When I was a kid, I wanted to be a veterinarian. I loved animals and wanted to work with them. As I got older, I wanted to be a police officer. Then I decided to go into the military after high school because, honestly, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and I figured that would buy me some time.
As a teenager, I never wanted to get married, and the thought of kids seemed like such a burden. That was until I met the right girl and had kids of my own. Then I wanted to be the best husband and father I could be.
It’s amazing how things change over time. With experience, wisdom, and maturity, our view of things, and of ourselves, can change so drastically. I think it’s safe to say that it is, at best, difficult to figure out who we are and what we want to do with our lives, especially if we have a narrow, one-function view of what it means to “be me.”.
When I was called to serve our church as pastor—something I never saw coming even into my young adult years—I quickly began to develop an image in my mind of what, or who, I needed to be. I worked hard to become the best pastor I could be. I’ve been trying to do so much for Jesus and his name, and I’ve been killing myself.
In the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he gives a general call to repentance, to turn from their striving and lifeless obedience to a religious system of dogmatic works and tradition, and to turn to him. After that, he extends a specific call to a couple of fishermen. Seeing Simon (later called Peter) and his brother Andrew, he called them, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mark 1:17).
Jesus called these men, specifically and by name. Later in Jesus’ ministry he would make it very clear, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last” (John 15:16). The call of Jesus on these men is coupled with the command to follow him. This command of Jesus to Simon and Andrew comes with a promise: “Follow me, and I will make you…” This goes against everything in our being. We want to choose Jesus. We want to choose salvation. We want to do things for Jesus. We want to serve him. We want to please him with our efforts and labor. We want to be “good Christians” for him. We want to make ourselves what we think he would want us to be. Yet he calls us, not to works, but to salvation, and to himself.
If we are to follow Jesus, we must keep our eyes on him and give him our undivided attention. We do this through reading and studying the Bible, through prayer, meditation (pondering, if you prefer), and fellowship with other saints. When we start looking around, eyeing the things of the world or measuring ourselves against other people, longing for lesser and temporary things or looking for our next task and striving for our next accomplishment, we lose sight; we lose track of where we are, of who he is, who we are, and where we’re going, and we wind up going astray.
It’s easy for me to get caught up in maintenance. I can get lost in trying to keep the gears of the ministry engine turning. I keep my eyes on the calendar, on the schedule, the growing, morphing, almost breathing pile of stuff on my desk, and scanning my email. I dial in on other pastors and what they say we all need to do to be successful. Maybe you can relate in your own life. Whether it’s work, school, or family, it can all feel so lifeless sometimes and I can’t help but wonder, What if those wheels just stopped turning? I mean, really, who’s actually in control? I am grateful that with God’s call comes loving and intentional correction—an indication that he hasn’t given up on me.
“Let us keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Only when we live to glorify him—to keep Jesus before us, pursue His desires, join in His work, and seek His best interest over our own—can we follow him. How many times have we run ahead of Jesus, thinking we know what he wants? How many times have we turned to the right or left, chasing after a good idea or a logical course of action, assuming we know the way to go only to realize our Lord wanted us to keep coming? Jesus doesn’t want your service if he doesn’t have your heart. He wants only you, not your works. He has prepared works in advance for you (Ephesians 2:10). He doesn’t need you to submit your own plans. That would be more like a form of mutiny.
What’s more is, as we keep our heart and mind trained on Christ, he will make us. To Simon and Andrew, he said he would make them fishers of men. Who knows what he will make me, or you? “At the LORD’s command through Moses, each was assigned his work and told what to carry” (Numbers 4:49). God assigns each of us our role in his great story, so we shall have to follow and find out. We can’t be like Peter who, after the resurrection and his restorative encounter with Jesus on the beach in John 21, when told he would be a leader of the church and a martyr for the faith, looks over his shoulder at John and asks Jesus, “What about him?” Jesus’ answer to Peter was, “You must follow me!” (John 21:22, emphasis mine)
Jesus is at work in each of us according to his will for each of us, and for the big picture. For us to assume, or attempt to fashion ourselves into anything, is to usurp the lordship of Jesus in our life. He will make each of us. He is the Potter, we are the clay (Romans 9:21). Only as we follow him can we really please him.
Becoming is the result of following. Following Jesus must be our foremost goal—a process in itself. The journey is very much the destination. As we follow Jesus, we become. The transformation is wholly his work. It is the result of one experience after another with the Living God. We are made as we come to know our Maker through experience. Our task is to surrender and follow.
As this reality strikes me—so different from the mindset with which I’ve been conditioned—I have to ask myself, “How am I doing at following?” Not too well, honestly. I try so hard to make myself into something. Too often, the image into which I try to shape myself is that of other pastors who I deem more successful. More often than I care to admit, I conform myself to meet the expectations of others. I try to be as good as I think I need to be, and as nice as I think I should be. I want to become what I think Jesus needs (as if he has any need at all) rather than just following him and allowing him to make me into his image, into who he wants me to be.
As I consider all this, there’s a part of me that thinks I need to be unmade…and then see what Jesus does from there. Like he said, “Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies…” As long as I am pursuing usefulness, effectiveness, or a good reputation I remain at the very least off track; I trespass into the wilderness of self and selfish desire. I don’t want to abandon the ministry or the church. I don’t think we need to pull out of organized religion. I think many of us just need to lay it all down at the feet of Jesus; let him sift through it all—our duties, responsibilities, obligations, traditions, habits, expressions, our desires, and expectations—and then we wait for him to tell us what we pick up again. I want to cling to the familiar, the comfortable, and that which makes me feel useful, like one who puts his hand to the plow and then keeps looking back (Luke 9:57-62). I think what Jesus wants for us is far more simple and far more powerful than all that.
When Jesus encountered the rich young ruler in Luke 18, he told him that what he lacked was surrender. He had wealth, power, and position. He had an impressive religious track record. What he lacked was a willingness to leave all that and simply follow Jesus. When Jesus told him to sell all his possessions, he was telling him to free himself from the ballast of what he had become by his own work and wisdom, and to become what God intended him to be. But the man was held captive. He settled for a sedated life behind the glass. I want more than that. I want to live for the glory of God, and to enjoy him forever! I’m not so naïve as to think it won’t be a struggle—even a battle— but I want to let go of all I have, and all I am…and follow him. Jesus is Lord, not an audience or a prize to be won. I feel his conviction, and require the mercy of my God and Judge.