Summary: Discipleship will not happen by accident. It requires meaningful practices. It requires meaningful progress. And it requires a meaningful process.


Talking and Listening to God -- Part 4

Isaac Butterworth

December 19, 2010

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NIV)

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

I once read about a certain Mr. Wahlstrom who purchased an old bombsight and took it apart to see what made it work. As he began to put it back together, he decided to add to it some spare parts he had from other projects. Over time, friends and neighbors took an interest in the matter and started bringing him parts and pieces, which he incorporated into his contraption. Over a period of about ten years, he added to his machine hundreds of wheels and cogs, belts and whistles and gears and who knows what all until the thing became ‘a marvel to behold.’ He would throw the switch, and the machine’s thousand parts would begin to move. Wheels turned, lights flashed, bells rang, and belts whirred. The device came to be known as ‘Wahlstrom’s Wonder.’ It was incredible. The only thing is: It didn’t do anything! It just went through the motions. (Gene Bartlett, The Audacity of Preaching, 1962, pp. 64f.).

It makes you wonder: Is that what we’re doing? Are we just go through the motions? The church has been commissioned by Jesus himself to make disciples, but do we do that? Do we make disciples? In order to answer that question, I guess we have to ask a prior question: ‘What is a disciple?’ What does a disciple look like? What does a disciple do?

Is a disciple simply someone who goes to church or attends Sunday School? Is a disciple nothing more than someone who is busy doing ‘church work?’ There is that, of course. We can’t very well be a church unless we come together. And there is work that needs doing. But do you remember how, a few months back, we said ‘the three B’s’ are not enough? Bodies, buildings, and budgets will always be with us, but they cannot be the reason we exist.

The reason that our church exists is to make disciples. So, what is a disciple? I want to propose to you today that a disciple of Jesus is, first of all, someone who is learning to live life like Jesus and from Jesus. Not, let me be clear, someone who is learning simply to be religious. We have a tendency to compartmentalize our lives into ‘the religious’ and ‘the secular,’ into ‘the material’ and ‘the spiritual’ -- and that tendency is nothing more than a sad caricature of what Christianity really is. We have church and we have the rest of life. We do things one way on Sunday; we do them another way on Monday. But to be a disciple of Jesus is to learn how to live all of life and to learn how to live it from Jesus.

And so, there must be certain practices. And this is the first component of discipleship. You and I learn to do certain things. And the things we do, the practices we embrace, are not difficult, and they are not many. I will start with just four: go to church, build relationships with God’s people, read the Bible and pray, and serve others. That is, involve yourself in worship, in fellowship, in the Word, and in witness. Or, as I put recently: warm a pew, warm your heart, illumine your mind, and illuminate the world, or at least your little corner of it. Those are the practices we want to put into play.

But they are not enough. Let me tell you why. I know from my own experience that it is possible to go to church every Sunday, to participate in fellowship, to read the Bible consistently, and to serve good causes -- and still be self-centered, mean-spirited, arrogant, and falsely motivated. So, while practices are essential, they are not enough.

And that brings us to the second component of Christian discipleship: progress. And what I mean by progress is discernible movement from one level to another in our love for God and neighbor. We all know that Jesus summarized the whole law of God, that is, God’s will for our lives, in two great commandments: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ We make progress on the path of discipleship as we grow in love.

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