Remember that playground ritual of choosing teams? I remember it all too well. Nervously waiting for my name to be called. Kicking at the ground with my PF Flyer sneakers. Breaking into a sweat even before the game began.
Thank goodness, at least I usually was not the last one chosen. That unfortunate person would hear all the snickers and ridicule. If you weren’t talented or popular, you were doomed to be the last one chosen.
When Jesus chose His “team,” who did He select?
“As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea – for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to
them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people. And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two brothers, James, son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.”
(Matt 4:18-22; Mark 1:16)
“As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.”
(Matt 9:9; Mark 2:3; Luke 5:27)
Even in their brevity, these gospel accounts are astonishing!
Based upon them consider the type of persons Jesus chose for His team:
Fishermen. Tough guys doing a thankless job. Probably poor or lower class. Tanned and weathered. Using language as salty as the sea they fished in. Rough and raw dudes.
Tax collector. A Jew who opted to assist the despised Romans collect oppressive taxes. Despised and scorned by his own people. Abandoned by his family. Probably wealthy but cast out and lonely.
In contrast, think also about who Jesus did NOT choose for his team:
Pharisees or Sadducees. Devout keepers of the Law. Trained and educated. Well-dressed and clean. Highly respected and revered by the Jewish people. Had a semblance of favor with ruling authorities.
As we compare these two types of persons, it’s obvious that Jesus opted not to first pursue the most talented or popular persons for his team. He turned the playground model for choosing teams upside down!
Lean into the comparison a bit more. Jesus didn’t pick the ones who studied scripture obsessively. The ones that lived a sanctified lifestyle. The ones who went to temple frequently.
Jesus chose imperfect people to follow Him!
Our imperfections do not disqualify us from following Jesus – they are invitations to see our need for Jesus.
1. Notice how readily the fishermen and the tax collector responded when Jesus chose them. Why do you think they dropped everything to follow Him?
2. How much do you believe you have to have a certain level of righteousness before you feel worthy to follow Jesus?
3. Do you have a hard time accepting the fact that you’ve been chosen by Jesus? Why or why not?
“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any of you want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
- Matt 16:24-25
Upon first reading, this seems like a daunting teaching from Jesus.
Let’s begin by taking it from a simpler place. Take a moment to reflect on a time in your life where you have followed someone in an experience that was fruitful or beneficial. This could be a parent, a teacher, a mentor, friend, pastor, or even a tour guide or someone who helped you when you were lost. What was it like to be a follower in that experience?
My wife and I have had the wonderful privilege of participating in two different boat and bike trips on rivers in Europe. They were a combination of biking by day with cruising by night.
Our first tour was an unguided bike tour. The trip organizer offered pre-trip briefings every evening before the next day’s route. We were given guidebooks with maps and brief information about points of interest. There were color-coded arrows at strategic turns on the route. Other than that, we were largely on our own.
Our second tour was a guided tour. We were divided into cycling groups with each one led by a tour guide. Initially, we were certain we wouldn’t enjoy this as much. It felt too constraining. We believed it denied us the freedom to set our own pace and select the stops we wanted to make.
It turns out we were wrong. The guided tour was much better than the unguided tour.
The first very practical benefit of the guided tour was that we could rest on the assurance that we would not miss the route and get lost. The second benefit is that our tour guides were just wonderful human beings. Their mission was to provide a supremely enjoyable travel experience for us. They readily met any of our needs as they arose. Furthermore, their enthusiasm for their country and its history and culture made it an enriching learning experience for us.
The comparison of these two travel experiences turns out to be a rich analogy for me for today’s scripture verse. By “denying myself” (willingly giving up control) and “following” (the best “Tour Guide” in the universe) will provide the most enriching life journey experience.
Think back to the experience of following someone you identified earlier. Hold onto the good qualities of the leader or guide that stood out to you…perhaps patience, kindness, gentleness, assurance, determination, enthusiasm, passion?
After some reflection on that person’s qualities, shift your focus and attention to Jesus, knowing that he possesses all of those “good” qualities in their fullness and more.
1. As you thought about your own following experience that resulted in something fruitful, what spiritual insights can you gain?
2. Do you believe that Jesus has all the good qualities listed above? If so, why is it a struggle to follow Him?
3. Think about some activity or thing that you expected to be life-giving but turned out not to be. Reflect on that. What have you learned from it?
(Portions of this devotional are adapted from the August 11,2023 “Pray As You Go” daily devotional podcast.)
The words “guilt and shame” are often used together or interchangeably. This often obscures the difference in meanings for these two words.
Guilt is a feeling or understanding that occurs when we have done something wrong. Shame, on the other hand, is a feeling or understanding that there is something wrong with us. To put it simply, guilt happens when I have done something bad. Shame occurs when I believe I am bad.
While guilt can serve as a prompt to change our behavior or mindset, shame is a much more self-defeating attitude. Shame attacks our sense of self-worth and purpose.
In our humanness, we continuously struggle with our sinful thoughts and behavior. Satan prods that struggle to distract us and pull us away from a loving, forgiving God. Satan uses shame to blur our realization that we are God’s beloved child.
In the Advent devotional book, God With Us, writer Scott Cairns rues his own struggle with sin and offers an insightful ray of hope:
“My own sins today are pretty much the same sins I’ve known my entire life. That is to say, throughout my life, I have asked God’s forgiveness, repeatedly,
for the same, familiar, habitual sins. The suffering in question, therefore, has to do with the chagrin I’ve often felt in asking to be forgiven,
yet again, for the same damned things.
Still, a beloved priest once helped me a great deal with all of this during confession some years ago. Father George Paulsen said to me, “Most of us have been in the same boat. Most of us find that the sins of our days are the sins of our lives. And the worst thing we can do is let our shame or our pride keep us from asking for forgiveness every time we must.” And then he said, “The fact Jesus will always forgive you finally becomes the prod. One day you realize that you are tired of this confession, tired of this sin: on that day you’ll decide you’ll truly want it gone.”
Our journey toward transformation is found in our willingness to repent, receive God’s loving
grace, and die to our own efforts to live a holy life and instead completely rely upon God.
Take heart. Remember that even in your imperfection, you have been chosen by Jesus. He promises to join you in the process. He yearns for what is best for you.
Rest in the promise and the sweet assurance of these words from Isaiah:
I am the Lord your God,
Who teaches you for your own good,
Who leads you in the way you should go.
- Isaiah 48:17
Disarm your shame by believing you are beloved by God. Set aside your pride. Continue your journey of becoming more like Jesus. With every passing day ask Him to guide you.
1. How much do you struggle with shame? The antidote for shame is believing you are loved by God. What steps can you take to bolster that belief?
2. James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” Is there another Christ-follower in your life that you can be real with? How do shame and pride interfere with our willingness to confess?
Some time ago, our small group did a series on the spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude.
With mild exasperation, one of our members courageously offered that she really struggles with sitting still and being silent. She found her most contemplative times came when she did her yoga exercises or when she took walks.
For some, being still is a fruitful way to pray. Others find they can do their best praying when moving.
At a men’s retreat I attended many years ago, the leader had us walking around with open Bibles praying the psalms. What’s not to like about traipsing through the lovely woods talking with the Lord?
One form of prayer walking is to go to a particular location and let that context prompt your prayers. Neighborhoods. Schools. Workplaces. Hospitals. Playgrounds.
As a response to our devotional readings this week, I would like to encourage a variation on prayer walking for you to exercise in the weeks ahead. I encourage you to invite Jesus to lead and guide you as you walk into the variety of situations, locations and contexts that are common to you.
Some examples include, inviting Jesus to guide you as you…
- Enter the conference room where difficult and strategic decisions will be made,
- Enter your house where you will encounter your loved ones,
- Walk into that doctor’s office where you will learn what the test results have to say,
- Meet neighbors on your evening walk through the neighborhood,
- As you delight in your favorite recreational activity,
- As you head to the coffee shop to have that difficult conversation with a broken relationship.
- As you walk into your child’s bedroom to tuck them in,
- As you (fill in the blank) ___________________.
Ask Jesus to make you aware of your surroundings. Ask him to get you out of your own head and be mindful and attentive to others. Ask Him to help you take the initiative to be kind. Ask him to guide you to opportunities where you can be an instrument of His grace to others.