When you tell God you want to be more like Jesus, watch out! That’s one prayer God loves to answer in spades. Before you know it, you’ll be roaming the country a homeless, penniless outcast, just like Jesus was during his ministry years.
But you’ll have God’s Spirit powerfully with you. No amount of wealth can rival having God’s Spirit powerfully with you.
It’s better to be a penniless follower of Jesus than someone with excessive funds who doesn’t know God. I say this from personal experience but also from observation. The most spiritually miserable and misdirected people I’ve ever met are not poverty-stricken but those with more money than they need. Money is not a blessing when it exceeds your needs. Money beyond your needs becomes a burden, a temptation, and a curse, driving a wedge between you and God.
Becoming more like Jesus (that is, learning to make the choices he made and following his lead in everything we do) should be our lifetime goal as his followers. We’re not to model ourselves after movie stars or sports heroes or superheroes or anyone else, including our favourite relative, friend, or pastor. We follow the lead of no-one but Jesus; that’s what it means to be his follower.
You grow into the role of being a follower of Jesus. You’re not reborn and automatically become like Jesus. It’s a process that unfolds over time. It’s first and foremost a spiritual education, bearing in mind that Jesus was as much a teacher as he was the Messiah, and that the whole purpose of his ministry work was to teach people about the Kingdom and how to live in it. God, through his Holy Spirit, taught Jesus so that Jesus could teach his disciples, who in turn taught his other followers, who in turn then taught yet other followers, and so on and so on, all the way down to blogs like this one today.
As followers of Jesus, we keep on learning to be more like Jesus right up to our last breath as humans. Even Jesus himself was learning up until his crucifixion (remember the Garden of Gethsemane). I don’t think we ever reach the point where we can say: “Well, I’m exactly like Jesus now, so I can stop learning”. Every day, we learn from God through his Spirit, but also from scripture (especially the Gospels), and from making mistakes.
Maybe because I make so many of them as a former atheist who wasn’t “raised in the faith”, mistakes tend to be my dominant learning mode. We learn best by mistakes, as the adage goes, and they also keep us humble, as my grandmother used to say, so mistakes do have a positive aspect if used correctly. But mistakes can also hurt you and leave you troubled and confused for a time. And they can ultimately turn you against God.
So it’s critically important when we fail our tests or fall to temptation that we run to God as soon and as quickly as possible. Our instinct will be to run the other way to avoid God and lick our wounds in private, but we need to run to God, not try to hide from him. Scripture says that God will wipe away all our tears; it doesn’t say that we won’t cry or not give ourselves reason to cry; it says God will wipe away all our tears, and that includes tears that result from self-inflicted wounds from failed tests and temptations or downright stupidity.
I have done both – cried and run away from God and cried and run to God, and beyond a shadow of a doubt it was far, far better to run to God for healing than to try to avoid him and fix things in some other way. God’s healing is miraculous and therefore instantaneous and perfect, whereas anything I did to try to rectify my mistakes only made things worse. I laugh as I write this, because with the passage of time, I tend only to remember my stupidity rather than the pain my stupidity caused me. That shows the perfection of God’s healing, that the pain is gone even in remembrance. There’s no rankling or regrets or self-loathing. I only think: “Well, that was stupid of me. Won’t do that again”, and I move on.
We need to move on after we’ve made mistakes, especially ones that involve failed tests and temptations. The temptation will be to wallow in self-pity or self-hatred, to beat our breasts publicly, or even to think we’ll never regain our spiritual footing so we might as well just give up. Those are all temptations in themselves and they come straight from the devil. Don’t fall for them. God wants you standing firmly on your feet and looking up to him, not wallowing in self-pity and looking down.
Becoming more like Jesus is a lifetime pursuit. We shouldn’t get angry or impatient with ourselves if we occasionally (or more frequently) make choices that Jesus didn’t make and suffer the consequences for it. We should instead learn from our mistakes and use them as cautionary tales to teach others. We should never wallow in our mistakes or in self-pity; we should always run to God and God only for healing.
Even as we continue to learn about the Kingdom ourselves, we can still teach others. Our knowledge will never be perfect while we’re here on Earth, and it doesn’t need to be. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect and in fact hasn’t enabled us to be perfect until we get Home. What he does expect of us is to remain actively willing to become more like Jesus. That means not only praying to be more like Jesus, but accepting the reality of actually being more like Jesus, which of necessity is going to involve being itinerant, penniless, and at odds with mainstream society, including mainstream Christianity.
When this happens, embrace the changes in your circumstances, don’t fight them. If God entrusts you with poverty, he has given you a very great gift and blessing. Don’t reject it. The more Jesus came into his power in the Kingdom, the poorer and more outcast he became in the world. The same will happen to his followers. Having poverty thrust on you is a sign that you’re becoming more and more like Jesus. It is reason to celebrate, not to mourn; it is a reason to double down on your commitment to God and the Kingdom, not cause to neglect the Kingdom to pursue money-making ventures in the world.
All prophets throughout the ages have had poverty thrust on them, and yet God still provided for them: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and everything you need will be given to you”. In becoming more like Jesus, there’s no need to fear poverty and rejection by mainstream society: these things should instead be celebrated as a milestone achieved. Paul says that the values of the Kingdom are foolishness to the world. If God saw fit for Jesus to be penniless, itinerant and outcast during his ministry years, we should expect to be the same.
It is a very great privilege to be given the grace to be more like Jesus. Wherever that leads you, embrace it.