Am I following God, rather than trying to lead Him? My cat isn't good at following me! - S. J. Little

How well am I following Jesus?

Meet My Cat  

I have a cat named Midnight. He is quite the character and has become very social.

My cat looking to the left. - S. J. LittleWhen he was younger, we had his brother as well. Midnight would always let his brother do the talking. I remember watching my siblings try to coax even the tiniest mew out of him with little success. In the years since his brother passed away, however, Midnight has found his voice. Now he often shares his opinions loudly, though at times he merely squeaks.

It’s funny how cats have their own personalities. If you’re a cat lover, you may understand. Midnight’s favourite human food to beg for is the milk left after cereal. His brother, however, was far more interested in ice cream. When Midnight begs for a bowl, he’ll sit a distance away with his back towards the person. As they reach halfway through their meal, he might move a little closer and peek at the person. Only once the spoon is scraping the bottom of the bowl, will he sit at the person’s feet peering up at them. His brother was the opposite. He would boldly sit by the person, staring at them as they ate. With his old age, Midnight is beginning to pick up some of his brother’s boldness.

My cat rings a bell when he wants more canned food. That way it doesn't dry out when he isn't hungry - S. J. Little
Midnight ringing the bell for food.


Midnight is also a very smart cat. He’s learned to open doors. At one point, we had to devise a lock for the cat food closet so he and his brother wouldn’t break in. We’ve trained him to ring a bell when he wants canned food, and I’ve taught him to find some place other than my keyboard to lay down when he wants to cuddle but I’m busy on my computer. Yes, he is a smart cat… most of the time.

He’s Not Good at Following

The one thing he has never seemed to learn is how to follow well.

It has happened often that, when I head down the hallway, he gets excited and wants to come along. I start down the hallway at a decent clip, and he hurries just ahead of me, as though trying to lead me. As I turn to enter a room, I trip over him, because there he is, right where I was planning to step.

It gets worse. Sometimes he will zig zag directly in front of my feet! Not only that, but, looking from above, his coat appears entirely black – not a helpful thing in a dark hallway at night.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve accidentally kicked him because he dodged directly into my path. That’s not including the times I’ve managed to avoid him by stumbling and almost falling myself.

What a silly cat. He’s so eager to go with me, and even lead me, but doesn’t know where I’m going. How can he lead when he doesn’t know the direction? He could have saved himself many a bump if only he’d learned to follow.

Following God

Following – that’s what God calls us to do. We are to follow Him.

As you read through the Gospels you’ll quickly see that Jesus often called people to follow Him. Most times there is no record of Jesus telling them where He would lead them, or what their life would look like, but the call to follow is there.

How to Not Follow God Well – Like My Cat

Did you know there are examples of people in the Bible who tried to get ahead of God when it felt as though He was taking too long? 

Abraham and his son Ishmael are a blatant example of this. God had promised that Abraham would have countless descendants, but many years passed without Abraham having a single child. Abraham and his wife Sarah were old. They decided that rather than waiting for God any longer, they would help Him out by taking matters into their own hands. Abraham took Sarah’s maid as his wife and had Ishmael by her. That was not following God’s plan, and later their actions led to trouble in their family. You can read the story for yourself in Genesis, especially chapters 16-17, 21. My black and white cat sitting on an orange chair. How well are you doing at following God? - S. J. Little

Another way to not follow God is to run in the opposite direction as Jonah did. That never turns out well in the end! (Jonah 1)

Am I trying to get out ahead of God, or running in the opposite direction, instead of following Him?

Thoughts About Following God

So much could be said about following God, but this is just one blog post. There’s no way I can fit it all in! I’ll try to stay brief. 

Throughout the entire Bible, we see God leading people. Sometimes His leading made sense to those following, but there are also many times when it made no sense at all! Take Jericho for example, or Naaman. (Joshua 6; 2 Kings 5)

Sometimes following God means waiting, such as in Acts 1:4, when they waited for Pentecost. However, waiting doesn’t mean sitting idly. In Acts 1:14-26, they spent the time praying and they chose a man to replace Judas. They were doing what needed to be done, while seeking and waiting for God. I’ve long loved Psalm 37:34: “Wait for the Lord and keep His way…” Yes, we must wait for God, and that time of waiting often includes going about our daily lives in a way that is honouring to God.

Are You Following God?

My cat trying to help me study the Bible. - S. J. Little
Midnight trying to help me study the Bible.

I wish I had some concrete formula for discerning whether or not I am following God well. If I had such a formula I would gladly share it with you, but I don’t.

Following God can look very different in different people’s lives. Even in one person’s life, following God may appear very different in each season.

What I can say is keep seeking after Jesus. Read the Bible often, spend time in prayer, and be in fellowship with others who know Jesus deeply. Then He will guide you, and if you’re not following Him, He will reveal that to you and help you change course. Sometimes His leading will be loud and unmissable, but other times it may be a quiet door opening that, after prayer and consideration, seems good to step through.

Final Thought

Let me leave you with a likely familiar verse from the Bible.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

and do not rely on your own understanding;

in all your ways know Him,

and He will make your paths straight.”

Proverbs 3:5-6

Are you following God today?

Sometimes I think I know someone well, only to discover that there is so much more to know about them. The missionary Jim Elliot is one of those people for me.

During my growing up years, my Mom initiated a pattern of having family devotions prior to getting into our textbooks (my siblings and I were homeschooled).

Among others, one of the devotional books I recall enjoying was Hero Tales by Dave and Neta Jackson. It’s a collection of short stories about various Christians throughout history. Listening to my Mom read it, I was introduced to men and women who committed their entire lives to following Jesus. The missionary, Jim Elliot, was one of those individuals. Hearing his story, I felt intrigued and awestruck. I wanted to live for Jesus too!

Later, I began reading the Trailblazer Books by the same authors. Each Trailblazer book tells the story of a historic Christian from the viewpoint of a fictional 8-12 year old. One of the books I read was about Nate Saint, a missionary who worked closely with Jim Elliot. Through it, I began to catch some insight into the challenges Jim Elliot faced. I learned how they followed God’s call to attempt to share the hope of knowing Jesus with the Aucas, a hostile primitive tribe. In this book, I also read a watered down version of Jim’s death as a martyr in the hands of the very people he sought to serve, and of the tremendous impact of his death in drawing many Aucas to Jesus. It seemed to me I had become acquainted with this man.

Reading a bookFast forward several years to my time in Bible school. When presented with a list of biographies to read, I chose Through Gates of Splendor written by Jim Elliot’s wife, Elisabeth. In it, I got to know Jim Elliot and his team on a deeper level. Prior to reading this book, I viewed Jim as super-human, untouched by any hardships of life. This book, however, spoke of trials and discouragements along the way. The book included various quotes from Jim Elliot’s journals and letters. One of my favourites is: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”* Having read this book, I felt I had a fairly good understanding of who Jim Elliot was.

Then, at my Bible School, I found a massive green book on the top shelf of the library. It contained the journals of Jim Elliot! On more than one occasion I randomly opened the large book and read entry after entry. I felt intrusive reading his musings. How much more intimately I came to know him! I saw that he was a human, no different from me. I skimmed through his random observations about the unfamiliar culture he lived in. I read of his joyous records of mountaintop days, and his musings on gloomy discouraging days. Most of all, I saw a deep unwavering passion to follow God. I did not get very far through his journals, it being a massive book and my time at Bible school being limited. Still, what bits I read shed a beautifully honest light on the personal life of this man who chose to put Jesus first.

Despite having read books about Jim Elliot and parts of his journal, I still don’t know him super well. I would not recognize his voice, nor spot him among a crowd. If we were at the same restaurant, I would not be able to pick out his laughter among the murmur of conversation.

Then I stop and think about my relationship with God. How well do I know Him?

Since childhood, I have read books people have written about God. Many of these books were watered down or contained fictional characters alongside real ones.

Even now in my adult years I read blog posts and books and listen to sermons teaching about who God is, many of which include direct quotes from the Bible. These are good, but if I stop there, I will not know God well. Just as the children’s books portrayed only the surface of who Jim Elliot was, I risk knowing only a watered down version of who God is when I rely on what others have said about Him.

Glasses sitting on open BibleWhat a wonderful gift God gave me in His Word, the Bible! Much like Jim Elliot’s journals, reading the Bible gives me incredible insight into who God is. Some parts of the Bible tell the story of what God has done, while other areas reveal the very thoughts of God.  I see how He was jealous for Israel and grieved at their rebellion. I learn of His incomprehendably great love for me. I read of His desire to be known. All sixty-six books of the Bible were given to me that I might know God and thus know how to live a life pleasing to Him. How critical it is for me to read and study the Bible, being mindful to keep each part in context.  

Speaking of studying God’s Word, the Bible tells of those in Berea when Paul began teaching them about Jesus:

“The people here were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, since they received the word with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”  Acts 17:11 CSB

Yet even here I cannot stop if I truly want to know God.

Jesus criticized others saying:

“You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, and yet they testify about Me. But you are not willing to come to Me so that you may have life.” John 5:39-40 CSB

While I must value the Bible, and indeed I read from it practically every day, it is not the sitting down and reading the verses that save me. It is Jesus who saves me.

Man thinking or praying while holding BibleBut how do I get to know Jesus? By reading the Bible I learn the truth of who Jesus is and about His power to save me. Then I must take Him at His Word and believe what He says. I must take time to talk with God, to share my heart with Him, and – through His Word and prayer – to learn to know His heart.

But then the question comes. How much do I really want to know God? I am privileged to live in a house with several Bibles, and through the internet, I have free access to more translations than I can count, yet do I take the time to really dig in? Is knowing Jesus a priority in my life?

 

Writing this post has been a challenge for me, not just because of the weightiness of the topic, but also because of how it convicts me. Some days I read my Bible simply to check it off my to-do list and move on. I don’t always take time to stop and reflect on what God would have me learn about Him through the passage.

Since writing the draft of this post, I did make some time to randomly sit down and prayerfully read the first chapter of Colossians. The very next day, when I felt discouraged, God used one of those verses to encourage me by reminding me that He has given me the help I need. Yes, taking time to seek God through His Word and prayer is incredibly valuable.

Will you join me in seeking to be men and women who know God deeply?

 

*Quote from Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot (2012), Page 155

Related links:

References:

Elliot, Elisabeth (2012). Through Gates of Splendor. Authentic Media Limited.

A powerful but easy to read book. I highly recommend this biography to any adult who takes their relationship with Jesus seriously! (For further reading on Jim Elliot, I recommend reading Shadow of the Almighty by Elisabeth Elliot. It is a slower read. It follows Jim Elliot’s life more closely with more direct quotes from his journal entries and letters.)

Elliot, Jim (1978). The Journals of Jim Elliot (E. Elliot, Ed.). Fleming H. Revell Company.

(I believe this is the book I read, however, I don’t know the publisher or year of the copy I read.) Reading this incredibly thick book is slow and it is sometimes challenging to understand, however, there is incredible richness in being able to step into the mind of a man of faith who has gone before us. Note, this book contains mature subject matter.

Jackson, Dave, & Jackson, Neta (1997). Hero Tales: A Family Treasury of True Stories from the Lives of Christian Heroes(Vol. II). Bethany House.

A beautiful devotional book which shares an intro and three short stories about various Christians from distant past to modern day and from missionaries to everyday Christians. Excellent for reading as a family. I highly recommend it!

Jackson, Dave, & Jackson, Neta (1997). Fate of the Yellow Woodbee: Nate Saint (Vol. 24, Trailblazer Books). Bethany House.

I highly recommend the Trailblazer Books for children aged 10-12. A few of the books contain somewhat more mature subject matter than others, so having a parent pre-read the books for more sensitive children may be recommended. If you are older than 12, but have never heard of these historic Christians, then I recommend them to you as a light easy intro to these men and women of faith.

Purple flowers with barren woods in background

 

Some years back, I was blessed to be able to spend several months in Germany. While there, I often sought time alone with God. One of my favourite places to walk by myself was a quiet wooded area with a gentle winding creek.

One afternoon, with only a few weeks left in my stay, I wandered down this same path. It was March. On recent walks, I had observed bold green grass poking its way past dull faded leaves from the autumn before. Today, however, I stopped in my tracks and stooped to look closer. A tiny purple flower smiled up at me.

A few inches away I spotted another delicate purple flower, and another. Straightening, I marveled at the multitude of these little flowers scattered richly throughout the emerging grass. A smile touched my face as I took in the beauty of it. It seemed to me that the forest was coming alive!

Walking further, I tried in vain not to step on the delicate beauties – they were everywhere! For so long this forest trail had consisted of tired browns and dull greens, but now new life sprung forth.

Suddenly a sober thought hit me. In mere weeks I would be leaving this place which I’d come to love. I would never see the full bloom of this quiet path I’d strolled along countless times.

It was then another thought came, like a question whispered into my heart: “Are you willing to follow Me, even if you never get to see the blossoms that come from your labour?”

I stood still, a sorrow deep in my soul. I knew my answer was yes, but it would require God’s help for me to remain diligent. At that moment I grieved a little for the blossoms I would never get to see.

The seeds of those delicate purple flowers laid dormant all winter. Only as spring came had they popped up overnight.

In the Bible we read:  “[Paul] planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” 1 Corinthians 3:6-7 CSB

My role is to serve by planting seeds of the Gospel and watering where the seeds are already planted. However, it is God alone who can make those seeds grow. Whether or not I get to see the result of my planting and watering is up to Him.

What will this look like in my life? I don’t know. Rather, by God’s help I will follow Him, even when I don’t see the reward of my toil. I will trust Him to use my life, even when I can’t see it.

“But I said, ‘I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all. Yet what is due me is in the LORD’s hand, and my reward is with my God.'” Isaiah 49:4 NIV

 

Looking back through history, there are examples of Christian men and women who obeyed God faithfully for years before seeing any blossoms spring up. Some of them never saw the result of their faithful labours. Can you think of any examples? Please comment below.