Called to Follow - Pt. 1
For years I have often wondered why Jesus selected the twelve men who became His Disciples. What was special about those twelve? Jesus could have chosen anyone on the face of the Earth. He could have put together a team of the most intelligent, most successful, most confident, and most charismatic people ever assembled.
What made those twelve men unique to the point that He would select them for His core group of followers?
Were the twelve Disciples the smartest men available? Not likely. Remember when Jesus instructed them to feed the multitude of four thousand (Mark 8:1-10)? The Disciples responded as though they did not have any idea what to do, even though, not much earlier, they had already seen Jesus feed a larger multitude of five thousand (Mark 6:30-44). Their response would have been quite understandable had they never seen Jesus feed a multitude miraculously. But they had already lived this miracle once, so at least one of them should have known what to do! Yet not a single one of them is recorded to have said anything like, “I bet I know what we can do!”
How could Jesus have such patience with these slow learners?
Could it have been that the Disciples were the most successful men? Again, not likely. Recall that a number of them were fishermen by trade, yet we rarely see them catching anything without Jesus intervening miraculously. In Luke 5 they told Jesus that they had toiled all night and caught nothing! And this one occurrence was not an isolated instance. Later, in John 21:3, after the Resurrection, we find the Disciples confounded in the same frustration after an entire night of fruitlessly attempting to do the one thing at which they were supposedly experts.
What on earth did Jesus see in these men?
After studying the Disciples in the Scriptures, I discovered a number of variables that made them fit to be used by the Lord. For the purpose of this article, I will address only one of those factors that made them usable, namely their willingness to follow Jesus at the expense of all comfort, convenience, or sense of control. In Matthew 4:18-22, we find Jesus calling four of the twelve to follow Him. When Jesus found them, Peter and Andrew were in the process of casting their nets, while James and John were busy mending their nets. At the moment Jesus said “Follow me,” the Scripture says that they dropped everything to follow Him. Not only did they follow Him immediately, but the Scripture gives special emphasis to what they chose to leave behind in order to follow Jesus. Peter and Andrew left their nets. James and John walked away from their nets and their father.
All four of them abandoned the familiar, leaving behind the safe, comfortable place where they still retained a measure of control.
This willingness to follow the Lord fully is rare. Consider the case of a man in the Old Testament named Caleb. In Numbers 14:24, God said, “But My servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit in him and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land where he went, and his descendants shall inherit it” [NKJV]. Notice that God, Himself declared that Caleb had a different spirit. What made Caleb stand out from the rest? God goes on to explain that Caleb was unique because of willingness to follow the Lord fully. Most people are not willing to follow the Lord fully because they still try to retain degree of control, clinging to what is comfortable or familiar. I believe that it was precisely this same quality that Caleb exhibited, which made men like Peter, Andrew, James, and John stand out to Jesus.
What if Peter, Andrew, James, and John had tried to drag their fishing nets along with them? Over time, the extra baggage would have begun to weigh more heavily on them, making it increasingly difficult to follow Jesus. Dragging anything from your familiar place along with you will inhibit your ability to follow the Lord freely. Just ask Abraham. When God told him, “Get out of your country, from your family, and from your Father’s house, to a land I will show you,” Abraham (or Abram at the time) inexplicably carried his nephew Lot along with him (Genesis 12:1-4, NKJV). What was the result? Unwanted contention later arose between Abraham’s men and Lot’s men.
Is there anything to which you are still clinging from your place of familiarity?
If the Disciples had carried their fishing nets into their journey with Jesus, would they have really been trusting Jesus? Perhaps they could have taken their fishing nets as a backup plan, a proverbial safety net to fall back on in case Jesus failed them. Do you have any such safety nets in your life? Is there anything that you are clinging to in order to maintain a degree of control? The Scripture makes it clear in Proverbs 3:5-6 that it is impossible to trust in the Lord with all our heart if we are leaning to any extent on our own understanding.
These Disciples who immediately followed Jesus at His beckoning call were willing to lay aside their own understanding, walking away from all that was familiar, and for them there was no turning back.
Years ago, my father, Van Smith, was faced with a decision either to obey God or to cling to the safety nets of life. God called him to walk away from a seemingly secure career of 18 years working for a major airline, in order to enter the ministry full-time. (Please understand: You should never consider walking away from your career unless you have received a clear instruction from the Lord.) When my father received the Lord’s instruction, with my mother’s agreement, he began the process to leave the airline where he had worked faithfully for nearly two decades. During the process, he was presented with two options. The first option was a total severance package, which would cut his ties with the company and effectively burn any bridges, so that he would not be able to return to his job. The second option was a five year leave of absence, with an opportunity to return to his job should the ministry venture fail. By the world’s logic, a backup plan affords safety and security. But would my father have been trusting Jesus by factoring the possibility of failure into his decision? Thankfully, he chose to obey God, cutting away all safety nets, and he has never regretted his decision.
What does it look like to follow the Lord fully? Imagine that the Lord were to tell you to get into a boat and launch out into the deep. In response, you obediently step into the boat and begin to pull away from the dock, but as you venture out, you jerk to a sudden stop, discovering that a long rope still holds your boat attached to the dock. Now you have a choice. Do you cut the rope and detach yourself fully from the safe familiarity of the dock? Or do you simply congratulate yourself for at least obeying God enough to get in the boat and launch out a little?
A couple of years into our marriage, I decided to take Dora on a ride in a hot air balloon. Though we both anticipated the adventure, if I were completely honest with myself, the idea of being suspended in a basket thousands of feet in the air without restraint or harness was a bit nerve-wracking for me. Once we had stepped into the basket, and the balloon was prepped for liftoff, I squeezed Dora’s hand and asked if she was ready, vainly attempting to hide my nerves. Dora flashed me a slightly amused look and then proceeded to point out to me that we had already begun lifting and were now over twenty feet in the air, before I was even aware that we had left the ground! Suddenly, our lift came to an abrupt halt, and the pilot explained that he had not yet disconnected the cord that had tethered us to the ground. With sudden relief, I told him not to worry about detaching the cord! At least we had been able to have the experience to that point, and as long as there was even a minimal connection to the ground, I felt like I still had thread of control over the situation. To my chagrin, the pilot laughed at my cowardly suggestion. He explained to me that as long as the balloon remained tethered to the ground, the wind could not carry us. The hot-air balloon was designed to be carried wherever the wind wished. In that moment, despite my nerves, the Lord began to download revelation to my heart.
There standing in the hot air balloon, being propelled by the currents of the wind, I began to recall the words of Jesus in John 3:8, when He said, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” [NKJV]. Jesus compared the leading of the Holy Spirit to being carried by the wind. As I pondered the message of John 3:8, the Lord began to reveal to me that I had been willing to let Him carry me to a certain point, but I had been unwilling to detach myself from the ground entirely.
Until I resolved to release full control, with a willingness to abandon my own understanding entirely, the Holy Spirit could not take me where He intended for me to go.
In that moment, gazing towards the horizon from my vantage point in the hot air balloon, my heart invited the Lord to ‘cut the rope.’
Do you sense the Lord calling you to follow Him fully? Are you willing to abandon the familiar, to lay aside your own understanding, to cut away the safety nets? Today can be the beginning of a new adventure in your journey with Jesus. Once you determine to follow Jesus fully, then you must decide to follow Him closely. What does it mean to follow Jesus closely? We begin there in Part II of this study. To be continued…