Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)
When Jesus asked his disciples to follow him, it wasn’t something new. From the beginning, God asked people to “follow” him.
He told Abraham (then Abram) to leave his homeland and go where God led him. “The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” (Gen 12:1)
He led the Israelites out of Egypt with a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire.
The thing is that people often weren’t great followers. One case in point is the Israelites. God tried to lead them through the desert, but they kept complaining. When Moses went up on the mountain, they created an idol and worshiped it. Once they got to the Promise Land, they didn’t believe they could take it.
But then there were Joshua and Caleb. They were quintessential examples of how to follow God. Let’s look at Caleb. After scouting out the Promise Land, he reported, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”
Caleb got it, when so many others didn’t. God said about him, “But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me fully, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.” (Numbers 14:24)
Caleb had incredible faith. But God described him, not in terms of his faith, but in terms of the way he followed. He followed fully, or as some translations say, wholeheartedly.
That really got me thinking about the correlation between discipleship and faith. Could it be that the reason Caleb had incredible faith was because his entire heart was set on God and his entire life was centered around God? His heart wasn’t pulled in other directions, or sapped by love for other things. And that meant that, to him, God was HUGE and all powerful.
It makes sense to me. The more we get our needs met by something else, the smaller God becomes. And the more we go to God as the real source that will meet our needs, the bigger he becomes.
We need to have what I am going to call following faith, the kind of faith that comes from following God fully.
It’s pretty convicting. Out of all the thousands of Israelites who were brought out of Egypt, only Joshua and Caleb were able to take possession of the Promise Land.
“Because they have not followed me wholeheartedly, not one of those who were twenty years old or more when they came up out of Egypt will see the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob— not one except Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua son of Nun, for they followed the Lord wholeheartedly.’” Numbers 32:11-12
Following faith is a big deal to God.
Now I’m seeing what Jesus said in Mark 8:34 in a whole new light. Of course he asks for self denial and commitment to the point of dying! Only that will produce following faith. And if Joshua and Caleb needed to have following faith in order to follow God into the Promise Land, how much more will we need following faith to follow Jesus into heaven? How much more will we need following faith to be Jesus here on earth, and carry out the Great Commission?
So how is my faith? Hmmm, let me check. Do I believe God will work when the obstacles seem like they’re too much? Do I believe God is ready to do something amazing in my life? As I think of my recent prayers for our church, for people who are in tough situations, and for myself, I have to admit that I’m far from saying, “Let’s go take that land, for we can surely do it!”
This past week I attended a totally cool event. A global charitable organization, HOPE worldwide, was presenting a Civil Rights pioneer, Fred Gray, with a Lifetime Service Award. Gray lives in nearby Tuskegee, and the awards ceremony was held there.
I was excited that I was asked to compose and send out the press release to promote the event. It was a fun challenge to write it and get it to the proper individuals. But then I needed to call and follow up by actually talking to the members of the media. Oh, this I dreaded! I procrastinated. I made excuses. I tried to tell myself we’d be fine without it. And it really hit me how little faith I had. If I thought God was working in amazing ways, it would have been easy to make the phone calls. But I was afraid that the newspaper and TV people wouldn’t think this story was as big I thought, and would feel like I was bothering them.
The end of the story is that the Spirit worked, and I did make the calls, and we had great media attendance!
But it was a wake up call to me that my faith needs to grow. After studying this out, I’ve been asking myself, “Is my faith small because I’m loving other things too much?” You know what the answer is? Yes!
I think part of the problem is that I’m so comfortable in my lifestyle that I don’t want to put forth the energy to act in accordance with more faith, and go out and “take the land.” Just thinking about God doing incredible things makes me feel tired. I just want to stay in my little cozy nest of routines. It’s like there’s this tether of comfort holding me down. Trying to pull away feels like I’m fighting against something sticky.
Yeech, I need to repent!
How can I do that? How can we develop more of a following faith?
- Go to the world less. What is that called? Oh yeah, self denial. For me, this means going less to the things that numb. It means watching less television, because I can see that I’m becoming addicted to Hulu zone out! I’m learning to, instead, go to God more when I’m tired and emotional. “Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.” Ps 62:5
- Make God bigger. We need to remind ourselves often how HUGE and all powerful God really is. Praise God daily for all of his incredible qualities. Pray impossible prayers. knowing he can answer them. Find verses that magnify the Almighty.
- Take leaps of faith! What would we do differently if we really believed God is working in amazing ways? We would jump off our cliff of comfort. We would take action to help bring about those things we’re praying for and dreaming about.
As I attended the awards ceremony for Fred Gray, and visited the civil rights museum there afterwards, I was deeply impressed. How different the world would be if men like Fred Gray hadn’t stepped out to do what they could.
“As a teenager in Montgomery, I saw problems that needed to be corrected,” Gray said in his acceptance speech. “With a lot of help along the way from a lot of people, including divine help, I believe we have been instrumental in changing the landscape of America.”
Gray is a godly man who didn’t shrink back in fear, but lived what he believed. Surely that is an inspiration for us all to do the same.