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Following Jesus, Discipleship, and The Lord of the Rings

A few days ago, I watched the beginning of The Two Towers, the second entry into The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I’ve read the books at least twice and seen the movies at least eight times, so I know the story quite well. But this time I saw something new.

In the first movie (book) we are introduced to a group of nine who volunteer to destroy an evil, powerful ring and they set out toward the one place where the ring can be destroyed. But at the end of the first movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, they are attacked and the group is split up. Two are killed, two hobbits head off one direction to destroy the ring, two hobbits are captured, and three expert fighters are left standing wondering what to do next.

This is where the story twists. Logic, strategic planning and good leadership would say that the three strongest fighters need to remain focused on the primary cause, that of destroying the ring. Instead they chase after the two captured hobbits. Now if you have seen the movies, you know that these two hobbits were not good fighters, they were more than a bit irresponsible and they were tag-a-longs who did not even understand what they were doing when they volunteered for the mission. So here we have three heroes going in the opposite direction from their original purpose and chasing after two hobbits who were not equipped to contribute much to that purpose.

Then it hit me about how this is very similar to following God. Let me speak to this on the personal level and then I’ll speak to it on the church level tomorrow.

You set out with a goal to do something specific for God. You might even feel like God has called you to that specific thing, whether it’s leading a small group as a volunteer, becoming a missionary to a foreign country or any number of things. It might be the heart and soul of how God has made you and it might even give you more passion than anything else. So you set off toward that goal. You pray. You read books on the subject. You get trained, maybe even go to school. You volunteer in the kind of ministry that fits the calling that is on your heart. You even join up with others who are on a similar journey.

Then things happen. Life happens. Sometimes it’s negative stuff that we might attribute to an attack from Satan. Sometimes it’s just the normal stuff of life. Then we find our path less than straight. Instead of going in the direction of our calling, we find ourselves putting our energy into something else.

Following God never takes a straight path. This is not geometry. The path of discipleship is always full of mystery, what logic might call a waste of time. We assume that we know how each step should advance us along a path that would lead us closer to what we think is our calling and destiny. The three warriors, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli thought they were going forth on a direct course to destroy the ring, but they found themselves running across fields and up and down mountains seeking to save two small hobbits who had to that point in the story done nothing but bungle things up.

When you get to the end of the entire Lord of the Rings story you see how what looks like a wasteful diversion for Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli is actually the path that would lead them to climax of the story. Without the diversion, without the mystery, without the unexpected twist, there is no story at all.

Reflect on your walk with God, about the unexpected diversions, the twists that seemed to be wasteful in the moment. Take a few minutes now to celebrate the place where you are now and the fact that God meets you there. Then offer a prayer of trust to Jesus the “pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

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M. Scott Boren is a Teaching Pastor at Woodland Hills Church in Saint Paul, MN and consultant who partners with The Missional Network (www.themissionalnetwork.com). He has written and co-written eight books, including Introducing the Missional Church, Missional Small Groups and MissioRelate. He share life with his bride, Shawna, and their four children, all under the age of eight. He can be reached at his website: www.mscottboren.com.