Following Jesus Into 2024
Through an encounter with someone in an elevator recently, I was reminded of something the Lord says to those who belong to Him. This happened during a time of personal need, just as I was giving in to worry, but the lesson applies to any believer, no matter where we are in our walk with the Lord. Now, as we rapidly approach a new year, I’m reminded of this great teaching of Jesus.
Last month I found myself in the hospital with my husband, who needed surgery. This was to be a routine surgery, but due to other circumstances, the surgical team wanted to make sure things would go smoothly. The days leading up to the surgery went reasonably well. We saturated his room with prayers, and we could feel the tangible peace of God. Days later, when my husband was finally cleared for surgery, I went to the operation waiting room. The surgeon and staff said: “This will only take an hour, maybe an hour and a half, tops.” He was taken in at 11:45 a.m., and I prayed, worshiped, and read Scripture while I waited.
The hour became two hours, and then three. By this time, I could see that some visitors that had arrived after me were being released before me. After four hours had passed, I began to feel the rise of fear. I reached out to the staff, who told me they had no updates as of yet. Finally, as the fifth hour approached, they called me to say that my husband would now be returning to his room. Excited and thankful, but feeling a mix of other emotions too, I rushed to the elevator so that I could be in the room to speak with the surgical team before my husband was brought down.
As I entered the elevator, the buttons flickered, and then the doors would not close. This happened several times, and I finally stepped out. The day before, some people had been trapped in the hospital elevator, and I did not want that to happen to me. I tried another elevator, but this one did the same thing! I became frustrated. I saw a doctor entering the elevator I had just come out of. “They’re not working,” I told him. “I don’t know what’s going on.” He motioned with his hand and said, “Follow me.” I followed him in, and he explained that the elevators in the operation rooms were a bit different than the others. I would have to use the elevators in another part of the hospital to return to our floor. He waved his name badge in front of the elevator, pressed some buttons to override the system, and I was finally on my way back. He said again, “Come, just follow me, and I’ll show you the way.” I don’t know why, but I felt so much better then. This was a doctor with a serious presence. His thick accent was not American or Mexican, but his name tag read, Jesus. I wanted to laugh — not at the doctor, but at the situation. Here was a man named Jesus who had showed up to help me just as I was losing my cool.
The elevator doors opened, and I thanked the doctor and returned to the room to wait for my husband. He was in and out of anesthesia when I spoke to the staff. There were a few complications during his surgery, which is why it took longer. I found out the extent of the complications the following day when the surgeon came to speak with my husband. For the surgeon to say that my husband was in pretty bad shape and call him a miracle was all the proof I needed that Jesus was indeed with us, because there’s only one who is a miracle-working God. I thought of the “Doctor Jesus” in the elevator and how he had twice said, “Follow me.” That reminded me of a familiar Bible story.
In Matthew 19:16–22, Jesus conversed with a rich young ruler who thought adhering to the law would grant him eternal life. The Lord tells him, “Go and sell all you have, then you will have real treasure, and then come and follow me.” The young man was sad. The Bible tells us he had many possessions. Jesus uses this as a teaching moment for His disciples.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again, I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:23–24).
The young ruler had a choice to follow Jesus, just as we all do; however, there was a condition. He was first to sell all he had, which he could not bring himself to do. Jesus uses hyperbole and mentions a camel going through the eye of a needle being easier than rich men entering heaven. If you have ever sewn, you know how impossible this statement is. Yet Jesus was teaching a more profound lesson. According to the Forerunner Commentary, the “eye of the needle” was said to be a very narrow gate in the wall around Jerusalem. This narrow opening was small enough to accommodate pedestrians but not marauding bandits who rode camels. Any visitor on camels, the primary mode of transportation in those days, would have had to remove every trace of baggage from off the camel to fit through the gate. It is also said that the camels would have had to crawl through on their knees to fit. People have debated whether or not that is true, but if Jesus said this, it is not without purpose. It illustrates a more important principle.
After all, Jesus did tell His disciples in Matthew 7:13–14 to enter through the narrow gate.
We’ve all got baggage, haven’t we? We carry more than we can handle at times. There are three things listed about the rich young man we can learn from. This man was talking to the Messiah, and he knew it, so he asked, “What do I have to do to inherit eternal life?” Rather than listen to what Jesus was saying, he began to list how righteous he was by keeping the law. He must have forgotten what the prophet Isaiah had said about how the Lord views our righteousness (see Isaiah 64:6). This is religion, and it can become a trap for every Christian.
God’s Ways Over Man’s
Simply put, we are saved by grace, through faith, and not of ourselves (see Ephesians 2:8–9). Salvation was paid in full by Jesus Christ. We must ditch religion. It is hypocritical. It has a form of godliness but denies the power of God (see 2 Timothy 3:5). It trades the ways of God for the works of man. It reduces the power of God to formulas. It can quench the fire in a believer. When we begin to recount our works and deeds as if we have anything to do with them, we are being religious. Ditch the baggage of religion, and choose a relationship with the Lord.
The young man was called a “rich young ruler,” meaning he had a position of authority. Following Jesus would have stripped him of all titles. In Matthew 4:18–22 and Luke 5:27, when Jesus calls His disciples, Peter and Andrew left their boats and followed Him. In Luke, Jesus calls Levi, and he leaves his tax-collector booth and follows Him. The disciples left everything behind to follow Him. They exhibited great faith in doing so. Everything they needed would have to come from Jesus; leaving their nets and booth was the sign of their abandoning the life they had previously known. This is an invitation for everyone to follow Jesus. Perhaps the young ruler was not ready for this. He would have to abandon his personal security, prestige, reputation, and everything else he relied on. And we must likewise lay down our desire for recognition. I say this in love: Many in the Church are more in love with titles than with the Lord. Many want the front-row seat so that they may be seen and admired. Jesus said to choose the lowest place (see Luke 14:10). We must ditch pride and self-glorying, and choose humility.
The young man was corrected for not wanting to sell his possessions. The thought of losing all he had worked for was distressing enough to make him walk away from Jesus in sorrow. At that point Jesus tells His disciples that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. Jesus had much to say about money and giving. The apostle Paul describes the problems that a love of money can produce in the lives of believers (see 1 Timothy 6:9–10). When Jesus offered the ruler true riches, He was offering Himself. We Christians are the most blessed people in the world. Do you believe that? We are far richer than Gates, Soros, or any Rothschild, because we have the eternal treasure of Jesus Christ, and even death cannot separate us from His love. Let’s ditch covetousness and lift up thanks and praise for how blessed indeed we are.
What’s Your Baggage?
What about you? If you had to reflect on 2023, what would you say you struggled with most? Was it fear for the future of the nation? Are you overwhelmed with anxiety for your children or grandchildren? Are you anxious and troubled over many things? Are you burdened by an offense with another believer? Are you harboring unforgiveness? Do you have a secret struggle no one knows about? These are unnecessary burdens.
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11: 28–30).
Before we go into 2024, we must lay down the baggage we’ve been holding onto. We weren’t meant to carry those things. If your soul needs rest, then exchange your burdens. Give your worry, fear, anxiety, anger, unforgiveness, or whatever it is to the Lord. His burden is easy, and His yoke is light.
A Word for Intercessors
Back to the eye of the needle. A camel is considered a beast of burden; its entire purpose, aside from being a means of travel, was to bear and transport goods. How does this apply to me? Intercessors are burden bearers; often, we sense things in the spirit realm. You may have prayed for someone with or without their knowing it and felt their feelings. This happens as we co-labor with Christ in prayer, because He is the great high priest and intercessor. However, I have found that we carry unnecessary burdens into our prayer time. Once we give something to the Lord, we are to leave it there, not pick it back up and worry. We can also pick up others’ offenses if we are not careful. I have found that some people will pull on you for prayer. There’s nothing wrong with someone asking you for prayer; however, use wisdom. Not every single battle is your fight. You may end up burned-out spiritually and feeling overwhelmed.
Two things were done so that the camel could make it through the narrow gate. Again, the camel had to be stripped of everything. There will be times when God does bring His people to this place. Intercessor, sometimes you may wonder if your prayers matter or if they are effective. Sometimes, you may feel as if you are missing the mark completely. Some days, you may feel like you aren’t even anointed to pray. You’ll only know how that feels when you are in that place. Let the Lord strip you of worldly cares and unnecessary burdens you were never meant to carry. I assure you that He is at work in those least-productive seasons of your life. Though they may not be as fun or exciting, that stripping away is necessary. Just as He prunes the dead fruit, the stripping accomplishes the same purpose. If you want to prolong the season, keep fighting against it.
The camel had to be guided through the narrow gate. He would have had no choice but to follow and trust the man leading it through the gate. It’s like that with us. At times in our lives, we have no idea where the Lord may be leading us. But we can be assured that because He is the good shepherd, He will lead us rightly and be with us. The catch is that we must let Him lead us, and not vice versa.
The next thing the camel was said to do was get low on its knees to make it through the gate. This is our position. As Christians, we take the low road. By this I mean that we aim to model Christlike behavior. Jesus was a humble servant (see Philippians 2:6–8), and we are told to be servants also. As intercessors, we go low into the place of prayer on our knees. We must maintain a posture of prayer and humility. We have made it this far; let’s not give in or give up now. We may have some regrets looking back at the prior year. Maybe you didn’t keep your resolutions very long. Perhaps you broke some commitments. Maybe you just made a mess of things, as we tend to do occasionally. Give it all to Jesus. Go all in with total abandon. Listen for the sound of His voice and follow Him.
But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice (John 10:2–4 NLT).
Let’s pray together:
Father, we thank You that regardless of our difficulties and trials, You’ve never left us. Thank You for being so good and so faithful. Show us the baggage that is keeping us from entering through the narrow gate. We invite You to strip away every fruitless thing within us or anything excessive that will serve no good purpose in the next season of our lives. Create in us a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within us. Help us stay postured in humility and prayerful in every circumstance. Teach us to do Your will and lead us forward. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
What will you be letting go of next year? Share in the comments below.
IFA contributing writer Gloria Robles is a passionate intercessor with a prophetic voice for today. For more from Gloria, go to Spotify or Anchor and listen to her podcast. Photo credit: Canva Pro/Husain Chauhan from Pexels
Partner with Us
Intercessors for America is the trusted resource for millions of people across the United States committed to praying for our nation. If you have benefited from IFA's resources and community, please consider joining us as a monthly support partner. As a 501(c)3 organization, it's through your support that all this possible.