I’ve been blogging about how Christian disciples move from brokenness and ruin to wholeness and well-being.
The goal is to see value in transformation and become people substantially like Christ, able to love God, self, and neighbor even in the most challenging situations. The purpose is to restore our sense of place with God so we can be trusted to rule and serve with Him.
To clarify a common misconception, a disciple is simply anyone who employs disciplines to develop a certain set of skills. For example, the kindergartner learning ABCs is a disciple. The teenager with a learner’s permit is a disciple. The fighter pilot training in flight school is a disciple. A disciple is a student of a master teacher, with a certain child-like, beginner quality.
So, Christian disciples aren’t a race of superheroes; they’re simply students of Jesus, learning from him how to live. “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom belongs to such as these.” (Mat. 19:14, Mrk. 10:14, Luk. 18:16)
To aid their seeking and finding a transformed new life in God’s kingdom, God has provided disciples with several means. In general terms, we have the prime model of Jesus, God’s other people, and His Word to show the way. In specific terms, we have Christian spiritual disciplines.
In a crazy world where it can seem that life just happens and there’s nothing you can do about it, these help us shift into the solid sense of peace and self-control talked about all through Scripture—much like passing through churning walls of water on dry ground.
The discipline of Scripture study is one means of learning the ideal way of life for human beings. God has not been silent or left us helpless, and He delights in teaching those who are eager to obey.
The discipline of prayer lets me interact with God. I can invite His power to augment my own; I can welcome His movements (grace) in my life. I can also pray for the guy who cuts me off in traffic or the gossip who tells lies behind my back. This helps carry me away from a spirit of anger or payback that imprisons me in every little offense.
The discipline of meditation or reflection is another resource. I can meditate upon Christ, how he thinks and feels, what sort of person he is, and why he behaves the way he does. I can reflect particularly on his teaching about eternal realities, inner goodness, and sound living, and compare that to conventional human wisdom with its often less-than-ideal results.
With watchfulness, I can observe how other Christ-followers have lived their lives, the freedoms they experienced, the insights they gained, and the joys (and pains) they expressed. (Dietrich Bonheoffer and C.S. Lewis are two examples of twentieth-century disciples.) In addition to biblical men and women, I can find real-life inspiration in an ordinary grandparent, sports coach, pastor, or other neighbor who lives with a Godly spirit.
I can train ahead of time to prepare for more challenging encounters with neighbors. I don’t wait until I’m upset, frightened, or at the mercy of my own offended pride. Instead, I practice while I’m not on the spot and my thinking is clearer. If I pay attention to Jesus’ instruction, I can prepare and build reliable, loving reactions that will be there when my guard is down.
I can plan and organize small steps that will steadily re-shape my thinking and behavior. I can intend to learn, change, and practice taking on Christ’s vision, understanding, spirit, character, habits, and choices. I can repent.
Here and there, I can give up an argument, a demand, or having the last word. The discipline of fasting uses food to practice letting go of all sorts of ideas I thought were important, but actually enslave me. “Man does not live by bread alone.” (Mat. 4:4, Luk. 4:4)
Or I can occasionally loan something without expecting it back, visit a shut-in, or bring a meal to a lonely neighbor (discipline of service). I can greet a stranger (hospitality), give up bragging rights (humility), donate an anonymous gift (secrecy), or keep my opinion to myself when no one asks for it (silence). All these (and more) are simple, specific means to help form Christ within me.
I need not and should not turn these into laws, chores, or obligations. That duplicates the Pharisees’ constant burden and defeats the whole purpose of doing them happily and willingly. After all, children sing the alphabet; teenagers celebrate every driving errand; and fighter pilots dance the skies in laughter-silvered wings. These, too, are disciplines, but a legalistic approach wipes them out in certain death.
I also need not learn and engage them all at once. In fact, I can’t. I’m a beginner, not a spiritual hotshot. I don’t do them for show or to make a point, and I’m not in competition with other disciples. God works with me individually at my pace, according to my abilities and circumstances. What others think of me is none of my business. (This alone brings enormous freedom and self-control!)
We’ve all heard stories of extraordinary acts of heroic goodness, but the hero usually shrugs it off with, “My training took over.” Learning to love ourselves and neighbors spontaneously and routinely is no different because, for better or worse, people are very much the products of their beliefs, training, and experience.
Ignore the widespread rumor that human nature is frozen stuck like some immovable mountain. The most reliable Word says it can be re-born, and every ordinary encounter is an opportunity to re-train and practice something. That’s why God gives us trials, which I think of as try-als. Mistakes, of course, are part of seeking and walking, but God is patient and good-natured. Just watch how often the original twelve disciples fumbled and stumbled at first.
To our great relief, the point isn’t to become flawless; it’s to become perfect (whole, mature, complete). “It is enough for the student to be like his teacher.” (Mat. 10:25) Yet the journey must begin somewhere, so we start with less demanding situations and neighbors, and grow into the obnoxious ones with increasing Christ-like skill.
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart…my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Mat. 11:29-30)