For a long time, I thought that following Jesus had more to do with my personal spirituality and spiritual growth than anything else. Not that this was a bad thing. It certainly helped to keep me on track in my formative years, and then through my early life in ministry, focused on and teaching others to be focused on practices such as reading the Bible, praying, spending time with neighbors so that they could be evangelized.
But there is something that gets missed when we think about following Jesus in terms of this narrow scope, and that is that we miss the things that Jesus was actually about. When we look at the life of Jesus, we see him calling people to follow him. But rarely do we see Jesus focused on the things that we tell others to be focused on. Certainly Jesus spent time in prayer, and if we understand the Gospel of Luke correctly, he spent much time in prayer.
In the Gospels, we see Jesus both focused on prayer and on the outgrowth of that in ministry, and he went out and taught people as needs arose. He taught in the synagogues when he had the chance to, he served people, he ministered to people, he talked with people, he healed people, he ate with people. Yet, for some reason, when we talk about following Jesus, we default to those basic spiritual practices of reading the Bible and praying more.
Bizarrely, one of the three practices that I mentioned at the beginning–spending time with people so that we could evangelize them–often takes a backseat in our churches when we talk about following Jesus. Following Jesus gets reduced to how much time and how many days a week we read the Bible, along with a customary thought or two about how we should pray more.
But in the Gospel of Luke, prayer was a tremendous focus of Jesus’s to the degree that he would pray before major decisions, such as choosing the twelve disciples who became apostles, or in the Garden of Gethsemane just prior to his arrest and subsequent death. Luke also reports that Jesus would go out and spend all night in prayer or get up very early in the morning and go out by himself to pray. We see Jesus engaging in these practices much more than we see him studying what would be his Bible, the Old Testament, or even teaching others to do. It is ironic that we end up reducing following Jesus to Bible reading or study and prayer.
To be clear, I am not implying that these things should be minimized at all. They are very good practices that we should aspire to more of. We should aspire to pray more. And we should always aspire to read our Bibles more. After all, it’s in the Bible that we learn about Jesus and about his character, values, and priorities, so that we can emulate those in our lives.
But when we examine Jesus’s call in the Gospels to follow him, we simply see Jesus, out among the people, and calling some to follow him. That phrase is an imperative command, even though we don’t always look at it that way for ourselves. We think about following Jesus in terms of what we want to do or what we want to give. But Jesus said “Follow me” to some fishermen that were out fishing in their family business, and these men got up, left their family business, left their nets and their boats and their father behind, and followed Jesus. And their life changed radically and drastically. Things were never the same for them after they began following Jesus in this way.
They immediately went out with Jesus and rather than having an extended Bible study session, or even a prayer circle, they observed Jesus as he went among the people healing, teaching, and proclaiming the good news (Matthew 4).
I wonder if following Jesus, for us, should look closer to that? Rather than just being the comfortable routine of reading the Bible in the morning, and praying together over a meal, and maybe before you go to bed, what if following Jesus had some kind of radical outcome in your life? What would change if you listened to Jesus calling you to follow him? Where are the people who need good news proclaimed in their lives? Who are the people that you know that need spiritual wholeness? Where are the people that you know who need to be taught about the way of Jesus?
What if following him meant going with him to those people, with you being the one to minister to them through teaching, proclamation, or service, in order that they might find spiritual wholeness?
What does it mean for you to think about following Jesus in this more robust way? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below, or go to this post at Substack , click the heart to like it, and leave your thoughts there.
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