Several years ago, a judge of the Sudanese government sentenced a 27-year-old mother named Mariam Ibrahim, to a hundred lashes before being publicly hanged. Her crime is simple. Because her father’s a Muslim, her faith in Jesus violates their law of apostasy, which is punishable by death.
All she has to do is recant her faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and she could walk out of that prison. But she can’t. Jesus had given His life for her… she won’t walk away from Him now. And so, she remains shackled to a prison wall in Khartoum, Sudan with her 2-year-old son locked up in the cell with her. What’s even more horrific is that she is 8-month pregnant.
Mariam would certainly not consider herself to be any kind of hero. She’s just walking out the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 14:7-8, which says, “For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”
Our sister obviously wants to see the sentence reversed and get out of that prison. But whether or not that happens, she knows that she’s ultimately tied to Jesus, not some prison wall. And because of that, Mariam has been able to experience genuine peace and joy in spite of all she’s going through.
During his own imprisonment in Rome, the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church in Philippi. In Philippians 4:12-13, he said, “For I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”
It seems that Mariam has learned a little of what Paul is talking about here when he said that he had learned how to be content in all circumstances… whether he had little or much; whether he was safe or in peril; whether he was hungry or satisfied. So, what was the secret? The secret was Jesus… that no matter what he had or didn’t have, he always had Jesus. And, because Jesus was more than enough for him, he was able to live a life of contentment in spite of whatever trial he might have been facing.
You see, Paul simply decided that he wasn’t going to live just to survive or to be comfortable or to be entertained or to feel secure. But rather, he was living to enjoy Jesus… to live life in the presence of One who would never leave him and whose love for him would never fail.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul puts it like this. He says, in 2:20, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” The “life I live,” Paul says, is “no longer my own. In fact, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
Sadly, our default mode in life tends to put ourselves at the center of things… where we’re living for ourselves… for our own survival, security, and pleasure. Of course, Jesus is a part of our lives… perhaps an important part. But, in sense, we live with a “Jesus plus…” mentality. Jesus plus earthly security; Jesus plus safety; Jesus plus a significant other.
But the Christian life our God has called us to is a crucified life where Jesus is enough. The more we resist or ignore this, the more we’ll spend our lives looking to God as some cosmic butler who seemingly exists to keep us safe and secure. And when we don’t feel safe and secure, we start wondering, “What’s wrong with God?” that I’m not experiencing more of the “abundant life? What aren’t I experiencing more of the miraculous in my everyday life?”
In Matthew 16:24, Jesus said “Whoever wants to be My follower must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” Then, just a moment later, in verse 38, Jesus said, “Whoever doesn’t take up their cross and follow Me is not worthy of me.” Those are hard words… especially when we tend to think that our faith centers around a God spending all of His time trying to figure out how to keep us comfortable, safe, and well-entertained.
Instead, Jesus tells us, in Matthew 16:25 that “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me will find it.” As followers of Christ, we’re called to an utterly surrendered, crucified life… a life that is not our own. That’s the heart of the victorious, abundant life in the Kingdom of God… to lose our lives so we can gain a far richer, far more meaningful life in Christ.
I’m reminded of a movie back in the 90s with Sean Penn called “Dead Man Walking.” That was an expression a prison warden would call out when a doomed prisoner was making his way from their cell to the electric chair. Dead Man Walking. Well, that’s us. And what’s so powerful about that… why that allows us to live a life of contentment even when our situation seems so dire… is that you can’t kill a dead man. You can’t offend a dead man… you can’t steal a dead man… you can’t distract a dead man.
So, let me offer this challenge to you. Are you, like Paul, able to say, “The life I live is no longer my own… that it’s no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me?” If not, would you recommit your life… every last part of your life… to our Majestic King? Because, in every way, He is worthy of it. He is worth of every ounce of our devotion… and last bit of our lives.