Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Meaning of Discipleship

Discipleship is a topic we often don’t give enough time and emphasis to in churches today. 

If we boil it down to its essentials, there are basically three facets to discipleship: (1) becoming a disciple; (2) growing as a disciple; and (3) making other disciples.

Many Christians might have become disciples years ago, but they have failed to grow in their discipleship and are spiritually stagnant now. Perhaps they’ve never taken the initiative to play an active role in making other disciples and, therefore, have shirked their God-given responsibility. 

Some believers simply try to maintain the status quo in their lives rather than allow Christ to transform them more into His image.

It’s a sad state of affairs when someone remains a perpetual babe in Christ, still feeding on the milk of the Word and never moving on to the solid food reserved for mature Christians.

Hebrews 5:12-14 (ESV) says, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

True discipleship entails more than mere intellectual assent to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. It means faithfully following in His footsteps.

Did you know the word for disciple and the word for discipline are both derived from the same Latin root—discipulus, which means student or pupil? It emphasizes the notion of practice or exercise. Self-discipline and self-control are supposed to be ongoing characteristics of the followers of Jesus, as exhibited by Peter, James, and John, who left everything to follow Jesus.

At its core, discipleship is primarily obedience to our Lord and Savior. It also involves purity and holiness, giving and serving, and studying God’s Word and sharing it with others.

Jesus said in Luke 9:23-24 (ESV), “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” He warned in Luke 14:27 (ESV), “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”

And if that wasn’t clear enough, Jesus also asserted in Luke 14:33 (ESV), “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”

In the Great Commission, Christ challenged his apostles to “Go . . . and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20a, ESV).

Therefore, discipleship is not to be a selfish endeavor whereby we become the sole beneficiaries of the message and blessings of the gospel. Good News ought to be shared with others. That’s why evangelism and biblical education are essential components of discipleship.

According to the New Testament, being a Christian disciple involves personal growth characterized by the following:

1. Putting Jesus first in all things (Mark 8:34-38)
2. Following Jesus' teachings (John 8:31-32)
3. Bearing Fruit (John 15:5-8)
4. Loving other disciples (John 13:34-35)
5. Evangelizing the world by making disciples of others (Matt. 4:19-20; 2 Tim. 2:2)

No matter what your current maturity level is in the Christian life, you have something valuable to offer. Don’t believe Satan’s lie that you don't know enough or haven't been a Christian long enough to make a difference. While you may not know a lot of Bible verses, you’ve personally experienced the love of the Savior, and that’s precisely what you need to share. Enthusiasm for Jesus is contagious.

In Luke 6:40 (ESV), Jesus said, “A disciple is not greater than his teacher, but everyone when fully trained will be like his teacher.”

The yoke and the cross are twin symbols of the Christian life. “The cross speaks of leaving the world for Christ; the yoke speaks of learning in the world from Christ. The one speaks of sacrifice; the other service. The disciple must bear both; he cannot choose to take one and leave the other” (The Prairie Overcomer).     

Are you a true disciple of Jesus Christ today?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Persistence in Prayer

If you’re anything like me, I imagine sometimes you find yourself wrestling with God in your prayer life. It is a challenging experience.

Jesus told a short—yet powerful—parable in Luke 19:1-8. It goes as follows (ESV):

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

We can learn several valuable lessons from this poignant story.

First of all, pray fervently and never give up hope. Sometimes we grow weary and want to throw in the towel prematurely when it comes to our prayer life. Over the past few years there have been a couple of major things I’ve been praying consistently about. I’ve been waiting for God to answer definitively, but have not yet seen these particular prayer requests come to fruition. Waiting has been emotionally and spiritually exhausting at times. Sometimes it has gotten discouraging and confusing.

And I’ll confess at times I’ve wondered, “Why haven’t you come through for me yet, Lord? What’s the hold up? Why the long wait?” At times I’ve realized that my patience has been wearing down. I’ve also done a lot of self-evaluation to determine if what I’m asking of the Lord is not only reasonable but also in accordance with his will, or if my requests are basically self-centered and selfish in nature.

But I know in my heart of hearts that my heavenly Father does indeed care and is listening to my petitions. I’ve just got to trust that he sees the big picture and is working all things out for the greater good in his own time. Leaning on the Lord and not my own understanding has been a challenging but necessary journey.

Second, in the parable, the widow’s persistence with the secular judge for personal justice eventually paid off. It was as if she slowly-but-surely wore him down by her continual appeals. Even though he wasn’t a very kind or righteous individual, he ultimately gave her what she asked for—that justice be served. In his case, it seems he simply wanted to get her off his back.

Jesus goes on to say that if such a calloused and uncompassionate individual, who really didn’t care about the widow’s plight in the first place, gave into her constant badgering, how much more will our heavenly Father—who cares deeply about each one of us—answer our prayers in the affirmative?

Whether it’s justice, sustenance, strength, financial stability, healing, protection, companionship, success, or something else we’re seeking, God is interested in our well-being. He wishes to help his children. He wants to meet our needs and give us the desires of our hearts.

Third, the parable reveals a truth to us about the great importance of faith. Jesus asks, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (v. 8b) The widow believed that if she refused to give up, her cause would be upheld. She was, therefore, tenacious and steadfast.

What about you? How strong is your belief in God’s goodness and ability to answer your prayers and satisfy your needs? Do you possess enough faith—even if it’s only the size of a mustard seed—to move mountains?

Being persistent in prayer will pay off in the end.