Oct
23
2012

It was not dogma that moved the world, but life. W. M. Ramsay 

A.W. Tozer, one of the most gifted Christian authors, entitled his most famous work Following Hard After God. It’s a great title. It is one of my favorite books and I can remember reading it some years ago. The book spoke very plainly about having a relationship with God, but in a gentle and beneficial way. It broke me down, and yet it lifted me up. The best writing is remarkable; it not only speaks eloquently, but in an obvious way cuts to the heart with its nouns, verbs and prepositional phrases. However, in thinking about that title today in relation to this chapter, strangely enough, one can also follow too hard after God. A person can miss the point entirely when they follow Him with nothing more than a bunch of zeal.

When one desires to make more of their relationship with God, they make this remarkable decision to no longer just being a believer, but they now want to be his servant. They want God not just to be their Savior, but they invite him to be the Leader in their lives as well. They want to truly attempt to live for him and for him only. And let’s be clear—this transformation from believer to a servant is a natural and necessary one. Following hard after God is a good thing and can be good for us, but only up to a point. Letting our lives flow through what God desires for us is right and good. Making those necessary changes in which we move from seeing Jesus not just as Savior, but as our Lord is good, really good, and yet it’s not enough. The journey does not end here.

Just as it can be dangerous to stay a believer too long, the same goes for being a servant of Jesus. This may seem like an odd statement. On the one hand, the servant is beginning to get it right. All those aspects in which they move from “just believing” to truly obeying is good stuff. Being passionate about ones faith, learning to throw off the hindrances of sin, finding friendships that build one up rather than tear one down, being solid in one’s understandings and beliefs—all of these are wise decisions, which lead to greater depth to one’s relationship with God. But again, as the infamous brother-sister duo of the 1970’s The Carpenter’s remind us, We’ve only just begun. Let’s say it one more time—becoming a Christian takes a lifetime. In thinking about all of this, this isn’t what we want though—we don’t want it to take that long. We want it now. We think it’s better if it’s easier, faster. We want the goodies right from the start. But deep down, we also know that anything good never comes this way. The best things need to be learned, whether that is learning how to play the guitar, training to run a marathon or simply becoming an extraordinary father, brother, mother, sister or friend.

But let’s get back to all this “servant stuff,” because we really can learn a lot by looking at the life of Peter. He is the servant of all servants. Go look at the life of Peter in the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In the gospels, he’s passionate, conceited, arrogant, single-minded, legalistic, cruel, selfish, focused, foolish, long-winded, big-on-himself, and also dedicated to Jesus big time. Can you see the hypocrisy and duplicity? Can you see the problem? On the one hand, he had it right (put Jesus Number One in your life) and on the other he had it all wrong (hot-headed and hypocritical). Peter was two people—the passionate follower and the loose cannon. The central problem was that his passions were misguided. Here’s the key, they were based on rules and not relationship. It just wasn’t in his heart—literally. All of this stuff came from what he knew—to know God meant to obey the rules, follow the instructions to the letter, to know the manual inside and out. This was the mode of operation found exclusively in the Old Testament and the kind of stuff that the Israelites got hung up on. Peter was just continuing the cycle.

It all began really well with Jesus when he met him fishing; but then Peter made it worse. He became a terror—mean-spirited, angry and entirely missed the point. He was becoming all that he wasn’t supposed to be. Let’s just give a few descriptors to who Peter was becoming: stern and hollow; had to follow all the rules at all costs; a mile wide, but an inch deep; trying to be perfectly obedient; working only through his own strength; he thought he had all the answers. That’s just naming a few. Jesus, however, was going to teach him something new. Jesus was going to move Peter to a place where he was supposed to be—into friendship with his Creator. When he gets to that place, compare that same guy in the rest of the New Testament, beyond the gospels. He is a totally different person in those other books, in particular through his own two letters (I and II Peter) we see this clearly. He’s slow with his words; he’s generous; he’s kind and patient; he puts others before himself; he’s got love by the horns. Peter finally became Jesus’ friend and it took a miracle unlike any other that Jesus had performed, and it happened with just a short conversation. We’ll get to that story later on.

Brennan Manning in his book A Glimpse of Jesus relates this story. He remarks that a well-intentioned friend offered a eulogy to someone recently deceased: “John was a wonderful Christian. He never missed church, was married only once, and never told a dirty joke.” But is that what a Christian’s main goal in life is to be—gets to church on time and never says a cuss word? This is what can so easily happen when one ventures on with Jesus. Come on, let’s admit it; it’s so much easier to follow a bunch of rules rather than be in a relationship with the One who is more amazing than we can imagine. Boxing ourselves in with a bunch of laws, conventions and systems seems like the most sensible way. It’s easier that way. But it’s not the best way.

And just as you can stay a believer too long, it can be said the same for the servant. There is a danger in being “just” a servant. Think of the Pharisees. In some ways, Peter was acting just like them. First, they followed a bunch of rules and regulations for themselves, and then, in the end, put all that junk on others. This was exactly where Peter was going in his own life, and Jesus had to stop him and stop him quick. You might remember that Jesus had made Peter the go-to-guy, referring to him as the Rock (Matthew 16:18) and if he was going to lead his church in this manner—Peter could have really messed everything up. If Peter had had his way, being a Christian would have become some warped version of what Jesus intended—it would have boiled down to just following a bunch of rules. Do this; don’t’ do that. In this, Jesus had to drive home his point in a very striking and painful way to Peter. You might even remember how Jesus made that point with Peter; he used a rooster and a teenage girl to teach Peter a lesson or two. After that incident, that following week for Peter was a very long one. Life was put on hold and Peter had no idea where he stood. It was a terribly humbling experience. But in the end, he learned something that he just couldn’t understand in the previous three years of knowing Jesus. During those years, Peter kept getting it wrong. Now all of that was about to change. Sooner or later, he would realize that being a friend to Jesus was even better than being his servant.


In: Friend to Jesus