Are you reluctant to admit that being a Christian is harder than you thought? My husband was once chided at a Bible Study for saying he was having a hard time following Jesus. “No, no, no,” said our fellow believer. “If following Jesus is hard, you’re doing it wrong.”
My husband wrestled with this idea for days — the idea that following Jesus should be easy, simple, stress free. Could it be true that “If following Jesus is hard, you’re doing it wrong”? After all, Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the light! What could be easier than following the light in this dark world?
There are a lot of things easier than following Jesus! Eating pie, for instance. Watching Netflix, surfing Facebook, grumbling about taxes and the government, shopping, drinking, gambling. Sometimes I think everything is easier than following Jesus; that’s why more people believe in God than actually live a Christ-focused, Spirit-filled, God-fearing life. It’s easy to go to church at Easter and Christmastime, pray for healing after surgery or other health issues, and pay for a private Christian school or college so your kids get a “good” education.
But what happens when you find out that actually following Jesus Christ is hard? If you haven’t already discovered how hard following Jesus can be, you’ll find out soon. It’s not like walking on the boardwalks of the beaches in Tel Aviv — and it’s definitely not a smooth sail on the calm waters of the Sea of Galilee.
In 3 Tools to Help You Obey God’s Call – Echoes of Delight I describe the problems I recently faced when I told my Christian friends and family how I want to follow Jesus at Christmas. In this article, I focus on three important things to remember when you’re having a hard time following Jesus the way He wants you to.
3 Things to Remember When It’s Hard to Follow Jesus
I’m walking through the book of Matthew, looking for and echoing Jesus. In my last article — How to Fight the Lies Satan Wants You to Believe – Matthew 4 — I described Jesus’ three responses to Satan in Matthew 4:1-11. My favorite response was Jesus’ last one: Satan was long-winded and descriptive in the temptations he laid before Jesus. In contrast, Jesus’s responses were short, terse, unequivocal. Jesus did not engage with the enemy. Jesus’ words were few, yet powerful.
In this article — What to Remember When It’s Hard to Follow Jesus — I describe three things I saw when Jesus started gathering His disciples in Matthew 4:18-22. First, Jesus always calls people at inconvenient times. Second, Jesus’ followers didn’t focus on how hard it was to follow Him. Third, Jesus Christ knows things we don’t know.
1. Jesus calls people at inconvenient times
“As he was walking along the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter), and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the sea — for they were fishermen. “Follow me,” he told them,“and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat with Zebedee their father, preparing their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.” – Matthew 4:18-22 (CSB). Imagine you’re sitting on the shore of Galilee, watching the fishermen. What are they doing, talking about, focusing on? What is the focus of their attention? How easy would it be to just drop everything and walk away?
Jesus doesn’t always call you to follow Him at the most convenient time of your life. Although sometimes He does! I’m finally — after 20 years of hearing and ignoring God’s call — studying theology at Regent College in September. It’s an easy and convenient time for me to go to school. Other than two dogs to take care of, the timing is perfect. But I’m having a harder time following Jesus into ministry at Christmas because my friends and family think I should be celebrating at home in the usual way. My husband is supportive this year, but my friends have surprisingly strong objections. I don’t know if they’re right. Will my marriage suffer if I don’t spend Christmas with my husband? Is Jesus really calling me to serve Him in a deeper, more meaningful way at Christmas? It’s not easy to follow Jesus when I feel alone and unsupported…but just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s wrong. In fact, it’s often the hardest things that are the most right.
2. Jesus’ followers didn’t focus on how hard it was to follow Him
“Immediately they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat with Zebedee their father, preparing their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.” – Matthew 4:18-22 (CSB). Read those four sentences closely. What words do you see repeated, almost verbatim? Writers used repetition to show how important something is…and Matthew wrote the exact same sentence twice for a reason.
What compelled Jesus’ first disciples to immediately leave their lives and follow Him? They listened to Jesus’ voice. Something compelled them — perhaps the Holy Spirit — to leave their jobs, families, friends and comfort zones to follow Jesus around Israel. Following Jesus wouldn’t have been easy but they didn’t focus on how hard things were. Instead, the disciples focused on what Jesus was doing, where He was leading, and how they could best serve Him. If you’re struggling to follow Jesus, remember to focus on Jesus Christ. Remember who He is, how much He loves you, what He is calling you to do and be in this world, and why you’re chosen.
3. Jesus knows things you don’t know
It’s easy to forget that Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John didn’t know what we know today about their lives. They were in the middle of the work day, mending nets on the Sea of Galilee, listening to their dad talk about yesterday’s catch and tomorrow’s weather forecast. Jesus’ followers had no idea what to expect when they dropped their nets to follow Him. They didn’t know how hard it would be, that Jesus would be crucified, and that they’d live in a state of perpetual confusion and crisis for possibly the rest of their lives.
We know things about Jesus’ followers that they didn’t know…just like Jesus knows things about our lives that we don’t know. You don’t have the full picture of your life. All God gives is one step at a time, one little open door, one little peek into what to do next. Yes, this makes it hard to follow Jesus. But you can trust Him to lead you where you need to go, when you need to go there, and what you will need when you get there! Jesus really does have a plan for your life, and the Holy Spirit really is here to guide, lead, and fill you with everything you need to take the next commonsense step forward. When you’re finding it hard to follow Jesus, remember that you don’t need to know anything more than you already know. Talk to fellow believers, listen to their advice, and take everything back to the Father.
Your big and little comments are welcome below! What’s the hardest part of following Jesus? If you were offering tips on how to follow Jesus when life is hard, what advice would you give?
Ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom and guidance. Instead of asking the Spirit to make following Jesus easier, pray for more strength, power and freedom to do what He asks. Look up, meet God’s gaze, and trust Him to lead you home.
In peace and passion,
P.S. Are you struggling to keep following Jesus because it’s harder than you thought? Read How to Adjust After a Rocky Start – Echoes of Faith.