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That Moment When You Find the End of Yourself...

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

As teaching pastor of the fifth largest church in America, Kyle Idleman has observed some very interesting behavior in his congregation through the years.  Some stories are worth telling, others are not.  But one common thread he has witnessed over and over again is that sometimes it takes a journey of personal hardship and utter misery for Jesus Christ to grab our full attention.

In his new book, The End of Me: Where Real Life in the Upside-Down Ways of Jesus Begins, Idleman explores the possibility of living a truly abundant life and what is required to make that happen.  He challenges readers to consider the counterintuitive teachings of Christ as a way to discover that peace and happiness can be found consistently without having to go through a desperate “come to Jesus” moment.

I recently sat down with the personable Idleman to discuss why people often need to “bottom out” before finding a very real savior, why brokenness is the way to wholeness, and the modern relevance of the highly pivotal Sermon on the Mount.

You have written several books on various topics over the years, the most notable being Not a FanWhat was the driving force that led you to write your latest, The End of Me?

I am really committed to talking about things where I feel like God’s been doing something in me, and then letting Him do it through me. In other words, I’ve gotten in trouble when I’ve tried to get God to do something through me without letting Him do it in me first. And so it does represent a journey for me that I have been on both personally and then as a pastor. As I talk to people in my own church and around the country about what it means to follow Jesus, I know that we have a tendency to get in our own way, that we want to say yes to Jesus, but we don’t want to say no to ourselves. But so much of the teachings of Jesus in the Gospel calls us to a life that require us to say no to ourselves. And so the book looks at some of the challenges of Jesus that are not just countercultural, but counterintuitive, and they just go against what feels natural to us, and calls us to die to ourselves as Scripture would teach, and here’s what it means to live for Christ.

Why do you think it is that only when people face great hardship in their lives, it’s only then that they find a true savior in Jesus Christ, who is both real and tangible to them?

I guess it’s because we don’t have much interest in a solution, and so there’s the problem, right?  I don’t really have any desire to ask someone for directions until I’m completely convinced that I’m lost, or if I’m at the gym I don’t want to ask for help or for a spotter until I’m convinced the weight is going to crush me. It requires a point of desperation for us to recognize our need for God, our need for Jesus. And so I do think that’s why finding the end of yourself is required. Often, it only happens when we recognize that we’re broke. In fact, the very first Beatitude where Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” that’s what He’s getting at. Blessed are you when you finally get it, where you finally reach this point where you don’t have what it takes because now there’s more room for God, there’s more room for His power in your life.

I agree. Even though people know that they’re being strengthened through whatever season or storm they’re in, they still get in their own way.  Why do you think people stumble over themselves so much when they’re settling into a stronger relationship with Christ?

I think we intuitively must believe that what’s going to make me happy is to follow what feels right, or what I desire to do, what I want. And so we put ourselves at the center of it, we just intuitively do that. What’s required of us to experience this life in Jesus is to move ourselves off center. Paul talks about this in Colossians 3:3. He says, “You die to this life and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.” And that word “hidden” is a significant word because it’s not obvious. In fact, it seems contradictory, but it is found when we die to this life and we begin to experience our real life in Christ.

You break your book up into eight counterintuitive truths, one of which is “Brokenness is the way to wholeness.” Why do you believe this to be true?

The idea of brokenness is not that we make ourselves broken. The idea is that we’re already broken and we acknowledge our own state, and until we acknowledge the brokenness, then we don’t really look for God to make us whole. A great example of this in Scripture is in Luke 7 where you have Jesus having dinner with the pharisee Simon, and then the prostitute comes in and crashes the party. Well, that’s an example of, here’s Simon who’s broken. He’s very broken; he just doesn’t know it. There’s no broken-ness. As a result, he misses out on the blessing of being made whole by Jesus. Conversely, you’ve got the prostitute who comes in and she is completely broken. She expresses brokenness and she experiences the blessing of Jesus. When the story ends, you’ve got Jesus who admonishes this religious leader, and he encourages and affirms the prostitute. The difference is the brokenness. One recognizes their need for Jesus to put them back together and the other one doesn’t seem to have much use for Jesus other than to be a guest at his table.

In The End of Me you write a fair amount about the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5 through 7. What is the significance of this pivotal sermon from Jesus on living life in a manner that is quite frankly counterintuitive to our conditioning?

When Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount, He begins with the Beatitudes where He says, “Blessed are those who . . . .” And He redefines so much of what we would tend to think of as what would make us happy. And if you just read through those Beatitudes and you study them, you’d discover that what they have in common is that we think happiness is found in me getting what we want, and our desires being fulfilled. And Jesus instead gives us ways that the end of me actually gets lived out, or what it actually looks like as you read through the Beatitudes. So I find a blessing when—more mornings to be happy, I find a blessing when I’m in a place where I’m going through something that’s so difficult that I can only be comforted by the presence of God. There’s a blessing in those tears that really can’t be found anywhere else. And so as you read through the Beatitudes, they help unpack what it looks like to die to ourselves and to live for the Kingdom of Heaven rather than our own kingdom.

This path is not one that’s traveled often, and it requires two words that we don’t like: it requires surrender and it requires submission. And I do think that the problem is that we want it both ways. We want to be obedient, we want to follow Jesus, we want to be committed to Him, but we don’t want to have to surrender, we don’t want to have to submit, we don’t want to have to reach the end of ourselves, and it just doesn’t work that way. In fact, I would go so far as to say some of the most miserable people I know are the people who try to do it both ways. They kind of live with one foot on the narrow path, one foot on the wide path where they’re trying to follow Jesus, but they just can’t let go of doing things their way, or pursuing after what they want more than what He wants.

As an author, what’s your greatest hope for this book?

My prayer would be that people would be able to step back and kind of reflect upon the direction that they’re going. We kind of live in a highly narcissistic culture where it’s hard for us to be objective about these things. So I hope it helps people kind of reflect on, okay, here’s the path I’m on, and then look at the path that Jesus calls us to, and then choose to do that, because it’s counterintuitive, because it’s countercultural. That’s really difficult. It’s a lot to ask of somebody, because it requires going against what’s popular and requires going against how you feel. So my prayer is that it would take people on a journey where they would be willing to take a few more steps down that path, and as Paul says in Colossians 3, discover the life that is hidden with Christ in God.

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