We live in a world of would-be leaders. An American adult who ventures into a bookstore or spends time browsing on Amazon will find hundreds of titles that promise to unlock the hidden potential of our “inner leader”. Books claim to distill the essence of leadership by examining the lives of successful CEOs, entrepreneurs, and statesmen. Leaders are the ones who make headlines, who supposedly make history, and who our culture is constantly telling us we should emulate if we want to have lives worth living. Being a follower, we are told in many ways, is for the lazy, the not-so-clever, the unoriginal, the weak.
Little wonder, then, that so few people speak, preach, or write about how to follow!
And yet…the command for anyone who would call themselves a Christian is unmistakable: we are to follow Him who had mercy on us and saved us from a life of sin and despair apart from God. Jesus used the same words for each of his disciples: “Follow me.”
Okay, fine, says the Christian. We know on an intellectual level that we are called to be followers of Christ, but in a culture where there is so much talk about how to lead, what are we to make of (and, more importantly, do with) Jesus’ unavoidable calling to follow Him? Strange and somewhat morbid-sounding words and phrases such as “obey,” “lay down one’s life,” and “take up one’s cross” are used in the Bible to describe the posture Believers must have if we are to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.
I would guess that when many, if not most, Christians hear phrases like these and have a vague, somewhat ominous view of a God who wants to deprive them of their every comfort and happiness in life. A God who might call on them to go live in the jungles of Africa and eat the insides of strange animals. This fear has served to paralyze many people (myself included) from acting at times when they have sensed God speaking to them.
One of the many subtle and ingenious lies the Enemy whispers in the ears of many Christians is “following Christ” implies merely a vocation (often a change of vocation), when in fact it means something simultaneously much greater than, and also more ordinary than, a simple change of careers.
In Matthew 4:19-22, Jesus calls Andrew and his brother Peter to “follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Verse 20 says, “Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.” Verses 21-22 tell of Jesus calling James and John, who also “immediately left the boat and their father, and followed Him.” It is significant that Matthew uses the word “immediately” in both cases–there was no hesitation on the part of any of these men when Jesus issued his very radical call for them to leave their families and give up their livelihoods to accompany Him on His earthly mission.
How many of us can honestly agree we would follow Christ’s command with no second-guessing or “a sober weighing of the pros and cons,” regardless of what He asks?
There is another point we often forget. Jesus’ calling for the disciples wasn’t really as much about giving up their families and changing their vocations as it was about just being with Him and spending time learning His ways–learning to love Him and absorbing His very presence. What Jesus really wanted from them, of course, is the same thing God wanted from Abraham centuries before when He called on him to sacrifice his precious son, Isaac: an utter trust in Him which results in a willingness to immediately relinquish whatever or whomever one loves most on this earth to follow Jesus with one’s whole heart, mind, and strength.
God doesn’t want just our vocational service; He wants our hearts and our very lives.
Yes, this does sometimes involve a radical change of direction and even career path, but most of the time following Christ means following Him in the everyday, ho-hum routines of life–as we fight traffic to get to the office, eat lunch with friends and co-workers, or interact with the people we see at the gym.
For me, at least, this constant obedience to Christ in the mundane things is usually far more difficult than a dramatic act of “sacrifice” such as giving up a career and moving to a faraway land. I firmly believe the heroes of the faith are not necessarily those who answer the call to preach, move overseas to be missionaries, or give all their possessions to the poor, but are those who faithfully serve the Lord unnoticed, day in and day out, by being the hands and feet of Christ wherever they may be.
Any act of following Jesus requires a trust born only out of love for Him, a love that in turn can only happen on our part when we have spent so much time in His presence that we no longer believe the lie that God wants to rob us of our joy and make us do something dreadful to prove our love for Him. It is only by obeying Him in the first place that we begin to trust Him to be who He says He is. Single or married, we all make a choice every day when we decide to either ignore God’s voice out of fear and rebelliousness, or to trust in our loving Creator, who knows us infinitely more than we can ever know ourselves. Who will you choose today?