“Follow me.” Jesus invites us into a full life, into a life led by God’s Spirit, back into the life we were created to lead, the life he modeled so beautifully. Twenty times in the four Gospels he extends us this invitation. Notice that the command is not “Believe in me.” It is to follow him, to use him as a mentor for our lives, to follow God.
To follow Jesus we start with the decision to follow him no matter where he might lead us. This is a decision made, not in the mind, but at the deepest level of our being, in our souls. It’s a decision to leave behind the various pulls of the outside world and of our false selves and to focus on the inner call of God who would lead us to our created selves and purposes, to our souls which hold the agendas for our lives, those unique contributions that each of us was created to make to the world.
Just like Jesus entering the wilderness after his baptism, we are confronted with all the temptations that the world and our culture can throw at us. In more modern language we are tempted to keep control over our lives, to value the material world and the cultural dictates over our relationship with God, and to seek out power over others. Once we have clarity on where we stand with these temptations, that they have no hold on us anymore, then we are ready to begin to listen to Jesus and to the Holy Spirit about what we are to do with our lives.
And then the real work begins. Although we have declared our intention to keep God first in our lives, we have lots of old habits to purge from our systems. Our thoughts, emotions, places where we have yielded power to another person, selfishness, lack of self-esteem, experiences of abuse–many areas to bring to light. And there is probably more.
This real work is the work of the 2nd commandment: to have no other gods before me. We must identify those “gods” whom we place before God in our lives. This is the task of a lifetime, I believe, but one which we have to start on immediately and continue with until the end. Having made the decisions in our souls to love God above all else, God then steps in to help us sort out these “gods” and to reduce their power over us. This is the transformative help of the Holy Spirit in which we need to cooperate.
As we learn to depend on God for many things, for direction, for healing, for compassion and forgiveness, for love, for the many ways the Spirit communicates with us throughout our days, we also have an active role to play in ferreting out these “gods” within us which come between us and God. Anytime we are uncomfortable with our actions or responses, we need to lift those up to God for healing. Anytime our thoughts and emotions lead us into the past and out of the presence, we need to set intentions with God for healing those. Anytime life holds a mirror up to our short-comings, we need to take those to God in prayer. It’s a constant offering up to God of those “gods” in our lives.
As we notice these things and lift them up to God, we also notice the healing that takes place over time, and we experience so much more of God in our lives. This is the real payoff of this real work. As the healing and transformation takes place, God’s place in our lives is revealed in all its wonderful detail: how often God inspires, how often God thinks through our minds, how often we are aware of the presence of God, how often we hear God’s call to do this, or say that, or call this one now, how much closer our work/vocation takes us to our passions and so much more. This is the reward of all the hard 2nd commandment work: a real relationship, a co-creative relationship, with the Creator of our lives!