Twenty years ago, I went for a very special walk. As you know I love walking, so telling you that I went for a walk isn’t a big deal. But this walk was a one of kind…
It was December 31, 1991 and it was very cold. But I went for a long walk anyway because I had come (been led) to a decision. I had already decided that I wanted to serve others and try to improve the world. But at 21, thanks be to God, I realized I couldn’t do this on my own – I needed some help. I was also undergoing a spiritual awakening. I had grown up reading the Bible, going to church on and off but I was yearning for more. So this walk was a prayer walk – during which I committed my life to following Jesus Christ in everything. I smile as I look back and realize I couldn’t have known what it would mean. I had begun to let go of Christopher and began to embrace Christ – which at times has seemed like a loss but in actuality has been all gain…
“He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life (Mark 8:34-37)?”
This week on my radio show, Walk With Me, I talked about this anniversary and shared 12 things that I have learned over the twenty years as a follower (not as a pastor – that would be a separate list, because after all I am a follower first). I wanted to share this not because I have perfected this – by no means! I still fall short all the time. But I wanted to let you see that anyone can move from seeker to believer and ultimately from believer to follower. Oh, how I have been transformed and continue to be transformed by the love of God in Christ and the Holy Spirit!
12 Things I Have Learned After 20 Years of Following Jesus
1. Pleasing God first – “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you (Matthew 6:33).” It’s not about me. Less Christopher, more Christ. Not pleasing people or myself. When our first instincts are to please ourselves or others – we’re already off the path – and that is why so many people feel so empty and unfulfilled – no matter how much we try to please ourselves and others – it will be endless. When we seek God first, then we will find fulfillment – I know it sounds backwards but it’s how it works. At the end of the day, I have to be able to say, God has been pleased with what I did today; and seek His forgiveness for the parts that were not pleasing.
2. It’s about my relationship with Jesus; not my religion. I love, need, depend on, celebrate with, misunderstand, get frustrated with, talk with, cry out, admire, and imitate Him – just like in a relationship. It feels real. He’s there, alive, responding, guiding. And I’m always mindful of how He went to the cross, died and rose again to save me. He is always faithful. He is visibly and invisibly at work in my life and in this world – I absolutely trust in Him – He has never failed me.
3. Prayer, Prayer, Prayer; Bible, Bible, Bible. Can’t stop praying, can’t afford to stop praying. Praying about everything. And can’t stop reading the Bible; verses are on my mind all day. When I hear a song or listen to the news or hear people talking – corresponding verses just come to mind.
4. Holy Spirit – seeking to yield to and cooperate with the HS in everything. Anything good that I do is by the HS’s power. 2 Corinthians 5:17 – “a new creation.” I am a new creation – much of the old has gone and much new has come. Listening, waiting on, seeking comfort in the Holy Spirit’s presence.
5. Obedience – always trying to do God’s will over my will. Obedience as gratitude and worship rather than a chore or following a “list.” Obedience unlocks blessings from God. Asking the question, “What does God want in this situation, relationship, etc.?” Again, it doesn’t always happen, but making this the focus makes a huge difference – the desire to yield to God’s will.
6. Risking for Christ’s sake – loving others fearlessly, loving the unlovable, reaching the unreachable, forgiving when it doesn’t make sense, and being okay with failing. Opening my life up so that God can be glorified – that my vulnerability can be used by Him and that it can open doors for others. I can risk and fail because I am confident, not in myself, but that God has me no matter what. Being bold about loving others and sharing my faith. Leaving it all on the field and going all in.
7. Winning doesn’t always look like winning – most often it’s enduring and remaining standing.
8. Being vs. Doing – I used to think that I had to do a lot of stuff for the Kingdom – numbers, accomplishments, etc. Not. God’s asking me (us) to be faithful. That’s what He can use. Accomplishment, activity, doing more…is about us. And being impatient is about us…Being patient and waiting on God working is also being faithful. I’ve had to learn to be patient.
9. What has broken me in life has made me who I am. I used to resent things I didn’t have growing up as well as feeling bad about wounding experiences and failures. Now I understand better that God works best out of our brokenness and vulnerability rather than our strengths. I am able to lead, care for, pastor, teach, reach out primarily because of my woundedness; and then my Spiritual gifts enable me to “export” and share that passion and compassion effectively.
10. Facing opposition and rejection – following Jesus is going to involve opposition from the world, from Satan, and sometimes even from other Christians. Sometimes the opposition is overwhelming and aggressive and weathering. But I have learned to expect it in a healthy way rather than being surprised by it. We need to put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10ff). Just as we share in abundant life with Christ, we also share in His sufferings in this world.
11. Christianity is not a solo endeavor. Need a lot of support and encouragement to follow Christ – I have been blessed by Jenny, my children, my brother, father, other family members, many friends and church members over the years who pray, encourage and hold me accountable.
12. Gratitude begets more gratitude. I used to think about what I didn’t have. But as I have drawn closer to Christ, I am thankful for everything and focus much less on what I don’t have and probably will never have. Cultivating thanksgiving to God has changed my perspective on life, material things, health, wealth – when I focus on how it all comes from His hand then I am more and more thankful for every little thing and I don’t cling to “stuff” – that isn’t mine anyway
And is this challenging, draining and often doesn’t seem like a lot of fun (in the world’s terms)? True. It would be much easier to just sit on the sidelines and phone it in. Do I feel like an alien many times because of trying to follow Christ in this corrupt, crazy world? Yes. But I can’t think of anything more fulfilling and blessed and filled with ultimate joy. The things I have seen and beheld, the power I have experienced, the joy, wonder and adventure, the opportunities I’ve been blessed with to meagerly assist with the Kingdom of God, to have communion with God’s heart about the lost, the hurting and injustice, to see Christ in others, to be authentically alive…absolutely beyond my dreams – and beyond anything I would have “accomplished” on my own. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Corinthians 2:9).”
And just like Jesus said, it’s about the fruit. If you are blessed by my life and ministry it all comes from and all credit is due to God. We all have different journeys, but it is about the fruit of our lives – do people see, experience, draw closer to God because of the way we live.
I’m no Paul, but my hope is that, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put into practice. And the peace of God will be with you (Philippians 4:9).” And, hopefully, you can see there is no magic formula here, I am not special; I simply responded to His calling and said, “yes” – by His help.
He’s calling to you too…to introduce Himself…to re-introduce Himself…to draw you closer…
Rev. Christopher B. Wolf
Christopher B. Wolf is pastor of First Reformed Church of Saddle Brook and is the author of Giving Faith a Second Chance: Restarts, Mulligans and Do-Overs (2007) and With You Every Step of the Way (September, 2011); and the host of Walk With Me, Wednesdays 8 pm on WYFN 94.9 FM-NY and on www.yfnradio.com.
“It is a matter of sharing and bearing the pain and puzzlement of the world so that the crucified love of God in Christ may be brought to bear healingly upon the world at exactly that point.” N.T. Wright