A few years ago I conducted a survey in my congregation in order to get to know more about the needs and concerns of my congregation. One of the questions I asked was, “If you could ask God any question, what would you ask?” Across the board, from senior citizens down to high school kids, I heard this answer again and again: “God, what is your plan for my life?”
It’s a question young people may ask as they decide what to do with the rest of their life. Mid-lifers may ask it as they consider whether they should stay in their profession or do something different. Seniors may ask it as they retire and have more free time on their hands. “God, what do you want me to be doing?”
Behind this question, I believe, is a fear of insignificance. We don’t want to look back on our lives and discover they didn’t count for much. We want a sense that we made a difference.
Well, in today’s text, Jesus opens our eyes to the answer to that question when He tells us to follow His Son. It is not enough to simply believe in Jesus; we must also follow Him. His words Ð follow me Ð literally mean, come after me. Let me lead you and teach you about what makes life significant.
When you think about it, we all spend our lives following some one or some thing. The question is who or what. Some of us follow ourselves, our own understanding. We believe we have what it takes to put a good life together, but we are disappointed.
Sometimes the voice of the tempter, the devil, calls us and invites us with a promise that he’ll show us what makes life work. That, of course, is deadly.
Sometimes we find ourselves listening closely to people we admire only to be disappointed as the reality that they are only people Ð not God Ð hits us.
When Jesus says to follow Him, He’s asking you to commit yourself to living with Him at the center of your life. It’s so much more than simply making a decision about Christ. It’s following Him and getting personally involved with Him. It’s letting Him take over the leadership of your life. Just as the planets revolve around the sun in our galaxy, God wants your life to revolve around the Son of God and let Him lead. He wants you to submit to His will and transfer your personal authority from yourself to Him. “Submit to my will and let Me teach you my better way.” That can be difficult for a lot of people to accept.
Joseph Stowell, the former president of Moody Bible College, writes, “By far, the greatest challenge (in life) is the transfer of personal authority from us to Jesus. Even though we call Him Christ and refer to Him as Lord, few of us want Him to be the unconditional leader. We live with the sense that we can do a fairly good job managing our own lives. We come to Him for advice and keep Him on hand in case of an emergency, but to transfer full authority to Him is less than appealing.”
To follow Jesus is to surrender yourself to His care and let Him take over. It means to literally say, “Jesus, I am willing to do what you tell me to do. I am ready to take upon myself those things that You call important and make them important in my life.” Following Jesus is a commitment that can be difficult for us to take on.
I just finished reading a book by Kyle Idleman in which he writes, “At the church where I am a pastor, someone sent an email asking to be removed from church membership. The stated reason for leaving read simply as follows, ÔI don’t like Kyle’s sermons.’
“That begs for some kind of explanation, so I decided to call the person. I called him on my cell phone and when he answered, I simply said, ÔHey, this is Kyle Idleman. I understand you’re leaving the church because you don’t like my sermons.’ There was a brief silence. I had caught him off guard just as I had planned.
“It was awkward for a moment, and then he started rambling, trying to express what he meant. Somewhere in the middle of his lengthy explanation, he said something, which was not meant to be encouraging, but caused me to breathe such a sigh of relief that tears actually came to my eyes! So I grabbed a pen and wrote down what the man said. ÔWell,’ he said, Ôwhenever I listen to one of your messages, I feel like you are trying to interfere with my life.’
“ÔYeah, mmm, that’s kind of my job description.'” Kyle said, “But do you hear what this man is saying? He’s saying, ÔI believe in Jesus; I’m a big fan, but don’t ask me to follow Him. I don’t mind coming to church on the weekend and praying before meals. I’ll even slap a Jesus fish on my bumper, but I don’t want Jesus to interfere with my life.’ When Jesus defines the relationship He wants with us, He makes it clear that being a fan without making any real commitment is not an option.”
C. S. Lewis, in his book, MERE CHRISTIANITY, wrote, “Jesus Christ says, “Give me all of you. I don’t want just so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work. I want you! I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there; I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth or crown it or stop it, but to have it out! Hand over the whole natural self Ð all the desires that you think are innocent as well as the ones you think are wicked. The whole outfit. And I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you myself. My own will shall become yours.'”
What does God want me to do with the rest of my life? Follow His Son, Jesus Christ! Commit myself to putting Him at the center of my life, living with Him at the lead, and getting to know Him. The disciples made a decision to follow Jesus. They reorganized their lives and lived with Him at the center for the rest of their lives. They discovered many wonderful things about God, His love for people, and what life is all about.
How do we do the same? Our church has a mission statement to connect people to a growing relationship with Jesus Christ through worship, small groups and serving. The first part of it is to worship. It is a priority to be fed the Word of God and be reminded of God’s plan of salvation for all people. In the worship service, we learn of God’s forgiveness, love and mercy, and the greatness of His power. We are also reminded that we are not alone in this world as we are lifted up on the praises of God. Worship is not an elective in the discipleship course.
We also believe in the importance of being involved in a Bible study. Members of a study gather around the Word on a weekly basis and learn of God’s direction for their lives. They challenge one another, hold each other accountable, and put the Word to work in their daily living. They take care of each other and pray for one another. Those small group Bible studies have changed many lives in this congregation. Wherever you are, find an individual to join you in studying the Word of God.
Finally, we encourage our members to serve others. Jesus wants to stretch us. He said to us, “I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink.” When we show kindness to someone, we soon discover Christ really is with us and life really can be a wonderful thing with Him leading us in service.
Those three things are right out of the book of Acts. The first church gathered around the apostles for teaching and worship. They prayed, they took care of one another, and they served in their community. The good will of all was upon them. Those who do that will find the abundant life Jesus promised. It is the joy of being forgiven and having an eternal home and a joy-filled, power-filled life.
Notice, however, the promise that Jesus ultimately attaches to His command to follow Him. “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus is building a kingdom in this world, and He wants to use us. As we attend worship, go to Bible studies, and serve others, God is training us to impact people positively for the kingdom of God and bring them to Jesus Christ. Be a missionary in the sphere of influence God has placed you. That is your mission field. I’m not sure it matters to Him how you make your living; what matters most to God is that you follow Jesus where you are by helping people see how much God loves them and pointing them to Jesus as their rescuer. It’s your number one calling in life!
As those disciples dropped their nets and began a course on catching people, they learned the power of prayer. Every day as they, in prayer, asked for God’s leading, they learned the power of caring for people. Before Jesus preached to the people, He had compassion for them. They learned the power of the Holy Spirit as He changed people’s lives. They learned the power of location, location, location Ð You can’t catch fish if you are just sitting in a church pew. Instead, you must be amongst those who make you uncomfortable, those who are not like you and whose behaviors make you uncomfortable. Jesus calls us into the world to be fishers of men, and those are the ones He is calling us to catch! You can’t catch fish unless you go to where the fish are.
That is what the disciples learned. They were trained, and they changed history. In the book of Acts, we read how thousands of lives were changed by those who were trained by Jesus. That is where the excitement, adventure, and fun lie. It is in being used by Jesus to touch the lives of others. I don’t know about you, but I want to be a history maker like that.
That is what I want to do with the rest of my life. What about you? Would you like to do something like that with your life? I invite you to pray this commitment prayer with me:
Jesus be the center of my life. Make me into a history maker. Use me to bring others to you.