Sometimes I come across a gospel story that doesn’t make sense to me. I can read it over and over again and listen to explanations, but something about it doesn’t click. Jesus often spoke in parables and veiled language to His followers. Two thousand years later, it’s easy for me to find my head spinning as I try to figure out what He was saying.
One story has left me perplexed for years. It comes from Matthew 8:
Now when Jesus saw great crowds around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. A scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, 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.” (Matthew 8:18–20)
A scribe approaches Jesus and tells Him, “I will go wherever you go,” and how does Jesus respond? He doesn’t say, “Welcome, good servant,” or “Are you sure you have considered the ramifications of your decision to follow me?” He doesn’t seem to acknowledge the scribe’s statement at all. Instead, He gives this vague response: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.”
As many times as I have read that paragraph, I have never been able to grasp what Jesus was trying to say. Jesus did have somewhere to lay His head. He camped with His apostles, and villagers often hosted Him and His followers as they traveled. So what did He mean?
Last week, I was sitting with this passage—confused yet again—but this time I kept reading. The story following this encounter is called “Jesus Calms the Storm At Sea.”
And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O men of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him.” (Matthew 8:23–27)
It was that first sentence, verse 23, that unlocked everything. I had never caught it before. “And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him.” The disciples obediently followed Jesus. They followed Him directly into a storm. The experience of the storm wasn’t a byproduct of their decision to follow Jesus—it was directly because of it.
Jesus gives us a sober understanding of the stakes of following Him in both passages. When Jesus told the scribe in Matthew 8:20, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head,” He wanted the scribe to understand that following Him would lead only to Himself, nowhere else. Yes, following Christ can lead to a great adventure, but the adventure isn't the point. The point, the end goal, is that we get Jesus. When Jesus led the disciples into the storm, He wanted them to understand that even in utter darkness, even when we don't feel His presence, He is right there. He never leaves. He is always faithful.
Our current society likes to attach many other promises to Christianity. We are told that our lives will be easier if we follow Jesus. We are told that following Christ will lead to comfort and financial prosperity. Even if we don't explicitly believe these messages, they seep into our culture, and inadvertently, we begin to think that life should be easy for Christians. None of this is true. We will easily be fooled by these messages if we aren’t careful. We will then find ourselves only willing to follow Jesus if He leads us where we want to go—toward our preferred way of living. We will walk away from Him the moment the journey becomes difficult or we find ourselves in uncharted territory.
But Jesus never promised us an easy life; He promised us abundant life. John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” So what is the abundant life? It’s Jesus. That’s it. Him. All of Him—nothing more, nothing less.
And so, dear sister, put yourself in the shoes of the scribe and the disciples as we encounter them in Matthew 8. There is a good chance that if you are reading this, you have a desire to follow Jesus. Are you willing to follow Him if, in the end, you only get Him? Do you have the courage to let go of your life’s expectations and let Him have complete control? Will you follow Him wherever He leads you, for better or worse?
At many moments, for me, the answer is no. In my heart of hearts, I know my commitment waivers. I have expectations for my version of the abundant life that I refuse to release so He can give me His abundant life. I'm afraid of the storm into which He may lead me, so I withhold my love from Him. I sit comfortably in my curated Christian life while He beckons me to go deeper.
Years ago, I sat with a very holy priest who told me, “Mallory, I see in you that you could be a great lady. When situations get messy and people start to fight and gossip about each other, I see you as having the ability to rise above it—to live on a different level. You could be that lady, but you are not that great lady yet.”
I am not that great lady yet because I haven’t yet chosen Jesus over everything else. But what if I did? How much more would I know Him? How much more would I love Him? How much more peace would I experience in my own life if I just gave Him a total yes. I would become that great lady. I wouldn’t necessarily be a wealthy lady, a famous lady, a successful lady, or even a popular lady. I’m not opposed to any of these things, but more than these things, I want to become a great lady. One who dared to follow Jesus wherever He led, so that in the end, I would receive Him as my prize.
So what is holding you back? If you find that you can only get so far in your faith, maybe it’s time to let go of something. Perhaps it’s time to go all in, no matter where He leads. Because in the end, He is the abundant life. It is He who leads us. He makes us great, and life with Him is all that matters.
There's a lot to be said for playing it safe. It's predictable, comfortable, and doesn't cause ripple effects. It gives us the impression that we aren't hurting anyone. We're neither hot, nor cold-we're coasting in neutral. But playing it safe can also leave us stuck in situations that are stifling for our souls and deadening to our hearts.
Most of us can point to something that happened to us-something hurtful- that caused us to vow to do all we could to never let it happen again. Perhaps it occurred in childhood. Maybe it was in the context of marriage. It could have been an unhealthy relationship with a friend or a family member.
When something really damaging happens to our hearts, we automatically want to protect ourselves. We are determined to learn from our mistakes, so we vow to do things differently in the future. We might vow never to make waves… or never to need someone again…or to never cry…or to keep the vulnerable parts of who we are hidden. We vow to play it safe.
The vows are as varied as the myriad relationships in which we have been involved. But all these vows have one thing in common; they are based on our fear of what will happen if control is lost. We make vows, convinced that we have created a hedge of protection around us. What we don't realize is that the vows only offer a false sense of security. We don't recognize that we've replaced trust in God with trust in our coping mechanisms. Without meaning to, we move away from freedom and love, and towards slavery and fear.
God is beckoning us to step out, and to trust Him in the scary places. God is calling us to move forward. Perhaps it's a hard conversation He wants you to have. He may be inviting you to stop trying to control someone in your life, and instead to trust Him to intervene. Maybe it's finally working up the courage to say out loud, “I am drinking to numb the pain and I don't know how to stop.” It could be that He's asking you to admit that you are experiencing despair, and that you need professional help. It's a stepping out into the unknown, and even as He extends His hand, our pretend places of safety look preferable to the free fall of trust.
Someone asked me once what scared me about the free fall that takes place when I step out and trust God. She asked if I was more afraid of where I was going to land, or what it would feel like during the process.
The truth is, both parts are scary. I don't like what it feels like to not be in control. Hard conversations make me sick to my stomach. I like to know what's around the corner and I like to be prepared for it. Stepping out and trusting God means that we can end up in some places that don't feel as predictable as before. But those places feel real. They feel honest. They feel authentic.
And that's where God meets us. When we quit pretending, when we stop burying the things that need attention, He stands right in front of us, cups our face in His hands and whispers, “You are so brave.”
He cheers when we take that first, scary step. He knows that's the hardest step to take. God is calling out to our hearts, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine!” (Isaiah 43:1) He grabs hold of our hands, and does not let go for one second. His strength is infused into us, and we find that we can take another step, and then the next. Every single moment of the free fall, He is going before us, “turning the darkness into light… and making the rough places smooth.” (Is. 42:16) He coaxes us forward and promises, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Is. 43:2)
Ask the One who loves you to give you just a little more courage than fear. God is calling you to have faith in Him. All you need to take the first step. You don't need to have it all scripted out. You don't need to have the whole plan in place. You just need a little more courage than fear, and the knowledge of where the free fall ends. Oh my sweet friends…it doesn't end with you in a heap on the floor. It ends with you cradled in His arms. You can rest there. And when the time is right, He'll set your feet back on the ground and say, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” (Is. 43:18-19)
Grateful for His mercy that never fails…
This blog post originally appeared on the WWP website in November 2015.
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