Understanding the why behind Follower
By Matthew Lewis
I remember that morning in my car. Twenty years old, driving home from a party as the sun came pouring over the horizon. I remember the road, stretching east of Johannesburg toward a little town called Springs. I remember the deep emptiness. A helpless, hopeless longing for any life but the one I was living. I remember the prayer I didn’t know I was praying filling my mind like thick fog.
“Surely there is more to life than this?”
And then, suddenly, and inexplicably, I remember the peace. Like a pool of water starting at my feet and rising over my body, peace met me in my car that day. It flooded the depths of me. And in the peace, a whisper. Soft enough to miss but too strong to ignore spoken in the language of the heart.
“Matthew. You will never be the same.”
I don’t remember much after that. I couldn’t tell you how I got home or how long I slept off my hangover. But the water, the whisper and the peace have marked me in a way that still lingers on. When I sit still and listen deep, that tide of peace still rises high within, and the whisper still speaks 16 years later.
I don’t know your story or where in the world you are as you read this, but I wonder if you can relate? I wonder if you remember a moment, or moments, when the reality of God broke through the seams of your world and marked you forever. Perhaps, for you, it was dramatic. The opening of a flood gate and torrents of grace that drowned you to life. Or perhaps it was something far simpler. The trickling of a fresh stream flowing over your thirsty soul in the hug of someone you love, or the amber light that dances on the ocean waves right around sunset. Whatever it’s looked like, I hope it’s looked like something.
I hope you bear the mark of encounter that so many have carried before you.
From Adam who walked with Love in the garden (Genesis 3:38) or Abraham who heard His voice in a sky full of stars, (Genesis 15:5) to the countless men and women through the ages whose collision with God left them undone and remade in a moment. I hope you bare the mark of encounter, of union with God, (Invitation to a Journey, Mulholland) and I hope it haunts you. Stirs you. Compels you (1 Corinthians 5:14-15). I hope it reminds you that the stories reaching out to us from scripture, aren’t just stories.
God is real.
More so than the breath in our lungs or the heart that beats in our chests. Real enough to put on flesh, move into the neighbourhood and open our eyes, once and for all ( John 1:14 (MSG)), to the eternity that is now in session (John Ortberg, Eternity is now in session.), An eternity that many of us are missing in our addicted haze of digital narcotics, material masters and fear filled self-preservation projects.
I hope you bear the mark of encounter because without it, I’m afraid you might settle.
Settle for the window dressing of religion without the power that brings life (2 Timothy 3:5). Settle for a head full of knowledge and a heart without fire. Settle for a god more ordinary and less dangerous (C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe). One who bends to your preference and blesses your plans. One who spares you the inconvenience of obedience as you fade away in the corrosive comfort of an unyielded life.
I hope you bear the mark of encounter because without it, I’m afraid you might die.
Not a physical death of course. Something far worse. A death disguised in cultural Christianity that wraps you up in self-affirming compromise, atrophying your soul, and robbing you of the eternal life for which you were created (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
It’s not those who know about God (Dissecting and probing God from a safe distance, as if that were possible) who find this life. It’s those who actually know God, and His Son whom He sent into the world (John 17:3). This is where life and life to the full is found (John 10:10). We must follow the deep ache of our soul back to its source (Isaiah 43:21).
This is why I hope you bear the mark of encounter. Because you can.
God is real my friend. His name is Jesus (John 1:1-18),and we can know Him. Not just know about Him; but know Him. Our lives can be swept up in that eternal dance of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that has been in motion since eternity past. We can walk with Him again in the garden and hear is voice in the stars. In Jesus, this very moment, and every moment that follows is the house of God, this is the gate of heaven (Genesis 28:17, John 1:51). Right now, earth is crammed with heaven and every common bush ablaze with glory, but only those who see take off their shoes (Elizabeth Barret Browning).
Do you see, and are you willing to take off your shoes?
It may seem like a strange question. Who wouldn’t be willing? What maniac passes up blazing glory for a pair of fading sneakers? And yet we do it all the time. Resisting the life we most long for, in fear of losing the one we’ve come to know. That life we cling to so tightly even as it drains the joy from our searching eyes. We resist glory for fear of what we’ll lose in its light.
We don’t know God because, in truth, knowing God isn’t easy.
It’s not impossible. There is a way that leads to the heart of God, and it is open to all (Matthew 27:51). By grace we have been saved (Ephesians 2:8-9). But sadly few will find that way (Matthew 17:13-14), and even fewer will choose to walk it. Not because it is elusive, but because it is costly. It asks us for nothing less than our lives (Matthew 16:25) and bids us; “come and die” (Deitrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship).
To know God, to truly live in deep friendship with our maker, we must become the few. We must see the narrow way and choose to walk its path. God will not force His friendship upon us. The rich young ruler was not strong armed into intimacy (Mark 10:17-27). We will not be either. However, while love restricts God from ravishing our hearts, He remains relentless in His pursuit. Constantly, God woos us with an enduring invitation (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape letters) that comes to us in the tear-filled eyes and outstretched hands of Jesus.
“Come and Follow me”.
This is the call that burns at the heart of Follower. We have heard His invitation and our response is clear. “Yes Lord, we will Follow you. To the depths of your heart and the ends of the earth”. We are not satisfied with mere belief in God. We thirst, as the deer pants for water (Psalm 42:1), for life with God. We know that Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6) and so we leave our nets to walk with Him (Mark 1:18). For us, this means watching how He lived and learning to do the same. We pray as He prayed. Read the scriptures as He did. We serve and sing and celebrate. We rest in sabbath, surrender in silence, and awaken in solitude. We grow in community and live on mission. We take his yoke upon us because He is gentle and humble in heart, and there we find rest for our souls (Matthew 11:29). We enter into His lifestyle and there we find His life (John Marc Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry). Our life. We build our days around abiding in His presence (John 15), because we long to be those who bear the mark of encounter (Acts 4:13)
We know how crazy this sounds, that we would dare to walk the narrow path.
We know, for some, this might seem arrogant. That simple people would aim so high. But faith is not the same as arrogance, and that not in ourselves. Our faith is in the one who has walked the path before us and walks it with us still (Psalm 23). We are fully aware of our own limitations. There are no heroes among us. We are simply common people of uncommon devotion convinced that He who has called us is faithful, and He will do it (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
His life leads through the cross and out the empty grave. Ours must do the same. We are grains of wheat (John 12:24) and jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4:7-9) ready to move as obedience requires, that The Lamb who was slain may receive the reward of His suffering (The Moravians). We choose to walk the path without knowing where it leads and learn to walk in peace, because we are not leader.
We are follower.
And we’re inviting you to join us.