May 25, 2023

Is Following Jesus Changing Your Life?

All sorts of people appreciate Jesus as a healer, or for his remarkable teachings, or as the founder of a movement which swept the world. The story of the baby King born in a stable is widely loved and celebrated. But putting Jesus alongside the Creator and the Spirit can sometimes seem like a stretch. How can we express what we know to be true, that Jesus really is our Savior?

The simple answer comes from a children’s song: “Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.” Many folks won’t be satisfied with that, but I’m most concerned about the people whose lives are a struggle, with darkness and demons dragging them down. I’m searching for something stronger than comforting words, a visible witness to our faith, a message that makes a difference in their lives.

The Gospels agree that Jesus rose from the dead, appearing to his closest friends and then to hundreds of his followers. He called them by name and showed them his wounds and answered their deepest questions. After he ascended into the heavens, his friends were swept away by the Holy Spirit, which came upon them in tongues of fire. In an instant they were transformed from ordinary (sometimes clueless) people and filled with the Spirit’s power.

The resurrection of Jesus changed them in ways that others could see. They were more deeply devoted to their faith community and their spiritual practices. They shared their food and money and actively took care of one another. They recognized what was happening to them and felt a sense of awe at the power of the Spirit in their lives. They lived with glad and generous hearts and welcomed others who were curious about what was going on.

All that is written in the Acts of the Apostles, the Bible’s history of the early church. (It comes right after the four Gospels in the New Testament.) Hearing that story today, I expect someone to say, “That all sounds great, but it’s not the world I live in.” Fair enough! What good is an inspiring narrative from two thousand years ago to someone submerged in trauma or weighed down by poverty and injustice? This is where telling people about Jesus gets a lot harder, but possibly more rewarding.

Imagine if we said to people who are struggling, “Take a look at our little church. We’re not perfect—far from it—but following Jesus is changing our lives.” Do you think other people see that in us? Do we notice our own lives changing? Let’s ask ourselves: Are we devoted to our faith communities and our spiritual practices? Do we share generously and actively take care of each other? Do we look for signs of the Spirit at work and feel a sense of awe when we see them? Are we thankful for the gift of each new day?

If people recognize that Jesus really is making a difference in our lives, the stories in Scripture will sound less like fairy tales and more like God’s dreams coming true. If our faith communities look the way Jesus would want them to be, our neighbors will notice. If others can see our lives changing, perhaps they’ll have more hope for themselves. And maybe (just maybe), bringing healing to our home neighborhoods and communities will encourage people in other places as well.

Just before he left the earth, Jesus had some last words for his disciples: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) I’m convinced that he meant what he said, and that he was talking to us! Let’s devote ourselves to caring for one another and to following Jesus more faithfully.