In a previous blog, we talked about how Jesus described the Gospel as the Kingdom of God having come. We are invited to make a turn away from the kingdom we are living in and following Jesus to a life in the Kingdom of God. This amazing life is available to everyone who is willing to accept Jesus call and to follow Him. However, accepting the invitation is just the beginning. When we accept Jesus call, we are accepting a call to a lifetime of following and learning from Him. In Christianity, this is what we call discipleship.
On Wednesday of the weeklong retreat I took with the Renovaré Institute we spent some time talking about discipleship and how you can’t have the Gospel without discipleship. They go hand in hand. So I’d like to share a few things that were helpful for me as we took a look at what discipleship is.
What is a Disciple?
I like to look at word definitions to help me better understand the topic I am studying. So lets start with how Webster’s dictionary defines disciple:
- One who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another
- A convinced adherent of a school or individual
Two very important parts of being a disciple; 1) a disciple must have a master or teacher they follow and 2) they are so impacted by the master they share the teachings to others. As disciples, we are convinced adherents of Jesus Christ who then assist in sharing the Good News of the kingdom of God.
Over the years in talking with people, I have found our emphasis on discipleship has gotten a little lopsided. By that I mean that we really stress the first part of the definition about spreading the message, which is incredibly important, but we do not do a very good job at times with helping people know how to truly follow and learn from the Master. It is partly why I started my website to begin with. I meet so many Christians who know about Jesus, but who really do not know him. And then in their efforts, they try to spread a message of good news that many times they are not experiencing themselves. Before Jesus sent the disciples out to spread the good news, they spent time being with Him and learning from Him.
For this post, I would like to focus on a few characteristics of what a disciple is like.
Follow the Rabbi
The first characteristic of a disciple is someone who is on a journey with Jesus and others. I am reminded of a trip to Israel I took in 2009 led by my friend and Pastor Brian Haynes. I could probably write several posts just about that trip, but in a nutshell we learned from Brian what following Jesus looked like. Through the 10 days together, we learned like the disciples may have learned with Jesus. We followed our “rabbi” Brian over mountains, plains, deserts, major archaeological sites, and Jerusalem. We didn’t always know where we were going, but we followed our Rabbi anyway because we trusted in him and wanted to learn from him. Throughout the journey Brian would teach us about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Kingdom. The picture at the head of this post is one I took on the trip of the sea of Galilee. What a journey!
As disciples of Christ, we are on a journey with Jesus in the community with others. We live in the company of Jesus every moment of every day. As we walk and follow Him daily, He reveals more of Himself to us.
A Lifelong Pursuit
A second characteristic of a disciple is taking a journey with Jesus that will never end. There is no six-week class we can take to learn all we can about being a disciple. I wouldn’t want it any other way! When we embrace the journey and all that we experience with our Master, we realize there is no other way to live.
One of the things we learned from Brian is what the yoke really represents in Matthew 11:29. The yoke was a rabbi’s interpretation of the Torah. The rabbis in Jesus’ time had identified 613 rules that their disciples had to follow. Wow, talk about a heavy burden! Jesus had just 2. Our lifelong journey under the yoke of Jesus is light and life-giving. We learn to live life as Jesus would live. We allow the Gospel to shape our life and the choices we make. Every day we have opportunities to put what we have learned from Jesus into practice. Our discipleship will overflow into every area of our lives.
A Life That Works
A final characteristic of a disciple of Jesus is one who experiences a life that works. This does not mean there are no problems or trials, but when we follow Jesus and allow Him to shape our lives, we find that our lives just work better. We find that Jesus was serious when He said, “I have come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) What an amazing promise. But it is one that flows out of a decision to follow Jesus as a disciple.
We can see examples all around us of disciples who are experiencing a life that works. One example I can think of is my Mom and Dad. I could share tons of examples, but one that always moves me is the following. My Mom lost her eyesight to Macular Degeneration in her mid-50s. She could no longer read unless using very sophisticated glasses and even then it was nearly impossible. After my Dad and Mom had both gone to be with Jesus, my sister and I were going through their condo in Naples, Florida, which they called their “paradise”. I opened a drawer and found several binders, each with a different book of the New Testament and each with very large print so my Mom could read them. I could see my Dads hands and heart all over those binders as he took the time to create those for my Mom so she could read the scriptures.
Opening that drawer and seeing those binders brought tears to my eyes. I had never seen them before, but it was a tangible reminder of the love that one person can have for another as disciples following their Master. Mom and Dad lived a life that worked well as they lived a life-long journey of following Jesus.
A Daily Decision
Jesus said “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:24). Discipleship is a day by day, moment by moment decision to deny our own selfish desires and to follow Jesus. A practical example of this is Brother Lawrence who was a lay person living in a monastery in France in the 16th century whose walk with God was so inspiring that a book was written about him called Practicing the Presence of God. Brother Lawrence made it a practice to acknowledge that he is in the presence of God throughout the day. I love his prayer:
May our lives as disciples be an offering to God as we experience and live out our discipleship in the daily activities of our lives.