As much as our culture emphasizes the need for leadership and the development of our leadership skills, Lent is an annual reminder to us that–at least during these days each year–our focus is rightly put on our abilities and skills as followers. Though we are quick to turn everything into a call to leadership, the statement from Jesus we've been looking at this week says nothing about growing the influence we have over others and everything about growing the influence that this Messiah-en-route-to-his-death has over us: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it." Lent invites us to lay aside the urge to continue measuring ourselves by our competencies as leaders and focus instead, very honestly, on our competencies as followers of Jesus. Are we developing the abilities that will be required over the long haul in this daily journey of denying ourselves, taking up our crosses and following our king? Here are three essential areas in which we would be wise to continually develop our followership:
- Our Minds: How well do we know the story of this ancient Jew whom we claim to be following? I don't see how it can be possible to follow someone well while knowing very little about them. So how well do we know the stories of Jesus contained in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? Once we try to learn them well, we will surely recognize that we need some help in understanding some of them, which will lead us to a second set of stories we need to learn well: those stories that shaped the thinking of our Leader himself, the stories of God, Israel, and the world in the Old Testament. If we desire to follow Jesus well, during this Lent and the rest of our lives, we must fill our minds with these stories, constantly letting them sink in more deeply.
- Our Habits: Do the habits that we have make it natural for us to follow Jesus toward the cross, or do they only serve as obstacles in the way of any efforts we make at followership? The things we do either open us up to God's work in us, or they close us off to it.
- Our Relationships: Denying ourselves, taking up our crosses, and following Jesus are impossible alone. We pay attention to the importance of relationships in leadership, but it is underemphasized when it comes to our abilities at followers. Which relationships that you now have help you to follow well? Which ones tend to get you off of Jesus' tracks?
A Prayer for the Day:
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.*
A Prayer for the Week:
O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.*
*From The Book of Common Prayer
[This is part of 40 Days of Prayer: Daily Emails for Lent]