In his wonderful book, The Island of Lost Maps, author Miles Harvey shares a sentiment with which I think many of us can probably resonate.
In my 30s I spent a great deal of time at the Kopi [a travelers' café in Chicago] whose walls were adorned with masks from Bali and shelves filled with guides to far-flung destinations. I was then the literary critic for Outside Magazine, a great job but one that was beginning to wear on my patience. You see, the books I read were about people who climbed Himalayan peaks, rode a bicycle all the way across Africa, sailed wooden boats across the Atlantic, or tracked into restricted areas of China. These tales of adventure filled my days and my imagination, and yet my own life was anything but adventurous. The interior of the Kopi coffee shop was ringed by clocks, each one showing the time in some distant locale, and as I watched the weeks ticking away in places like Timbuctu and Juno and Goa and Denpasar, I began to long for an adventure of my own.
Harvey said that he loved looking at maps. He said he was acting like a character in a Joseph Conrad novel who said, "When I grow up I will go there." So Harvey would look for hours at exciting places in South America, Africa, or Australia and lose himself in the glories of possible adventures around the world. He would find an exciting spot on the map, put his finger on the spot and then say to himself, When I grow up I will go there. Say that with me: When I grow up, I will go there.
Can you identify with any of those sentiments? Are you ever impatient with your life? Do you ever grow weary of the routine, of the way things are? Are you absolutely content with where your life is heading on its present vector? Is there any part of you that might like to get up from your seat and go off on an adventure that might leave your life qualitatively better than it is today? Is there any part of you that wants to do that? There have been those for whom the answer to such questions was a resounding, "Yes, yes, I want to go there."
Come, Follow Me
Listen to this story from the Bible about some people who did go there. "As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen." That was their life, their box, their world; the coffee shop in which they lived. "'Come, follow me,' Jesus said, 'and I will make you fishers of men.'" I will take who you are today and I will teach you how to play in a new key, in a better way, with more impact, with more influence. I will make you fishers of men. "At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, Jesus saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him."
I was 18 or 19 years old when I got the call that my girlfriend was gone. She had gone off to college up in New Hampshire and one day some guy came along in a band from another town, making tie-dye t-shirts, and he said, "Come with me," and she got into the band and followed him. I was dumbfounded, "Who does these things?" In one sense, that's what the disciples did: they just got up and followed this strange new rabbi Jesus. Their response is immediate. It's striking how immediate their response is. Jesus says, "Follow me," and all these hard-nosed working people suddenly drop their tools or get out of their vehicles or leave behind their associates—in this case a father for one of them—and they go following after Jesus. When we read stories like this we cannot help but feel that there is something about this kind of response that runs against human nature.
Until you read the words that come next, it's almost inexplicable the behavior of these men towards Jesus. For you see, it's this very next part that is the context for the first part.
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and Jesus healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.
In other words, lots of people from all walks of life and places lay down their tools, get out of their vehicles, release some of their associations, and follow him. I finally got it when I read those words—how we explain the immediacy of the response. It's not really immediate at all. These disciples were willing to get up and to go with Jesus. These people from all these places were willing to get up and go after Jesus because they had seen with their own two eyes what Jesus could do with a life put into his hands. They had seen his transforming power. Jesus has said, "I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly." Jesus says, "I have come that you might have Life" with a capital L, life to the full. "That's why I've come—to take you to that life." Those fishermen had seen what Jesus could actually do with a life entrusted to his care, with a life put in his hands. They'd seen what he did with people in pain. They had seen how he could transform those who were distracted, fragmented by demons, voices, and forces pulling at them. They had seen what Jesus could do with those who were seized up with stress and who could no longer really function. They had seen what Jesus did with those who were paralyzed in place, who were stuck and were going nowhere under their own power and how Jesus transformed life for them. Jesus could make people healthy and whole. He could take people with whatever condition they had, wherever they were, and imbue them with life that transformed them, that changed them, that made them healthier and more whole. That is why they followed him—they wanted it for themselves. They wanted to go into that kind of kingdom.
How about you? Are you interested in a more abundant, healthier, fuller life than you may have settled into? What if Jesus could take you to a land where your past wounds and mistakes no longer haunt or hamper you and you live totally free of that past? What if he could take you to the land of beginning again? What if he could guide you to a region where relationships are safer and sweeter than you have dared to dream they could ever be for you? What if you could go from the boredom of watching time tick by in your life, to getting up every single morning with purpose, feeling the exhilaration of knowing that today God is going to use my life to make a difference in the lives of other people? What if there was a way that you could get so close to the infinite God that you didn't just know about him, you knew him as your closest companion?
Called to an Adventure
Jesus can take you to that place on the map. Imagine, Jesus leading you on a wild, unpredictable, magnificent, transforming journey with him. Imagine gaining such closeness to him along the journey that he progressively infuses you with his character so that when people meet you they think, I'm meeting Jesus. What if he could do this in you? Imagine him filling you up from the very center of your being, from beyond yourself with a love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control that resulted in the fact that no addiction or seduction could ever own you again. Imagine you had such power from him in your center that no enemy could ever faze you again, that no storm or strife could ever destroy you again, if he called you to go off with him onto that great adventure.
What would you say? Would you say yes? I think we might say yes, if it was possible to have this full and abundant life by following him. The truth is Christ has called you. He is calling you to that kind of life and to that kind of an adventure. For those of you who have been following him or at least attending church for years, he's been calling you every day of that time to this kind of transforming life. But there is something about this invitation that feels just out of reach to most of us. You know how I know that? It's because when I asked you the question a moment ago—Would you like to go and do this?—your response was pathetic. Nobody jumped up out of their chair and said, "Yeah." If I'd said, "Would you like to go to the Notre Dame Football game?" at least 15 people would have jumped up. There is something in us that feels that the life Jesus talks about, this abundant life, is just out of reach for us and we lack the boldness to say an outright yes when he calls us. Our reply is so often like Joseph Conrad's reply as a child in his book Heart of Darkness when he says, "When I grow up I will go there." When I grow up I'll go there. When I have more faith, I'll go to these places Jesus is talking about. When I'm a little more convinced I might go there. When I don't have all of these obligations, distractions, and complications I might go then.
Getting off the Sidelines
In his book, Divine Appointments, Erwin McManus suggests that many of us church folks unintentionally become sideliners. Not just church folks, I guess everybody can become a sideliner to the great adventure of life. McManus defines a sideliner as, "An observer rather than a liver of life, somebody who is more a spectator than a player." These are people who live more vicariously than valiantly. They find their romance in Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey but God forbid they should ever do something really passionate and wild to demonstrate their own love for somebody else. They fight their battles through fantasy proxies like James Bond or Katniss Everdeen. Sideliners admire and applaud the great servants, courageous heroes, and spiritual superstars, but they do not get up out of their chair. They do not rise to their feet and shout. They do not leave the room in which they are sitting. They don't get up and actually go with God to those places. They think to themselves, "When I grow up I might go there." They still have not realized that it is only by going with God to those blank spaces on the map they've never been to before that they will actually grow up.
Now, I don't know if I'm alone in thinking this but when I look at the headlines and they are pretty much the way they were last year and last month. When I consider the tensions in households and in workplaces, when I look at the conditions, it strikes me we need some grownups. We need more grownups out there. I don't mean people that have forgotten how to play but I mean people that are mature in the way the Bible describes it. People filled with this love, joy, patience, clarity of vision, and courage of spirit. We need more of these kinds of people filling up our homes, workplaces, politics, schools, and communities. We need people who have fully grown up.
As Ray Ortlund has accurately observed,
You and I are not integrated, unified, whole persons. Our hearts are multi-divided. It's like we have a board room in every heart. Imagine: a big table, leather chairs, coffee, bottled water, and a whiteboard. A committee sits around the table in your heart. There is the social self, the private self, the work self, the sexual self, the recreational self, the religious self, and others. The committee is arguing and debating and voting, constantly agitated and upset. Rarely can they come to a unanimous, wholehearted decision. We tell ourselves we're this way because we're so busy with so many responsibilities. But the truth is that we're just divided, unfocused, hesitant, and unfree.
We are what the Bible calls sinners. This our condition and we have not grown up yet. Ortlund says that there are two ways that this sort of person can accept Jesus in the way that leads to maturity. One way to "accept Jesus" is to invite him onto the committee. I wonder how many of us have done that even this year as a resolution. We've said, "This year I will listen more to God, I will give God a vote." We let Christ become one more complication in an already crowded, confusing, and clamorous life. Yet there is another way to accept Jesus. It is to say to him, "My life isn't working. Please come in and fire my committee. Let every one of them go. I hand myself over to you, Jesus. I put myself in your hands."
I like a third option even better because it goes even further. Permit me to paraphrase Russell Moore who puts the issue very bluntly. For too long we have said to people, "Invite Jesus into your life." How many of you have ever heard that expression? It's an evangelical orthodoxy. But here's the news flash: Jesus doesn't want to be in your life because your life is a wreck. My life is a wreck. He wants to call us out of our life into his life. He wants to take us boldly where we've never gone before, into the life of the kingdom of God. He wants to take us on the great adventure. That is exactly what he means when he says, "Come and follow me," let him show you the life for which you were truly made.
So here is a recommendation, and that's all I can do is recommend. Consider putting at the top of your resolution list this commitment: "I will take some deliberate steps—meaning motion—to go on the great adventure with Christ this year. I will get out of my chair, I will get off of the sidelines, and I will go with Jesus to some blank space out there on a map." Resolve right now that you will actually take some of those deliberate steps when they are offered.
I remember vividly, when I was younger, jumping out of an airplane. I was probably 20 years old. I was with my brother, and we were flying over the countryside of northern New York. I had a parachute on my back and I was the first guy, the one closest to the door. The wind was howling by and the guy had me put my legs over the side of the plane. The man said, "Go." If I had not made a decision when I was on the ground before my heart started going a million miles an hour that as soon as he said "Go" I would go, I might never have gone. And what an adventure I would have missed! Make a decision in the calmness of this place today, here on the ground, that when Jesus says "Go, take this step," you will go out the door with him.
Traveler Not A Tourist
Let me emphasize in closing that your attitude on this journey matters a lot. Resolve that you're going to try and be a genuine traveler with Christ and not simply a tourist. Seth points out the difference between being a tourist and a real traveler. "The tourist spends time and money to visit a new place. She immerses herself in a new culture and then seeks to insulate herself from its effects. She is choosy about what she is going to eat, she is careful about where she stays, what the vehicle is that she is going to be occupying as she goes from place to place. She prefers safety over passion." The insulation that the tourist brings to the trip ensures that a good time will be had by all but that no change is going to occur. No lasting impact. Godin writes, "Sure, you can come back with photos of the lions from your safari, shakers of sea salt from the shores of Ireland, and maybe even a new outfit from France, but if you go as a tourist you are coming back as you went." Boy, that's true, isn't it? The alternative to tourism is traveling, genuine traveling. Travelers open themselves to the world they bought a ticket to. They know that this experience is going to change them. That scares them a little bit but they open themselves to it. Godin says that to really experience change and adventure, you've got to be willing to do new things that you do not think you will like.
My grandmother taught me this truth. When I was 15, she took me on a tour of the capitals of Europe. She basically told me, "You're going to have to prefer to try things that are unknown and scary and uncomfortable if you're going to get everything out of this experience." As Godin writes, "You must set out to experience things that feel foreign and unsettling at first to you, and you must keep giving yourself to these things, just to see what happens." Just to see what happens. Don't you want to know what happens when you put your life fully into the hands of Jesus?
One of my favorite scenes in the Disney Pixar movie The Incredibles is the one in which Bob Parr, who is the middle-aged suburban dad—I could identify with him—is pulling into his driveway after an ordinary day of work. His life has grown awfully routine. As he pulls into the driveway he looks over and there next to him is a neighborhood boy watching him and Bob says to him, with obvious irritation, "What are you waiting for?" And the kid looks back at him and says, "Something amazing." And Bob softens and says wistfully, "Me too, kid, me too."
Friends the amazing has come to meet you in Jesus Christ to draw you out of where you are living now into his life. When he says to you, "Come follow me," it is the most amazing invitation you will ever get. Say yes to it. Take some steps in his direction and you will have a life that is much more incredible.
Dan Meyer is pastor of Christ Church.us, a nondenominational, multisite church with locations in Oak Brook and Lombard, Illinois.