Don’t Figure it Out — Just Follow

Recently, a ministry colleague was speaking to a group of leaders and said something that has been resonating in my heart ever since.  He stated, “Jesus has not called us to figure it out but simply to follow Him.”

Honestly, I’ve maintained a love/hate interaction with this idea since hearing it.  On one hand, I love the simplicity of following Jesus in a trusting, intimate relationship as the central focus of every day.  On the other hand, I really like to figure things out, especially as it relates to the direction and destination of my journey.

Jesus’ favorite term to engage His core followers was simply, “Follow Me.”  He did not announce a five-year plan, show them His ministry offices, or assure them of any promised salary or benefits.  Rather, He challenged them to “take up their cross.” This death-to-self reality called His disciples to crucify their need to always be in control of their daily events and future plans.

At the end of the Gospel of John, Jesus spoke to the Apostle Peter about the difficulty of this eventual death and simply told Peter, “Follow Me.”  Peter looked over at his fellow apostle, John, and asked “What about him?” In essence, Jesus told Peter, “That is My business, not yours,” then told him again, “Follow Me” (John 21:18-21).  Like Peter, we look around, we look ahead, and we want answers.  We cry out to figure it out.  Jesus simply says, “Follow Me.”  

Follow the Shepherd

In our day and age, when we want to be known as competent, self-directed, and in charge, we are wise to remember that Jesus called us “sheep.”  This is quite humbling.  Sheep are hardly the metaphor for highly-accomplished, ladder-climbing icons.  Rather, sheep are characterized as fearful, gullible, vulnerable, easily influenced, defenseless, stubborn, and needy.

The good news is that He identified Himself as our “Shepherd.”  He is the “Good Shepherd” who gives His life for us (John 10:11) and the “Great Shepherd” who has risen from the dead (Hebrews 13:20).  If you have to follow someone with complete trust, you’d better be confident in his leadership.  We can have full confidence and perfect trust in our Shepherd.

What it Means to Follow

One verse that has been of particular encouragement to me in recent days is John 10:27 where Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”  Here we find some keys to what it really means to follow Christ.  

Hearing His Voice

John 10 repeats this primary mark of Christ followers several times. “The sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3).  “He goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:4).  “They will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:16).

This life of attentiveness to the voice of the Good Shepherd begins with hearing His call to salvation.  It becomes a lifestyle of listening to His voice in the pages of Scripture.  It incorporates following the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  It occurs in community with other believers as the word and Spirit work in a company of hearts to direct them to His will.  It involves hearing the knock of the living Christ at the entrance of the church to welcome His intimacy and enjoy the renewal of His fellowship (Revelation 3:20). 

Hebrews 3:6-13 reminds us that the key to holding fast in our faith and overcoming the deceitfulness of sin is to “hear his voice” with a soft and responsive heart.  Few things are more troubling to a parent than a child who does not listen to wise direction.  Teachers become exasperated by students who do not listen to instructions.  Marriage partners become frustrated by the spouse who does not listen.  Our Savior leads us to the paths of life, but we must listen.  When we fail to listen to Him, we revert to figuring things out on our own and the result is unsatisfying and even disastrous.

Resting in His Knowledge

Jesus went on to say, “…and I know them” (John 10:27b).  It is easy to follow someone who really knows you – your strengths, weaknesses, doubts, fears, hopes, joys, and deepest desires.  We follow a Shepherd who understands everything about us and is intimately acquainted with all of our ways (Psalm 139).  The One who knows us best loves us the most and leads us to the paths that are always for our ultimate good.

Following His Lead

Jesus says, “…they follow Me.” The mark of a true follower is just that – he follows.  Where is our Shepherd leading? What is the nature of this life of trust? Earlier in John 10, Jesus contrasted His leadership with that of “the thief” who steals, kills, and destroys.  There are many expressions of this thievery in our world, and the assorted voices call us to follow another path and figure things out on our own.  The One who gladly leads us in the path of life says, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). 

In truth, we are all followers.  Even type-A executives are following something – be it their own thoughts, the philosophy of a mentor, a system of management, or the best-selling advice of some business guru.  So, as followers, we all have a choice.  The world’s thievery cries out every day – in media outlets, in the bookstore, from well-meaning friends, and even in the recesses of our own mind.  We must hear these noises with ultimate caution and discernment.

But Jesus says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”  It’s pithy, but I want to learn to follow my Shepherd – who knows the way, shows the way, and goes the way.  In fact, He IS the Way.  So, I pray that He will help me choose the path to abundant life, even when I cannot – and don’t need to – figure it out.

Copyright © 2013 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.