During my seven years as a young person serving in India with a missions movement, I lived and worked with people from around the world. I learned to follow Jesus by first following others who were already following Him. I learned what it meant to walk with God and how to be godly by observing the godly examples around me. I was taught to forsake all and to be His. I learned service and obedience by living in close community with others. I learned to die daily to my own selfishness and lust for ease and comfort.
Being placed in such a community of believers forever impressed on my heart, thinking and life this thought: “My Lord Jesus Christ spilled His own blood to purchase me. How can I live for Him with any less commitment—especially in light of so many around the world who are dying daily without ever knowing of God’s love for them?”
This season of my life is the beginning of where I learned what Christianity is supposed to look like.
Sometimes, I think we have this expectation that spirituality should be instant, like putting something into a microwave. We press a button and out comes a steaming hot cup of tea in just a few seconds. We want everything to work that quickly.
The Christian life simply is not like that. Think about it. Take prayer for example. How do we learn to pray? We can read books like Power through Prayer by E.M. Bounds and God’s Chosen Fast by Arthur Wallis. These are great books, and we should read them and be challenged! But understanding alone will never be enough. We can talk about prayer. We can preach about it. We can have people think about us, Wow, this person really knows how to pray. Yet day in and day out, we still don’t set our alarm to go off early enough in the morning to wake us up to spend one or two hours or more on our face before Him.
The way we learn to pray is on our knees, whether it is by ourselves or with other people. We learn godliness not by memorizing theology and reading books about godliness, but by saying no to ourselves and to sin. This honestly is one of the missing jewels from so much of our theology in this day and age. We have learned to equate godliness and knowing God with knowledge. We feel justified by what we know and understand and our right theology. Meanwhile, God is whispering to our hearts, I don’t know you. You don’t listen to what I ask you to do in even small ways of dying to your flesh.
Someone can be the greatest preacher of doctrines and holiness, yet have their own life totally fall apart. God is not going to change the world through doctrines. He is going to change the world through the humble, simple lives of people who walk with Him.
It is through people who have surrendered their will and lives to God that God can move powerfully. There is a power you can feel in their lives that only comes through surrendering in the midst of hardship, whether in their flesh or outside circumstances. Being spiritual and godly and being like Christ happens when we learn obedience just as Scripture says Christ did—through suffering (see Hebrews 5:8). This suffering is all about saying no to our self-will.
Over the years of walking with the Lord, I have learned we are all weak. I have no agenda to put us on a guilt trip. But what I want to put before us are some simple questions to ask ourselves: Have I practiced today what I learned this morning with Christ? Am I willing to be misunderstood by those around me for choosing Christ and His ways in my practical daily choices? Will I choose to suffer in the flesh for more than five minutes before I concede to the enemy’s temptations?
And for me, in my brief journey with the Lord, I’ve found out that the safest thing in the whole world is just to follow Jesus and learn more of Him. Why is this so important? Because we can easily be drawn to this issue or that issue, and we will become the followers of issues rather than of Christ Himself.
Follow Others Who Already Follow Jesus
But how do we actually learn to follow Him? As I experienced in my early years of serving the Lord, there is an empowerment in seeing someone else walk out what it means to follow Jesus Christ in the daily hardships and difficulties. It is difficult to start out on a journey of truly following Christ in what He says without seeing someone beside you actually doing it.
If you have not experienced this in your own life, look for someone who has gone further than you. Look for someone who is humble yet bold enough to follow Jesus at His Word, and choose to be discipled through the life you observe them living. The kind of situation I experienced living in close community with other godly examples is, I believe, one of the best ways to begin walking out authentic Christianity. But maybe for you it is through the life of an author who is no longer living. It could be one of the fathers of our faith or one of the desert fathers who sought God Himself above all else. But whoever it is, ask God to give you an example of someone choosing Christ above all else.
And as you continue on this journey, keep in mind that our expectation of what we think God wants can have so little to do with His actual desires for us. So easily our steps to be discipled can become more about our own righteousness, which we seek to establish, instead of His. As He was in the world, we must also be, and He was humble. When Jesus described Himself in Matthew 11:29, He said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.”
As He lived, we should now also live. So look to Jesus; follow Jesus and others who follow Him closely. May the Lord use our lives to glorify His name.