You follow me.
Three powerful words spoken at daybreak on a Galilean beach 2,000 years ago. Three commanding words from Jesus’ mouth to the apostle Peter that set the direction for his life, even to martyrdom. Three words that Jesus commands all believers—then and now—when he says, “take up your cross and follow me.” But do we, 21st-century believers, truly heed those words?
When we plan our lives, do we consider what it means to follow Jesus in every decision? What if it means living at home to be a wise steward of finances? Studying a subject that will enable us to serve others with insignificant compensation? Or, giving ourselves to arduous study in order to build a business that is able to fund missions?
When we look for a spouse or decide how to grow our families, do we faithfully seek the Lord’s direction and submit to his leading even if it means prolonged singleness, shortened years of freedom to travel or pursue personal goals, or welcoming an orphaned child into our homes? When we size up our retirement savings and dream about life after work, do we consider how to be a blessing to others and continue carrying out the great commission?
While Christians are quick to say, “Yes, we want to follow Jesus!”, it’s far too easy to let our own plans dictate our direction, rather than surrender to our Saviour and truly submit to his leading. Perhaps this is because we have let the world and its preoccupation with self cloud our thinking. Perhaps it’s because we compare our lives with the Christians around us and assume we’re on track because our lives look a lot like theirs. Perhaps it is because we fear the personal cost of following Jesus. Maybe it’s all three.
Several years ago, God began revealing my own reluctance to follow Jesus when it appeared that it would come with great cost to my plans, comfort, and preference. One year after graduating university and getting married, while my husband and I were renting a one-bedroom basement apartment, sharing an older car, and balancing four part-time jobs between the two of us, God began to stir a desire within my husband to pursue theological education and vocational ministry.
After many conversations, prayers, and fear-filled tears (on my part), we quit our jobs, packed a U-Haul, and moved our lives 1,000 kilometres away from our home, families, and country.
While some people may see this as a wonderful adventure, for me it was a frightening world of unknowns: Would we find new jobs? Would we earn enough? Where would we live? What church would we join? Would we make friends? Could we afford American healthcare?
This new season also threatened many expectations I had for my life: we wouldn’t see family very often, we wouldn’t buy a home anytime soon, and we would likely not have well-paying, stable jobs—maybe ever. And yet, this is where Jesus was leading us. As a loving Father, as a Good Shepherd, he was unfolding his big plans for my life, plans to build his kingdom, not mine.
Maybe you can relate. Maybe following Jesus hasn’t led you to quit jobs or cross borders, but instead has cost you relationships with family and friends, popularity at work, business growth, rest, or vacations. For Peter, it cost him his life. The good news is that by God’s grace, the sufferings that come from following Jesus are not empty.
While this season of my life has been painful, it has also been a delight. Through this season, God has revealed my misplaced trust, comfort, and joy. I often look to the circumstances of my life to provide satisfaction and security. Only Christ is able to provide that. When I look at my circumstances for these things, I find myself unnecessarily anxious, fearful, and unhappy.
In the midst of unfulfilled expectations for my life, God has shown me that fullness of joy is found in His presence, not in proximity of family, reliable jobs, a comfortable savings account, home ownership, a happy marriage, or comfortable retirement: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:10) In his unfolding plans for my life, he has satisfied me in ways that my plans never could.
In God’s lovingkindness, he may generously give us the desires of our hearts. And if he does, we ought to rejoice and be thankful! But we must also learn that fullness of joy is solely found in obedience to our Lord—whether that is faithfully working a comfortable job for 35 years, or meeting early death in a life devoted to ministry.
Jesus doesn’t want to fulfill all the plans that we have for ourselves. He calls us to a life of joyful obedience—a better way, not an easier way. His way is marked with unknowns, self-sacrifice, and sometimes broken dreams. His way calls us to surrender the things we’re holding on to for self-protection and comfort, and instead choose to trust him as the Good Shepherd.
When we hear Jesus’ words “follow me” and respond in faith and obedience, we will find ourselves walking paths of deeper joys and sorrows than we ever would have imagined. But these paths are also marked by far greater beauty, fulfillment, and purpose than our carefully planned paths of comfort and ease. Truthfully, our plans are too small.
When we hear Jesus’ command to follow, we ought to also recall his promise: “Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:30)
May we be content to follow Him in trust and obedience, believing that surely goodness and mercy will follow.