In the mid-nineties, I was at a conference where the worship leader had us sing, “Anywhere with Jesus . . .” When the song was finished, he pumped up the crowd with the words of the song. He added, “Anywhere?” several times, getting positive responses, and then said, “Well, I’m so glad, so now those in the back rows can now come up and fill these rows in the front.”
It was funny and fun, but I remembered this because of the many times I’ve felt reluctant to go anywhere, even if it seemed Jesus was asking me. It still happens. This week He has been tugging at me to get involved in several things that I am not eager about. But He already knows what I will do.
This happened to the disciples. They were with Jesus as He talked to the crowds about a greater commitment. Although He was using a figure of speech, He described that commitment as “eating His flesh and drinking His blood” which seems to me as an invitation to live relying on Him totally and for everything.
When many of his disciples heard it, it appeared they misunderstood Him as the crowd had done. They responded, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”
But Jesus knew they were grumbling about this, so He said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.”
He was fully aware that from the beginning some did not believe. He also knew who it was who would betray him. (John 6:60–64)
At this, many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”
My study tools say that in the original language this question is one of those where a negative answer is expected. That is, Jesus knew they would say no, and stay, at least eleven of them would. This was confirmed as Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66–69)
Jesus is God. He knows all about everything. My life and the best use of my life are not a mystery to Him. If I say no, that would be foolish for it would be telling the God of the universe that I am wiser than He is. I need to obey, not listen to my fears or foolishly think my plans are better.
That said, I did try to “go away” one time. I had become disillusioned and felt as if being a Christian was much too hard so planned to quit the whole thing. As I recall, that lasted a very short time. I made that decision (my heart felt black and dead), stumbled from the room I was in, and picked up a book off a shelf on my way out the door. In the book, I read a couple of lines that turned the lights back on. Suddenly, I was back where I needed to be, determined to follow Jesus. He would not let me go.
For those whose Christian lives are an enormous challenge, I can only say to stop trying so hard. We cannot save ourselves and we cannot keep ourselves. The church at Galatia was trying to do this when Paul asked them, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2–3)
Abide in Jesus. He does let some ‘followers’ go because they do not truly believe, but of those who truly believe, He says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:27–29)