By LeAnne Benfield Martin
Social media has changed the way we communicate, stay informed, express ourselves, and, often, validate ourselves. Twitter, for example, allows us to follow others—to keep up with what they’re doing and saying—and to be followed. The more followers you have, the more interesting and connected you appear, and the more likely you are to attract other followers.
But you don’t have to have a Twitter account to follow someone. Just pick up a magazine, click on a news site, or turn on the TV to follow business leaders, style moguls, political pundits, trendsetters—anyone who is in the news for any reason at all.
With so many people clamoring for attention, we can easily be distracted by things that don’t matter—and lose focus on what and who is important. It’s difficult for Christians to live in this culture without being affected. Therefore, in order to become like Christ, we have to be intentional about our lives. That means regularly examining ourselves and asking tough questions like, “Who am I really following?” “If not Jesus, why not?”
One day early in his ministry, Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee. He saw the brothers Simon and Andrew fishing there. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men” (Mark 1:17, NIV, 1984). At Jesus’ invitation, the men immediately walked away from their nets and into a new way of life with him.
All Jewish boys learned the Torah and the Hebrew Scriptures at an early age. But those boys who excelled at studying and understanding the Torah went on to become rabbis, who enjoyed a place of honor in their community and chose disciples who became devoted to them and their teachings.
At age 12, Jesus had astounded the teachers in the temple with his understanding of the Torah. Now, almost two decades later, he was on his way to becoming a well-known, well-respected rabbi. Simon, Andrew, and the other disciples probably felt honored at being chosen, because a rabbi would only choose students he deemed worthy. They also may have felt humbled, excited, anxious, intimidated, amazed, and thrilled. But they had no idea where their lives as Jesus’ disciples would lead them. He called them out, set them apart, and made them special because of himself. He poured his life into them, and they devoted themselves to him.
Jesus issues the same invitation to us, and if we are his disciples, we follow our Teacher. We diligently learn from or serve him. We model our lives after his. We strive to be committed, faithful, and humble. We treat him and his name with respect and honor. We desire to be worthy of our Teacher, so we do our best to please him.
When we become his, Jesus gives us new life. He gives us a new identity: we are his, children of the King, forever. And when we follow him, he gives our lives purpose and meaning. If we let him shape us, he makes us more like himself. He comforts us with his love, grants us courage, and strengthens us for today and tomorrow. Jesus knows we need all of this, because following him is hard. He makes that very clear.
Mark 8 records how Jesus fed the 4,000 and healed the blind man of Bethsaida. He asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (v. 29). Peter declared that Jesus is the Christ and almost immediately stumbled by rebuking Jesus for talking about his death. Then Jesus rebuked Peter with words that must have shocked and wounded him: “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man” (v. 33).
Jesus called the crowd and the disciples together. The people had flocked to see him because of his miracles and his teaching. Excitement and anticipation filled the air. What’s he going do to next? But what came next surprised them all. Rather than fill them with another meal, he began to give them a taste of what was to come, knowing that those who were there for a handout or celebrity sighting would not stay.
The Jewish people had always thought the Messiah would come as a great military leader and liberate his oppressed people. What he told them, though, was that his followers would not have an easy road. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (v. 34).
If we want to follow Jesus, we must deny ourselves. We must surrender our will and live for him, rather than ourselves, and allow him to work in our hearts and lives.
If you’re like me, you might wonder what denying yourself, or dying to yourself, looks like. Maybe it means getting up with a baby in the middle of the night—again; supporting your spouse’s career; listening to someone who needs to talk; being a caregiver; taking a job you don’t want in order to support your family; giving up your desire for that car, that house, that life. Do any of these sound familiar?
Jesus’ listeners would have been confused, shocked, and frightened at his mention of a cross. They had likely seen crucifixions firsthand. The cross was an image of what he would do for us, a foreshadowing of things to come. The cost to him was incomprehensible. It was the ultimate sacrifice, the ultimate denial of self.
What does the phrase “taking up your cross” mean to us today? It means suffering: suffering from physical or emotional pain, the death of a loved one, a difficult marriage, a devastating divorce, loneliness, failure, loss, poverty, or persecution.
Our crosses might look different, but we all suffer in this lifetime. In our suffering, we can turn away in anger or disillusionment, deciding that the costs of following him are too high, or we can hold tightly to him, letting him use our circumstances to make us more like him as we follow him.
A few years ago, a record snowfall covered our area. When my daughter and I played outside, she followed me in the snow, stepping into my footprints. She did not want to go her own way, because the snow beside her was deep, wet, and cold. In my footsteps, she felt safe, protected, and loved.
When we follow Jesus, the path may seem rough, steep, rocky, cold, muddy, foggy, and overgrown. But he has already been down this road, and he knows where we are going. When we step where he steps, we won’t lose our way. He is the way! He will never abandon us.
In Mere Christianity (HarperCollins, 2001), C. S. Lewis wrote, “Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.” The call to discipleship, which Jesus issues to all believers, is both an invitation to join his work and a command we cannot ignore.
Several years ago, when I met the man who would be my husband, I wanted to get to know him better. I spent time with him in person, talked to him on the phone, e-mailed him, went to his house, talked to his friends and family, watched him interact with others, asked him questions, and listened to his answers. Through these methods, over time, he revealed to me who he was. And I fell in love with him.
If we love Jesus, we want to get to know him better. We do that by spending time with him in prayer and listening, studying, and meditating on his Word, obeying his commands, listening to his Word being taught, fellowshipping with other disciples, and letting him shape us and conform us to his likeness. Over time, he reveals more of himself to us, so that we begin to see that following him, even though it is hard, is worth it.
For me, just being in his presence is enough. But there is so much more: knowing him personally, helping build his kingdom, sharing him with others, experiencing his love, peace, and mercy, and seeing his beauty. The more I know him, the more I love him. Over the years of my walk with him, my heart’s desire has become this: that I will be faithful to follow him for the rest of my days. That I will be able to say wherever he leads, with his help, I will go.
LeAnne Benfield Martin is a freelance writer in Sandy Springs, Georgia.
Insights from Unnamed, by Chris Travis
God works primarily through everyday people.
Most of the “greatest people who ever lived” have been forgotten. Don’t believe me? How many people can you name who lived 3,000 years ago? For the truly great people, it may take 100 years for their memory to be erased. Some epic heroes stake out a name that people remember for 1,000 years. The vast majority of people, no matter how great, simply vanish from the earth. James, one of Jesus’ brothers, observed, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14, NIV).
Yet we all long for something more. God “has also set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We want our lives to matter—we want to know that we’ve made a difference. We want our efforts to count for something. We want to be part of something that is bigger than we are, and that lasts longer than this life does. “But even so,” as the rest of that verse explains, “people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”
I find it fascinating that some of the heroes in the Bible are unnamed. God included in the Bible the accounts of dozens of these people. Though they contributed to God’s story, their names—as often happens in everyday, modern life—are not recorded.
Some did very small things. Others performed outlandish heroics. An unnamed princess rescued baby Moses from the river. An unnamed young man saved Paul’s life. Unnamed heroes participated in miracles, celebrated victory over entire armies, and surprised God himself with their faith.
For more information on the book and the group member discussion guide go to www.standardpub.com.