“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where -” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“- so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
If you don’t know where you are going, it doesn’t much matter which way you go. But if you want to follow Jesus, if you want to grow in your relationship with God, if you want to become the person you were created to be, then the direction you travel (and the fact that you are travelling) matters.
Here’s the thing: we don’t drift toward discipleship. Jesus calls us to follow him, and we have to get up and get going. Sometimes we think following Jesus will happen naturally if we just let it. As though dying to self, taking up our cross and following Jesus into a life of sacrificial service will simply fall into place if we let everything bump along unguided.
It’ll happen organically, we tell ourselves.
None of this should feel forced, we think.
Surely following Jesus would just flow, we say.
Following Jesus doesn’t just happen. Oh, there are times when it might feel like it’s just happening, maybe in the early stages of the journey when we find ourselves swept up in Jesus’ wake, intrigued by his words, attracted to his family, but there comes a point when what Jesus is actually saying hits home, where he is actually going becomes clear, and it can stop us cold. It’s at that point that we have to choose to follow him further. And that can be hard.
That’s why we hear stories of people suddenly pulling back from Jesus, shocked and sad at his challenges, even repulsed by the implications of his teaching. You can see it in Scripture; you can see it now. At that moment, there is nothing natural or organic about following Jesus–it costs, it’s a choice, and it can seem very counter to our natural inclination, leading to the possibility of incredible joy, yes, but also to undeniable sacrifice. Will we follow? Or will we stop?
And for those who have been following Jesus for a while, I think it can get even trickier. Because it’s possible to lull ourselves into thinking we are still following Jesus when we are simply drifting along with the current. We can dupe ourselves into thinking that we are still in lock step with Jesus when we’ve gradually become immune to his daily call to follow. We can mistake proximity with the road Jesus is travelling on with the act of getting on that road and heading after him. Why? Because having to “daily” (and Jesus did say daily) choose to follow, to lay down our own agenda, to adopt his plan, to give up our own way is hard, intentional, and (sometimes) unnatural work that keeps us heading down the road in the direction Jesus is going. The direction we want to go.
We don’t drift toward discipleship, accidentally following Jesus. We choose to put one foot in front of the other, keeping his back in our line of sight. And we choose it every day.