In His Steps

Your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it” whenever you turn to the right or to the left. ~Isaiah 30:21

When Jesus called His disciples to Him, He told them to "Follow Me." The call that Jesus gave to those 2000 years ago in Israel is the same call that He gives to each of us here today. More than any of the religious stuff that we do, ultimately what we are really called to do is to follow Jesus. That sounds great, but what does that mean and how exactly are we to do it?  In the passage in Isaiah we are assured that we will receive the guidance that we require - that we will hear a word behind us telling us which way to go. 

Unfortunately, at least in my experience, that voice is not an audible and unmistakable shout but rather it is a persistent and internal whisper which is way too easily ignored or brushed off as we let the hectic activities of our daily concerns divert our attention (for more on this see our post Are You Listening?). I can't tell you how often I have wished for a good burning bush or stone tablet provided from on high with some explicit and straightforward instruction on what I was to do next. As of yet, I am sad to report, I have had no such blessing. Instead I am left to faith and trust as I sometimes stumble along the path of my life. It is, however, precisely these two things - faith and trust - that are the key.  

There are two basic types of paths that we refer to when we talk of following Jesus. There is the spiritual path of growing in our relationship with God and the more practical path of what am I to do next. The spiritual path asks questions like: Do I go to church enough? Should I read my Bible more? How is my prayer life? The practical path asks: Should I take this job or that job? How can I improve myself as a husband or a father? What type of music and movies should I allow into my home? Should I make steak or Mac'N'Cheese for dinner tonight? (If you're scratching your head and wondering how that last question could possibly apply, take a look at this post.) 

A. The Popular View
A. The Popular View
These two paths - the spiritual and the practical - are deeply intertwined. Most of us, however, tend to think of them as entirely separate and distinct. Many people, most perhaps, tend to think of the Christian spiritual path as a pretty simple one time thing. Like the graph on the right, they imagine that all Christianity requires is that a person come to believe, accept Jesus, then Blammo! they're saved and they may now continue to live their life as they desire with full assurance of an eternity of bliss after they die. Sure, they should go to church and say the occasional prayer and stuff but really what matters is being saved. If we were to compare this to a marriage, this view would say that the most important part of your marriage is the proposal. Once you pop the question and she says yes, you're golden. Sure you still have to do some of the ceremonial stuff like stand in front of a bunch of people and say some vows, but once you knock that part out it's back to life as normal complete with the parties, the dating, and everything else that you used to do. After all, why should a little thing like a marriage mean you need to change anything about your life?

B. The Religious View
The opposite extreme is also very prevalent, especially in churches. This is what I'll call the religious view of our spiritual path. This view is emphatic that after the accepting Jesus we must then begin a long and studious process of purposeful spiritual growth until we reach some imagined line of spiritual maturity. We imagine ourselves to be completely useless to the cause of Christ until we have learned enough or grown enough on our own first. We go to Sunday school, read the latest spiritual how-to books, and attend endless bible study classes. We insist that our pastors have masters degrees or doctorates from the best seminaries. We say things like "I couldn't possibly go on a mission trip. I just don't know enough to answer tough questions." or "my friends that don't believe are too smart and too good at debate. I can't answer all of their questions yet." We all fall into this tendency to one degree or another. We say we want to give our best and we fear failure due to our own shortcomings. From the natural point of view this seems perfectly reasonable. In doing this, however, we place the burden of our spiritual success on our own shoulders. The truth is that Christ does not call us because of anything we have to offer or for any special skills or talent that we possess. Rather, he calls us to bring glory to Himself through our weaknesses.

C. Our True Spiritual Path
From the moment you are called to Christ you are called to service. There is no waiting period. Yes, we are to grow spiritually and to expand our knowledge. Books, Sunday School, bible studies, and seminaries are all good and proper things but our service and our journey do not wait until we are "ready". Rather we are made ready for an eternity with God through our imperfect service and the resulting growth. The true graph of our spiritual growth should look more like the one on the right. Prior to accepting the free gift of salvation offered to all only through Jesus Christ we are lost. It does not matter how "good" of a person we think we are or how righteous a life we may imagine we have lived. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6).

Our Lord calls us to follow Him. He promises that as we step out in faith that He will direct our paths. This requires that we actually step out in faith even when we don't know or understand where that step will take us. We are to step out in faith even when our natural senses are screaming out danger. That is the point of faith: To trust and believe in God and in His will for you without any natural assurance of success. There is no distinction between our spiritual and our physical paths. They intertwine. God does not call us to an actionless faith. God calls us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12); to take the next step that we are being called to even though we fear where it might lead us and what the consequences might be.  This will lead to both successes that we couldn't have imagined and to failures that will test us. Our walk with God is one that should be full of bright shining moments as well as times of struggle through the valleys where we are left with no other choice but to depend fully on our God. This journey begins the moment we are called and continues in full force until the day our Lord returns or calls us home.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. Acknowledge Him in all your ways and He will direct your paths. ~Proverbs 3:5-6
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