Recently I was in a conversation with an older, conservative pastor and he was explaining why he thought it wasn’t good to put tattoos on our bodies that are meant to be temples for the Holy Spirit. Granted some tattooing is excessive and unappealing, but still I was uncomfortable with him making that judgment. I know Christ-followers who have found spiritual significance in having a tattoo.
His Bulging Triceps were Tattooed
I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of tattoos. You may have one. Have you ever meditated on a tattoo? One year I meditated on a tattoo while hiking with my son on the trail to the top of Half Dome Rock in Yosemite, CA.
We had just caught up to a group of hikers. Just in front of me was the back of a burly man with huge arms bulging out from his t-shirt. His left triceps had tattooed in large letters the word “LOVE” and his right triceps had the word “LIFE.” As we hiked up the mountain his arms kept pumping his message to me: “Love… Life… Love… Life…”
I began to meditate on his tattoo. What was God saying in this message?
We all want to love life. So it’s good to ask ourselves, “Do I love life? What would help me really to love life?”
Or maybe before we follow the crowd seeking help from experts on how to love our lives more we ought to pause and think about what it really means to love life…
Perhaps this man’s tattoos mean, “Love your life. It’s about being happy so go ahead and do whatever pleases you as long as you don’t hurt anyone else. Get all you can. Get ahead. Get to the top. Get, get, get. It’s your life and the world is your oyster so go for it!”
Jesus had something surprising and contrary to the prevailing wisdom of the culture on loving life. (Typical of Jesus!) In fact, the ironic thing is that before I saw this man’s tattoos I happened to be meditating on Jesus’ words about loving life:
I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me (John 12:24-26).
What timing God has! To think that I was meditating on the words of Jesus about loving life when all of a sudden there they were tattooed on the triceps right in front of me!
Hate Your Life?
But Jesus gives a very different meaning to the words, “Love life.” He says to us: “Don’t love your life. If you love your life you’ll lose it, but if you hate your life then you will enjoy real life — God’s abundant, joy-filled living — now and forever!”
What does Jesus mean when he says, “Hate your life”? Does he literally mean for you to hate your life? Is he being insensitive or harsh? No. No. He’s teaching us that the only way to succeed at living in his Kingdom (and the only way to live with soulfulness) is to put him first above all things and in all things.
Relatively speaking, you need to hate your life in this world in order to love God –- God is that great and glorious! And if we will lose our lives for Christ and his Kingdom then we will discover the joy of participating in the richness of God’s glorious resurrection life right now and for always!”
O to behold the majesty of Jesus and be captivated! O to realize that the opportunity of a lifetime awaits us: Jesus has invited you and I to live our daily lives as his apprentices in the Kingdom of the Heavens! It’s worth re-orienting the way you think and re-organizing how you live. It’s worth it to hate your life in this world to give yourself completely to loving Jesus and his Kingdom. That’s what I tell myself.
A Christ-Like Life
Practically speaking, how do you obey Jesus’ words to hate your life in this world in order to love your life with him? You could tattoo the words, “Love Jesus” on your triceps!
A little more is required! In a word it’s self-denial. To hate your life is to deny yourself the things you want that hinder you from loving Christ. It’s to join the Apostle Paul and “count everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus [the] Lord” (Philippians 3:8).
Jesus showed us a life of whole-hearted devotion to God. He demonstrated what it looks like for a person to sacrifice self-interests in order to love God and other people. He did this supremely on the cross, but he did it in countless “little” ways each day of his life. At times he fasted from food or awoke before sunrise to pray, often he let people interrupt what he was doing and he had compassion on them, and he was always ready for menial service like washing feet or cooking breakfast.
When we deny ourselves something we’re identifying ourselves with Jesus’ way of sacrifice, sharing in “the fellowship of his sufferings” (Philippians 3:10), which means that the loss or pain we experience is drawing us into a greater appreciation for and attachment with our Lord and Savior (what a blessing this is!).
More Soul Shepherding:
You can go deeper in your appreciation for Christ Jesus. Forgiveness, unfailing love, and the power to become like the Lord are available to you!
Unforsaken: With Jesus on the Stations of the Cross by Bill Gaultiere is 68-pages of heart-warming appreciation for Christ and inspiration to learn to live your daily life with his attitude of love for God and people.
Unforsaken is great for personal devotions, small groups, and retreats.