Following Jesus when he calls us to different things
At some point, most of us have looked at someone else and thought, why does their life seem so much easier than mine? Whether they have more money or their kids are super-achievers or they love their job, we tend to glance side-to-side and wonder, why did God give them that and not give it to me? But underneath this seemingly innocuous question is the basic belief that God is supposed to give us all some measure of fairness; we all have our own blessings and struggles, but God should ultimately distribute suffering, success, happiness, and trials evenly.
My mom used to say, “Life isn’t fair,” but perhaps it is God who isn’t fair. God isn’t in the business of democracy, doling out equal portions of joy and suffering to his creation. He is always just—never letting evil overcome good, but when it comes to his children, He does not apportion us the same lots in life. And unless we address this tough reality, our expectations for God and how our life should look will continue to be marked by disappointment.
In the final chapter of John, Jesus calls Peter to found his Church and warns him that he will suffer the same fate as his savior: death by crucifixion. I think most of us would respond to Jesus in the same way that Peter did—he asks, but what about John? Is he going to be crucified too?! Why do I have to be crucified!? Peter’s immediate reaction to his master calling him to a life of ministry, sacrifice, and ultimately dying for the glory of God is to look at the guy next to him and ask about what God has planned for him.
Because we all have this tendency inside of us, we must hear what Jesus has to say about it. Jesus tells Peter, If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me (Jn 21:22). Jesus doesn’t entertain this kind of comparative thinking, but challenges Peter by telling him that it doesn’t matter what his plans are for John, whether he live until Christ’s second coming or not doesn’t change the call he has placed on Peter’s life—“You follow me.”
Just like Peter, God calls us to certain works and specific suffering. He allows exactly what we need for both our flourishing and refinement, whispering, “Follow me” as he permits enough friction to keep striving after him and enough comfort to delight in his perfect provision. We must learn from Peter and John how to stop questioning his will for our lives and embrace the lot he has given us for our good and his glory.
Following Jesus in our work; a call to cultivate what we have been given
Through Peter and John, we see how God assigns unique work within a larger calling. All humans have two callings; a primary calling and a secondary calling. Primary calling is the same for everyone: to glorify God and enjoy him forever (Westminster Catechism). But our secondary callings are unique and localized to our lives: it is the place that we live out our primary calling.
But God does not appoint us all to the same work, he gives us a lot, a patch of ground, and says this is where I want you to work. Cultivate your love for me and bring me glory through what you do here. In Psalm 16, David declares, “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” Your lot might be as a stay-at-home mom, a fitness instructor, or lawyer, but whatever it is, God calls us to work out our primary calling to glorify and enjoy him in the context of that everyday work, creatively pursuing him in what he has given us.
Both Peter and John were disciples, but the callings Jesus placed on their lives were different. Peter would preach sermons, establish churches, and travel through the Ancient Near East as a missionary to the Jews. John too would work in the local church, but from the cross, Jesus asked John to take care of his widowed mother since he would not be there to do it (Jn 19:27). John’s calling took him into exile and to continue in ministry while Peter and Paul were crucified.
Peter and John’s secondary callings were to work out how to love and glorify God in these places, grappling with how to glorify God when they were isolated in exile, sharing the gospel with people who didn’t want to hear it, when they were caring for an elderly widow. These men fought the same doubts as us wondering, why did God call me here, to this lot?
I find myself asking, why did God give me twins? Why did he call me to marry a pastor and be in ministry? Why did God call me to this life and not theirs? When I find myself thinking these things, I must remember Jesus’ words, what is their calling to you? You follow me! We need to stop asking why this lot and start asking how do I follow Jesus here, cultivating the lot he has given me for his glory?
Following Jesus in suffering; the call to submit
Every Christian is called to suffer as a fundamental part of following Jesus. If we love him, we start doing the kinds of things he did—like putting other’s needs ahead of our own, giving up our rights for them, bearing their burdens, and submitting willingly to the will of the Father that sometimes leads us into places we would rather not go.
But suffering is never a waste. Not only does suffering provide an opportunity to know our weakness and draw from the infinite well of God’s strength (2 Cor 12:10), suffering is the currency of our sanctification, refining us so we might grow in humility, patience, perseverance, and joy in spite of our circumstances. When God calls us to suffer, he is accomplishing his purposes of transforming us into the likeness of Christ.
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mk 8:34). For Peter, following Jesus would literally lead him to the cross. Though we will likely never face crucifixion, our response to suffering is the same as Peter’s as we cry, unfair! We believe suffering is a hindrance in our lives to be avoided. And like Peter, when we compare the suffering in our lives to others, we walk ourselves into a place of anger and entitlement before the Lord; we don’t deserve to suffer. This kind of thinking, however, is unbiblical and unrealistic. Suffering is a friend, not a foe, and we must learn to submit to the suffering God has for us in the same way that Jesus did. This too is part of following him.
Jesus suffered the cross out of love for his Father and joy in knowing that his submission would glorify his Father. But more than that, he submitted to the suffering he was called to so that we too might follow him, submitting to his will for us. This is what Jesus calls Peter into—submitting to his will out of love. Peter had just told Jesus three times that he loved him. The only reason Peter would continue to follow Jesus after hearing of his fate is because he loved Jesus and believed that Jesus was worth dying for, that Jesus truly was Lord. And this is the exact same reason why we follow him today through our own suffering; because he is our suffering, good, faithful King, and we love him. And as we do God strengthens, confirms, and establishes us in our suffering (1 Pt 5:10), we experience the power of the resurrection (Phil 3:10), we are glorified with Christ (Rom 8:17), and we learn contentment in our weakness and dependence on Christ (2 Cor 12:10). When we submit to the suffering that God calls us to, we follow in the footsteps of Jesus who also submitted to the suffering that the father called him to out of love for the Father.
How we follow
Willingly. “Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you” (Ps 32:9). When comparison, jealousy, or suffering arrive, we must choose to stay near Jesus. Unlike an untamed animal who requires restraints, submitting to Jesus means we choose to stay near him in all circumstances. With our eyes fixed on Him. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb 12:2). The best way to keep us from looking at others and growing angry with the Lord is to keep our eyes fixed on Him. He is our mark, our measure, our King, and the one whom we serve. Fix your eyes on him.