There’s a lot of talk of “following God” in Christian circles. I suppose it’s not surprising, there’s a lot of talk of following God in the Bible too. But when Christians talk about following God, they generally talk about not sinning, about not putting yourself in places where you might be tempted, and maybe sometimes they talk about praying and listening to God’s leading when making a big decision.
That doesn’t seem to be how people in the Bible followed God. In the story of Elisha, in the story of so many of the disciples, in the story of Zaccheus, in the story of Abraham, God presented an opportunity and following God meant abandoning everything else. Immediately. Everything you’d ever wanted, hoped for, loved, felt comfortable with. Followers of God left family, left reputation, left careers, left comfort and security and the future they had imagined and went to somewhere they could not name or explain, in the name of following God. Abraham left home, and was willing to sacrifice family, Elisha left home, family, and career, Zaccheus left reputation (albeit a bad one) and career, the disciples left everything to follow God.
And when they followed God, there wasn’t a question about whether or not they were following God. The choices they made were not rational, often, and they told people they did these things in the name of following God. Their lives were not easy, and one can imagine that they could have been if they had ignored God’s will.
To follow God is to sacrifice and to accept. To hold on to the things of this world with open hands, ready to accept what God may place there as well as ready to sacrifice what he has already given. If we really believe that this world is temporary, that we are made for another home, then why do we hold on so tightly to things that will perish? Not just hold on tightly to our possessions, but we hold even tighter to our abilities, our comfort, our dreams of the future, our careers, our reputations, our friends, our families.
If God called you to follow him into failure, would you go?
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were willing to follow God into failure (Daniel 3:18), David followed Him into loneliness (Psalm 25:16), Job followed Him into some pretty epic discomfort, Gideon followed Him into inability (Judges 7:2). Countless others found that where God asked them to go was somewhere they never would have gone on their own.
Following God does not look like doing what you want to do and getting what you’ve always wanted to get. Don’t get me wrong, God gives good gifts to his children. But we don’t get into following God because we want his good gifts. We follow God because he has already given the perfect Gift and promised a perfect future and we want that more than we want any good gift he could give us in this lifetime.
Do I want heaven more than I want career success? Do I want God’s will more than I want my good reputation? Do I want the growth of the Kingdom more than I want a family? More than friends? More than my intelligence, my abilities, my good gifts?
The answer, in my heart of hearts, is a resounding no. No, I want to cling to the gifts I have already been given and work heartily for the future I have imagined for myself, and I will happily follow God if he’s leading me in that direction.
But I can imagine a life dedicated to the kingdom. And I can choose to let go and hope in a future that is sure, that is perfect, and that I can participate in now, even if it doesn’t match the future I want.