Learning to Imitate

I sat in the church service on Sunday evening while the musicians played. Their songs were lively, their movements energetic. The lady in front of me held her eight-month-old grandson on her lap, and as he watched the activity, he began to flap his little arms up and down. I don’t think he’s ready to play the drums yet, but in years to come, I’m sure he’ll do well. The drummer is his uncle, one of the singers is his mother, and others are family too. We can probably expect him to follow in their footsteps. I had to smile; I could see young Jeremiah was enjoying himself. Give him a couple of years and he’ll want to head up there and pick up a microphone!

As I thought about this snapshot of our church-of-the-future, I recalled what the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church about imitating him. You may have 10,000 mentors who work for the Messiah, but not many fathers. For in the Messiah Jesus, I became your father through the gospel.  So I urge you to imitate me –  1 Corinthians 4:16 (Contemporary English Version)

He also emphasised following Christ. When you eat or drink or do anything else, always do it to honour God. Don’t cause problems for Jews or Greeks or anyone else who belongs to God’s church. I always try to please others instead of myself, in the hope that many of them will be saved.  You must follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ – 1 Corinthians 11:1 (CEV)

My mind wandered into familiar territory and I began checking out the times when I knew I wasn’t worth imitating, and the challenges I’d faced in setting a good example. Would I, like Paul, be able to tell people, ‘imitate me?’ Could I be responsible for anyone using my lifestyle as a pattern for living well? It’s not easy to copy the habits of someone else unless we’re willing to say we’re not satisfied with the way we’re living. There are two sides to this: making sure we have good role models, but being good role models ourselves. Jesus took on the responsibility of keeping away from sin in a place where it was the most popular thing to do. He made a choice, once and for all, to live right. He knew he needed the Holy Spirit; he was human, like us. Paul was the same; he chose to live like Jesus.

Here are some lessons we can learn from Jesus’ way of imitating. First, he watched. Like little Jeremiah, he watched someone he trusted. In Jesus’ case, it was his Father. He said he saw what his Father was doing in the world.

Then he listened. What did they talk about in those nightly prayer times? I’m sure he wouldn’t have missed them for extra sleep, different company or reams of untried advice about his daily work. No, his Father offered the most wise counsel, the warmest love and the strongest resources for the next day.

How tragic if Jesus had kept these benefits to himself! He knew their value and what price it would cost if he didn’t cherish every moment with his Father and the Holy Spirit. What if he’d left all those examples on the mountain and not bothered to share them with others?

So how do I imitate Jesus? In the same way he mirrored his Father’s personality, I can learn to reflect his perfect pattern in my life. I mightn’t be aware who’s observing, hearing or following me, but like young Jeremiah, I must imitate Jesus and watch, listen and copy the way he lived.

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