Years ago, when I was in Grade 7, there was a dance for the grade 7 to 9 students at our school. Very early on in the dance, a Grade 9 girl come up to me and asked me if I wanted to dance. I was flabbergasted that such a thing would happen. To a Grade 7 boy a Grade 9 girl seems so much older and more mature, and I am pretty sure that she was taller than I was too. I stammered out some kind of an affirmative reply. She took my right hand and put it behind her back. Then she took my left hand and placed it in her right. Now, would you like to guess what happened next? Absolutely nothing, because I had no idea how to dance. But she was very kind, and she began to teach me how to dance.
And I very quickly learned that if I was going to learn how to dance, the first thing that I would need to learn is how to follow her lead, because she knew what she was doing, but I did not. And if I didn’t follow her lead, there was no way that I was ever going to learn how to dance.
Alas, that dance lesson only lasted for a song or two. And my dancing ability has been continually hampered by my lack of additional training. But I never forgot the principle I learned that day: If you are going to learn how to dance, the first thing that you need to do is learn how to follow.
This principle is not only true in dancing, it is also true in life. In my blog posts over the past few weeks and continuing for a couple more, I have been reflecting about how life is like a dance. I think that everyone is dancing with something or someone, whether it is a higher power or a philosophy of life, that they hope will get them through all the ups and downs of life. And God invites us to dance with Him, or dance closer to Him, so that He can make our life into something beautiful that lasts forever and inspires and encourages others. God brings us into this dance with Him by grace, it’s a free gift, through faith, that is, we trust God and open the gift He gives us. And God has brought us into this dance so that we can serve others with His love, and in doing so, we are blessed and transformed.
In this post, I am focusing on the concept of following. In dancing, if you are going to learn how to dance, the first thing that you need to do is learn how to follow. And if we are going to learn how to live life with God, the first thing that we need to do is learn how to follow God. Because following God is what results in the beautiful life that we all hope to live.
Perhaps you are wondering, what does “following” mean? In the ancient biographies of Jesus’ life, what are often called the Gospels, there are several instances where Jesus is recorded as saying, “Follow me.” Back then, among the Jewish people in the Holy Land, there was no such thing as universities. People who wanted a higher education would form a student-teacher relationship with a master teacher. The teacher was called a rabbi and the students were called disciples.
When a disciple followed a rabbi, they travelled wherever the rabbi travelled, they stayed wherever the rabbi stayed, so they followed in a geographic sense. But the most significant aspect of the following that they did was that the disciples would pattern their life after that of their rabbi. They not only learned from the rabbi as he taught them. They also did what the rabbi did so that their life would start to look like their rabbi’s life.
Have you ever been following someone on a sandy beach and you try to put your foot in their footsteps as you walk so that you leave only one set of footprints? That was what following a rabbi was like for a disciple. It was like they were trying to put their feet in the same footsteps as the rabbi as they walked behind them. We have a very similar model today in the trades as apprentice tradespeople learn from those who are masters in their trade. They work alongside those who are skilled at doing what they desire to do, and they pattern their lives after them so that they too can become skilled at the same trade. So following someone means learning from them and patterning your life after theirs so that you can do what they do.
As we look in the Bible, we see that there are two different categories of following. The first category is the way that Jesus followed His Father. In John 5:19, we read, So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” (John 5:19 NLT) Jesus is both the divine Son of God and the ideal human being and yet He has put Himself under the authority of His Father and He is patterning His life completely after that of His Father. Jesus is telling us that this how to live the good life. By harnessing our life to and patterning our life after the source of all life and ultimate goodness, our life becomes much more than it could ever otherwise be. The idea that the good life is living a life that is unfettered by commitments or constraints is quite simply a lie.
The second category of following is our following of Jesus. Just like He did several centuries ago with His first disciples around the Sea of Galilee, Jesus also calls us to follow Him. But what does that look like?
The first thing that becomes evident is that there is a big difference between the way that ordinary human beings follow Jesus and the way that Jesus followed His Father. Jesus followed His Father perfectly, even when that following required Jesus to go to the cross to suffer and die. We ordinary humans, on the other hand, are never able to follow fully or perfectly. We see that in the Gospels where the disciples never seemed to clearly understand Jesus or His mission. We see that in the life of Paul who writes in Romans 7:18-19, I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. (Rom. 7:18b-19). We see the same in our own lives when the brokenness bubbles up to the surface and we fail to do or to be what we know is best.
So our following of Jesus can never be like His following of His Father. His following was perfect. Our following is always imperfect. Jesus’ following was a strength. Our following is a weakness. Jesus’ following was consistent and intentional. Our following is random and sporadic. There has to be something else that is more important in our following than its quality, or we are sunk like a seventh grade boy who never really learned how to dance. And that more important something is reliance.
On the night before He was crucified, as He was gathered with His disciples for the last time, Jesus the rabbi had one more thing to teach them, and us. He said, “…And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. (John 14:16-17) Behind the English word “Advocate” in this passage is the Greek word “paraclete.” It means someone who comes alongside someone else. In a courtroom setting, an advocate is someone who comes alongside you, takes your situation upon themselves and then represents you before others. This is a perfect picture of what the Holy Spirit does for us as we follow Jesus.
First of all, the Holy Spirit comes alongside us and points us to Jesus who gave Himself as the one perfect sacrifice that more than makes up for all the times when we fall short in our following. Not only that, Jesus has brought us into the family of God where we are given the same status that He has for He has made us beloved, forgiven, unconditionally accepted children of God. We do not need to follow Jesus to get into the family of God. We love and follow Jesus because He first loved us.
Second, the Holy Spirit takes our situation upon Himself. He lives within you and has ever since you were baptized. The Holy Spirit dwells within you guide, direct and empower your life as you wage war against your old nature which seeks to lead you into things like “…sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. (Gal. 5:19b-21a)
The Holy Spirit also works within you to produce within your life qualities and characteristics of such a degree that could never otherwise develop in your life without supernatural help from God. Things like “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Gal. 5:22b-23).
Third, the Holy Spirit represents you before others. How does He do that? In John 14:16, which I read to you earlier, Jesus said, “…And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate,….” If the Holy Spirit is another, or second, Advocate, who is the first Advocate? In 1 John 2:1-2, we read, My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world. (1 John 2:1-2) Our first Advocate is Jesus. He is the one that makes the case to our Father and to all who will listen that He has more than paid the full cost of all our forgiveness and, therefore, the only just decision that can be made is for us to be allowed to go free. That is what it means to be forgiven.
So what does the Holy Spirit do as our second Advocate? He represents you before others, not in a divine court before the Father, but in the court of your own heart. The one that the Holy Spirit represents you before… is you. When you or I are even partially acquainted with the depth of our own darkness and the disarray of our own brokenness, the idea that we can actually be a beloved, forgiven, unconditionally accepted child of God seems like a far-fetched fairy tale. You and I need the Holy Spirit to keep telling us the truth of our new identity in Jesus. Only then can we live as if it is really true.
So our following of God needs divine help from top to bottom. We needed the Father to send Jesus to be our Savior. We needed Jesus to perfectly follow His Father and rescue us from the sin, death and destruction we were headed towards. We need the Holy Spirit to keep turning us away from evil, keep growing good fruit in our lives and keep telling us the Good News of our salvation.
So following for us is not about perfectly following a divine pattern. Following for us is about fully relying on a divine person. And that divine person is the Holy Spirit. As we trust in His work within us and His words to us, He will transform our lives from the inside out and make our dance with God both beautiful and glorious.
So the challenge that I have for you is: How can you be more intentional about trusting the Holy Spirit, His work within you and His words to you? To get the answer to this question, you can pray to the Holy Spirit and He will guide you. If His answer to you involves you repurposing how you use some of your time, I want to encourage you to make a commitment in that area of your life.
Please remember that there is nothing that you can do to be more accepted by God. There is nothing that you can do to be more forgiven by God. Jesus has already more than taken care of that for us. We desire to learn how to follow God more closely so that our lives more fully glorify Him and encourage others to also follow the One who gives life, freedom, beauty & joy. Amen.