I've been thinking recently about what it means to follow God. I did a search for the word "follow" on BibleGateway.com, and found 231 results. The Bible talks a lot about following. But what exactly does it mean to follow?
The dictionary has several definitions for "follow", but they all have one thing in common: they all involve motion. It is not possible to follow while sitting still (unless the person you are following is also sitting still). And to take it one step further, following requires paying attention. You can't just wander aimlessly and assume your steps will fall in line with the person you intend to follow. You have to watch and purposely make the decision to move in a similar direction.
Most of the time I hear about following God in the context of laws. We follow the will of God by living according to His principles. And that's a good thing, but there's a flaw in it. See, it's possible to live according to God's principles and not move forward. It's possible to obey every one of the Ten Commandments and never move outside your comfort zone.
So is that really following?
Jesus says in Mark 8:34, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me". This command contains action. It also contains sacrifice. Denying ourselves and taking up our cross is not something to be taken lightly. Pain and suffering are implicit in those things. As Christians, we are not called to sit in once place and live a nice, quiet existence. We are called to be out in the world, shaking things up for the glory of God. It's not always comfortable, and it's usually not easy.
How many times do we have the mentality that "I know God has a plan for me, and I'm going to sit here and wait for it". We all have wishes and desires that we pray for God to fulfill, but how often do we really look for God's answer? If you're like me, you pray and then sit still - in full faith - and wait for God to give you what you asked for. I know, without a doubt, that my God will answer my prayers in a way that benefits me and works for the good of His purpose. And, again, that's a good thing. Until it becomes a hindrance.
I'm reminded of the story of the man who was caught in a flood and prayed for God to save him. As the waters rose he was offered help by three separate people, two in boats and one in a helicopter, and each time the man's response to the offers of help was "No thanks, I'm waiting on God to save me". Eventually, the flood overtook him and the man drowned, and in heaven he approached God and asked, "What happened, God? I prayed for you to save me, but I still drowned." God's response? "I sent you two boats and a helicopter! What more did you want?!"
How often do we pray for something and then sit expectantly, waiting on God to answer us on our terms? How often do we look so hard for the miracle that we miss the simple answer that's right in front of our faces? If following Jesus involves the pain of denying ourselves why do we complain when His answer requires a sacrifice from us?
I think if we truly want to follow God we have to move forward even when everything inside of us wants to stay still and wait. This doesn't mean giving up our dreams - it means allowing our dreams to be flexible in order to fit into God's plan rather than expecting God to fit into ours. We have to purposefully search out His will and listen for His voice in every aspect of our lives - not just in the deep desires of our hearts that consume our thoughts. We have to be open to the possibility that the answer may come from an unlikely source that drives us outside our comfort zone.
What could God do through us if we just put our own desires and expectations aside and completely followed Him?