Discipling, or This Is the Life

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There are some heavy posts coming.  Too many bad things are happening and even if it’s just a drop in the ocean, I think faithfulness requires speaking up.  So along with chapters from my novel and series on marriage and maybe even parenting (still haven’t decided if I dare to tread there yet), I’m going to enter some deep waters.  Soon.

Before that, I want to talk a little bit about discipling.  I learned to use “disciple” as a verb as well as a noun when I become a Christian, an equivalent for “mentoring” but with the connotation of loving people and teaching them what you know about following Jesus.  So I have disciples, but they are not becoming disciples of me, but of Jesus.  I just preached on this, and hoped to share it here, but that sermon seems to have been lost to posterity.  I’ll post the manuscript, though, just in case someone wants to read it and imagine my seal-like laugh barking at my own jokes.

Tonight, I had three conversations going at the same time.  This is one joy of social media–try doing that talking on the phone sometime.  One person wanted my advice on an upcoming debate.  She asked me to play “devil’s advocate” for a an issue, which really just allowed me to rant about justice, as I understand it, which is to say the justice God desires for his Kingdom.  Meanwhile, another person wanted my advice about a sticky social situation, and how to keep it from getting stickier.  As I was happily typing away in both of these discussions, a third person, a guy I had the amazing experience of seeing become a Jesus follower about…10 years ago now, and who calls me his “Yoda” (mostly an honor, right?) shared some wonderful news about a big door opening for him to pursue his calling.

Now, today hadn’t been a fantastic day.  Most of the troubles came from my taking things that aren’t that serious too seriously, and from dwelling on things that are not within my control (there’s a whole Serenity Prayer about that!).  But in that forty-six minute span during which all these discussions took place, I was reminded–I might even say God reminded me–that this is the life I’m supposed to live.

Really?  Forty six minutes in the 10:30 PM range qualifies for “I’m living the life?”

Yeah, it does.  Because these conversations, ranging from the social to the academic to the professional, are all about how we follow Jesus faithfully in every aspect of our lives.  How do we live with integrity?  How do we follow God’s calling on our lives to find the intersection of our passion and the world’s need?  How do we love others in the gray areas, in the places where Scripture gives us guidelines but no specific instructions?

How do we live as disciples of Jesus?

Though many times I feel frustrated with myself, and question whether I am using my gifts to their full potential, tonight I got the reminder that investing in other people’s lives is it.  I mean seriously, that’s what we’re here for.

On the off chance that this sounds like I’m getting up on my high horse, I will frame it this way: to be a follower of Jesus means to know him, intimately, as the living, resurrected God, and to obey his teaching and commands in Scripture, to follow his leading through his Spirit, and to emulate how he lived within our own context.*

So what did he say to do?  Lots of stuff.  Hard stuff.  Impossible-sounding stuff.  And this:  “Love one another as I have loved you.”  That above all.

Really?  Above all?

Absolutely.  When quizzed, Jesus named the two greatest commandments.  “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  The second is like it, Jesus says.  They are similar commandments.  They are related. 

Then, when Jesus is preparing to leave his disciples–preparing to die–he tells them:  “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  And “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Just to make this connection solid, John, who wrote this Gospel, also wrote in his first letter:

 We love because he [God] first loved us.  Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.  And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

So that’s pretty straightforward, right?

I don’t want to oversimplify or make this sound easy.  Loving others is hard work.  It causes significant portions of us–the selfish parts–to die.  It is a lifetime’s journey.  Often when I start to think, “Hey, I’m getting good at this,” it’s just a doorway into another room in my heart where I love me, me, me…and not so much you.  Becoming like Jesus, loving others as I love myself, loving God with all I’ve got and learning to extend God’s love to others, that is our calling.  Period.  The details are in how God has made each of us, whether you’re good with numbers or horses or pastries or pianos.  Investment banking and raising radishes are both callings within the Kingdom of God, remembering that the main thing we’re doing is loving people the way Jesus loves us.

So thinking through this for a second, if I’m going to disciple someone else, I need to know a few things:  how Jesus loves me, what Jesus says to do, what Jesus did, how he speaks to me now**, and how to apply all those in our current context.  Then I need to communicate Jesus’ love for them, and help them to discern how obeying Jesus looks in their lives.

Here is a miracle I have seen:  I have started out barely being able to stand people I am discipling and ended up loving them.  That is one of my proofs for myself of God’s existence.  It may not prove anything to you, but I have seen myself change, I know the difference, and I know of no other rational explanation.

You might ask, “Why would you begin to disciple someone you don’t even like?” Valid question.

God said to.

Turns out he knows what he’s doing.  Who would have guessed?

But here is a crucial point: when Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you,” he didn’t mean, “Feel gushy emotional mush for one another.”  He didn’t even mean, “Feel great admiration and mutual respect.”  Love is an action verb and love is always a choice, not a feeling.  God loves us when we are unlovely and feel unlovable.  God loved us when we were his enemies.  To love one another as Jesus loves us means to do the same:  to love people who act unlovely and seem unlovable, and watch God’s love transform them…and us along the way.

Discipling is a concentrated form of love.  Discipling someone means investing in his or her life, choosing to know and care about whatever the person is willing to share, with the understanding that these things will lead to the conversations and decisions about how he or she follows Jesus.

It also means someone trusts you enough to let you in, and trust is earned.  Always.

The image in my head is you’re out walking with Jesus and you say to someone, “C’mon!  Join us!”

The conversations I described above are an aspect of discipling.  They are also the fruit of discipling, when the people you have loved know you care and therefore seek you for the small and the big things that impact their lives of following Jesus.

Do you do this?  Do you invest in other people’s lives, in younger people’s lives–chronologically or spiritually–and give of your life through the precious resources of time and attention?  If we follow Jesus as his disciples, we also help others become his disciples, in one way or another.  I have described this process as I do it, with my personality; if you have a very different personality type, your approach may look significantly different.  Again, the details are not the point.  Loving is the point.

“Love one another as I have loved you.”

That is the point.

 

 

*This blog is called “Grace is Greater,” so of course inherent in this description is that “knowing Jesus intimately” means knowing that he died to atone for my sins and give me new life in him.  I’m not always orthodox, but I really am on this one.

**Usual disclaimer that “hearing God” is an art form, not a science nor a precise equation

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