Our relationship with Jesus is often likened to a journey. We say we “follow” Him. This is an appropriate analogy for many reasons. An important one is that we will never actually “arrive” at our destination while our feet tread this earth. It is a continuing journey that should last our entire lives. The path is ever-changing and requires determination and focus. Too often we allow fear or distraction to alter our path or inhibit our journey.
I find it helpful to think of this “following” as an actual hike on a rugged trail. Some parts are smooth and flat. There are hills – some low and easily navigated and others steep and sometimes treacherous. There is a creek bed with a peaceful flow of water but also slippery rocks to navigate. Along the way you may encounter wildlife and spiders and snakes.
What is Jesus came to lead us to something more than away from sin?
As we begin our hike, with Jesus as our Guide, we stay close to Him as he points out the obvious pitfalls and side trails that detour us off of our intended path. Watch out! There’s a tree root sticking up that might trip you. Be careful. There are cockleburs in this area that will stick to you and cause aggravation. As He points out these hazards, He is also continually directing us to look at the beautiful view. We glance at the beauty and freedom we long for and then quickly return to concentrating on net making a misstep or allowing a cocklebur or tick to attach to us.
We move along and reach the edge of a small cliff. He has provided a railing to keep us from falling over the edge so we can look down into the valley of beautiful wildflowers. We appreciate the protection the fence provides but still stand back from it so afraid of falling that we only see a small part of the magnificent beauty He is trying to show us. We look on with worry at our friend who is leaning hard on the fence to take in all there is to see. Be careful! You might fall!
We are relieved to move on and busy ourselves with watching for spiders, snakes, roots, and drop offs. We not only are on the lookout for ourselves but also our friends – pointing out things that the Guide has quit mentioning knowing that either the followers are aware of the potential missteps or that some will have to make those missteps in order to fully learn and understand and appreciate the beauty.
We go forward, slowly & cautiously, not realizing that in being so busy protecting ourselves or trying to be a guide to others that we have lost sight of the Guide! Suddenly, frantically, we look around trying to catch sight of the Him. Finally, we glimpse the back of Him in the distance and are relieved to know that He is still there. However, instead of rushing ahead to catch up – trusting that He has cleared the way back to Him – we raise our stress level trying to continue over-cautious while at the same time trying to keep Him in sight… in the distance. We question every footfall – torn between wanting to be nearer the Guide and our fear of a mistaken step. We exhaust ourselves to the point that we lack the energy and mindfulness necessary to catch up to the Guide no matter how much we want to do so.
The GOOD NEWS is that He will always come back for us if we ask Him. We can always start again. He will come back and meet us where we are as many times as we’ll ask.
Here’s the thing. If we start down the path again still guided more by fear than by the Guide – panicked that we may step out of line or run face first into a cobweb – we won’t get any closer to our destination. Our walking in fear results in us remaining far from Him and where He is trying to lead us. Our path becomes a continuous loop that never takes us past the one mile marker.
On the other hand, what if we trusted Him enough to let go of the fear? What if we really believed He wants what is best for us while at the same time acknowledging that His ways are not our ways?
We start down the path again but, this time, we appreciate the “rules” for what they are – cautions that we might be entering dangerous territory. What if we realize that, in order to follow Him closely enough to get near the destination, we’ll have to walk thru some cobwebs (where He may have already removed the spider), steep over a snake or two and possibly even fall down on the slippery rocks? What if we need to be confident that the Guide will always be close enough to help us up, often without us even needing to yell for help?
As we become less distracted by the “what ifs”, the self-protection, and the fear, we become more reliant on Him and no longer need the warnings and railings to separate us from a clear view of this messy, hurt-filled world. We can begin to see the beauty He is showing us in both the safe and the scary places. We can move further down the path knowing that it is worth risking the weeds to see the flowers. We learn that regardless of the scenery, He is urging us to see the actual people – their stories, their personalities, their difficulties – and to see the image of God in each of them.
The Guide wants us to release our reliance on the rules and precautions that separate us from Him and from others. If we’re following Him without fear, He may lead us into the briars so we can help someone else, lovingly, back onto the path. When we aren’t concerning ourselves with what our hike looks like to other hikers, we can point to the path, wet from wading into the creek to help someone up, and allow them to – in their own way and in their own time – make their way with the Guide (who is not us). Our path will rarely look like a straight line. It will not be without missteps, hazards, and some bumps and bruises along the way. It will often be difficult but it will be equally fulfilling and purposeful.
Trust the Guide!
Stop to notice the beauty!
“To join the fray of loving like Jesus loved requires a radical shift of heart and mind, and a practical shift in expectations and plans. Any hope of remaining safe, predictable, and clean must be traded for the expectation of uncertainty, instability, and perhaps danger. The path of love we are called to walk is not a broad road with clear markings devoid of any potholes or pitfalls; it is a narrow road, a road splattered with mud and sometimes blood. I know it sounds a bit messy, love always is.” – Jamie Snyder from Like Jesus