Following Jesus is a dominant theme in the Gospels, so you hear a lot about it in church, and we even have a song titled; “I have decided to follow Jesus.” I’ve read books, searched the internet and heard sermons about following Jesus, but they rarely have any practical help about this most important task of a believer. Most people remain unclear about what it means for their daily life. I frequently get comments like; “Following Jesus is important to me, but I’m not sure I know how.” I usually say something like, following implies there is a leader and believers state that the leader they’ve chosen is Jesus. Therefore, if you want to follow Jesus, you start by asking, “Where is he?” As a believer, your answer is, He lives inside me. (“The one who has been with you shall be in you.” John 14:17) So following is simply to BE RESPONSIVE TO JESUS WHO IS IN YOU. That’s all it is, does it seem too simple? (2 Corth. 11:3) It has to be possible for the ordinary person, a child, or a new believer. So now the question is, how do you follow an invisible internal Jesus? I’m not an expert on the subject, but I’ll share a few things I’ve learned about following Jesus. However, be assured that you don’t need to be a theologian, just responsive.
I live my life on this basis, and my experience is that God has led me through my normal faculties, that is by my thoughts and feelings. I’ve never heard Him speak audibly, seen writing on the wall, or received a text or an email. I’ve noticed that people use various terms to express how they hear God. Some say “I felt led to do so I so,” others say, “I felt a nudge of the Spirit,” and some even say, “God spoke to me, or God told me.” For me, I use the term, the “Check or Prompt” of the Holy Spirit, and it is the primary way I follow Jesus. I live by an internal, “Check and Prompt” of the Holy Spirit, and people seem to know instinctively what I mean. I act on what I believe is from God, and it’s always by faith. That’s okay because “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.” (Hebrews 11:6) Jesus hasn’t given me a roadmap for the journey He’s taking me on. He’s more like a GPS that gives directions turn by turn. And when I miss a turn, He recalculates and continues to give directions from that point forward. For me, following Jesus is a matter of His applying impressions on my mind or feelings. I’ve asked some of the greatest saints I know, including Billy Graham’s favorite Bible teacher, how they hear God? They all confirm that this is also the way they hear God. If it sounds too simple, remember it must be possible for a new believer or even a child. Of course, He speaks through the Scriptures and other people but what we are talking about here is the inner awareness of God’s personal guidance. Now for a few practical thoughts that guide me as I try to respond to the “Check and Prompt” of the Holy Spirit.
Illustrations and metaphors that speak of everyday situations often help me have a mental image of a spiritual truth. For me following Jesus and walking in the Spirit is similar to walking physically. The definition of walking is a series of interrupted falls. Every step is an act of faith in which I trust my legs to support me. Normally they do, but there have been times that I stumbled and skinned my knee and a couple of times when it was more serious. No matter which it is, my goal is to get up and continue walking as soon as possible. Babies learning to walk are a good model for anyone trying to walk in the Spirit. They fall more often than adults, but they never seem to give up. Even though I have been following Jesus for 55 years, I think I’m still in the toddler phase. So just like a toddler, with every fall I get up and try again.
If I have an important decision to make, I pray for guidance and many times, I feel certain that the Lord has given me an answer. However, sometimes I don’t have a clear sense of direction. At those times and they happen more than I would have thought, I say; “Lord I don’t hear you saying anything to me about my concern. You know I want to stay in your will, so would you please turn up the volume. If you don’t, I will assume that you want me to have freedom of choice regarding this subject and that I should act according to wisdom and good counsel.” Then if there are no serious consequences, I make a decision and act on it. If on the other hand, the decision is consequential, I will make the decision internally, but not act on it. I will wait a period of time to see if the Lord confirms it, or causes me to change my decision.
If you ask me, “Are you following Jesus right now,” I’ll do a heart check. If I’m resisting God about anything, then I must say no, I’ve stopped following. However, if I don’t sense that He’s convicting me about anything, then my answer is yes. Actually, it would be a confident yes because it’s His responsibility to lead me. God is the initiator, and I am the responder, so if my decision is wrong, or if I’m fooling myself, it’s the job of the Holy Spirit to let me know. “God tests our hearts.” (1st Thessalonians 2:4) And; “If our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God.” (1st John 3:21)
Some say we can’t live like this, and quote the Old Testament verse that says; “The heart is desperately wicked how can we trust it.” (Jer. 17:9) Well, my heart isn’t desperately wicked, and yours isn’t either if you are, “In Christ.” That verse is for unbelievers. The verse for the believer is; “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them…” (Ezekiel 11:19) That verse is an Old Testament metaphor for the new birth that God gives us by His Spirit.
Many people say they don’t hear the Holy Spirit, but I’m convinced that they hear more than they care to admit. Soldiers report that God was talking to them when the noise of battle was breaking eardrums. The guidance is there, but we often resist it or block it out as just a thought. Some people try to make their mind blank in order to hear the Lord, but this brings frustration because turning off your mind while awake is impossible. Guidance is not a substitute for thinking, so we should think, and ask God to direct our thoughts. We need to check our thoughts of course, and if they ever violate Scripture, then we know that the thought is not from God.
Try for one day to listen for the “Prompt and Check” of the Spirit, then act on it. The Bible calls this obedience. The goal is to develop a lifelong habit of living like this but start by trying it for a day then a week, etc. Of course, there’s a possibility of license or self-delusion, but this is what the Bible teaches. We can trust God to correct our mistakes.
“Whoever serves me must follow me…” (John 12:26)
“Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfil the lusts of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16)