The Nuts and Bolts of Following Jesus

Before reading this article, find a quiet space, take a few breaths, pray “Come, Holy Spirit” and slowly read John 15: 1-17. 

What is Jesus teaching us about the shape our lives are to take?

The secret of following Jesus is found in the invitation to live as He lived, by adopting His overall lifestyle. In the thick of our daily lives, we can look at the way of Jesus as a blueprint for our lives, learning to practice His habits. 

Jesus showed us the shape that our lives are to take as we learn to follow Him – He describes it in His metaphor from John 15 of the vine and the branches. Abiding and fruitfulness is the vision. As we learn to abide in Him, finding home in familiar friendship with Him, the conditions are created for the fruit of His Spirit and the climate of His Kingdom to form our lives, and bring transformation to the world around us. 

Much of our lives are fuelled by restlessness and busyness. The pattern of withdrawing and spending time with God that we see in Jesus’ life is so often contested and disrupted in ours.

Pete Scazzero describes the state of many people’s spirituality today as:

*living off other people’s spirituality
*scattered, fragmented and uncentered
*physically, spirituality and emotionally tired
*existing with a one-inch-deep spirituality
*praying and communing with God very little
*not intentional in pursuing Jesus

Do any of these statements resonate with you? 

The reality is that everyone reading this list will feel convicted around one or most of these statements. Don’t feel guilty, or ashamed right now, but recognise the invitation from Jesus to experience a deeper level of intimacy and intentionality in communion with Him.

As we adjust to life in lockdown, many of us have been looking back on our ‘normal’ lives and recognising a sense of longing for something more – a deeper, more fruitful relationship with Jesus, where we are no longer too busy to pray or too distracted to spend time with Him. What if we prioritised Christ’s presence and our practice in this wilderness moment and as John Mark Comer puts it, “arranged our lives so that Jesus’ life becomes our new normal.”

Over the next weeks and months, through Communion and 321, we want to introduce you to a set of practices, lifted from the lifestyle of Jesus that will draw you into His presence and invite you to become more like Him. 
We describe this movement of becoming like Jesus as spiritual formation. 
The best way to think about spiritual formation is to consider two dance partners coming together. This dance is led by the Spirit (2nd Corinthians 3:18), yet we are invited to partner with Him in it. Formation happens at the point where Jesus’ presence and our practices meet. 

Presence + Practice = Formation

In this movement, our role is to practice the same kinds of activities that Jesus engaged in, allowing us to remain in constant communion with the Father and open to the transforming power of His Holy Spirit in our lives. 

As Robert Mulholland puts it, spiritual formation is “a process of being formed in the image of Christ, for the sake of others.”

God’s desire for us is that Jesus would be formed in us (Galatians 4:19); that we would increasingly become more and more like Him. The practices, habits or disciplines of Jesus, they lead us in the direction of Christlikeness, inviting us to engage our whole bodies, focus our attention, and most significantly, open us up to the presence of Jesus. It is in the presence of Jesus where the Spirit’s work of transformation happens.

We don’t want to simply teach you the practices of Jesus – we want to invite you to have a go at them. As you participate with new habits and rediscover old ones, you can add them all into your practice toolbox.

What if we made the most of this disruptive moment, prioritising the basic practices and setting ourselves up for a future of fruitfulness as we learn to draw from our toolbox of the nuts and bolts of following Jesus?

Before you dive into our weekly practices, there’s two important things to highlight.

Everyone Gets to Play

At Lagan Valley Vineyard, we believe that Jesus is alive and that His life is available. There’s no experts in our community, only a lot of explorers. So if you’ve never engaged in this kind of thing before, don’t rule yourself out.

The practices of Jesus are a means to an end, the end being encounter with Jesus. If you are doing these practices to tick a religious box, or out of a sense of duty, you’ve missed the point. As you learn to engage in the practices, give yourself some grace. 

As Justin Whitmel Earley puts it (when you read ‘beauty’ think Jesus):

“Failure is the path; beauty is the destination. We walk toward beauty on the path of failure. Which is to say formation happens occurs at the interplay of failure and beauty. No habits can be pursued for the purpose of success or a new and better you. They must be done for the sake of beauty. If the goal is self-help, failure will destroy you. But if the goal is beauty, failure makes that goal shine all the more brightly. So get up and keep walking.”

Effort Isn’t a Bad Word

Dallas Willard put it best when he said: “Grace is opposed to earning, but it’s not opposed to effort.” While we practice the unforced rhythms of grace, we are to do them with a posture of intentionality and proactivity. We are all aware of the reality that if we don’t prioritise our time, someone else will!

As Paul puts it, we are to “grow up into Christ” (Ephesians 4: 15), and “train ourselves to be godly” (1 Timothy 4: 7). To grow, to learn, to train, we need to practice and practice again. There is power in habit, even in the small, often overlooked aspects of our lives.

As Tish Harrison Warren puts it:

“The often unseen and unsung ways we spend our time are what form us. Our mundane moments, rooted in the communal practices of the church, shape us through habit and repetition, moment by passing moment, into people who spend their days and therefore their lives marked by the love of God.”

Even if a practice feels clunky and it seems as if there’s not a lot happening, keep showing up and keep trying. Slowly these practices will become natural and create pathways in your thinking and your muscle memory to experience the presence of Jesus.

The Heart

The heart of following Jesus and pursuing His practices is communion. The point is not getting something from God, or feeling proud of what we’ve achieved. The heart is being with Jesus, enjoying intimacy and becoming like the One we love.

As we learn to take Jesus’ life as a blueprint for our own, His Spirit will shape us in His way:

“Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment.”

T.S. Elliot

Join us in our first practice, Time with Jesus HERE. Each week, we will create a walkthrough video and written guide to introduce you to the practice and help you weave it into the context of your days.

Suggested Reading

If you are interested in reading more about Spiritual Formation, you may find these books helpful:

‘Liturgy of the Ordinary’ – Tish Harrison Warren
‘Celebration of Discipline’ – Richard Foster
‘The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry’ – John Mark Comer
‘Sacred Rhythms’ – Ruth Haley Barton
‘You Are What You Love’ – James K.A. Smith