Wake Up Call and Offering a Solution to Our Problem of Discipleship in the Church
Recently my wife overheard some bad news. My Doctor in Mansfield (Dr. Gerald Ray, who is awesome by the way!) was counseling me on ways to decrease stress in my life. Among the list of things to do, add, and stop, in order to help relieve stress and start getting more restorative rest at night he said, “You really should stay away from coffee, period.” Not afternoon or in the evening only, but eliminate coffee from my diet. This was bad news for my wife because she realizes that what would benefit me would probably benefit her too.
But we both love coffee. So I’m doing everything else he counseled me to do or to avoid before giving up that morning goodness known as wake-up juice. Now I know he’s more right and I don’t intend to argue with him. But there’s something fundamentally good and I even think true to reality in a morning cup of coffee.
In order for us to wake up, we need something put inside of us.
This is true in the mornings. It’s also true of our life with God, or what we call in the church, discipleship.
Before we get too far, let’s define and understand what we mean when we say, “disciple” or “discipleship”? The word “disciple” simply means “learner”; one who learns from and imitates another. This is deeper than what we might think of as coaching or mentoring; it’s an all-encompassing and holistic following the way of life of another. Think of discipleship more like a Sensei in a Dojo or Martial Arts school, not a Life Coach; think Mr. Miyagi and Daniel-san, not Dr. Phil. It’s a holistic approach to one’s life, flowing from and patterned after the life of another. The way of discipleship is a life lived in relationship to another.
This is what Jesus called those who followed Him throughout his life. Before the church was ever referred to as Christians (which simply means, “a group of people who belong to Christ”), they were called “followers of the way.” (Acts 9:2)
So being a disciple, a follower of Jesus, before it means anything we do for Jesus, is first and foremost about the call to be with Jesus.
The Call of Commitment To Jesus
Most of us will not be tempted to deny our faith or denounce our God throughout our lives, but many of us are so distracted that we settle for a mediocre version of faith and life with God.
This is why Jesus’ call to his first disciples serves as a paradigm, a pattern, for all of us who are moved by and seek to follow Jesus.
“Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.”
Jesus here makes a huge promise of what will happen through our lives if we follow Him. He will do a work of transformation that changes us (“I will make you”) which make us into people who draw others to Jesus (“fishers of men.”)
But we begin with the person of Jesus and our personal commitment to Him; the call to Follow Him.
This is not a come and go as you please relationship that is there when or if it works with our schedule or how we’re feeling that day. It’s all-encompassing following Him throughout our entire life. We live in a society that if we see each other every few months and catch up when we consider that friendship. But when Jesus says to these disciples, “Follow me” he’s inviting them into being more than just an acquaintance. He wants to be with us, all the time.
We can adjust the quote by Dutch Theologian and Statesman Abraham Kuyper and say that:
“There is not a [single second or] square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” ― Abraham Kuyper
Every minute, every moment, of every day, of every week, of every month, of every year in every place is an opportunity to be with Jesus. The question then is, “What are we committed to in those minutes, moments, days, weeks, months, and years that make up our life?”
Nothing else we live for will lead us to a life worth living – only Jesus, because Jesus fulfills, satisfies, and changes everything. He alone comes to bring life to us, and life to the full (John 10:10). Everything else demands something from you, but Jesus lays His life down for you. Jesus gives His everything for you. In Him alone is life!
Are you spending time with the One who comes to bring you life, because He’s the only One who truly and fully can?
Call to Be With Jesus
The Call of discipleship is first and foremost a call to the person of Jesus and it demands the response of our commitment to Him.
But the call is also more than just a commitment to Jesus; its a call to being with Jesus in a personal relationship.
Later in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus takes three of His disciples with Him up on a mountain. While there, Jesus is transfigured, that is, for a moment, who He was before He took on human flesh and weakness, was on display for all to see. Not only that, but He is meeting with Moses and Elijah, two heroes of the people of God who have come to summarize all of the Old Testament Scriptures – the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah). At this sight, Peter jumps with excitement and offers to build three tents (think housing structure of some kind) for each of them to dwell in. But (and this is the best part) God has something else in mind for Peter.
“[Peter] was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.” – Matthew 17:5-6
You see Peter is notorious for speaking or acting before thinking. Just one chapter earlier (ch, 16) Peter in one breath correctly identifies Jesus as “the Messiah/Christ and son of the living God” and the very next thing out of his mouth is a correcting, rebuking, even forbidding Jesus to do something completely unfathomable to him (that would be Jesus going to the cross to die for His people’s sin as their substitute and conqueror over death, destruction, and dysfunction that comes with sin). Jesus has to rebuke Peter strongly; “Get behind me Satan!”
And here, it would seem, God, the Father is now rebuking Peter for jumping into action, rather than letting Jesus’ transfiguration lead him to true contemplation, beautiful adoration, and then a good mission.
“This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him!”
In attempting to do a great work for Jesus, Peter was in danger of moving forward through life without Jesus.
What’s primary/foundational/first and foremost is Being with Jesus: hearing/listening to Him, before doing anything for Jesus.
We must be attentive to His presence, not merely distracted or disillusioned by life or our own grand or mediocre plans.
Rabbi Lawrence Kushner shares this brilliant insight on Moses and the Burning Bush (Exodus 3).
“The “burning bush” was not a miracle. It was a test. God wanted to find out whether or not Moses could pay attention to something for more than a few minutes. When Moses did, God spoke. The trick is to pay attention to what is going on around you long enough to behold the miracle without falling asleep. There is another world, right here within this one, whenever we pay attention.” – Lawrence Kushner, God Was in This Place & I, i Did Not Know: Finding Self, Spirituality and Ultimate Meaning, p.27
In our post-post Christian culture, the only truly meaningful apologetic for Christ is your life and being with Jesus, listening to him, precedes anything you can do for him. It’s critically important, not just for our experience of the full life Jesus promises and offers, but for those God also loves and wants to reach through us. He wants those around us to listen to, hear from, and pay attention to Jesus. This happens when we are with Jesus, both personally and corporately.
So we need to start and continually ask, “How am I hearing from Jesus before I attempt to do anything for Jesus? Am I stopping and being still long enough to hear from Him? Am I going to the Word/the Bible? What has and captivates my attention throughout the day?”
Sometimes we sing the hymn Come Thou Fount, and when we do, we all sing, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it/Prone to leave the God I love.” That’s everyone’s experience, every day. Left to ourselves we will simply and aimlessly wander, drifting through life and wondering how we got to wherever we end up. But the hymn goes on and says “Here’s my heart Lord, take and seal it/Seal it for Thy/Your courts above.”
We attend to God in our life when we give Him our attention by setting our minds on things above – on Him.
The call of discipleship is one of commitment to and being with Jesus; the One who committed Himself to being with us in His life, on the cross, and now by His Spirit living within us in the church. It’s only as we see Jesus truly (Transfiguration) that we come to understand Jesus rightly (Contemplation), that then leads us to love Jesus fully (Adoration), that then fuels our love for God in worship (Devotion), which then propels our love for others in community, and sharing Jesus passionately with everyone in word and deed (Missional Motivation).
What all of this boils down to is we need to set our attention on God throughout our lives, rather than settling for what has become for us a normalized routine of life.
There’s a great quote in C.S. Lewis’s book The Weight of Glory where he writes:
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
So how do we reject settling for being “too easily pleased” and set our attention on the reality of God and the full life He brings to us in Christ?
You tackle it one day and one week at a time. It’s like building a fire: You prepare the kindling and arrange the logs so that the spark of the Spirit can light a fire for God that can be stoked and grown to give off light and heat through you to the rest of the world.
Daily Bible intake
This would be Bible reading of some kind. Whether you can read large sections or just a verse or two, it doesn’t matter; just get in the Word! A vibrant spiritual and devotional life is made up of tiny, small habits that when practiced consistently, have a synergistic and cumulative effect.
When people tell me they feel like God is absent from their life, I often ask about their practices, habits, and spiritual disciplines. What do they give their attention to? More times than not, it’s not that God has withdrawn Himself and is therefore absent from their life; it’s that they’ve taken themselves out of and away from Him through neglect or distraction.
You and I are the product of what we repeatedly do. So excellence, as well as mediocrity, is not an act, or one-time event, but a habit. Or think of it this way, If you show me what you do consistently, I can show you what you’ll become eventually.
Does our life reflect a habit of being with Jesus and hearing from Him in His Word?
Bookend your Day with God
In Prayer, Reflection, and Gratitude. Take time first thing in the morning as you read Scripture to also journal and write out the things you’re grateful for. Then before you go to bed, take 5-10 minutes and simply review your day with God. Journal out and write out your reflections on these questions:
- Where/when did I feel closest to God today? Why?
- Where/when did I feel distant from God today? Why?
- What brought me joy today? Why?
- What hurt me today? Why?
- What does this reveal to me about:
- Who God is?
- How life works?
- Who I am?
Commitment to gathered worship
Weekly gathered worship is a log that further fuels the fire and passion for God in our lives. What will help you experience this?
- Come expectantly to meet with God (not just go through the motions or check it off your to-do list)
- Come eager to bless others – with your presence, with your fellowship, with your service, with the offering of your gifts – tithes and talents and attention.
- Come early – 15 minutes early – and see if you don’t start to not only enjoy worship more, but you actually start to experience God and a more meaningful life, because you are giving yourself to the One who brings you life and leads you into the fuller life with Him.
And don’t forget, a great way to get the most out of gathered worship is by preparing your heart all week long with reading, meditating, studying, and praying God’s Word in your life, for your life, and through your life, meeting with others for fellowship, encouragement, and challenge, and also through seeking to bless and serve those around you.
Ask the Next Question (the Missional Question)
- Who do I know around me that could be blessed by what God is doing for me, in me, and through me?
- How can I be a blessing to others this week?
Wherever you are, today, tomorrow, and the rest of your days, learn to focus on Jesus and change what you pay attention to.
Christ is worth it. If you gaze at Him long enough, you just might find yourself stoking a fiery passion for Him that the rest of the world notices and finds irresistible.
For Part 1 in this series, check out “Asleep at the Wheel: Diagnosing our Problem in Discipleship as a Church”.
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Links to Further Resources
Daily Bible Intake
Ligonier bible reading plan – what I’m currently using (in case you wondered).
YouVersion Bible app – a countless number of Bible reading plans.
Other Books I’ve Found Helpful
The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence