By: Jenni Walker
“I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.” (Hymn lyrics)
“Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay…” (Ruth 1:16a)
“If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23)
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I typically spend a little time tidying up the main living areas of my home most mornings before I begin to get ready. As I pad around the cheery living room and cozy kitchen, I often listen to a podcast or music. Earlier this week, I was listening to a description of the story of Ruth as I made my rounds through the house, clearing the coffee table, unloading the dishwasher, and imagining the events being described from the book of Ruth.
I mentioned to my husband later that evening how much Ruth’s words to her mother-in-law, Naomi, seem to stop me in my tracks every time I read or hear them: “Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.” (Ruth 1:16)
Ruth had laid down her entire life to follow after her mother-in-law. This may sound a bit strange to us in our present culture, but it is a beautiful depiction of laying down one’s life for another. And it also gives us an inspiring example of what it means to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. Ruth gave up her own plans, her own purposes, and followed Naomi with absolutely no reservations, and we as Christians are called to do the same for our Lord. Jesus admonishes His disciples in Luke 9:23, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”
To deny the self is counter-cultural. It requires delayed gratification. It involves personal sacrifice. And our Lord asks us to do this not just once in awhile but daily as we follow Him.
This week, I came across some beautiful examples of individuals who have made the conscious decision to “deny themselves” and, rather, have consciously chosen to surrender all parts of their lives to Jesus no matter where He leads them. Each of the following heart prayers are based on the actual experiences expressed by fellow brothers and sisters in Christ that I have spoken with or read about recently:
- “Lord, I do not have a strong desire to move to the mission field full-time. But if that is what YOU call me to one day, I want you to know that I will do it.”
- “Heavenly Father, if being an actor is not Your plan for my life, I will give up this dream. May I follow You in all that I do.”
- “Holy Spirit, I feel as though more and more is being demanded of me at work. Please help me to do everything without complaining or arguing and to work as unto the Lord for His glory.”
- “Father, my life is not going the way I had planned right now, and I am feeling discouraged. But I will put my hope in You no matter what and am trusting You to make my paths straight.”
- “God, I will start a church in that para-militarized region even if it puts my life in jeopardy. Where You call me, I will go.” (Visit this link for more about this story! http://www.persecution.com/public/newsroom.aspx?story_ID=%3d383536)
- “Dear Lord, I have a comfortable life but feel you leading me to minister regularly with a local homeless outreach. I will choose to serve others according to the example that You set for us and to show them the love of Jesus.”
- “Lord, my husband and I believe you are calling me to give up my career and stay home with our young children right now. Even though it can be tiring, sometimes boring, and stressful, I will do it as unto You.”
Each one of these prayers expresses a beautiful heart of complete surrender to the Lord, a heart that cries out, “Lord, where You go, I will go.” Remember the words of Jesus from Luke 9:23-24, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” Colossians 3:3-4 also explains that our life is now “hidden with Christ in God,” and that Christ “is our life.” And in 1 Corinthians 6:19, Paul reminds us that we are not our own and were “bought at a price.”
How daunting this can sound to follow Jesus! He wants our entire selves, every part of us, and to be the focus of everything that we do. How is this even possible? Charles Sheldon both challenges and encourages Christians with this excerpt from his book, In His Steps: “The greatest question in all of human life is summed up when we ask, ‘What would Jesus do?’ if, as we ask it, we also try to answer it from a growth in knowledge of Jesus himself. We must know Jesus before we can imitate Him.”
ALL FOR HIM
Following Jesus in the big things begins by following Him in the little things. And that does not just come from a self-created, behavioral to-do list but, rather, “from a growth in knowledge of Jesus himself” (Sheldon). When Ruth spoke her famous words to her mother-in-law, Naomi, she had already lived with her for ten years in Moab. After both of her sons passed away, Naomi decided “to return to the land of Judah.” (Ruth 1:4, 7) She urged Ruth and Orpah, her other daughter-in-law, to return to their own mothers’ houses. Ruth 1:14 describes their responses to Naomi’s request, saying, “Then they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.”
Ruth had come to know and to love Naomi; they had spent the last ten years together as part of the same family. It was not just out of a sense of duty but also from a heart of love that Ruth “clung to her” and would not return to her own family in Moab. In the same way, our love for God, becoming more like Him, and our desire to follow Him wherever He leads, comes from getting to know Him! “We must know Jesus before we can imitate Him” (Sheldon).
Jesus says to His disciples in John 14:21 and 23, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him…If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word…” The most practical and powerful thing we can do to grow in knowledge and love of Jesus is to spend time with Him through His word and in prayer (Proverbs 2:1-5). When we do this with diligence and intention, we will come to delight in Him and His ways in both the big and the little things.
As the Psalmist prayed, “Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes, and I shall keep it to the end. Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law; indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart. Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it.” (Psalm 119:33-35) Take some time to read Ruth 1 this week and to pray the first part of verse 16. Spend time each day in God’s Word and in prayer. Ask our Heavenly Father to help you to grow in your knowledge and love of Him and His ways. In doing so, you will begin to find in yourself the desire, the resolve, and the delight to truly, self-denyingly, and wholeheartedly, follow Him!
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