There is an old comedy/vaudeville gag, where a character enters a stately home, or an office, or arrives at an important event. They are greeted by a “straight man” character, who tells them to “walk this way”. The “straight man” then turns and begins walking in a manner that uses exaggerated mannerisms. The comedic character doesn’t just follow in the general direction of the other character– s/he imitates the exaggerated mannerisms as well.
In the last of three prayers from the song, “Day by Day” (see last Friday and Saturday), I want to explore how to “follow Thee more nearly.”
I have this quibble with the song lyrics– I know that “nearly” rhymes with “clearly” and “dearly”, but it is not grammatically correct, as it implies that I almost, not quite, but nearly want to follow Jesus, instead of saying that I want to follow Him more closely, or become a better reflection of His character. That said, I sometimes think that I fall into the comedic trap of thinking that “walk this way” merely means following Christ with exaggerated mannerisms– I follow “more nearly” when I should be following more closely.
Years ago, a good friend of mine suggested that I read a book called “God On a Harley” (Review and summary here) It is a fable, and an interesting read. I don’t recommend it for theological content (the Christ it presents is more of a New-Age life coach, not a Messiah), but I’m glad I read it for two reasons: It challenged my conventional view of Jesus, and it challenged the way I thought about discipleship. At the time I was reading the book, I was also considering making some big changes in my life– changing careers, moving away from my home town, and trusting God to be “sufficient” in my singleness and lack of guaranteed income.
When we talk or think about Jesus’ time on Earth, we generally focus on His birth, His miracles, His death, and His resurrection. We don’t usually think of His everyday life…where He ate or slept or how He lived. If He were to walk among us today, He wouldn’t appear like the paintings we see– flowing long blond hair (which has always been inaccurate), white robe and sandals. He might wear a T-shirt and jeans, ride the bus or subway train, and hang out at Starbucks or the corner convenience store. Jesus didn’t live in a “holy huddle.” And, though He famously walked on water, He mostly walked the streets. He lived and walked and ate and spent His days among ordinary people–in fact, it was His willingness to eat with and talk to the marginalized, the forgotten, the ostracized people of Him time, that got Him in trouble with the religious leaders and those in power.
I don’t think Jesus in our time would be a tattooed, beer swilling, biker– but I’m convinced that He would be found sharing a story or a pizza with one; and with the kinds of people many of His “followers” would shun. The Jesus I want to follow “more nearly” is Holy, but He is not “Holier-than-thou.” I can’t follow Jesus more nearly if I’m following an image that only exists in a picture or my self-righteous imagination. In my youth, I had a picture of what “following Christ” looked like– but it was more about following expectations and selfish desires– successful career, marriage, giving to the “right” charities, becoming a pillar of the community. There is nothing wrong with any of those things, but if God calls me to serve in humble (even humiliating) ways, doing thankless tasks, and spending time, not helping the needy at my convenience, but truly serving– pouring out my time and my heart until only His strength keeps me going–I have learned the joy and honor that transcends anything I once imagined.
I’m not a biker, but I love the image of Jesus on a motorcycle, asking me to come along for a ride. If I want to follow Him “more nearly,” I couldn’t come up with a better metaphor. If Jesus came and asked me to ride off with Him on a Harley, several things would happen that relate to discipleship:
- First, I have to commit. You can’t “sort of” ride along — you either get on the bike or you stay behind. You might know all about the motor, you might know how to ride, you might know the traffic laws, you might even watch a video of someone riding, but you won’t experience the horsepower under you, the wind in your face, the road slipping away behind you. The same is true of the Christian life. You can know about God; own a Bible– even memorize it; you can sing God’s praises, all without experiencing a relationship with Him. But you’ll never know the full power of His grace and acceptance until you commit.
- Part of that commitment is to be willing to go when and where He’s going…you can’t go on the ride and stay at home. You can’t go two hours after He does. And that brings me to–
- Trust! You won’t get on the bike if you don’t trust His ability to drive and His wisdom in knowing how and where to go. Once you’re on the bike, hanging on from behind, you can’t see all of the road ahead. You can’t steer or hit the brakes. In my own experience, I ended up leaving teaching after seven years with no “safety net.” I had no job waiting in the wings, no money saved up, and no “plan” other than to take whatever honest work I could find and follow God’s leading. I learned by experience that I can trust God’s ways to be better than mine; better than my expectations!
- Riding together takes teamwork. Just because God is doing the driving and steering doesn’t mean that I just sit back and watch the scenery (though I can do a lot of that, too). If I’m not paying attention at curves, intersections, stops, turns, etc., I can throw everything off-balance.
- Riding together, with my arms wrapped around Him is the closest I can “follow” Jesus. It’s not about what I know, or what I can “do” for God– it’s choosing to be in a deepening relationship with Him. As I live with Him, listen to Him, and trust Him, the knowing and doing will come naturally.
I want to follow with abandon– not just to walk several steps behind, or wander in His general direction, or watch what He’s doing from a distance. I want to hang on and share the adventure. That’s the way I want to “walk” with Him. That’s my prayer, “Day by Day.”