What does it mean to follow Jesus—without being extra? Let me begin by letting you know I’m a teenager, still making her way through high school. I want to follow Jesus, and I’m trying to as best as I can, but I don’t want to be thought of as “extra.” Extra is sometimes a great thing: Extra credit, extra sprinkles. But, it’s not cool to be extra. What do I mean? The person who thinks of themself as extra special. It could be the kid who always wants extra attention, brags about their greatness, and judges anyone who isn’t “as good as they are.” And, as hard as it can be to admit, we Christians have a tendency to be that kid who’s a little extra.
Following Jesus doesn’t mean we have to be passing out church t-shirts, speaking fluent “church talk,” and preaching on the street corners, but it also doesn’t mean we’re supposed to shun our friends, be judgmental to unbelievers, and walk around like we’re somehow better than others.
So, what does it mean to follow Jesus? It’s really not as complicated as you might think. These are your three basic ways to fight the “extra” reputation!
- You love people. Following Jesus begins with being others-oriented. In John 8:1-11 Jesus demonstrated how we should treat others. He had compassion on a woman who was considered so sinful, other religious leaders wanted to kill her. Jesus demonstrated nothing but love for her, even though her life was, in fact, pretty messed up. In the same way, we should show kindness to people who might not be in our usual squad. This could look like sharing your lunch with the school bully, befriending the nerdy kids, or even inviting the girl with the messed-up life to church with you. These actions may seem insignificant, but just like us, those teenagers struggle to belong in the high school sea of peer pressure. When we do small acts of love and kindness, we will undoubtedly stand out—but in the good, “extra sprinkles” way.
- You listen to people. Another important aspect of following Jesus is the need to listen to His kids. Listen to their pain, their fears, their stories. Over and over again, Jesus spent time with people in need. The world is full of hurting people who just need someone to hear them. We don’t have to be that person who’s always telling others what they’re doing wrong. We can be the person who listens. The person who asks if we can pray together after a painful secret is shared. We can point others back to Jesus and His love for them, no matter how down they feel. We’ll never get the chance to be heard with our message of love and hope in Jesus if we don’t first listen.
- You let God be God. When your life has been changed from A to Z or just plain made more enjoyable because of knowing Jesus is with you, you can feel frustrated when others don’t seem receptive or even interested in hearing how good God has been to you. We might feel like we haven’t shared God’s love the right way or something. But we have to be careful not to stress about people’s responses when we share Jesus with them—whether helping someone in the hallway, listening to their family issues, or inviting them to church with us. If someone decides to follow Jesus, they’re responding to the Holy Spirit, not you. Putting more pressure on ourselves to lead others to Jesus doesn’t accomplish anything, so chill out! Our job as followers of Christ is simply to love God and love people. We can’t actually change anybody’s heart. We have to learn to do what God asks us to do, and then to step back and let Jesus be the Savior.
Being a follower of Jesus may seem like a huge responsibility, but the way to get it right is simple. Remember to love, listen, and let God be God. None of that is too extra, so don’t be afraid to take the next step and follow Jesus boldly by inviting others to church with you. The worst that can happen is that they say no! Chances are, if you feel loved and accepted at your church, they will too. Pray that whoever you invite will feel so welcome that they will want to go again, and leave the rest to God.