The Rolling Stones sang:
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes, well, you might find
You get what you need
I’ve found this to be particularly true of following Jesus…
Eugene Peterson observed that Jesus, “doesn’t say the same thing to everyone, but he does do the same thing. He sets us free to follow him.” Take for instance, the Gadarene demoniac (Mark 5:1-20) and the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-31). Both came to Jesus needing in their own way, to be set free to enjoy the fully human lives they craved and were created for. Jesus responds to one “follow me” but to the other, “go home”. For one, freedom and fulfillment would be found by selling everything and joining Jesus’ entourage. To the other, it would be found by returning to his community. I find it interesting that one man insists on his own way and leaves disappointed. The other doesn’t get his way but complies nonetheless, and – we can assume by Mark’s concluding comment (5:20) – ends-up fulfilled.
There’s been a big change in popular church culture, from “following Jesus” to “getting something from” Jesus. The church is trying to attract consumers looking for the best deal that will put them in a position to be in charge of their lives or to be happy and successful. But Jesus doesn’t always give us what we want or think we need. Some of us, like the rich young ruler, come to Jesus and don’t hear what we want to hear or get what we want. We’re not in control. We’re not customers getting from Jesus what we want, the way we want it.
Jesus loves us and knows better than we do what’s best for us. He sees deep into our lives and identifies what we need in order to grow and flourish as humans. As our Great Physician he diagnoses what we each uniquely need in order to be free to follow him into abundant living. He awakens the dormant, undeveloped, unexplored parts of our lives. This isn’t without pain and struggle (“The man’s face clouded over. This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart…”MSG). But we’re not tourists visiting hoy places with Jesus as our tour guide. He invites us to be companions receiving love instead of securing our own lives by keeping rules and making something of ourselves.
Now I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting something from Jesus or wanting to do something for Jesus, as long as I come to grips with the fact that he IS God. And if he asks me to let go of some cherished status symbol or security blanket, he’s the one I must simply trust, obey, worship and adore. Rather than being occupied with myself, I must pay attention to him who is occupied with me. I have to face the fact that I’m not in charge, Jesus is. This means I’m not coming to Jesus, Jesus is coming to me. This means I’m no longer needed to secure, defend, grasp, acquire or muscle my way through life. Jesus is in control. He has it all taken care of and I no longer have to hold anything back from him. My part is to trust and follow without reservation or hesitation.
… At once they left their nets and followed him (Mark 1:18)