disciplemaking (8)

Lay Down Your Gifts

Let’s start today by revisiting Jesus’ commissioning of the seventy-two from a few weeks ago. The seventy-two certainly had something to rejoice in when they used the gifts they had received: “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name” (Luke 10:17). And because of that, we tend to read Jesus’ response, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (v.18), as something that happened at that very moment. I’m not so sure any more.

What if what Jesus really meant was this?: “I was there when Satan fell. I was there when he became so full of pride over what God had given him that he exalted himself above God. Be careful the same doesn’t happen to you.”

It certainly would explain Jesus’ next words, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you”—because after all, you’re not the first, and you’re not always in good company—“but rejoice that your names stand written in heaven” (v.19).

There may well come a time where we will have to lay down our very giftedness and callings before Jesus—when we will need to say, “This is yours, Lord, and I will walk away from all of it if that’s what you want.” Should that occur, it will likely be because we’ve allowed our identities to become so wrapped up in what we’ve been called to do by Jesus that our identities are really no longer in Jesus.

It’s very easy to fall in love with the idea of “I’m called to do this.” It’s much easier to get excited about something new and unique than it is to get excited about doing what everyone else is doing—or at least, should be doing. Every day God calls us to many seemingly mundane acts of obedience that are no less important than our seemingly “special” acts—and might well, in fact, be more important.

Doing God’s will and living in God’s will, while certainly related, are not the same thing. One involves obeying a very specific directive from God; the other is God giving us the freedom to live creativity within his broader will. Both please him—if they’re done in a spirit of obedience. As important as it is to use the gifts God’s given us and to follow his calling, it’s more important to develop the fruit of the Spirit—those qualities that grow from our new life within.

Jesus’ ministry was literally crucified. Why should we dare to think that our ministries and good works would be exempt from such testing?

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing…. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you (John 15:4–5, 7).

Lay down your gifts, and concern yourself with abiding in Jesus. He knows how your gifts should be used—and whether they should be used—better than you. Apart from him you can do nothing. As your desires become his desires, his gifts and calling upon you will be used in ever-greater ways—because they’ll truly be his gifts and his calling.

Lay It Down Today

Let’s take another cue from the Sermon on the Mount for today’s prayer time:

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5:23–25).

I want to expand the parameters a bit past this text’s original meaning, but with an intent that I think you’ll agree is thoroughly biblical. We may not bring physical gifts to the altar, but we do have gifts we need to offer up to God. There are ways we need to love those around us more, whether it’s a matter of anger and forgiveness (as stated here) or in other ways.

Therefore, spend some time in prayer today identifying the gifts God has given you and leaving them “there before the altar.” Ask God to help you be obedient, whether it’s something you’re gifted in or comfortable with or not—or no matter how “trivial” your act of obedience may be. Have the faith that God will use your obedience to produce what he wants in others’ lives—and in your own.

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Walk It Out

All of our lives, when lived rightly, are a journey into trust. A few days ago, I mentioned one prayer I’ve been repeatedly lifting up to God. In fact, there’s another particular prayer I’ve been praying for quite a while, and I think (and hope) that the development of this prayer has been reflected in these pages.

At first, and for a long time, it went like this: “Lord, help me to learn to trust you more deeply.” However, over the last several weeks, I’ve felt the need to add this: “…and to become more worthy of your trust.”

This is not about theology, so don’t go there. This is about relationship. I want to know God more deeply, but I have to allow him to know me more deeply. Again, suspend the theology; I know God knows me. And yet, I try to hide.

This journey into trust, however, requires me to stop hiding. It requires me to put my sin and my agenda and my fear away, so I can truly experience God’s knowing of me—that my relationship with God might be truly intimate and not just “all in order.”

The fact is, both parts of this prayer are flip sides of the same problem—there’s only one person in this equation who can’t be trusted. However, my own untrustworthiness feeds my inability to trust God. Only as I begin to obediently walk out what God’s commanded do I begin to, in turn, feel as if I can trust God with every part of my life. God doesn’t condemn me; he forgives me and wants me to be better.

This isn’t just for me. At the same time that I need to receive his grace, I need to extend it to others. I need to show genuine pity—not in the sense of “I feel sorry for you,” but in the sense of “I ache for you and want to help you.” Because that’s the kind of pity Jesus has shown to me.

As we’ve observed repeatedly this week, we know the way to where Jesus is going. It’s time to walk it out.

We are called to be a blessing to every person we meet, whether they realize it or not. The only way to become that blessing is to be emptied of our own stuff, so that God can fill and transform us into the individuals he has created us to be. Each of our lives need to move from being of Christ to being in Christ—and finally to the point where our life “is Christ” (Philippians 1:21, et al.).

Love is union—with Jesus and with those he’s called us to love. We as Christians—or, as C.S. Lewis put it, “little Christs”—are called to reconcile the world to God. We’re not just here waiting to be taken from the world, but to begin bringing a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven to the world now, even as we are “in the world but not of it” (see John 17:15–16).

We cannot change the things, or the opportunities, that we’ve lost, but we can be prepared to receive and walk in the new things God has created us to do. We are new creations. God is still creating something new within us. God wants to bring us into something new. But we must want what God wants—not just something new.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted…. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:1–3, 12–14).

One last thing to remember about walking: It’s not always exciting. Sometimes there are breathtaking vistas, and that great feeling of “a second wind.” Sometimes it’s monotonous. Sometimes it’s difficult. Often, it’s just plain tiring. But walking gets you somewhere. If we’re following Jesus, it’s somewhere better.

We can walk in the knowledge that tomorrow will be a good day—and that even if it’s not a good day, experientially speaking, God is working out the events of the day for our good (Romans 8:28). Because his good is our good.

The time to walk out our new lives in Christ is today. So let’s do it. And may God continue to bless you as you lay it all down again each day, for the sake of the One who laid down his life for us.

Lay It Down Today

We’ve approached your next steps from a variety of angles this week. Hopefully, at least one of these approaches has resonated with you. So now, it’s your turn.

If you sense what God is leading you into next, or know you’re already in the midst of it, spend time thanking God for the desire he’s given you, how he’s fulfilling it, and for the desire to keep moving forward. If not, spend time pursuing things with God. “[H]ow much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11).

Finally, spend some time thanking God for this journey into trust he’s taken you on over the last few months; and ask him to take you far beyond even where you are now—and into eternity with him.

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Lay Down Your Crown

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him (James 1:12).

Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life (Revelation 2:10).

I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown (Revelation 3:11).

And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created (Revelation 4:9–11).

Read those passages again; and this time note that the last three come from successive chapters of Revelation. There is a crown reserved for each of us who love God, and who out of that love persevere and remain faithful. And one day, we will certainly have to follow the lead of the twenty-four elders and lay—nay, cast—those crowns down before Jesus. It’s hard to picture, isn’t it? But try, right now, before moving on.

Perhaps the most difficult part of this picture to accept is the idea that the only way to have a crown is if God should give it to us—and that God ever would give it to us. In fact, the knowledge that we deserve far less than a crown makes us want to hang onto the lesser things we do have all the more tightly.

But remember: Everything we have from God, ultimately, is a gift. When we truly accept this, we’re able to “give to God what is God’s” (Luke 20:25). We’re able to trust God with his own gifts.

Read that last sentence again. It sounds ludicrous when put that way—because it is ludicrous. Who else can we trust? Do really have a choice—besides either trusting or not trusting God?

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24:1). Why then do we live as if this isn’t true—as if we need to have a contingency plan in case this “God thing” doesn’t work out?

For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory….

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:9–11, 17–18).

Whose image are we being transformed into? The image of our King. The one who deserves his crown—and ours. What the Lord has done for us is not contingent upon our own righteousness.

However, our faithfulness does play a role. We will be given crowns; but we will never possess those crowns. Everything, including us, is God’s. As we lay down everything that is us, and remain steadfast and faithful to him and what he has done for us, we shall receive the crown of life. As we remain faithful into eternity, we shall be forever entrusting our crowns back to our King.

Today is the day to begin—and to stay forever beginning.

Lay It Down Today

Matthew 7:7–8 promises, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Where is your lack of faithfulness showing? What are you still hanging onto? What are you trying to do yourself instead of asking for God’s help? And thus, where are you denying God’s life so that you can live your self life (however miserably)?

Spend time brooding on these questions—then repenting over the answers. Afterward, take the time to ask, seek and knock. Let go of your pride, your shame, your sense of self-sufficiency. Instead, ask God to show you the better things he wants to give—and for the heart to receive them on his terms. This gift, too, can only come from him.

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Pick Up Your New Life

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose (Galatians 2:20–21).

Transformation comes by taking Jesus’ yoke—by saying, and believing, “I am yours.” We can hear it, and say, “Yeah, that sounds right,” but we need to learn to see it—really see it—as the reality of our lives.

Some of this can sound pretty abstract. But we need it to become as real to us as our salvation has become to us… just as God himself has become real to us, and continues to become more real to us. It’s OK to nod your head in agreement right now, but pursue it with God, and don’t stop. Be able to say with Paul, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8), and mean it.

There is no question as to whether God wants to see revival. Every word here backs that up—God wants us to draw closer to him, and more often than not that’s going to require our hard hearts to be re-broken so that they might also be reopened to him.

The question is: Are we committed to seeing the Spirit bring this? Are we willing to be obedient to what God has called us to, and to who God has called us to be? Are we willing set aside our own self-image, good or bad, and believe that God has something better for us, no matter what package it might initially come in? Most of all, are we willing to obey this command of Jesus, given to us as new creations in him, “that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35)?

I believe Jesus is talking directly to the church here. Literally, he’s talking to the first apostles, but with the knowledge of what the Spirit would create in their midst only weeks later. Of course this commandment also applies outside the walls of the church, but I fear many of us treat the church (at least in its current state) as a bad idea to be given up on. I get that. Boy, do I get that. But Jesus has not given us that option. We not only have been given new life, but are part of a bigger new life—the Body of Christ.

Given how we’ve done with this commandment inside the church, it’s painfully apparent that we’ll never get it right outside the church until we take off the polite faces and begin truly relating to our fellow Christians in love. Besides: Who’d want to come inside the church until we do?

Those within the church have the same problems as those outside the church. We have the same temptations, and the same sins—a fact the world has no trouble pointing out to us. You’ve read all this, probably as a believer. I’ll bet you’ve identified with a lot of what I’ve talked about here. Well, guess what? Nonbelievers struggle with (or for that matter, go on blissfully unaware of) all the same things we do.

The only difference between “us” and “them”… is Jesus. Jesus is the only reason we have a new life to talk about. It’s literally all the difference in the world, and beyond.

One way other people will begin seeing that difference is when we actually love those other annoying, flawed—and yes, sinful—Christians. In other words: those people who are like us. If we can pull that one off, how will we fail to love someone with the same problems who doesn’t know Jesus? We want those people to know Jesus, after all. But without love, they’ll never see Jesus in us or through us, let alone beyond us.

Just as we’re here because we’ve recognized Christ as our eternal Savior, we need to recognize him as our Savior, and our life, from moment to moment. Paul David Tripp, in Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, observes, “[I]t is impossible to celebrate God’s work of transformation without confessing your need for more. No one is more ready to communicate God’s grace that someone who has faced his own desperate need for it.”

Let God’s work of transformation begin here. And let it spread to the ends of the earth. We have a job to finish. Let’s begin living our new lives in full and get it done.

Lay It Down Today

Look inside your church today—or at least at the Christians you’re still in relation with. How can you serve them in love today, or in the coming week? I’m not asking for a long-term commitment here (although that’d be great); just come up with one thing that breaks your routine, gets you outside your own life, and gets your sharing your new life in Jesus with someone else who has that new life—especially if it’s someone you don’t normally do it with. And watch what the Spirit does with it.

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Lay Down Your Blessings

Our new lives in Christ are just beginning. We are changed; but we are eternally far from finished. “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12). We will not be finished until even our new lives are fully laid down before Christ; and that cycle of blessing, crucifixion, and resurrection will continue until the day we meet Christ face to face.

More often than not, I value my comfort more than I value obedience to God. I want to hang on to the good things God’s given me, and pester him for more. As I do this, I reject the One who blesses me in favor of his blessings. Romans 1 speaks to the end of this condition, if not halted: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:21–22a).

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Sermon on the Mount the past few months. (You will too—but that’s getting a little ahead of ourselves.) At the time I’m writing this, I’m dwelling on the first half of Matthew 6—and it’s been dwelling on me, too. Specifically, there’s this rhythm Jesus repeats over and over, to the effect of: And when do this good thing, do not call attention to yourself like the hypocrites do, so that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have already received their reward. But when you do this good thing, do it not so that it may be seen by others but so it is seen by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (see Matthew 6:1–4, 5–9, and 16–18).

“They have already received their reward.” Sometimes it’s OK to need reassurance or confirmation, but we need to move away from our dependence on it. God has given us many good things—and yes, sometimes as the result of the good things we’ve done in obedience to him—but sometime in the next handful of decades, I’m going to stand before God. How horrific it would be to hear, “You’ve already received your reward. I’ve provided for you, allowed your work to be recognized, even given you the joy of accomplishment. What more were you expecting? After all, you did it all for you.”

Now mind you, I am putting hypothetical words in God’s mouth here. But the fact remains, many of the things we do for God are done with an eye toward how God will bless us, and how others will recognize it. (Virtual street corners count too, by the way.) Even if I’m doing it solely for the sake of eternal reward, my self-satisfaction about that, too, can become my reward.

God does promise us rewards and blessings as a result of our obedience to him. But we need to take a step further up—to learn to do things purely for God’s glory. That, truly, is its own reward. As we learn to do this, God can trust us to do the right things with the blessings he bestows upon us. Our Father is in secret. We must learn to become God’s spies in this world—as much as, if not more than, become “God’s spokespeople” or “God’s personal ambassadors.”

In case we still don’t understand, Jesus punctuates, and clarifies, all of his previous warnings to us with this:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19–21).

Teresa of Avila put it this way: “Spiritual maturity and its reward do not consist in spiritual delights, but rather in the increase of love.” This is where we need to head; and God help us, we will.

Lay It Down Today

Before getting to your assignment, I want to reemphasize that in the course of this larger “Eternal Life Starts Now” section, I’m introducing practices you can do well beyond this study—because, after all, laying down your life doesn’t end once you stop reading this book. We don’t get days off from the lives God has given us.

This week, we’re focusing on prayer, and providing the context Jesus wants us to have for our prayers. Thus, it’s your turn to spend time in the Sermon on the Mount.

Every day this week, read Matthew 5–7. One hundred eleven verses won’t kill you, but they will convict you.

As you read through these chapters each day, be sure to linger on The Lord’s Prayer, located dead-center of this sermon (Matthew 6:9–13). Where is Jesus’ sermon hitting you right now? Which parts of this prayer do you most need to experience or respond to? Don’t move on to the second half of the sermon until you’ve wrestled with this each day. As the Spirit brings up specific matters—in every part of this sermon—stop and lift each of them up to God. Then act on them, as needed. Forgive your enemies—in person, if possible. Set your eyes aside to deal with your lusts. Repent of your need to have your good works noticed and praised.

You could spend a lifetime dealing with what Jesus brings up here. And you will. Eternal life starts now.

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Lay Down in Peace

We can get so worked up whenever someone criticizes God or Christians. We want to run to God’s defense—or honestly, much of the time, our own—and say just the right thing that will shut that other person up (in love, of course). But God can defend himself far better than we can. We are called to stand and deliver, then take what comes—just as Jesus did.

Let’s consider that for a few more moments. Take off the table the idea that Jesus was the Son of God—that Jesus is God. Look, for a few moments, purely at the human Jesus of the gospels. Look at how much he loved God, and how he presented the kingdom of God and defended it—including, very often, from those who claimed to speak for God and clearly did not. Here was someone who actually knew the right answers. How do you think Jesus felt during when he was assaulted verbally—and later physically—by those who didn’t want to hear those answers?

But how did he respond? Certainly there are examples of anger—pretty much reserved for those who insisted they could represent God better than Jesus could—but there was also patience. Love. A desire that the people he responded to somehow did hear it. If that’s the model of a Christian response, who are we—a hopeless jumble of spirit and flesh being perpetually sorted out through this process called sanctification—to respond any more pridefully?

Jesus is clear about our response: “[D]o not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13:11). Somehow, we are to seek the best for the other person, even when the feeling isn’t mutual. Only by remaining under the guidance of the Spirit do we have any hope of responding correctly.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace (Romans 8:1–6).

Those who live according to the flesh stand before us. In fact, some of them may be Christians. And lest we forget, they have been us—maybe more recently than we’d like to admit. By remaining in the Spirit, we’re carried from condemnation and suffering to life and peace, and it is only by God’s grace that we can maintain that peace he’s given us. So lay down in that peace, and let the Spirit do his work through you—and despite you.

Lay It Down Today

Today, you get to practice your silence in public. Don’t be rude, mind you, but commit to keeping your verbal responses—either spoken or typed—to a minimum. Commit to not defending yourself, explaining yourself (except when asked), “expressing your concern,” or pointing out what a good thing you’ve just done.

“Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil…. Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:37, 6:1).

Then, watch what the Spirit does that you couldn’t. And rejoice in it.

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Lay Down Your Agenda

We’ve had to lay down a lot so far. Some of it has no doubt been difficult; maybe it’s even felt unnecessarily negative to some. But we have a much longer journey ahead, and we need to travel light—especially since our journey takes us even further upward.

So when I encourage you to “lay down the law—and leave it there,” I’m not just asking you to admire my mild attempt at cleverness. What I really intend to encourage you to do here is live a life where you’re not only walking in the Spirit day by day—but ideally, moment to moment.

Something you might have noticed over the course of our journey together so far is we’ve been moving from dealing with our longstanding struggles with sin to addressing daily temptations. Today, we begin condensing the timespan even further, as we begin exploring the things that tempt us to go into some sort of “spiritual autopilot” rather than obey God in the moment. (And if you haven’t noticed this sequence before now, that’s OK—I just picked up on God’s strategy here myself.)

This transition from day-by-day to moment-to-moment is equally, if not more, true of the works we claim to do in Jesus’ name. As Andrew Purves puts it in his wonderful book The Crucifixion of Ministry:

“Of course we should not exclude asking ‘What would Jesus do?’ There is an appropriate place for the moral influence of Jesus. But it is more important to ask, ‘Who is Jesus Christ for us today and what is Jesus doing here and now, in this hospital room, during this committee meeting, during this service of worship, in this counseling session and so on?’… Wherever Christ is and wherever we are joined to him, there truly is the intentional, disciplined and faithful ministry of the church. It is not our ministries that make Christ present; it is the present, living Christ who makes our ministries possible.”

Whatever it is that I truly do for Jesus, he is already there. I’m the one who’s showing up—and who’s arguably late for the party. Not him.

At the same time, we very often want to do the right things, but we don’t know exactly what the right things are. Oddly enough, this is often when our prayers are most effective. There are times where God gives us the confidence to pray for (and then pursue) something, knowing it’s in his will, but usually our best prayers come when we’re empty. When we have no agenda except, “Not my will, but thine.”

But more often, we’re in that “autopilot” mode, bearing ahead without keeping our eyes open to what other things God wants to accomplish right now. We want a stake in the ground, a fixed point, a checklist—because that’s far easier for us than following wherever the Spirit leads—at least in the short term.

Nonetheless, eternal life starts now. To follow is to lay down your control. What could I possibly plan for myself that’s better than God’s plans for me?

In fact, I’m going to pray this for myself right now. Feel free to join me, and we’ll talk again tomorrow:

Lord, help me to rest in the work you’ve already given me, and to always remember that it is your work. Help me to lay down my agenda and hand over control to you, so that I may remain open to the next work you desire me to find Your joy in, in every moment. Amen.

Lay It Down Today

The good news is, you don’t have an assignment—at this very moment. The better news: The following assignment is meant to last all week. (After all, it’s only bad news if you think of it that way.) It does require some work on your part.

For the remainder of this week, commit to getting up at least a half-hour early to spend time with the Lord. Some of you may already get up early for Bible reading and/or prayer, others not; either way, take some extra time at the beginning of each day this week to be in God’s presence, silently. It’s OK to add Bible reading or other spiritual reading during this time, but be sure to leave time to do… nothing, in God’s presence. Enjoy him. Relax in him. Take peace in him, before starting your day. Try to be observant this week about how God uses your time with him—even after you’re done.

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The Missing Link in the Church

Let’s return to our discussion of “the “D-word” (discipleship) from last week. If you’ve been around the church for any amount of time, you know that it’s the missing link in the church today, whether you’ve been able to put your finger on it before now or not.

The problem of “nondiscipleship” has troubled me pretty much all of my Christian life (31+ years and counting). Perhaps it was more obvious to me because I didn't come to Christ in the “normal” way—a much longer story for another time, but it involves re-meeting my dad after 14 years of divorce/exile, and a LOT of Bible reading.

In fact, I didn’t get involved with a church until after I’d come to know Jesus…. In those days, it was what would have passed for a megachurch (and might still). Charismatic pastor, strong worship focus, dozens of people coming up for altar calls every week… everything’s cool, right?

Not so much. Even early on, it was evident that there were as many people going out the back door as coming in the front. People got excited, got the “saved” stamp put on them, and then… nothing. Or worse, stumbling and being summarily abandoned by a church that had so visibly “loved” them months earlier. After a couple years of watching this, my wife (who was one of those who got saved there, after we started dating) were done with the cliques and the aloneness, and found another church… which wasn’t terribly healthy either, and in fact close to dead by the time we left a couple more years later…. It was by more than a little of God’s mercy that we stumbled into a C&MA church plant sometime later, and eventually found ways both to become self-feeding and to help feed others.

But over 30+ years I’ve seen this same pattern over and over, even in emotionally healthy churches (and far too many unhealthy ones). We have programs, services, events, and other “opportunities to connect”… none of which are bad in and of themselves. But actual discipleship? It’s there, but it’s rare, and it’s almost always behind the scenes where people can only hope to stumble into it. And we haven’t made finding it any easier by burying it under all those said programs, services, and events—and calling that “church life.”

And since we so often get it wrong even when we try to address it, I can’t emphasize this enough: Discipleship is not about completing a curriculum (even mine :)), or attending a service, or doing a one-time event. It’s about developing and deepening the most important spiritual relationships you have—first with Jesus, then with those He’s brought you in contact with—because none of those relationships are an accident.

It’s fair to assume that if you’ve read this far, you already care about discipleship. But you may be struggling with actually doing it, and possibly even with being a disciple of Jesus. This blog, my friend, has always been for you. Apply what’s here to yourself, and then apply it to the people God puts in your path. Because that’s what discipleship is. And since this weekly entry—and really, this entire blog—is about helping other Christians grow, let’s talk about you. And let’s do it by reflecting on your own journey so far….

Think of a time where you experienced a huge “growth spurt” in your life. (If you can’t think of a spiritual example off the bat, use an example from your professional life or another personal example. But find one.) Got an example in your head? Good. Now, think about this:

• When did you first realize that you’d somehow taken a giant leap forward? What was different?
• Who helped you most in taking that leap? What did he or she (or they) do to keep you moving forward?

You just reflected about an important time in your life, and the people who helped and maybe even inspired you. It probably felt good just to think about those people again. But as good as those people made us feel, it’s even more rewarding to be that person—to know that God has truly used us to help someone else grow in Christ.

So ask yourself this: How do you take what God’s already revealed to you, turn around, and help someone else walk through those same issues, rather than stamping them with a “saved” sticker and leaving them to drown? To break that down even further, and in a more positive light:

• Who do you know who seems ready to take the next step spiritually—whether he or she’s already growing, a brand-new Christian, or a not-yet Christian?
• If you could help that person understand just one thing right now, what would it be?
• And if you’ve already shared that one thing with him or her, what do you think that person needs to really “get” it? And if you haven’t shared it yet, what’s holding you back?

Then, consider this: How could spending more time with that person help you grow closer to Jesus? Because discipleship is for everyone who needs to go deeper in their faith—that means you, too. As you invest in others, you’ll learn things about Jesus, and yourself, that you hadn’t known before—or at least be reminded of things you’d long forgotten that you need to remember. And you’ll need to start dealing with that.

Some people might hear the words “accountability” or “discipleship” and say, “I’m in. When do we get started?” It’s more likely that many will be intimidated. So don’t bash people over the head with this. Invite them out to lunch or a cup of coffee for starters. Talk about their lives and the things that are most on their minds and hearts right now. Then ask whether he or she might want to make a regular time out of it. Most people will accept if they know you’re serious and don’t feel overwhelmed by the commitment. A weekly time together is best, but if schedules only allow for bi-weekly or monthly, that’s OK. Start there and see where things go.

You can even say something like, “I’ve been reading this blog about discipleship, and I’d like to try out some of the things I’m learning on a real person. You’re a real person—would you mind helping me work through this?” Once they’re done laughing, they’ll probably say yes.

The important thing is to make it happen. Begin to share what Jesus has done in your life. Help people see that a changed life is possible. Starting with yours.

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