What Does it Mean to “Follow God”?
An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you . . .” Matthew 2:13
Recently, while speaking at a meeting of recovering addicts, I talked about following my will and contrasted that with following or obeying God’s will. One honest individual in attendance indicated that he was not familiar with faith and wanted to know exactly what I meant by “following and obeying God”. What are you talking about? The question caught me off guard. Implied, I think, was a suspicion that I was hearing mysterious voices in my head.
Many of us have this mistaken preconception of God’s will. We know our Bible stories, like the passage today in which an angel told Joseph to flee to Egypt, and we think, If God ever showed up and asked me to do something, I’d do it. Until that day though, we live however we want. We continue to follow our own path, claiming faith, telling ourselves that if God ever asked us to do something radical, that we would obey.
The truth of course, is that Christ has already told us how we should live. We don’t need to wait for a visit from an angel. We have the Bible, Jesus’ words, telling us that we must love God above all and that we must love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39). He said that we must daily abandon our will to follow his (Luke 9:23). Christ has already vividly described what our lives should look like.
So what does it mean to obey God? As an addict in recovery, it means that I must be honest about the disaster of following my way. It means that I must continually abandon whatever causes destruction in my life. Daily, I need to read God’s word, praying, meditating, and growing my relationship with him. Then, I must love those around me as Jesus would love them.
Joseph heard God’s will and simply obeyed. We face the same choice. If we claim to be followers of Christ, we must keep his commands (John 14:15). We don’t need to wait for some mysterious dream. Today, here and now, we can love God, love our neighbors, abandon our path, and follow his.