Tomorrow is Flag Day in the United States– a day in which we honor our nation’s flag and all for which it stands. It is an odd holiday in a sense; most countries have a national day of celebration, but not a whole day just to celebrate their flag. We already have an day to celebrate our Independence, and days to honor the sacrifices of soldiers or the dates of famous military victories in our history. Why should we spend a day honoring our flag. Isn’t that arrogant? Isn’t it taking nationalism a bit too far?
Flags and banners are important to us. They are a visual representation of an idea or a series of ideas–“America,” perhaps, but also, “Freedom,” “Loyalty,” “Sacrifice,” “Honor,” “Bravery,” etc. We have national flags, state flags, organizational flags, family crests, even sports team flags and mascots. Flags can be used to rally troupes and inspire citizens, signify commitment to a cause or nationality, show pride or loyalty, and represent ideals held by those in a group. Colors, shapes, stripes, animals or plants, stars, shields, letters or single words– all represent something important or noble to those who see them on a flag or banner. And there is no real point to having a flag if you are never going to display it or let it fly high for all to see.
In the Song of Solomon (Song of Songs) the bride tells that her lover has brought her to a house of feasting, and that “his banner over me is love.” (Song of Solomon 2:4) The Song is an allegory that can be seen as Christ and His Church. Christ also has a banner–and it is Love–not the romantic love of the Song, but everlasting and limitless love! His Love rallies us, unites us, inspires us, and leads us. When we look for a symbol of who Christ is (and what the Church should be) we use a flag of white with a cross symbol in red on a blue (or sometimes purple) background for the corner. The white represents Christ’s purity, and the pure white robes that will be given to His saints. The blue/purple represents Christ’s majesty and authority. The red of the cross is a reminder of the blood He shed on Calvary’s cross.
Banners and flags are important. But we don’t need a flag or banner to represent Christ’s love– WE are to be His banner for the world. The world should be able to look at us and see a reflection of the limitless and unconditional Love of Christ in the way we speak and interact with others, and the way we live our lives.
Today (and tomorrow) when we happen to see a flag, let us remember that we are Christ’s ambassadors– we do more than just absorb God’s love– we are to reflect it, and be living symbols of God’s great love for the World. We should be visible testimonies that God’s love is all-important, and available to all! May that be more than just a prayer– may it be our earnest pursuit every day.
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
John 21:15-19 (NIV)
Today is Valentine’s Day, and many people will be saying, “I love you,” or asking, “Do you love me?” And many others will reply, “Yes, I love you,” or “I love you, too!” Cards and gifts may be exchanged; some couples will dine out or have romantic candlelit dinners at home. It is a day to celebrate love. There are thousands of poems and songs about love– ooey, gooey, gushy love; unrequited love; first love; true and lasting love; even “puppy” love.
But Valentine’s Day can also be a painful reminder– of lost love, betrayal, and loneliness. The story of Peter’s betrayal and reinstatement is not a “Valentine” story of romantic love, but it carries some lessons for today about love in general, and the Love of Christ in particular.
Love is a choice– freely given and freely accepted (apologies to Elvis Presley and others who have sung about not being able to help falling in love…) When Jesus first called Peter (and in the above passage as well) He simply asked Peter to “Follow me.” He made no demands, offered no bribes, used no intimidation. There is no long list of requirements or expectations; no bargaining; no “quid pro quo.” That said, Love is not a light-hearted or whimsical thing. Peter’s choice to love Christ, and to follow him cost him his life. Christ’s choice to love us led Him to humble Himself to death, even death on the cross (Philippians 2:8). Jesus could have escaped this fate several times over– He CHOSE to die for each of us!
Love is more than just a feeling. “Follow me” demands an action and a commitment. There are many today who “love” the idea of Jesus; they love the parables, or the gospel story; they are in love with “love.” But the idea that “Love” is all you need (apologies to the Beatles) misses the mark. Feelings change; feelings are transitory and often dependent on circumstances. Love chooses to follow– even when the going gets rough; even when it is not convenient, even when it involves sacrifice.
Loving someone involves taking the risk of being hurt, denied, or betrayed. There is no Biblical passage describing the amount of hurt Jesus must have felt when Peter denied Him three times, or when Judas betrayed Him. The Biblical account tells us that Jesus already knew and predicted these two events, but how agonizing–every bit as painful as the nails in His hands and feet! Jesus loved those who spit at Him, abandoned Him, condemned Him, and persecuted Him. And we also see Peter in this passage being hurt at Jesus’ questioning him a third time; Peter was shocked and hurt when Jesus predicted his denial, and when Jesus said to him, “Get behind me, Satan.”(Matthew 16:23) Love is never free from risk– especially the imperfect love we have as humans.
Love leads to restoration and forgiveness. Peter’s denial of Christ could have haunted him for the rest of his life. Had Jesus said nothing; done nothing to address this hurt, it would not have changed the fact that Peter was forgiven. But in publicly restoring Peter, Jesus made it clear that it was “all good” between them– Peter wasn’t just conditionally forgiven, he was completely restored!
Love is stronger than death! It is stronger than sin, or betrayal, denial, or hurt. Love is eternal and limitless, everlasting, and enduring. God IS Love and to know God is to know love. To speak to God and to hear His voice and read His Word is to converse with Love. Whether in the presence of saints on a mountaintop, in the midst of a raging storm, or on a quiet beach– Love is closer than our next breath, and more powerful than our deepest fear. Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13: 8)
I’ve been exploring the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians; specifically chapter 13, verse 13. Paul states that there are three virtues that remain, after all else has passed away or been lost: Faith, Hope, and Love. And, while the other two are great and necessary, the greatest is Love.
So much has been written about Love– poets and prophets, songwriters and storytellers. most would agree that Love is the greatest virtue. But they wouldn’t all agree on what “Love” is. The Greeks have three different words for love– in fact most languages have more than one word– English has dozens of synonyms: Love, adore, desire, passion, enamored, infatuated, devoted…you get the idea. Except there are several ideas, so how do we know which kind of love remains? What kind of love endures beyond life and time and against every obstacle?
Human love is fallible; it is temporal (and sometimes even temporary). It doesn’t last forever– in spite of poetic promises and sacred vows. People “fall in love” and they fall out of love. Human love grows deeper; but it can also grow cold. It can be conditional, and manipulative; selfish, and shallow. Human love is often based on feelings that change with the seasons. We “love the whole world” when we are feeling good–we love mankind, but can’t stand our next door neighbor!
God’s love is eternal and unconditional. It never depends on His “mood.” It never depends on who we are or what we have done. God loves because it is His nature. He IS Love. He is the definition of enduring, everlasting, boundless, endless LOVE. This is the Love that endures. It is the Love that changes us from the inside out, and changes the world around us.
We are living through chaotic times, filled with raw and dangerous emotions– anger, hatred, pride, despair, resentment, greed, grief, and fear. God’s love is more than just another emotion. I cannot love my enemy with human emotion– nor does God ask me to. God loves through us– it is His Love that we need to access and carry with us into the darkness. I want to bring Love into the world– and I want to be seen as a Loving person. But God asks me to Love even when it is rejected; even when I am seen as the enemy; even when I get hurt in the process. That doesn’t mean that I invite or tolerate abuse because I think it makes me more virtuous or because I think I somehow deserve it. But it does mean that I continue to pray, I continue to have Faith and Hope that God will turn even the smallest acts of Love into seeds that will return a harvest in His time and in His way.
When I look at the life of Jesus Christ, that is just what He did. He had the power to destroy the corrupt Temple system– He demonstrated just a particle of His passion when He drove the money changers out of the Temple courtyard (Matthew 21:12-13). He could have led a rebellion against the oppressive Roman Empire. (In fact, that is one reason He was rejected as the Messiah. He chose not to use His power for political or economic gain– even for the benefit of His own people.) He had the power to wipe out leprosy, or blindness, or demon possession– He could have been the most powerful man on Earth, and single-handedly put an end to poverty, injustice, and so much more. If solving those issues for His people in His lifetime would have been the most loving thing– He would have done it. But He spent His time speaking to those in need– those who had lost hope, those who needed healing, those who were carrying guilt and doubt and grief. He spent His time, not talking about Love, but demonstrating Love– personal, unconditional, life-giving Love. Jesus spoke to crowds, yes, but most of His time was spent in small groups or one-on-one– teaching, eating, listening, caring–Loving.
Loving this way takes time– it takes effort, and it comes with risk. Jesus, loving in just this way, was misunderstood, rejected, hated, even killed. But His Love conquered death, and brought life and victory. I may not be asked to become a martyr– but will I seek to Love like Jesus? Will I pray for people I don’t know; or people who have opposed me, or rejected me? Will I reach out in Love to people who are in rebellion against God? People who mock Him, cry out against Christians, persecute us–even kill us? Will I pray for and support those who are in danger because they are showing God’s Love in this way? Because whether I do or not– Love Remains. Will I be Faithful? Will I reach out in Hope? Will I risk Loving as Christ Loves?
Last Friday, I attended a high school football game in my home town. It was homecoming, complete with floats and balloons, face paint, and screaming fans (myself included).
My hometown team is having a fantastic season so far– their record is 6 and 0, and they are winning by wide margins each week. I’m a little biased, not only since this is my home town, but because I have a nephew and a cousin on the team! They have already qualified for a spot in the playoffs for their division, and they have dreams of becoming state champions.
I hope they make it. I pray that they will play their best; that they will stay safe and healthy, too. I want them to win, and I think they have a good chance. But the season’s not over yet. They still have to play a couple of tough teams in the regular season, and they will face stiff competition in the playoffs.
As good as they have been so far, the teammates and coaches will still drill, train, and learn how to adjust the way they play based on whatever the next game throw at them. Next week’s team may be better at passing, or rushing. Their players may be bigger, or more agile, or more experienced than others. The weather conditions may play a bigger role next week.
All that to say that we all go through seasons– sometimes even “winning” seasons– and each one requires that we prepare, work, train, and persevere until the season is over. Some of us are facing a season of trials and losses–we’re waiting and hoping for the season to end. And it will. But the season’s not over yet. Stay in the game– keep praying, keep training, and keep believing that there will be a new season of hope. Some of us are in a season of victory! That’s great, but the season’s not over yet. Stay focused– keep training and preparing, and learning, knowing that there will come a season of trial. Some of us are watching others in their success–but the season’s not over yet. Stop comparing– reach out and connect. Show respect; show compassion.
This is true in all areas of life– there are seasons in our education, seasons in parenting and relationships, seasons in our careers and service, seasons in politics, economics, and even in our faith walk. And in every season, God is there. Like a proud parent or an ardent fan, He is cheering you on; like a great coach, He gives guidance and instruction; like a cherished teammate, He has your back. In all of this, God roots for all His children– not that some will “win” and others will “lose”, but that all will learn to play their very best and become “victors”.
No matter what kind of season we are in, or where we are in our season, we should remember a few things:
Life is both an individual and a team activity. None of us can “win” on our own, nor can we expect the team to “carry” us to victory without any effort on our part.
We can’t see the end from the beginning (or even the middle). But God can. And we can trust His guidance and His timing, even if we don’t see the whole picture.
God goes not see “winning” and “losing” in the same way the world judges it. What looks like “winning” to us may be superficial and false. What feels like losing may be building a Godly character that will overshadow the temporary struggles of this season.
Seasons come and go, but not everyone experiences them the same way or at the same time. In other words, don’t compare your winning swim season to someone else’s losing soccer season, or your dry summer to someone else’s monsoon season. Instead, focus on your own season and your own growth. Don’t close yourself off to others– you may have an opportunity to give or accept help, advice, training, and encouragement along the way–but don’t let others become more powerful (or less worthy of respect) than they really are.
At the end of the “season”, if we know Jesus Christ, we will share in the ultimate victory. The celebration that occurs over each person who comes to Christ makes any celebration here on earth seem dull and timid–no amount of parade floats, lights, fireworks, screaming fans, balloons, or other excitement can compare to the joy of welcoming a lost soul into the Kingdom of Heaven.
What do I bring before God when I pray? Awe, gratitude, requests, confession, what’s on my mind, my heart…there are many things I can lay on the altar. But what do I bring God that doesn’t originate with Him? What do I bring that has value independent of God? Nothing.
My relationship with God is completely uneven. God is the provider of everything I need. I owe Him everything, and have nothing to give that can begin to “repay” Him. What a blow to my pride, my self-sufficiency! What is the point of pretending I have anything to bring before an all-knowing and all-powerful God? All of nothing is still nothing.
What do I bring before God when I pray? Awe for the beauty and power that inspires and uplifts me; gratitude for the blessings He has poured out so lavishly– life, health, family, joy, peace, grace, love… I bring requests, not idly, spewing them out to the wind or to random passers-by, but purposefully, to a God who hears. Confession, not coerced through torture, not met with unbearable punishment, but given freely in the knowledge that there is forgiveness and restoration on the other side of confession and repentance. I can bring thoughts, fears, hopes, dreams, joys, pains, disappointments, and frustrations and lay them on the altar–not as a reluctant sacrifice of a servant, but as the outpouring of love from a child to her beloved Father.
I can’t out-give God. But that’s not a fault or a lack. Instead, it is the mind-blowing reality that God is able to GIVE abundantly above all that I can hope or imagine. And even though He needs nothing, He eagerly desires to share with me all the awe and wonder, all the beauty and grace, all the majesty and power of who He is, and to accept from me the joy and humble acceptance of His gifts–nothing more, and nothing less.
I could give God nothing– no time, no credit, no joy, no love. Instead, I want to choose to give all. Because even all of nothing is still ALL, thanks be to God!
I know by writing this, I’m dating myself a bit, but when I was younger (MUCH younger!) we used to listen to a Hi-Fi stereo system. It was a piece of furniture, made of wood, complete with legs and fabric-covered speakers, and it had an enormous hinged cover that had to be locked into the “open” position or it would slam shut as your head and upper body was “inside” trying to adjust the settings! It had a turn-table for records, an AM/FM radio, and even storage for albums and other gear. It stood proudly, if awkwardly, in the living room or family room, off to the side of the other large piece of entertainment furniture, the giant television set, complete with rabbit-ear antenna. Hi-Fi stood for “High Fidelity”, reassuring us that the sounds issuing from this box were as close as we could get to “being there” for concerts, broadcasts, and other recordings. Our model was “old school”– there was no remote control, no way to record in any other medium (no tape deck or USB port), no “pause” or “mute” function– all the knobs and buttons and “arms” had to be operated by hand.
Today, we have “Wi-Fi”– a word that looks and sounds very much like the earlier “Hi-Fi.” Most people think that Wi-Fi probably stands for “Wireless Fidelity.” I looked it up– the “Wi-” does stand for wireless, meaning that information is transferred via radio waves, eliminating the need for a wire or cable connection. But the “Fi” part does NOT stand for fidelity (or anything else, exactly). It is simply a brand name for a particular wireless protocol See more about the definition of Wi-Fi here. Still wireless communications, including cell phone service and internet, has radically changed our world, making it possible to connect with virtually anyone, anywhere, any time. It is a marvelous innovation with potential for great good. In our world and culture of global communications, we rely on Wi-Fi or wireless connections every day. We use them for information, entertainment, business, and social networking. I rely on it for this blog.
When it comes to prayer, it’s important to recognize the important difference between Hi-Fi and Wi-Fi . Both are important, but they are not the same.
High Fidelity Prayer (as I see it) is consistent, daily prayer. Faithfully coming before God and seeking His face. Some may use a rote prayer for grace, or bedtime prayers, matins, or other standardized prayers. Others may set aside a daily time to pray–15 minutes in the morning, or an hour after breakfast, or even 10 minutes before bedtime. Some people set an alarm to pray at a certain time each day. Many even make a habit to pray with a group once or twice a week. To some, this type of prayer may seem passe, outmoded, old fashioned–after all, if God already knows our every thought, why does it matter if we pray every day or meet with the same group? It matters because fidelity matters– faithfulness, even in the “small” things, matters to God.
High Fidelity Prayer may seem awkwardly placed in the middle of our “living room”–forcing us to take time; to make and keep a commitment; to face questions or ridicule–it may seem clunky and wooden at first, even scratchy and hard to tune. And they depend on being “plugged in” to our power source!
Wi-Fi Prayer is not the opposite of Hi-Fi Prayer. It is not “wrong”, or illegitimate. In fact, it is great to know that we can talk to God anywhere, any time, for any reason. Wi-Fi Prayer (again, as I see it) is spontaneous prayer that is poured out to God “in the moment”. It can happen as you are driving or walking down the street (just don’t close your eyes!) It can happen alone or with a group. It can happen in response to something you overhear on a bus or a train, or read in an e-mail, or hear on the news. It is not a substitute for Hi-Fi Prayer, but it is certainly a healthy addition to it.
But Wi-Fi Prayer, just like Wi-Fi communication, can be taken for granted. Wi-Fi prayers can become “small” and “hand-held”– things we bring before God because it seems like the thing to do. We tend to put little thought, and even less grammar, into our wireless messages; we sometimes put little thought, and even less doctrine, into our Wi-Fi prayers, relying on common phrases that sound religious, but lose meaning. “Jesus just be with _____________ during this time”, “put a hedge of protection around ________________”, “I’m just claiming your promises, Lord.” There is nothing “wrong” with any of these statements, but what do we really mean? Isn’t Jesus always with us? Why is protection always a “hedge”? Which promises are you claiming? Again, there is nothing wrong with any of these phrases, and we know that the Holy Spirit can understand even our deepest utterances and wordless groaning. But just like auto-correct can mess up the simplest message, so our auto-pilot praying can mimic real communication with our Lord and Creator. There are entire comedy routines built around this kind of praying– but it creates an uncomfortably convicting kind of laughter. We should not be shamed out of Wi-Fi prayer, but we should also be careful not to let our prayer lives become a joke. Thankfully, God listens to our hearts and not just our words!
Hi-Fi or Wi-Fi, prayer is a sure connection to a faithful God.
On a final note, whether we have to turn down the knob or hit mute, there is another important “sound” principle of prayer– LISTEN! There have been some voices mocking this element of prayer, claiming that those who claim to hear from God are hallucinating or just plain crazy. God rarely ever speaks aloud and directly to an individual–even Jesus, while He claimed that He only did what His Father “told” Him to do– never claimed to hear the audible voice of God telling Him what to do or where to go next. There are only a few recorded instances of anyone else “hearing” the voice of God directly throughout history. But there are countless instances of people discerning the “voice” of God, and the leading of the Holy Spirit throughout the ages. How? Often through changes in circumstances, other trusted voices, new insights into scripture, or the “still small voice” of their own conscience giving confirmation. The one caveat about “listening” for the voice of God– it will NEVER lead you to contradict God’s own word or act in contradiction to His character.
We have a Hi-Fi, Wi-Fi kind of God–let’s keep in tune, log in, and listen!
It’s homecoming season–in small towns around the area, high school football stadiums are being turned into parade grounds as students decorate floats, dress up, rally, and prepare for a chilly Friday night game. Hot cider, coffee, or cocoa, hot dogs, caramel apples, donuts; hats, scarves, and sweatshirts with team logos; scores of alumni in the stands to cheer on the home team and share memories of years gone by. Young and old will cheer themselves hoarse hoping for a victory, and the band will play fight songs, as the cheerleaders jump and shout with all their might. Fans will argue the calls of the refs, and discuss the plays and players. Some eyes will be glued to the action on the field, while others will be looking around for familiar faces, and greeting old friends.
Some people are more “into” sports than others, but there is a contagious excitement on Homecoming night for almost anyone. People are stirred up; pulses are racing, hope and anticipation run high.
What happens on Friday night should be what happens on Sunday mornings…
Do we “come home” to church with an air of excitement and anticipation? Do we expect victory? Are we eagerly looking for faces in the crowd? Discussing the “action on the field” of spiritual warfare? Do we pray with the same enthusiasm as we use to cheer on a high school football team? Do we even know the other members of our team? Or have we stopped showing up for the game, expecting defeat and shame, or shrugging our shoulders– “After all, it’s just a game…”
Two women, so alike in some ways–
Both attractive and energetic,
Both young and vivacious.
One has prepared a table; the other has prepared her bed,
One talks of virtue and honor; the other whispers secrets.
One requires commitment; the other promises no strings.
To enter either door is to be changed.
A man entered the door of the wise woman.
He was simple, uncomplicated, straightforward;
A man of few words, but noble heart.
He ate at her table, put his boots outside the door–
Carried her over the threshold.
Time passed, children came.
They added on to the house.
Put in a garden; got a dog.
Others took note.
There were gatherings–
Holidays, barbecues, reunions.
The house was a home.
He never looked back.
Years later, the man died.
His neighbors and family all spoke
Of his honesty, integrity, and wisdom.
His wife mourned, and was comforted.
He was the father of three,
The grandfather of seventeen.
Another man entered the door of the foolish woman.
He was simple, uncomplicated, straightforward;
A man of few words, but a yearning heart.
He ate her food and drank her wine; slept in her bed–
Wallowed in her perfumed sheets.
He laughed at her coarse jokes,
Reveled in her cat-fights with the other girls,
And the stares of other men.
He bought her jewelry. She bought him a car.
They lived the dream: parties and vacations;
Dancing ’til dawn and no responsibilities.
They forgot to pay the bills; they wrecked the car.
Others took note and shook their heads.
She moved in with someone else.
He moved into a hotel.
There were other women
And other hotels.
There were neighbors, friends–
Cars, jobs, maybe even children
Along the way.
But he was never the same.
Years later, the man died.
His neighbors and friends
Spoke of the loss
In passing or over a beer.
The woman didn’t hear of his passing.
When someone brought up his name,
She said, “Such a simple, stupid man.
I wonder what ever happened to him.”
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.”