Friday, December 16, 2011

To Follow Jesus All The Way

     Have you ever had one of those moments when you experience a partial flashback of an event, person or memory from long ago, that suddenly hits you without warning? It's amazing how the sudden recollection of two lines from a long-forgotten song from the teenage years can suddenly emerge at an unexpected moment to give strength, encouragement and fill the heart with renewed happiness and determination.

    That's what happened last night at the end of a draining day's work, while in the shower. I have recently been wrestling with some difficult issues that have been close to my heart, related to examining my experiences in churches over the last several years, and discerning right doctrine. It has not been easy, scrutinizing and questioning my own assumptions of teachings that I have absorbed over the years, and in some cases having to face the reality that they might be wrong. It has also been difficult as I have had to think about the possible consequences of what my conclusions might have on my relationships with people in my life who hold views that are differing, or even diametrically opposed to the convictions that I feel moved towards.

    And then last night, two lines came to mind from a little song that I had learned in a Christian youth group during my high-school years in Dubai. "Youth In Action" was founded by an elderly couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. M. C. Ambrose, who were also directly responsible for bringing my own parents (and many other families that we would come to know), to saving faith in Christ. While meeting in weekly small groups in different cities in the UAE, we would all meet once a month for a youth rally. It was during one of those rallies during my first years in YIA that I heard the words of the song "I've Got My Mind Made Up". Some of the people singing that song that day - Ronnie Thomas, Nibin and Nisha Oomen, Anjali Vase - would go on to become very dear friends of mine.

     It was their voices and two lines from the chorus that I suddenly heard in my head in the shower yesterday. I am very grateful to the Internet for being the archive of even the most obscure things, and for Google in helping us find them. Here is a verse and the chorus of that song, written by Norman Hutchins:

I've Got My Mind Made Up
    I've got my mind made up,
    my heart is fixed to follow Jesus all the way.
    I've got my mind made up,
    my heart is fixed to follow Jesus all the way.

    On this journey, there'll be many ups and downs,
    but I know the Lord will see you through.
    There has never been a time when He has let me down,
    that's why I'll follow Jesus all the way.

     I've been thinking about these words since last night and all of today, and asking myself the question - What does it mean to follow Jesus "all the way"? There are several thoughts that have come to mind as I've contemplated the implications of these words.

    Implicit in the phrase "to follow Jesus all the way" is the assumption that He is going somewhere, and that I know Him well enough to have confidence that the "somewhere" good and worthwhile for me to follow Him to. This raises the question of His character and trustworthiness. What do I know of Jesus? Is what I know about Him accurate? Is He trustworthy and truthful? Do His words make sense to me, in what He has to say about my origin, search for meaning, the condition in which I find myself, the deepest questions of my heart, my destiny? How has He proven Himself? Jesus had a lot to say about these things:

    “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, 'Lord, kwe do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?' Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.' Philip said to him, 'Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.' Jesus said to him, 'Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves."
- John 14: 1-3, ESV

    Following Jesus all the way also implies that it involves a choice, not a compulsion. I must make up my mind and set my heart on going with Him, and count the cost of this journey. And this cost might be great; He might ask of me everything that I have and hold dear and valuable. Jesus talked about this as well:

    "Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 'If anyone comes to me and odoes not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not sfirst sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple." 
- Luke 14:25-33, ESV

    "As they were going ralong the road, someone said to him, 'I will follow you wherever you go.' And Jesus said to him, 'Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.' To another he said, 'Follow me.' But he said, 'Lord, let me first go and bury my father.' And Jesus said to him, 'Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.' Yet another said, 'I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.' Jesus said to him, 'No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.'" 
- Luke 9:57-62, ESV

     These are not easy words for any of us to hear, including myself. What will I give up for Jesus, to follow Him all the way? I might not like what I am asked to let go of. For some of us, it might be a relationship that is dear to us - parent, lover, husband, wife, children, relative, friend. It might be a dream that we have longed earnestly and worked hard for. It might be things that we have built our identity on - our ethnicity, culture, religion, organization. Those of us who are parents might have to surrender their wishes or preconceptions of what they perceive to be ideal futures for their children, so that Jesus can do something greater with them. And there is the ultimate surrender of one's own life, trusting that Jesus has a purpose even in the midst of terrible personal suffering and death, and that the glory of His cause and name is greater than any personal glory that I can gain for myself.

     Ultimately, what I am willing to let go of and the extent to which I am willing to go says a lot about the value that I place on Jesus among everything else in my life. I am reminded of the words of the missionary Jim Elliott, who wrote: "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." As I bring tonight's post to a close and head to bed, I feel my conviction solidified by the following words composed by the martyred missionary William McChesney:

    If He be God, and died for me,
    No sacrifice too great can be
    For me; a mortal man, to make;
    I'll do it all for Jesus' sake.

    Yes, I will tread the path He trod,
    No other way will please my God,
    So, henceforth, this my choice shall be,
    My choice for all eternity.
- William McChesney, from the poem "My Choice"

     My mind is made up. My heart is fixed. I'm following Jesus all the way home.

- The Wisdom Seeker

     This post is dedicated to Uncle and Aunty Ambrose, my brothers and sisters at Youth In Action whom God used to sow the seeds of the Gospel in my heart many years ago, and to Nibin Oomen and Nisha Susan Philip who have followed Jesus all the way these many years at great personal cost and suffering for the sake of His name and glory.