For most of my life, I have struggled with finding an answer to this one question:
What does it mean to follow Jesus?
As best I could tell, it meant not cussing, not drinking beer and not sleeping with attractive girls. It meant going to church. A lot. It meant being quiet during the sermon, singing dutifully with the hymns, praying at restaurants before meals and going to church camp. It meant being a staunch Republican. Following Jesus meant treating gays like they had a contagious, life-stopping disease. It meant memorizing Scriptures and giving 10% to a collection plate.
For most of my life, following Jesus meant not doing certain things.
And I followed the hell out of Jesus. I went to youth group, joined a traveling Christian drama group, and decided at 15 years old that I wanted to be a youth pastor. I got into heated arguments about things like instruments and clapping hands, excitedly defending the faith against the heretics who’d gone astray. I’d go out of my way to make sure that people knew my beliefs, whether or not they had asked was inconsequential. I was following Jesus.
But in all my busyness of following Jesus, I had forgot to bring Him along.
While I was following Jesus, my prayer life sucked. While I was following Jesus, I was addicted to pornography. While I was following Jesus, I was hating my neighbors. While I was following Jesus, I was shunning the different ones to protect my image. While I was following Jesus, I was constantly comparing myself to others. While I was following Jesus, I was making fun of the outcasts. While I was following Jesus, I used speaking platforms to impress people. I don’t quite know what triggered it, but slowly I realized how silly and ignorant my whole religion had become. And I realized that if I wanted to actually believe in Jesus, I had only one choice.
I quit following Jesus.
It’s a bit funny, I guess, that I no longer care about the things that used to define me. I don’t care if people think that I’m a good Christian or not. I’m not worried or bothered by people who have different perspectives and opinions. I actually find great beauty and deeper truth when those differences are allowed to exist, together. I find myself apologizing a lot to people who’ve been hurt by the church. I find that the people I’d shunned in the past, the different ones, are blessed and beautiful. I’m finding that grace is much more beautiful and scandalous when it’s an everyday reality rather than a church buzzword. And I’m finding that the kingdom of Jesus really is everywhere, bursting forth out of the crevices of a falling apart world, restlessly making old things new creations.
Perhaps it’s ironic that I had to quit following Jesus to find Him.
I think it’s likely that it’s more common than we realize. I haven’t arrived in any sense of the world. I still struggle with lots of doubts and insecurities. There are still times where I try to impress people rather than love them. There are times, still, where I prostitute the Gospel for my own good fortune. Those times are growing less frequent. It’s a process, after all, this whole dying to self thing. And, I find great beauty these days in processes and long roads.
I’ve seen a glance of the Kingdom. Not the cloudy one, with harps and angels with trumpets and wings. But, the Kingdom in our midst; the one sneaking under the surface to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, lift up the head of the depressed, care for the widows, love the poor, hug the diseased, open the door to the shunned, and bring peace to the angry. That Kingdom never tires out and fades away. That kingdom broke the chains of my addiction, recreated my heart, and lifted my head from the mud-pit of shame.
I guess that I’m still not totally sure how to answer that nagging question, “what does it mean to follow Jesus?”
But, I’m finding that aswering that question is less about words and more about love. I have stopped following Jesus, only to find myself going with Him more frequently. I rather like that; this walk that we are taking together, into unfamiliar places, with the confidence that only grace can bring.
Comment below and tell me; What do you think that it means to follow Jesus?