The big picture of following Jesus is simpler than you think.
My wife and I moved recently, and I’ve been putting together a lot of furniture. The part I dread most is step one—pouring the contents of the box into the floor. That’s when you get to survey the slats and bags of screws, bolts, washers, and hinges, and feel a distinct sense of hopelessness. That pile of disconnected parts looks nothing like a coffee table.
That’s why the manufacturer slaps a full color photo of the finished product on the box—so during the construction process, guys like me can keep referring to it. I can verify that when my finished table sits at a forty-five degree angle, it isn’t a feature, it’s a mistake. The picture says so.
When we talk about following Jesus, it’s also sometimes confusing. There’s a lot of moving parts in the Bible. When they all come together, what should following Jesus look like? Thankfully, we have a picture, a narrative description of the very first group of Jesus followers.
It all started with Jesus’ call to a few disciples to “Follow Me!” If you read the rest of the gospels, the top-down view will show the essential components of what following Him meant. These men continued closely with Jesus and with each other while they served people.
And that is the basic, precedent-setting picture of following Jesus: A perfect, supreme Person in the center, a circumference of folks gathered around Him, learning from Him, with the result that together they serve the spiritual and sometimes physical needs of humanity.
When Christ called people during this time, He never intended for any of them to be alone. Even after He died for our sins, resurrected from the dead, and ascended to heaven, the Bible shows him still adhering to the basic pattern He established for His followers during His days on the earth.
The Book of Acts tells us, “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Every time He saved someone, Jesus would add that person to His other believers. He repopulates this basic template from one generation to the next.
Back when I first believed in Jesus for real with my own faith (not that of my parents), I felt a nervous wonder about what was going to happen next. I had no frame of reference when it came to following Christ. I thought He was going to reinvent the wheel for me. Maybe following Him was going to mean putting on a burlap robe, living on a mountain, and shaving my head. I hoped not. I have a large Italian, Jewish nose and without hair, the thing would probably dominate my face.
While I was worrying about all this, walking down the side of a road in Germany (I was in the service), I felt a strong impression in my heart to go find the other believers in my Army barracks and meet with them. I interpreted this to be the speaking of Christ in my heart. But I still argued with it a little bit. I wanted to do this Christian thing on the low-low, and keep it personal. I didn’t want a bunch of other people involved.
But then I thought, Is being a Christian just going to turn into another interest where I call the shots and it’s really just about me? Am I actually going to follow Jesus, or borrow Him temporarily to make my life better? At that moment, I made a u-turn on the sidewalk, went and found those guys, told them I had been born again (they were stunned), put myself with them, and started meeting with them.
For the second time inside of a month, my life began to change. I’d gone from being a non-believer to a believer in Jesus. Then I’d gone from being a believer in Jesus to becoming a follower of Jesus.
Christians, especially young, idealistic ones are never short on enthusiasm and openness. They say, “Jesus, I will follow you to Africa for a summer mission trip to dig water wells.” “I’ll follow you anywhere, especially if it’s warm and scenic.” “I’ll follow you to start a new business,” “I’ll follow you to launch a new humanitarian initiative,” but then Jesus says, “How about following me out of bed on Sunday morning to gather with my other believers?” An amazing number of those same enthusiastic Christians say, “No. I’ve, uh…got other plans.”
Jesus counters: “Well, follow Me, instead of your plans.”
Stony silence often ensues.
This isn’t a new, modern problem, as though it were something we could blame on today’s emerging generation. Hebrews 10:25 instructs believers not to neglect meeting together, “as is the habit of some.” That proves even back while the Bible was still being written, some Christians had already gotten into the habit of not being around when the church got together. A lot of their reasons for doing so are probably still in circulation now.
We should follow Jesus even if it’s not worthy of a pulp adventure novel, even if it’s locally, to the same place and to the same people every week.
Become an intentional and determined follower of Christ in this respect. Don’t make a decision every week to come to church. Make only one. I did this. Over 30 years ago, I decided Sunday morning is for gathering with other believers. That one decision has simplified a lot of things for me. Barring sickness or things outside my control, I know where I’m going to be during that time slot every week.
Some folks try to make a church decision fifty-two times every year. They’re constantly asking, How do I feel? Do I have any other plans? Would I rather do something else? It becomes difficult for them to establish consistency following Christ in this one simple area.
Before you imagine yourself undertaking some newsworthy enterprise for Jesus, picture your feet hitting the floor on Sunday morning for a destination minutes away. That’s a much easier place to start.