Forsake and Follow
On February 12, 2017, thousands of people forsook their homes and belongings, and fled for higher ground when an emergency evacuation was ordered for people living near America’s highest dam, located in Oroville, California. An article published a few days later in the Sacramento Bee related, “North Sacramento Valley residents will never forget last Sunday night. It was the night they got stuck in the scariest traffic jam they will ever know. It began with a shock, a 4:21 p.m. Butte County sheriff’s alert that the emergency spillway at Oroville Dam was crumbling and could fail within the hour. Residents of Oroville, Marysville, Yuba City, and other areas near the Feather River were ordered to flee, with the admonition: ‘This is NOT a drill! This is NOT a drill! This is NOT a drill!’ The spillway did not give way. But that alert unleashed a flood of its own, sending tens of thousands of cars simultaneously onto the roads, creating hours-long backups that left residents wondering if they would get to high ground before floodwaters overtook them.”1
Other news articles revealed that about 200,000 people were asked or ordered to immediately leave their homes and belongings and head for safety. The worst-case scenario envisioned was that within an hour, a 100-foot-deep flood would be unleashed that could stretch up to forty miles. The residents in the path of the potential flood heard the sheriff’s alert and took action. They made the decision that their lives were worth more than their stuff! They forsook everything and fled because they believed the warning.
In Luke chapter 5 we read of three fishermen who forsook everything, not because of an impending disaster, but because they had witnessed a miracle. Simon Peter, James, and John had been associated with Jesus, but they had not fully surrendered their lives to the will of God. That day everything changed.
After hearing Jesus teach by the seashore, the fishermen headed back out to sea again at Jesus’ instruction, though they had been fishing all night and had caught nothing. Miraculously, as soon as they let down their nets, they enclosed “a great multitude of fishes.” Their catch was more than they could handle in their boat and their partner’s boat combined! In verse 9 we read that Simon and those with him were astonished at the draught of fishes they had taken. When they brought their ships to land, Simon, James, and John “forsook all, and followed him” (verse 11).
The Greek word translated here in the King James Version as “forsook” is translated differently elsewhere in Scripture. Sometimes it appears as “left” or “let go.” These men left all and let go of everything. Or we could say they laid aside everything; they abandoned or renounced all; they gave up or turned away from everything. When you study this word in all its various forms, it is rich.
The disciples’ decision to forsake all was not based on a burst of emotion. Perhaps there was emotion involved, but it really was an act of faith.
The disciples’ decision to forsake all was not based on a burst of emotion. Perhaps there was emotion involved, but it really was an act of faith. They were persuaded and convinced that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Christ. They had learned about Jesus from John the Baptist—Andrew had heard John’s assertion, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) and had told his brother, Simon (see John 1:40-42). They had listened to Jesus teach. But on this day, when they saw the miracle of the fishes, they were convinced. They believed beyond doubt that this was indeed the Christ, God’s Anointed One. And because they believed, they left their nets and their boats, forsook all, and followed Jesus.
God is still calling individuals today to follow Him and be willing to forsake all. Obedience to God’s call does not necessarily mean letting go of everything in a literal sense. While many through the years have left behind homes and businesses and families for the Gospel’s sake, to “forsake all” really is describing a condition of the heart. In our hearts we lay aside our wills and our plans, and replace them with God’s will and His plans. We purpose to put God first and follow Him. He assumes the place of pre-eminence above all else in our lives.
Followers of Christ throughout the centuries have forsaken all. Many of the pioneers of this organization sold their homes and possessions and moved across the country to become a part of the Apostolic Faith work. While “forsaking all” will not mean a cross-country move for everyone, the Gospel comes at the same price to each generation. We cannot obtain it cheaper than our forefathers did. It still costs everything! In our day as in theirs, every part of our lives must be yielded to God’s control.
Forsaking our sins
The starting point for a relationship with God is to forsake sin. In Isaiah 55:7 we read, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” Sin separates man from God, so we must turn away from wrongdoing; we must reject it entirely. We must come to the place where we say from the heart, “I am sick of living without God. I am willing to renounce my own way.” We have to abandon sin and turn completely to Jesus Christ. The beauty of our loving God is that when we do so, He will “abundantly pardon.” There is no sin that is too great for God to forgive if we turn from it to Him.
Forsaking our expectations
God calls us to forsake our personal expectations and allow Him to choose in our lives. In 2 Kings 5, we read of Naaman, captain of the host of Syria. He was a great man in his country, and a man of valor, but he was afflicted with leprosy. When he went to the prophet of God seeking healing, he had expectations regarding how he should be treated and how God was going to accomplish the work. Thankfully, there were people around him who convinced him to humble himself and obey what the prophet said. Because he let go of his own expectations and in simple obedience dipped into the Jordan River seven times, he found healing. God calls us to let go of our own thinking and submit to His plan.
Abandon your own expectations, and then God can use you more effectively. We put limitations on God when we say, “God, You have to do it this way.”
Holiness evangelist and author Oswald Chambers (1874-1917) referred to the importance of yielding to God’s plan, noting, “If you seek great things for yourself—‘God has called me for this and that’—you are putting a barrier to God’s use of you. As long as you have a personal interest in your own character, or any set ambition, you cannot get through into identification with God’s interests. You can only get there by losing forever any idea of yourself and by letting God take you right out into His purpose for the world.”2 Abandon your own expectations, and then God can use you more effectively. We put limitations on God when we say, “God, You have to do it this way.”
Forsaking our doubts
Jesus calls us to let go of our doubts. When Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, came to Jesus desperately asking for help because his little daughter was dying, Jesus immediately started for Jairus’ house. As they were on the way, however, word came that Jairus’ daughter had passed away. The girl’s father probably felt that hope was gone; it was too late. But in Mark 5:36 we read, “As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, he saith unto the ruler of the synagogue, Be not afraid, only believe.” It is never too late with Jesus! Forsake the doubts. Let go of your own reasoning and simply believe God. He can do the impossible.
Forsaking our stipulations or conditions
We are called to forsake all, and that includes letting go of stipulations or conditions that we put on God. In Matthew 8:21-22 we find an account of one who expressed willingness to follow . . . but with conditions. We read, “And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.” Sometimes we have great intentions. We say, “Yes, I will forsake all, but I need to do one more thing first. I want to accomplish this, or take care of that. I have a legitimate desire I want fulfilled first.” Jesus responded to the man who wanted to bury his father that there can be no “let me do this first” attitude when it comes to following Him. He calls us to let go of our stipulations or conditions.
Forsaking our comfort
There will be sacrifices; God does not promise us an easy way. The Son of Man did not even have a place of His own to lay His head! Following God wholeheartedly may not always be comfortable, but the blessings will be there, and they will far outweigh what we sacrifice. We cannot out give God! In Mark 10:28-30 we read, “Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee. . .” (as if Jesus did not know!) Jesus answered, “Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.”
Forsaking our own plans and perspectives
I was saved when I was twelve years old. How could a twelve-year-old fully understand what the words, “I will serve You for the rest of my life” meant? Of course I did not. However, I meant that commitment in a simple way, and God took me at my word and worked with that. He is still working with that! Even at that young age, I had to let go of control.
The Lord asked me to let go of my perspectives. For example, He showed me that I need to get out of my comfort zone. The first time He laid it on my heart to testify in church, I was terrified. I attempted to give God really good reasons why I should not even be considered for doing something like that. The Lord reminded me, “Who made your mouth?” like He did to Moses. He asked me to let go of my pride. When I yielded and stood to my feet, God gave me the needed grace.
After I was saved, there were restitutions I needed to make. They were embarrassing. I had to write letters and make some phone calls to straighten things out, but when I laid aside my fears and hesitations and simply stepped out in obedience, I experienced the nearness of God. There was such joy and peace and intimacy with Him! Do you want God to come close? Let go of what hinders!
Today, have you forsaken all for God? Have you made a commitment to serve Him wholeheartedly? If not, I urge you to do so. Acknowledge that you need God and are ready to let go of everything. When you make that surrender to God and mean it with all of your heart, you will find joy and fulfillment that you never dreamed possible. Now is the time to choose to yield all to God and promise to serve Him at whatever the cost and wherever He leads.
If you have made a commitment like that at some point, the logical follow-up question must be, “Is everything still fully surrendered to God? Are you still living a life of total abandonment to the Lord?” The peace that surpasses understanding is available to those who have forsaken all to follow God and who have kept their commitment.
1 Bizjak, Tony. “‘Mass chaos’ of Oroville evacuation prompts worry over exit strategy,” The Sacramento Bee, February 17, 2017, http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/transportation/back-seat-driver/article133485154.html
2 Chambers, Oswald. My Utmost for His Highest (Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 1995), Entry for November 10.