In a context of upward mobility, competing interests, smorgasbord spirituality, and distrust in the Church, the thought of following Jesus seems daunting, unrealistic, unnecessary….
From within this context, my friend, Daniel Kirk, and I are team-teaching a series on Philippians in The Open Door Community. The series is pushing our understanding of what it means to follow Jesus here and now.
Here are 3 critical questions that are emerging for us:
- What does following Jesus really look like for us?
- Why are we convinced it’s a better way to live?
- How do we live this life in a healthy and sustainable way?
What does the Way of the Cross look like?
- As an academic, a theologian, and a New Testament Professor, following Jesus for Daniel often takes the form of writing and teaching. Numerous times has Daniel felt compelled to offer content that will, no doubt, push existing paradigms beyond their current limits and invite his readers & students to spend their lives on the flourishing of others.
- As an experimentalist, activist, envelop-pushing, rip-tide surfing pastor, following Jesus for me often involves entering the voids and, while there, waging peace. The voids tend to be places where more is broken then whole, where injustice is rampant, and where the Story of Jesus is neither being lived nor narrated. When I invite other people with me and when I talk about my experience of following Jesus within other communities, existing paradigms are pushed beyond their current limits and those who are with me and/or listening begin to spend their lives on the flourishing of others in creative, costly ways.
- Our shared learning: Jesus has wired us differently to follow Him differently. This is a liberating, beautiful, strategic reality. Rather than having to follow Jesus like someone else follows Jesus, we simply need to learn to tune our ears to the voice of the Father and live, empowered by His Spirit, what we hear Him say.
Why are we convinced that the Way of the Cross is a better way to live?
- Because spending our lives on the flourishing of others turns out to be the most full, complete, whole way to be human.
- Because the joy found in contributing to the flourishing of others far outweighs the upwardly mobile journey of our careers.
- Because God raised Jesus from the dead. That means that the Story doesn’t end with a life spent…it ends in resurrection. God is continuing to fix a broken world and He invites us to join Him in the adventure. If that’s so, then intimacy with God is found not only as we sit in silence, but also as we walk the Way of the Cross with Him.
How do we live the Way of the Cross in a healthy, sustainable way?
First, it’s important to point out a couple of key ideas around Jesus & sustainable pace.
- Jesus compels us beyond comfort, but never calls us to an unhealthy pace. Bottom line: following Jesus, while the best possible way of life, is often uncomfortable because God is committed to our becoming more like Jesus. In order to do that, He needs to till out of us the parts of us that don’t look like Jesus. This is uncomfortable. What’s more, crosses aren’t comfortable. When we spend our lives on the flourishing of others, it’s often both exhilarating and uncomfortable (perhaps this is the fullness Jesus refers to in John 10:10?). In our experience, following Jesus becomes unhealthy when we make it about “me” rather than “Him” and “others.”
- “Discomfort” and “fatigue” are NOT synonyms of “unhealthy.” So often, it seems, we’ve come to understand an experience of discomfort (or inconvenience) as unhealthy. Is this a first-world problem? In response, we set up “boundaries” to prevent us from feeling uncomfortable (or inconvenienced). The same could be said about how we interact with anything that causes us fatigue. Bottom line: following Jesus is neither comfortable nor easy: we’re going to be uncomfortable and we’re going to feel fatigue…but we’ll also experience a deeper sense of identity, purpose, and community than when we sit behind boundaries that might be unnecessary. (Disclaimer: boundaries are good and necessary, but are intended to keep us healthy rather than to separate us from the formational experiences that will likely cause discomfort and fatigue.)
Now for a couple of practices that help us stay healthy:
- Rooted. It’s in the daily practices of submitting to the King that we recognize (1) that Jesus is the Savior and that we’re not and (2) that we are Beloved by God. It’s also in the daily experience of being Rooted in Christ that our lives are focused: we get clearer on the good and better that can be released so that can tend to what is best. (Ideas: Utilize a resource like Common Prayer for your daily readings and work in a prayer walk around your neighborhood or a wilderness wander in the open spaces once a week.)
- Woven. It’s impossible (unhealthy) to follow Jesus alone. It’s an incredible experience (healthy) to follow Jesus in a community of mutual interdependence. Why? Because in community with others we (1) bear one another’s burdens; (2) share in each other’s joy; (3) discern what’s best; (4) gain perspective; (5) evaluate pace; and (6) encourage rest. (Idea: Ask Jesus this question: “Who am I supposed to be following You with?” He’ll likely answer that question with a couple of people. When He does, ask those people to join you in the adventure of following Jesus. Use these two questions to seed our experience and conversation: (1) What is Jesus saying to me? (2) What am I going to do about it?)