Sunday, July 20, 2014

The 3 Greatest Struggles in Following Jesus

Since late April, I’ve found myself gripped by the simplicity of Jesus’ words in Mark 1:16-20 and the incredible response of Simon, Andrew, James & John.
"Follow Me" -- they forsook their nets, they left their Dad and all that they knew up to this point in their life to respond to Jesus' call.
When He calls/leads us somewhere, we usually don't know the end.  That's why it's called "walking by faith."  Our confidence must ALWAYS rest in the One who is leading.  I've found that the greatest challenges to following Him are usually a result of where I'm looking.  My tendencies that have caused me to get off track when following Him, if I don't keep my flesh under subjection, usually fall into one of these 3 categories:

1) While following Him, I find myself looking back to a "better, more appealing, yesterday."
There is nothing wrong with periodic reflection and holding to precious memories; however, when following Christ, the greatest hope is ALWAYS in what lies ahead.  When I put my trust in Him and have confidence in His leading, I look forward to today and where He'll lead me.  Too much focus on yesterday delays the present journey that He intends.  I had been in Arkansas for more than a year before I ever had a conversation beyond casual church greeting and exchange with Jason Gibson.  It was a Sunday night at the back of the sanctuary when he made a statement to me about praying and some job struggles. In that “casual” conversation I recognized an immediate door of ministry open.  For the next 2 years, almost every single time we were together, there was a constant flow of ministry between us.  We began traveling together twice a week to help establish a church an hour and a half away.  We have both since realized that planting that church was as much or more about he and I spending those 3 hours (round-trip) together as it was about the congregation in that city.  Jason has periodically bemoaned the fact that we had been in Arkansas in the same church for more than a year but never connected.  In his words, he lost a year.  The sad reality to me is that we both lost a year.  In honesty before God, I spent that 1st year there in Arkansas looking back at what I'd left in Wapato (the precious congregation that had been growing and flourishing), in Harrah (our country home with a pool and a great view that we loved), and all of our relationships that were the result of almost 12 years in WA state.  I was viewing everything in Arkansas through the lens of my yesterday in WA.  It was a huge distraction to me following Him.  To follow Him, my eyes must be ON HIM.  When I live looking back it delays the journey.  When I live looking back it causes me to miss opportunities for ministry.  Has your yesterday become more of a focus than following Jesus Christ today?

2) While following Him, I find myself looking at all the circumstances around me.
We all know the story of Peter walking on the water.  He took his eyes off of Jesus and began to sink.  Life can be a raging storm about us many times.  My peace is simply in the fact that I have all
confidence that Jesus controls the storm.  The only way the storm can go from around me to within me is if I allow it.  Circumstances are real.  I know this.  I, like you all, deal with them every day.  In my short life, I've realized that when my eyes, ears, mind & heart spend too much time on circumstances, it's a sure indicator that I've taken my eyes off of Him - the one I'm following.  When I follow Him and trust His leading, I understand that He knew the circumstances He was going to lead me through.  He won't lead me to leave me.  His leading in and through difficult and trying circumstances only serves to strengthen my resolve to fix my eyes, ears, mind and heart on Him whom I am following.  In the most difficult of circumstances, when it takes every ounce of faith to see Him as he leads, we must purpose to get as close to Him as possible so we don't lose sight of Him.  The closer I am to Him, the less distracting my circumstances become.  I believe it's one of the ways He intends to use circumstances to draw us into deeper relationship.  Have your circumstances distracted you from He who is greater than every circumstance?  If you feel like you’re sinking, like Peter, look to Jesus and start following afresh.

3) While following Him, I find myself looking past Him to try and figure out where He's leading.
TRUST.  "I know the thoughts I think toward give you an expected end."  "He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it..."  When my thoughts are always toward the future, I begin to lose sight of the One I'm following.  Likewise, I am expressing my struggle with trusting Him to lead me.  When I look past He whom I'm following, I can easily get my eyes fixed on a future destination.  The danger with this is that I often see in a straight line.  I often see what I desire the end to be.  My will begins to cloud my discernment of His will and following becomes difficult.  When He takes a turn that I didn't foresee I can easily struggle with resentment or feelings of hopelessness because I've put my hope in a future rather than Him.  I firmly believe in a God who gives vision for the future.  I firmly believe the scripture, "where there is no vision the people perish."  Vision is something God uses to plant a seed and set a course.  We must trust Him and follow Him as He leads us to the fulfillment of that vision in His way and in His time.  Has your focus on the future caused you to look past Jesus Christ the one leading you into your future?

The common thread hidden in these 3 challenges to following him won't surprise you.  It certainly came clearly to me when the Lord was dealing with my heart.  In my life, the common thread in each of those challenges was a selfish pursuit of my comfort, my happiness, my desires - what pleased ME.  Sadly, it blinded me to the myriad opportunities for ministry & kingdom relationships all around me for over a year.  Furthermore, it caused a temporary stagnation in my relationship with Jesus Christ as He patiently waited for me to fix my eyes, mind and heart on Him again.

You need the Word of God for this journey of life.  When you find yourself drifting in the following process, purpose to stand on the word that God gave in the most recent season of the journey.  That word is the confidence that He is leading you.  It is a journey.  The seasons and the view as you travel will change.  Purpose afresh and anew to fix your eyes on Him and continue to follow.  That's exactly what took you to your present location.  Don't despair.  You can still trust Him completely.  He knows where you are.  His plans for you haven't changed.

Some of you know I have a love for old songs.  There's a few pouring through my heart this morning.

"Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face;

And the things of this world will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace."

"Lead me Lord, I will follow.

Lead me Lord, I will go.

YOU have called me.

I will answer.

Lead me Lord, I will go."

"Where He leads me I will follow

Where He leads me I will follow

Where He leads me I will follow

I'll go with Him, with Him, ALL THE WAY."

Today, why not re-visit Mark 1:16-20?  Why not purpose anew to follow Christ?  Let’s agree together to fix our eyes on Him.  He knows exactly where He’s leading.

My personal book recommendations on the subject:
  Ebates Coupons and Cash Back