This morning, I heard a song that I haven’t heard in a long time by John Denver called “Follow Me.” Although John wrote this song for his wife, Annie, inviting her to follow him on the road as a traveling musician, the phrase “Follow me” was also used by Jesus long ago to call his disciples to follow Him. And I believe He still calls to us today to follow Him. Hearing this song again made me reflect on my own journey from the time I first knew about Jesus as a very young child till now, 40-something years later.
Over the years, people and religious entities had tried to convince me that by following their beliefs and practices, I would be following Jesus and get closer to God. They all could pull verses out of the Bible to back their claim (now I see that they would take these verses out of context and totally disregard God’s true nature that I have come to know since then). I had followed some of these beliefs and practices, and had learned at nearly the cost of my own life that a religious belief system can be just as addictive and destructive to a person as substance abuse.
We are all born with a need to be loved and accepted, a need to feel that we are of worth and important. God offers to fulfill this need for us through a personal relationship with Him that’s not based on anything we can do, but on His unconditional love for us alone. Jesus came in the flesh to show us this love. We don’t have to earn it, we just need to open up our hearts and accept it. And because it is unconditional, we can never lose it either. Nothing we can do will ever separate us from God’s love. Yeah, it really is that good and simple! But until we respond to His invitation for a relationship based only on His grace, and are changed from inside out by His love, we really won’t understand the simplicity and purity of this unconditional love, and we will forever try to fulfill this need within us through pleasing those whose approval we seek (having our sense of worth go up and down depending on how well we please them); and we will make others earn our approval as well. We will also be vulnerable to those who want to manipulate and use us–all they have to do is feed our need for love and approval, make us feel important and needed, and they have us right where they want us. It’s my observation that the fear of rejection and the need for approval are the two strongest tools used by people who want to control other people.
Jesus doesn’t use deception to manipulate you. He doesn’t use the bait and switch tactics. He doesn’t lure you to a party and then enslave you to a list of Do’s and Don’t’s. He said His yoke is easy, His burden is light. And I’ve found it to really be so! You simply only have to acknowledge that He exists and invite Him to be a part of your life. Listen to His quiet voice in your heart, and follow Him where He leads. Get to know the people that He brings into your life and see them through His eyes. Love them as He shows you how to love. Just relax into His unconditional love and acceptance of you, then let your thoughts be challenged by His higher thoughts, and your ways be changed by His better ways. Before you know it, you have become a vessel of His love to be poured out to others.
Religious people who are still trying to earn God’s approval for themselves will not be able to accept what I had just said in the previous paragraph. They will say that it’s too simple; that you need to study the Bible, go to church, and do all these “Christian” things in order to grow spiritually. I can tell you that I have done all that, and I have found that these things won’t do any good at all if you do not have a relationship with Jesus and have a clear understanding of His grace first. For it is only with that understanding can you begin to learn to see things through His eyes. Without learning to listen to that voice in your heart, which is His Spirit teaching you and guiding you, you’ll only be following an empty religion, and vulnerable to be indoctrinated by other people into their interpretation of who God is. And you will feel fine until you fail to perform to the standard of that religion. You will feel good or bad about yourself depending on your performance. But in a genuine relationship with Jesus, you can wake up every morning feeling loved just as you are, regardless of your performance. And you’ll also be able to accept and love others just as they are, regardless of their performance. That is how Jesus transforms us into His likeness.
Yep! Following Jesus really is that simple! The lyrics to this song is very close to what I hear Jesus saying to me everyday:
Follow me where I go;
What I do and who I know;
Make it part of you to be a part of me.
Follow me up and down;
All the way and all around;
Take my hand and say you’ll follow me.