This year has been filled with a lot of crazy. There have been a lot of tasks and things that I could not have planned. In the span of the last month, I have helped co-workers move, I have finished coordinating student projects for Linguae Christi (why I originally came to Wales), I went to London for a conference, and I have helped another colleague move. This has been a whirlwind to end the summer (not to mention dealing with personal and family stressors) and if I’m honest I’ve been slightly overwhelmed by all the changes and the transitions.
However, a few weeks before this storm of change, in some quiet time spent with God, He prepared me with these words.
“Follow me…I will make you fishers of men.”Matthew 4:19
“If anyone wants to be my disciple, let him deny himself. Pick up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”Luke 9:23
Needless to say, at that moment I felt like the Holy Spirit was leading me somewhere I didn’t want to go. Denying myself in a culture that breathes self-care and consumerism? Picking up my cross (a wooden instrument on which people are executed) in a society that is saturated with comfort and safety? I didn’t know what was coming next, but with that kind of preface, I was nervous.
If you didn’t catch it the first time, God gave me two verses to prepare for the storm ahead. And he graciously repeated the words “follow ME” so I would fix my eyes (or ears) on what He wanted me to do.
When I heard the first verse, the “follow me,” the words felt more like a command. (We’re going this way). However, when I heard the second “follow me” I was reminded of the person I was following. Jesus, when he spoke those words to the disciples, was teaching them a hard truth. Following Him comes at a cost. He very clearly expresses what His followers should expect. Deny yourself. Pick up your cross. Follow me.
In light of recent events in Afghanistan, I’ve seen a lot of comparisons made to Christians in the U.S. versus overseas. To be clear, the call of every disciple is a death sentence. It may result in a physical death at the hand of another as you confess Christ as Savior, or it may be a social death as you honor Christ with a seemingly small decision. The reality is Jesus calls everyone who follows Him to die to themselves, and that bar doesn’t move or change over time or different circumstances.
But the rest of Luke 9:23 also rings true. “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” When I think about the choices I’ve made in my life, the ones that gave me life were not when I was looking out for myself. Instead, the choices that have given me life were the ones that were hard, because I had to humble myself and submit my steps to the Holy Spirit. Instead of listening to my desire for self-preservation, I listened to the Holy Spirit and followed in obedience.
In short, the commands that I followed were simple: love God and love people. However, when the storm of life hit me this past month, those simple commands felt extremely complicated and overwhelming. Loving God and people this month looked like:
- Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors
- Live in harmony with one another
- Build up one another
- Serve one another
- Submit to one another
- Bear with one another
- Show hospitality to one another
- Confess your faults to one another
All of those commands are really easy to read, but when the winds and waves of life began to overwhelm me, I hit a wall. That moment was hard. I realized I needed help, so I decided to take a step back, and seek out an outside perspective to help me evaluate my circumstances.
This is what God revealed in that time.
I knew the command was to “follow me.” However, somewhere along the way I had short-circuited following Jesus. I was listening and obeying, but like a body with only ears and hands. I was trying to follow God in my own strength, and I only realized I was failing when the storm was shaking my foundation.
As I took time to think through all the changes and things shifting, God then reminded me that following Him includes hearing Him (ears), understanding Him (brain), loving Him (heart), and responding to Him (hands). It required every part of my body and not just parts of myself. Recognizing the gravity of following Jesus in that moment felt deep and exhausting. It felt impossible. Then God reminded me of this verse.
“Come to me all who are weak and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and lowly in heart.”Matthew 11:28-29
What a relief! In that moment, I realized that Jesus was and is inviting me into more. He wants to show me more of who He is. He wants to spend time with me and He wants to show me amazing things, but He also wants me to be fully engaged with Him in a deep and very personal relationship (the good, the bad, and the ugly). Furthermore, He isn’t setting me up for failure. Because of Jesus’ perfect obedience to the Father (and the fact that I’ve trusted in Jesus’ obedience and not my own) I’ve been given everything I need to follow Him, because He has literally given me the same Spirit to know Him and to follow Him.
His arm is extended. His eyes are soft. He does not use brute force (although He is capable). Instead, His tone is filled with a loving invitation. The cost is high and there is no going back. However, there is a great wonder and anticipation of spending the next season and the rest of eternity together. It is far beyond what I could ever ask, think, or imagine! What is God inviting you into this season?