In his book The Pastor, Eugene Peterson cites a Denise Levertov poem that closes with this line: “every step an arrival.” Levertov uses the phrase as a description of her development as a poet but her words fire my imagination toward discipleship. Such words call to mind our experience as we follow Christ; every step is an arrival for the new creation people who are formed by chasing after King Jesus. Each day is a new reality. Each moment He calls us to enter a bit further as His imaged is formed in us more fully.
Or, to say it differently, following Jesus changes everything. Whether we examine the Gospels or our own hearts, we see that the call to follow Jesus is transformational. As I noted in my last post, Simon wasn’t looking for a new job. He wasn’t looking to start a movement or found a church or preach to thousands or, if history is correct, suffer his own crucifixion someday. Simon was simply minding his own business, perfectly content to spend that day as he’d spent countless ones before it, fishing on the Sea of Galilee. But the call to follow Jesus changed his life. From that moment forward, every day was a new reality for Simon, as illustrated by the conferring of his new name, “Peter, rock.” We see Simon rushing headlong into a new life, far from his commanding existence at the helm of a boat, a life made vulnerable by the all-encompassing call to follow Jesus.
And the same is true for us. Some of us chose to follow Jesus a long time ago; others recently. But each day since we first responded to His call has been a new experience. And this new experience is marked by fear, for to follow Jesus is to cede control of our lives to another. To say “Jesus is Lord” is to also say, “I am not.” And we follow Jesus not knowing exactly where He might lead us. Such was the case for Simon Peter; so it is with us, as well.
In her 2008 book “Followership”, Barbara Kellerman notes the essential nature of following:
We fixate on our leaders and on the similarities and differences among them. But followers are different. We do not bother even to distinguish one from the other, either because we assume they make no difference or because we assume they are all one and the same….By and large we scarcely notice that, for example, followers who mindlessly tag along are altogether different from followers who are deeply devoted; and we scarcely notice that the distinctions among followers are every bit as consequential as those among leaders.
As far as I can tell, Kellerman doesn’t write from a Christian perspective (Harvard Business Press is her publisher). But what is true in industry is even more applicable to following Jesus. Biblical discipleship is a deeply devoted, transformative type of following. God’s steadfast mercies are made new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23), powerfully available to make us anew, to awaken us once more to a transformed experience in Christ. This is a deeply devoted kind of following, one that is ultimately expressed in agape love for God and others.
Such following leaves us feeling vulnerable as we cede control of our destiny to a higher power. But this is the story of faith. Hebrews 11:8, By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. Thinking back to the call of Abraham, the Hebrew writer says he was going without knowing. To modern ears, this is counter-intuitive. And yet, this is the nature of God’s call on our lives. This is the nature of faith.
No road map.
Only the call of a God who says, “Follow me.”
Every step an arrival in the pilgrimmage of going without knowing.