Follow me, run along behind me! That is all. To follow in his steps is something which is void of all content. It gives us no intelligible program for a way of life, no goal or ideal to strive after…Jesus is the only significance. Beside Jesus nothing has any significance. He alone matters. –Bonhoeffer
I was talking with an old friend yesterday and this strange and wonderful truth popped into our conversation. The way of Christianity, which we could also say is the way of life, is to follow Jesus- that is all. This is one of those stark and simple truths, I think, that takes a lifetime to figure out. Yesterday my friend- let’s call him Joe- and I got another glimpse of the mystery, I think.
Joe is one of those friends everybody should have. He has spent most of his thirty-plus years on the wrong end of the law, growing weed, cooking meth and raising pit-bulls. Right now he is in the great limbo that is the Alabama court system, waiting for the phone call that brings his sentence down for some pretty big drug charges. He was telling yesterday about how incredibly easy it is to reach out to God in prison but when the cell door opens, life goes back to the normal crowded day-in-day-out grind. The things of life, it seems leave little room for deep reflection on spiritual matters.
His struggle is a lot like mine. With every morning comes a set of activities, accomplishments and those “necessary evils” like paying bills, waiting on tables and filling out invoices. I like the way Joe put it:
“I get done working all day, sit down at ten o’clock at night and I just do not have the energy for spiritual things.”
Have you ever felt like that- that the things of life are crowding out the life that Jesus offers?
I remember my first sermons when I was eighteen. I was working as an intern at our church all summer and I mean I was really studying hard. My pastor had us slaving away over the grammar, syntax, context and all those other frightening words that seem to excite only a few of us oddballs. Those sermons had tons and tons of theology but how could I know at the time that I was missing the point? Sermons are not there to teach us the correct sequence of the Battle of Armageddon or even the exact singular purpose of the death of Jesus. They are there to point us to the man Jesus. And then we follow.
We are not all called to follow him into the seminary. As Donald Miller recently pointed out, neither Jesus nor his disciples were “men of the cloth”, so to speak. They were working men. Can you imagine that? God in the flesh, a working man?
And it is this working man that we are called to follow. Yes, he tells us about the way of life and the way of death. Who can read the Sermon on the Mount and come away with no “practical application”? We are told to love our enemies, to pray for our persecutors, to declare war on both pride and lust, to turn the other cheek and to build our house on a rock. These are specific commands and it would do us well to listen up when Jesus tells us how to live life.
But we must be careful at this point not to get confused. Jesus’ new way of life is not an ethos, an ethic, a standard or a program. We must remember that Jesus’ way of life is found in continually submitting our lives and wills over to him. That is all.
My friendship with Joe reminded me of this simple truth yesterday. I could spend all day telling him to stop what he is doing with his life. I could devise a system for my friend that would alleviate his felt need to rebel against “the man”. I could point out Romans 14 and point out to him that Christians are supposed to be submissive to authorities. I could even point him back to the 12 Steps, reminding him that his life is “unmanageable” but that God, if sought would “restore his sanity”. All of these are good things and certainly things that have their time and place. The trouble is that Joe did not need any of them yesterday or today. He needs to direct his attention toward the man Jesus.
Joe needed to do the same thing each of us have before us on a moment-to-moment basis. He needed to give up any hope of figuring this whole thing out. He needed, instead, to place all expectation, faith and trust in Jesus. He needed to follow Jesus, even if his way leads to pain, hunger and confusion. This is what Bonhoeffer meant when he said that following Jesus was void of all content. We do not trust in the works of the man Jesus but in the man himself. He is the only one that has lived perfectly and he has given that obedience to us as a gift. This is a different kind of a man.
Martin Luther said: You should look upon the whole man, Jesus, and say “That is God!”.
It is not the words of a great teacher we need but the presence of a humble God. We do not need more time to hash out our theological concepts so much as more focus on the God-Man Jesus. We do not need a new way to live so much as we need a Shepherd to go with us.
The good news is that these are exactly the terms of the deal.