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Following, Step by Step

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A disciple eventually must surrender to a childlike trust in God to design and provide for the future.

Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.”John 12:26

I’ve only used a travel agent to plan a vacation once in my life, and it was a delightful experience. But there was something about the itineraries that felt like an awkward fit in the picture of my real life, which has always looked more like an off-road adventure to places I wouldn’t have chosen than a sensibly planned journey toward a dream destination. In real life, I find myself moving forward with just enough information for the next step, communicated through unexpected people, quiet internal nudges, and occasional frustrating roadblocks. 

One thing that’s certain about the life of faith is that it’s full of uncertainty. We step into a plan we haven’t designed, not knowing what’s around the corner. Perhaps that’s because serving (as Jesus explains in John 12:26) entails following. The Greek word diakonos, translated “serve,” actually has connotations of “kicking up dust” because you’re on the move. There is motion to a life of service that can’t be contained within the boundaries of any career or vocation. It’s not mapped out for us ahead of time, but discovered incrementally through each daily advance. 

I’ve been asked at times how these candidates managed to commit themselves to leadership in the Christian Reformed Church in such a time of uncertainty. I believe it’s because they have gotten used to uncertainty. It’s the posture they’ve learned ever since they first became disciples of Jesus. Despite the strong desire to know exactly what’s coming next, a disciple eventually must surrender to a childlike trust in God to design and provide for the future. A vision for accomplishing great things gradually gives way to a willingness to let God use us in our weaknesses.

When the apostle Peter claimed he loved Jesus more than anyone else, Jesus told him he would be led to a place he did not want to go (John 21:18). He was indicating his death, but I think he also was describing a plan for Peter’s life that Peter never would have designed for himself—servant leadership of a highly persecuted, divided, troubled new church. 

When I hear these candidates’ stories, I notice many contain themes of Jesus leading them where they did not want to go. Most struggled against their calls, choosing other careers first, declining invitations to lead because of obstacles and limitations. Even upon being declared candidates, some of them still struggle to imagine themselves fitting into the typical pastoral role. They don’t know what ministry will look like in their lives or how they will navigate its challenges. They just know they were led to take this step and that God will be faithful through each continued step.

I suppose when we find ourselves moving confidently and efficiently toward our goals, we might do well to stop and consider whether we are following Jesus or taking the lead. And when we face unwanted detours or unplanned suffering, when our next step forward doesn’t quite make sense in our mind but feels right in our hearts, then it’s very likely following squarely behind Jesus. 

My prayer for these candidates—and for the church—is that God fills each one with the courage and trust to keep following Jesus.

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