Follow Him Still

At least 12 times in the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) Jesus says, “Follow me.” Most of these times he is speaking to his would-be 12 disciples, calling them to turn from what they were doing and instead join him in ministry. In other passages in the gospels, Jesus gave examples of what a life spent following him should look like.

The 12 disciples didn’t do this perfectly and neither do we. We get sidetracked and he has to gather us in and refocus us to stay on his path, following his lead. I think the things that distract us and pull us off his path could be categorized broadly as joys and sorrows.

There’s a stanza in the timeless hymn, “Take Time to be Holy” that says:
“In joy or in sorrow, still follow the Lord,
And, looking to Jesus, still trust in his Word.”

Whether you know the hymn or not, the first line of the stanza raises a few questions worth asking as we seek to follow Jesus. First, is it hard to follow Jesus in joy? Isn’t that when it’s easiest to follow him? Life is good. Our GPA is high. Our car is running and has gas in the tank. We have money to spare. Our friendships are thriving. We’ve had a good streak reading our Bibles and going to church. So how could it be hard to follow Jesus in the midst of all these joyful things?

Joy can make it hard to follow Jesus if we start trusting in the things that bring us joy instead of the One who gave them.

We can start trusting in the security that comes from having extra money. We can start trusting in people’s affirmations of us and the drug of popularity. We can start relying on our good record of church attendance and Bible reading in order to feel loved by God.

The key to following Jesus in joy is to take his gifts with open hands, enjoying the way the gifts help us see and learn more of him.

For instance, when our friend circle is expanding and we feel like we’ve found our people, we can appreciate those friends as a blessing from God and be all in on the fun and fellowship we offer each other. We can learn how God’s grace has been at work in these friends' lives up to this point. We can use the opportunity to appreciate the different gifts and abilities they have and the similarities we share and let it blow our minds as we see more of his design and creativity through them.

We show we’re following Jesus in joy when we can see the blessings with one eye and with the other eye look past them and see him.

The second question worth asking is, is it hard to follow Jesus in sorrow, too? While there is a desperation that comes with sorrow that can bring us to the end of ourselves and push us to Christ, we definitely can be tempted to blame God for our sorrows and struggle to follow him in them.

Our tendency is to see the joys in our lives as something we earned or deserve, and the sorrows as something that were brought on us and we don’t deserve. But God is bigger than the circumstances of our lives! He is big enough to use even the heartbreaks of living in this sin-shattered world. These heartbreaks can unexpectedly touch us, turning our joy into sorrow. He, though, is our stability, holding us, giving us breath and everything else we need, working in and through the sorrow by sustaining us from the inside out.

The key, then, to following Jesus in sorrow is to submit to the sorrow with an open heart, grieving the effects of sin (your own and the consequences outside of you that come from living in the world infested by it) and seeing him as the hope for healing.

For instance, when the betrayal happens, the job is lost, or the diagnosis received, we should blame sin and its long wicked fingers that reach their way into hearts and dorms and hospitals and vehicles and inflict everything they touch. We can grieve that we, and those we love, have to live here and experience what we were never meant to. We can turn our red hot anger on it and hate it and all its devastation while we turn our hope to the only One who can and will heal us and our world. He can heal and he will heal!

Whether you find yourself in a season of joy or sorrow as you read this post and enter into this holiday season, remember you have the inseparable love of Jesus to help you still follow him and trust in his Word, no matter what.