i lose myself in this
unveiling until there is
nothing left of me
As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his
brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.
“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”
At once they left their nets and followed him.
—Jesus recruiting his first two disciples (Mark 1:16-18 NIV)
Recently I read some stuff by the existential philosopher Søren Kierkegaard that really shook me up. Here are a couple of excerpts from a collection of his spiritual writings called Provocations:
In relationship to God one can not involve himself to a certain degree. God is precisely the contradiction to all that is “to a certain degree.”
There is something frightful in the fact that the most dangerous thing of all, playing at Christianity, is never included in the list of heresies and schisms.
The difference between an admirer and a follower still remains, no matter where you are. The admirer never makes any true sacrifices. He always plays it safe. Though in words, phrases, songs, he is inexhaustible about how highly he prizes Christ, he renounces nothing, gives up nothing, will not reconstruct his life, will not be what he admires, and will not let his life express what it is he supposedly admires.
As I read and reread those blunt words, I had to ask myself, “Am I really a follower of Jesus, or am I just an admirer?”
I don’t think there are too many followers of Jesus around anymore. There are plenty of churchgoing admirers, but most of us would rather not leave our nets behind and follow him. Instead we prefer dragging the nets onshore with us so we can have the best of both worlds. But of course that never works—you can’t follow Jesus while you’re dragging your old life along behind you. If you try to, you’ll end up losing out on both. Every once in a while I get caught doing it—trying to pursue both what Jesus has to offer and what the world has to offer. But it’s useless because they lie in opposite directions.
When Jesus called people to be his disciples, it always meant leaving something or someone behind.
“Follow me,” he told his disciples.
“Follow me,” he told the spiritually hungry.
“Follow me,” he told the thieves, prostitutes, lawyers, and priests.
“Follow me,” he whispers to us today. “Follow me.”
Where? Toward what?
Toward the cross. The road Jesus walks leads all the way to the cross. It’s there that old lives, old priorities, old selves have to be put to death. “Follow me,” he says. It’s both an invitation and a command. And he waits for only a moment to see what we will do.
Then he moves on to invite others.
Jesus is in the business of pursuing the lost but not of dragging them kicking and screaming into the kingdom. He never forced himself on anyone. He simply invites and lets us decide if we’ll hang back or follow him. So Peter had to leave his boat, James and John left their father, Mary Magdalene left the ghosts of her past, Matthew left a lucrative career . . .
“Follow me,” he said. And they did.
But not everyone did. Some people discovered how costly following Jesus really is and turned back. They started on the journey, but when Jesus didn’t seem to fit into their neat, tidy little definition of a messiah, they left him. Sometimes they turned around because of spiritual questions, other times because of persecution or the lure of wealth or the worries of life or materialism or hedonism or realism or just plain boredom with the life Jesus offered.
At one point in his ministry, Jesus mentioned that unless the Father draws people, they’ll never believe in him. Here’s how his listeners responded: “At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, ‘Are you going to leave, too?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘Lord, to whom would we go? You alone have the words that give eternal life’” ( John 6:66-68).
Jesus leaves the choice up to us: Who will we follow with our lives? What road will we walk? He invites; he doesn’t coerce. He welcomes; he doesn’t manipulate.
Jesus chose a rather unlikely group of fishermen, businesswomen, freedom fighters, and accountants to transform the world. Something in him spoke to them so deeply that they were ready to leave their old lives behind and walk in his shadow from then on. His words were sizzling sparks that set their souls on fire.
“Follow me,” Jesus said.
And they did.
They became pilgrims walking toward an unseen land. Vagabonds. Nomads. Foreigners just passing through. Their home lay somewhere beyond the horizon. That’s the disciple-life, the life of all who live by faith.
Once Jesus told his followers, “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose the easy way. But the gateway to life is small, and the road is narrow, and only a few ever find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). After I became a believer, I wrote these words about the vagabond life:
i see, in the shadow of my knowing,
that i am not yet as real as love.
yet in the light of this moment, i realize
that i am at least on the right path.
By the way, Jesus approached evangelism quite differently than most churches today. Too many twenty-first-century churches treat sharing Jesus’s story like a marketing campaign. They try to make Christianity seem as appealing, plausible, relevant, and easy to digest as possible by emphasizing the benefits of belief. But Jesus almost never did that. Typically he emphasized the cost of following him, not the rewards. Here’s what he told the crowds who had started following him: “Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple” (Luke 14:33 Message).
There was no fine print in Jesus’s call to discipleship. “This is what it’s gonna cost you,” he says. “Everything. Family relationships, possessions, dreams, comfort, time—you can’t be my follower unless you give up everything. You have to leave your nets behind. So what do you say? Will you follow me, or just keep admiring me?”
It’s rare to find people who are willing to give their all to God. Most of us are willing to give up some of our lives, some of our priorities, some of our agendas, goals, desires, possessions, dreams, some of our hearts—but not all. “Let’s not get carried away here,” we say. “Let’s be reasonable.”
But there’s nothing reasonable about denying yourself, following Jesus, and becoming a vagabond of heaven. It’s the most unreasonable thing of all. And that’s why only a few ever find the gateway to life.
Jesus never accepts half; he only accepts all. With him there’s no wiggle room. We can’t come to him with excuses, exemptions, or negotiations. We can never tell him, “Yes, but . . .” When one guy tried that, Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
Jesus isn’t interested in admirers. He never was. And that’s why his invitation was not “Admire me” but “Follow me.” That’s why he was so blunt with the crowds. Jesus didn’t want a fan club. He wanted a spiritual revolution.
Early on in my life as a vagabond I discovered that following Jesus will cost me my pride, my ego, my rationalizations, my illusions, my demands, and my rights. That was a harsh lesson to learn. No longer do vagabonds have the right to hold a grudge, speak their mind, or get even. The only thing vagabonds have a right to do is to live and die for Jesus.
“Come, follow me,” he said to Simon and Andrew. At once they left their nets and followed him.
Now it’s our moment to decide what to do.
touching the unseen
the path is narrow,
my heart is hard,
guide my feet.
break me, God,
for i will not bend.
and i’m not shaped as i should be