At the heart of Christian faith is discipleship. In its most basic form disciple means “follower”.
Jesus gives a clear picture of what it means to be a disciple, or follower, when He lovingly challenges us to take up our cross daily to follow His lead (Luke 9:23). In the journey of following our Master’s lead, it means we will be stretched. Have you ever tried walking in someone else’s footsteps? Maybe you were following your friend through some freshly fallen snow or your mom or dad through a muddy patch of grass. If your stride was not as long as or shorter than the person leading the way or the conditions on the path difficult to navigate, it could prove to be a challenge.
Following means someone else is taking the lead. Are you following Jesus or is Jesus following you?
Following means growth, and growth means allowing God to stretch us beyond our comfort zones toward something new, something different, something unexpected. At times this journey can be immensely thrilling, exhilarating, and exuberant. At other times it can be painful, scary, and exhausting. We have all experienced such moments, which have the potential to be life-changing. The good news behind discipleship growth is that God, through His Spirit, is at work to firmly plant our roots of faith in the Lord Himself. He takes us as we are and from the lump of clay that we are works at shaping and molding us through our lifetime into something beautiful. For God to nurture us to beautiful may mean serious tilling of the weeds of our heart and cutting off the broken limbs of sin while fertilizing and watering like crazy in the grace and forgiveness Christ offers us through a cross and empty tomb.
It is hard to trust someone else with our life, isn’t it? That, however, is the essence of faith. Faith, at its very core, says God is able. I remember a time I wanted to be a doctor. A baby doctor, to be exact. Funny, huh? This, coming from a guy who does not like the sight of blood. How would you like it if your doctor passed out whenever they drew a blood sample? God, in His infinite wisdom, closed the doors on this career path and opened the doors to my becoming a different kind of doctor, a doctor of souls. As I think about my life’s journey thus far, it is unlike any I could have ever imagined. It is immensely challenging at times, yes. But it is also one of the most personally rewarding and fulfilling vocations. To be the spiritual shepherd of a flock, sitting at the bedside of a family in a vulnerable state is both humbling and hugely meaningful all at the same time. I see people at their best (and not their best). I love being a pastor. More specifically, I love being your pastor! Every day when I drive to church, my day starts with prayer as I step through the door of my office that God would lead my day. As the day plays itself out, I am challenged and stretched in new ways.
Following Jesus means that the One we are following has an ultimate destination in mind. The point of a journey, after all, is to reach a final destination. Despite our circumstance, joy in life may be found in our walk with Jesus. He does not just give peace. He “IS” peace (Ephesians 2:14; Colossians 3:15)!
God is much better at planning our lives than we could ever be. So why do we, myself included, often fight Him? I have discovered in my own life as a follower of Jesus, that it comes down to trusting that His ways are better than my ways. It comes down to taking up His cross daily and following Him. Daily this cross puts us to death, but daily, this same cross brings us back to life.
It is funny how God often leads us down the unexpected path. The untrodden paths require deep trust in the One we are following that they know where they are leading. Each of us has different stories, different family histories, different experiences and paths that have shaped who we are as men and women of faith. The thing that unites us and brings us together is Jesus Christ. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6)!
Yet, at times it gets personal. Life can hurt! If you are in a stretching moment right now, I pray that you not give up too soon, but stay the course. Just maybe, God desires to grow you in the place where you’ve been planted. The Master Gardener may be tilling the soil or cutting away some branches for a season of exponential growth. Take courage in God’s promise, He works all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). And He loves you so much, both inside and out! I close with some encouraging words from Paul:
When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. (Ephesians 3:14-19)
Planted in Christ,