Following: The Art of Being
Jesus says, “follow me” more than twenty times in the Gospels but he never says, “worship me.” Yet every week, devout Christians give an hour or more of their time to worship Jesus. I wonder how much time we give to actually following Jesus?
The vast majority of church resources are invested in creating worship services and maintaining worship centers. I have never heard anyone say, “This Sunday, I am going to a great “Following Service.”’ Sadly, western Christianity has forgotten what it means to be followers of Jesus. We have substituted believing the right things about Jesus for following in the footsteps of Jesus.
Cynthia Bourgeault, in her insightful book “The Wisdom Way of Knowing” writes,
“In the early fourth century, the Christian Church began to change the way it did business. More and more, the encounter with Jesus came not through that deep, timeless opening of the heart but mediated by what might be called “doctrinal mantras”‘ -saying the right things and knowing the right things about Jesus. The fourth century became the era of the great creeds (and the great creedal controversies), as Christians attempted to hammer out and precisely nail down their understanding of the Jesus event. Underlying all those precise (and sometimes troubling) dogmatic statements is the more troubling message that the correct way to relate to Jesus is to believe and know the right things about him.”
When Jesus said, “Come, follow me” to Simon, Andrew and Matthew, the want-a-be disciples did not jump up and run off to the temple to worship, nor did they ask Jesus for his statement of beliefs. They left everything and joined Jesus on his mission. They went where he went, they did what he did. Following Jesus is not the same as going to church. It is not tithing, it is not reading your Bible, it is not serving the least and it is not singing songs of praise to Jesus. These are all good things, but they are not the same as following Jesus.
In Matthew 16:24 Jesus said to his disciples,
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
This is the clearest example of the life of a follower. Being a follower of Jesus is not about religious activities; it is about surrendering our will to the will of God. It is the process of becoming Christ-like. That process is a process of surrender, death and allowing a new life force to emerge in us and shine forth through us.
Bourgeault uses a metaphor of a candle,
“In its outer, sensible form a candle is an object consisting of tallow and wick. But the real secret of the candle reveals itself only when the match is struck and the candle begins to burn. It gives of the materials of its outer form in order to release the heat and fragrance within. Only then do we see what a candle really is: its outer life is tallow and wick; its inner life is flame.
The secret of our identity does not lie in the outer form or in how successfully we manipulate the outer forms of the sensible world. Rather, it lies in how we are able to set them (and ourselves) aflame to reveal the inner quality of their aliveness. We are midwives of the Spirit.
The materials of the candle’s existence in the physical realm (tallow and wick) are to be slowly consumed to make possible the shining of the light. In a continuous process of “enlightenment,” the candle surrenders its being at one level in order to manifest it at another.”
Yes, the Bible helps us discern the will of God and worship services help us draw close to Jesus so that we can hear his voice, but simply knowing Jesus does not make one a follower. It is the inner spirit shining through us that transforms us into an instrument of the Most High that makes us followers of Jesus.
Following is more than believing but is also more than simply doing what Jesus did and walking where Jesus walked. It goes beyond our head and our hands and our feet. It is a heart thing. It is allowing our heart to be transformed into the heart of God, our will conformed to the will of God. Our doing should flow from our being. Our being must be rooted in Christ if we are to have the power of Christ flowing through us.
Serving others is more than doing things for people; it is about being present to one another in a way that allows the Christ spirit in us to connect with the Christ spirit in the other. It is about taking the flame in our own spirit and lighting the flame in another. It is not one time hit and run encounters that are not rooted in relationship but true acts of kindness that grow out of respect and genuine love for the other. Our doing is dangerous if it is not rooted in authentic relationships that are birthed out of the spirit.
Cynthia Bourgeault writes,
“All religious traditions have universally insisted that religious life cannot be done with the mind alone; that is the biggest single impediment to spiritual becoming…Finding the way to where our true heart lies is the great journey of spiritual life, and it crosses the vast uncharted waters of our being.”
Following is expressed at the core of our being.