The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 19th day of May, 2013 during Graduates’ Recognition Service:
Introduction and Congrats
Congratulations once again to all of you. For your achievements and success, for your hardships and difficulties which have now resulted in victory and honor as you have walked across the stage of Ballard Memorial High School; congrats. I will never again ask you for as much focus as I am asking for tonight. Allow me to please have your full attention in these next few moments. Thank you.
“And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23 ESV) “As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Luke 9:57, 58 ESV)
Following Jesus Wherever
At the end of Luke 9, after Jesus offers an invitation to follow Him, we are introduced to three people who initially seem eager to be followers. However, as they process how following Jesus will impact their specific situations, they begin making excuses. As they try to negotiate the terms of their commitment to Jesus, it becomes clear that they were really just admirers of Jesus. At first, it seems that the first guy to respond to Jesus’ invitation is serious. He states, “I will follow You wherever You go.” Wherever. That sure sounds committed. No restrictions or boundaries. No borders. Wherever. Then Jesus utters nearly the most unusual statement and says, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” I have certainly wrestled with the meaning of His words here. When Jesus says to love your neighbor or to pray or to ask in His name, those things are easily understandable. But what in the world did He just tell this guy? Here’s what’s happening: Jesus points exactly to the place that would threaten this guy’s comfort and security. Jesus basically says, “I’m homeless, will you follow Me there?”
It’s much easier to speak about following Jesus when you are making a general statement without making any specific commitments. You may be a Christian and say, “I will follow Jesus wherever,” but what if Jesus points to Thailand? What if He points to the slums of New York City and calls you to plant a church there? What if He points to the neighbor across the street? What will you do if He points you somewhere and asks, “What about there? Will you follow Me there?” Following Jesus means literally following Him wherever He goes.
Anne Judson was the wife of America’s first foreign missionary, Adoniram Judson. Adoniram was 24 when he decided to leave America and sail to Burma. Burma didn’t have a single missionary and was an extremely hostile environment. He was in love with Anne who was 23 at the time. Adoniram wanted to marry Anne and then move to Burma to spread the gospel. Before he married Anne, he wrote her father the following letter asking for her hand in marriage:
“I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean, to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of him who left his heavenly home, and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with the crown of righteousness?”
Her father told him that it was her decision to make. So in 1813 they left for Burma. They would experience one hardship after another. In 1824 Adoniram was put in prison. He was there for eighteen months. At night his feet were tied up and hoisted up into the air till only his shoulder and head rested on the ground. It was often 110 degrees and the mosquitoes would eat him alive at night. When he went to prison Anne was pregnant, but she walked two miles every day to plead that Judson be released. After a year in prison, eating rotting food, Adoniram had wasted away, with hollow eyes – dressed in rags and crippled from torture. His daughter, Maria, was born while he was in prison. Anne was as sick and thin as Adoniram. Her milk dried up. Mercifully the jailer actually let Judson out of prison and beg for women to nurse the baby. Eventually Adoniram was released. Not long after that Anne died at 37 from spotted fever. Because of Adoniram and Anne’s efforts though, the entire Bible was translated into Burmese. Today there are over 3700 congregations that all trace their beginning to when Adoniram and Anne Judson said to God, “Wherever.” God pointed to Burma and said, “What about there?” This man in Luke chapter 9 was happy to say wherever, until God said, “There.”
Conclusion: My Hope for You
As you now move into these next chapters of your life, my hope is that you will do two things: Follow Jesus wherever, whatever, and whenever; and seek God’s desire for you with each passing moment. Many of us wonder and ask “What is God’s will for my life?” Or maybe you say, “I just wish I knew God’s will for my life!” I know I’ve longed to know that before but, now I see that as a misguided way of thinking and talking. There are very few people in the Bible who received their life plan from God in advance (or even their five-year plan, for that matter!). Look at Abraham. Read his story. He was told to pack up his family and all his possessions and start walking. He didn’t know where he was going. He didn’t know if he would ever be back. He didn’t know any of the details that we might consider vital (his destination, how long it would take, the costs/rewards, etc). God said go and he went. I think you need to forget about God’s will for your life. Now, listen to me seriously. I would hate for you to think for a second that God doesn’t have purposes and plans for each of our lives or that He doesn’t care what we do with our lives. He does. Here’s the key: He never promises to reveal these purposes all at once, in advance. God cares more about our response to His Spirit’s leading today, in this moment, than about what we intend to do next year. In fact, the decisions we make next year will be profoundly affected by the degree to which we submit to the Spirit right now, in today’s decisions. It’s much less demanding to think about God’s will for your future than it is to ask Him what He wants you to do in the next ten minutes. It’s safer to commit to following Him someday instead of this day.
I am proud of you.