and truth that is revealed to us as we live in him and dedicate our lives to him. He did not expect many to understand what he was saying. It’s only in the meditating on and living with a portion of his teaching, that the meaning is revealed to us. The narrow gate is one such truth. “For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” [Matthew 7:13-4]
First, he is saying that we’re on a threshold when we stand at the gate. He’s invited us there, but what does the invitation say? Don’t bring a lot of stuff or you won’t make it through the gate. So that everything and everyone that you are attached to needs to be left behind. So what kinds of things are we attached to: our homes, and things, and family, our culture and our country and, maybe most important of all, our identity.
And in what does our identity consist? It’s the sum total off all our experiences, what we learned as children, how we were perceived by our parents—at least as we understood them—and our teachers, all that the culture taught us, all our experiences from the time we were small children. In sum our identity rests in what has happened to us throughout our life and how we understood what happened. Plus whatever gifts and talents we have.
Our identity is the lens through which we experience life. That lens sorts for what agrees with it and rejects whatever doesn’t. And so we can keep our image of ourselves intact, until we decide that there is more to us that just how we think about ourselves. Our identity, all this past accumulation, needs to be let go of, for the Lord will give us a new identity in him. Our ways of thinking, both conscious and unconscious, have to go, in favor of God’s much broader way of thinking.
God cannot walk us through that narrow gate unless we are willing to give up how we think about ourselves. Think about this: so often we are very toxic to ourselves: impatient, critical, not allowing for imperfections that we might grant others. We can’t love God with all of ourselves as Jesus commanded without bringing our whole selves to God. And if we can’t accept all that we are, how will we be able to bring and acknowledge all of ourselves before God?
Interestingly, God already knows all about us, so what is the big deal? The big deal is the lens through which we view life which always seeks to make up for our deficits, our mistakes, our sins. Sometimes we blame others for “causing” our behavior. Other times we refuse to acknowledge our guilt. We will do anything to cloud any issue of ours, so that others, hopefully, won’t see it in us. We have to be at least in the beginning stages of loving ourselves before we can go through the narrow gate. We have to be in a state of acceptance of all that we are, all that we have said and done, all that was done to us, before we can come before God in our totality. And how could we accept that God loves us if we can’t even love ourselves? God’s love can be a motivator for learning how to love ourselves.
So to let go of our own self image and our acceptance of our life as it is and has been is a requirement of the narrow gate. Other things to give up are our concerns about others we are close to and how we’d like to control their lives. We have to turn over all our loved ones to God’s care and trust him to deal with them.
Secondly, we have to give up the material stuff, at least our attachment to it, before we enter the narrow gate. And all the world’s, our culture’s, ways of thinking.
Are you beginning to ask yourself this question: where is that narrow gate anyway? Clearly, it is not at the beginning of this journey with Christ, so it is somewhere pretty far along the way. I think that we enter the narrow gate as we enter the kingdom here on earth; that is to say, that once we have really looked at our lives and can love them as they are, that is a major part of this journey. Once we have shed all our attachments and can put God first, then we’re ready to enter the narrow gate
But what else besides our limited human identity and care for others do we have to let go of in order to get through the gate? The third attachment we have to let go is our own way of approaching, doing things. One the of my biggest challenges has been to let go of my way of doing anything in favor of God’s ways. I push, I try, I misunderstand, I trip over my own two feet, as I try harder and harder to accomplish what is not going to happen. So in everything I need to listen to God as I go through my day, as I tackle my latest book, even as I drive home. In everything I need to set aside my own agenda and my way of doing and being in this world in favor of God’s ways.
I have found that with God the right timing to do something is essential. Too early or too late means that it won’t happen or it might happen with great difficulty. But when what we are called to do is done in the right timing it is effortless.
He knows us so well that he knows just what we need to do next. Whether we are working or at home or at play he knows us better than we know ourselves. So what he proposes is always going to grow us in the right way, much better than our own ways. He wants to partner with us in everything. Think of him as the giant, gigantic even, unseen mentor who can see the whole landscape of our lives and how what we are doing and saying fits into the big picture.
So we give up our own self-image, our attachments to people and things, the world’s and the culture’s thinking and our own way of doing things to enter the narrow gate.
The road on the other side of the gate is narrow, too. We don’t drop everything and then pick up a whole load after we pass through the gate. We travel light and swiftly. We go where we are called and do what we are called to do. And what we are called to do has to do with the kingdom and our contribution to it. And our contribution depends on the gifts and talents given to us by God at our conception plus the wisdom we have gained from our sojourn here on Earth. As we look back on our lives we didn’t learn much from the happy times, we learned the most from the troubled ones. And that area of our suffering, once redeemed, is where we have the most to give.
For me that area of suffering came from growing up in a hell-fire-and-damnation church. I had to learn for myself how to put God into the proper place in my life, to let go of old pain and the old image of God that was emblazoned on my heart. Along the way I learned how to live a life centered in God, not out of fear and trembling before a capricious vengeful god, but out of love for a God of love. I can easily see where God was helping me with all this—all along the journey.
The narrow gate leads to life, to an abundant life, fully lived. Once we shed all the unnecessary stuff that we ordinarily carry, we are free to live fully. Free to be who we were created to be. Free to love. Isn’t it amazing that we find the most freedom in obedience, in compassion, in mercy, in God himself?
Questions to ponder over the week: What is the first thing that I need to give up to prepare to enter the narrow gate. Do I know what are the things that come between me and God? If I don’t, will I ask his help? If I do, will I give them up? What do I think is my basic problem in my relationship with God?
Blessings for the week: May we be the people of God preparing to enter his kingdom by the narrow gate. May we be turning over every instance of rebellion and lack of love to God to heal and transform. May we trust God in everything.
News from By the Waters:
Look for my videos on YouTube under By the Waters with Pat Adams.
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