Monday, April 23, 2012

Trusting God's Sovereignty in Discipleship

Discipleship can be one of the most frustrating parts of the Christian walk from both sides of the spectrum. On the discipling part, your disciple can frustrate you and sometimes make you want to quit. On the disciple side, your discipler can at times seem too hard on you and make you feel like they are never satisfied. Both of these feelings are perfectly understandable. But here's a question: How can we apply the Gospel of Grace to both sides?

Here Are My Thoughts...

Too often, as "disciplers" we go into discipleship with this illusion that we can bring about the changes that we desire to see in our disciples. This illusion begins at the early stage of discipleship, evangelism. We can not preach the Gospel of Christ expecting that the fluency of our speech, the eloquence of it, or the passion we use to change our hearers. Only the power of the Holy Spirit moving through the clear, articulated words of the Gospel can bring about any kind of change. We have no control over the effect.

In Christ's command at the great commission to "make disciples" there is an implication that is breathing heavily down the neck of the text for the readers to embrace. That implication is that part of discipleship is evangelism. The reason for saying that evangelism is part of discipleship as opposed to separate is that upon making the disciples, Christ says to baptize them. For them to be baptized, they have to be believers! For them to be believers someone has to preach the Good News to them! Before we can begin our weekly Starbucks meetings with our ESVs and John Piper books, we must begin on the streets, at our jobs, at school and at home, proclaiming the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; that we are all totally depraved in our sins and lost in our sinfulness; that He came to save sinners and in His death on the cross He offered up the perfect sacrifice for those who would believe in Him, and that the only proper response to His sacrifice is to repent from our sins and trust Him to save us!

For those who "confess with their mouths and believe in their hearts" Scripture says that they "will be saved". From here, we can move into the weekly Starbucks meetings. Once we get to this point, however, we must still guard against the "control illusion". Our regular, continual pouring into of a redeemed individual is no different than our Gospel presenting, urgent pleading for their conversion. It must be done with complete confidence in the Sovereign Lord, God to do His work.

In Philippians 1:6, Paul puts this concept forth when he says that he is "sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." Paul expresses his confidence in God from beginning to end in the changing and perfecting of the hearts of his disciples. We must learn to have this same confidence in our discipleship. Without it, we will fail.

This is not to deny our responsibility to think deeply about what the men/women we meet with need to hear; and this based on what they are dealing with personally. A helpful discipline in discipleship is to know your people. Know the way they think, the way they act, and their tendencies to respond in certain ways to certain things. In doing this, we will serve them better.

This also is not to deny the responsibility of a disciple to be willing to submit to their "discipler", to be flexible enough in their schedule to make time to meet, and to take what they learn and strive to actively apply in their day-to-day life. Both of these things; the discipline of the teacher and the commitment of the student are necessary to the success of discipleship. But we must understand that both of these things will come through the Holy Spirit working in individuals.

Some Practicalities...

Teachers: Be patient with your disciple. Don't expect immediate change. Don't expect them to always think and interact with you on the same level. If they were doing that, then your job would be complete. Give them time to soak up what you say and to ponder on what you have for them to learn. Let them see you struggle. It will remind them that you are human and at the same time, teach them humility in your allowing them to see you struggle.

Pray diligently for the Lord to reveal what your students need to learn. Pray diligently for Him to make changes in their hearts. Trust Him to do these things, and be satisfied for Him to do them in His timing.

Lastly, but of utmost importance, pray for yourself; that they Lord would sustain you and protect you from burn-out. Discipleship is hard work, and can take a toll on your mind, body, and soul.

Students: Be patient with your teacher. Don't expect them to always have the answers to every problem.  Remember that they are human just like you. Remember that they have lives outside of you and that they get tired, saddened, and stretched. Don't feel like a burden when they are struggling, but rather use it as an opportunity for you to learn humility from them in their allowing you to see them struggle. Ponder on what they teach you. Listen openly to their teaching, while at the same time, testing it against Scripture.

Pray diligently for the Lord to reveal to them what you need to hear. Pray diligently for them to be strengthened and to not lose heart.

Lastly, but of utmost importance, pray for yourself; that the Lord would sustain you and protect you from burn-out. Being a disciple is hard work, and can take a toll on your mind, body, and soul.

[12] Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, [13] for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
(Philippians 2:12-13 ESV)

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