“But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Hebrews 11:6
We all need faith for desperate days. The Bible is full of such days. Its record is made up of them, its songs are inspired by them, its prophecy is concerned with them, and its revelation has come through them. The desperate days are the stepping-stones in the path of light. They seem to have been God’s opportunity and man’s school of wisdom.
There is a story of an Old Testament love feast in Psalm 107, and in every story of deliverance the point of desperation gave God His chance. The “wit’s end” of desperation was the beginning of God’s power. Recall the promise of seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sands of the sea, to a couple as good as dead. Read again the story of the Red Sea and its deliverance, and of Jordan with its ark standing mid-stream. Study once more the prayers of Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Hezekiah, when they were sore pressed and knew not what to do. Go over the history of Nehemiah, Daniel, Hosea, and Habakkuk. Stand with awe in the darkness of Gethsemane, and linger by the grave in Joseph’s garden through those terrible days. Call the witnesses of the early Church, and ask the apostles the story of their desperate days.
Desperation is better than despair. Faith did not make our desperate days. Its work is to sustain and solve them. The only alternative to a desperate faith is despair, and faith holds on and prevails. There is no more heroic example of desperate faith than that of the three Hebrew children. The situation was desperate, but they answered bravely, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning, fiery furnace; and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” I like that, “but if not !”
Now get your hymn book and sing your favorite hymn of desperate faith. (Streams in the Desert)
We played a familiar game, even though it had been some time since I had tried it. It came at the tail end of the nature walk my wife invented as a way of occupying our three year old granddaughter while her mother took her sister for a horseback riding lesson. We enjoy being with this dynamite in dimples, but she does keep us on our toes, hence the outdoor adventure. First, we marveled at the magic flurry of a myriad yellow green butterflies gorging themselves on Turk’s Cap near our carport. Onward we trudged and a short distance down our caliche path I began to skip and broke into an off key rendition of, “We’re off to see the wizard…” Neither wife nor granddaughter were impressed. We held hands, laughed and mimicked cow sounds, and shooed away the Great Pyrenees from next door while winding back the way we had come. In front of a stately old home that peers down on all passers by with historic indifference, my wife introduced the game. She stepped onto the fairly narrow cement edging of the park like lawn and said, “Follow me.” Hannah spread arms like an airplane and did her best in little girl cowboy boots to balance herself while staying close behind JoJo. I drew up the rear, so no one could see my clumsy efforts to imitate our leader. We successfully navigated the concrete balance beam and moved on to try our feet on the circular brick ledge that defines the transition from lawn to driveway in front of our bungalow. At the close of our grand adventure, Hannah declared, “Following is hard.” I agree.
As Jesus traveled throughout Israel urging people to repent and believe the gospel, “Follow me” was his constant refrain. He began public ministry by calling his first disciples with the terse command, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” As his ministry progressed, he warned the crowds, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” At the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus commissioned the repentant Peter, “Follow me.” This simple two word directive should lead to profound, transforming change in how we think about and practice the Christian life. Following Jesus begins when we respond to his call to repent and believe the Good News that God loves us and has taken initiative to reconcile us to the Father. He awakens us to God’s grace and motivates us to want to live well. When we turn our attention to what it means to follow Jesus in ordinary living, two things immediately stand out: allegiance and identification. Following Jesus demands ultimate allegiance, expressed through obedience and priority. Hearing and obeying Jesus’ teachings are fundamental to following him, and doing so forces us to reorder priorities, removing from our vocabulary an oath of intermittent allegiance, “Yes Lord, but…” Discipleship also requires imitating Jesus. After washing the disciples’ feet in the Upper a Room, Jesus instructed, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet, for I have given you an example, that you should also do just as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15). A concrete example makes a deeper impact than statements of principle.
Discipleship is nothing more, but nothing less than desperate faith. Following Jesus entails both obeying his teachings and identifying with his example, but obeying and imitating are not ends in themselves; they are the means to an even greater end. Following Jesus results in deeper intimacy. We more clearly resemble Jesus the more frequently we walk with him. Make no mistake about it, the goal of discipleship is nothing short of becoming like Jesus—to think as he thought, to feel as he felt, to act as he acted, and to desire what he desired. “Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:6). Because Jesus is the image of God in human form (Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3), the more we reflect Jesus, the image of God is increasingly restored in us. Following is hard because it is everything.