How does Discipleship Happen?
I hear the question a lot.
“I want to grow in my faith. I want to know the Bible better. I want to pray better. I want to be a better disciple of Jesus. I want all those things…but how? How do I get there?”
The answer is relatively simple. Simple in one sense, but challenging as well. Let me start by giving you an example.
A Personal Lesson in Growth and Humility
Last year, I started exercising differently than I ever have before. Doing certain movements and exercises that my body had never experienced. One exercise, in particular, was incredibly difficult for me. Pull-ups. I’ve just never really tried to do them, and surprise, surprise…I couldn't do even one. My body just didn’t have the necessary muscle for it.
I quickly felt frustrated and defeated as my workout partner hammered out his pull-ups, no problem. It was fluid. He just glided up and down, almost without effort. And here I was, hanging from the bar with no ability to pull up at all. I remember thinking, “If he can do them so easily, I can’t even do them at all, what does that say about me?”
I was also very conscious that other people in the gym could see me failing at my pull-ups. Not ideal.
Anyhow, these movements kept coming up in our workouts, so I kept trying. My workout partner and coach kept encouraging me, so I kept at it. I’d walk up to the bar, grab a hold, and do my best. Sometimes I would use something to assist me, like a band, or a jump at the bottom…but I refused to give up.
I’m now a year or so into my pull-up work, and I am happy to report that I still can’t do them.
Well, I still can’t do them well. I can’t glide up and down on the bar like my partner can. But, I have noticed differences.
I’ve noticed my muscles are developing, and I am able to rep out a few at a time. My grip is getting better, my forearms are growing stronger, and my endurance is improving.
I’ve come to affectionately call the pull-up bar, “the bar of humility.”
The growth is slow. It’s painful. It’s hard to measure at any particular point. But over the span of a year, I’m seeing improvement. I’m getting stronger. My body is changing.
I’m not where my partner is, but his success keeps me pressing forward. He encourages me along the way. He doesn’t let up because I can’t keep up with him, but he doesn’t leave me either.
This is what discipleship looks like.
How does Discipleship Happen?
God has not hidden the ingredients or the methods of discipleship from us. In fact, He has made them quite plain.
He even tells us in places like 1 Thessalonians 4:3 that its His desire for us, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification.”
See my previous post on sanctification.
Discipleship can be like the pull-up bar. It can look intimidating and present a real challenge. You may lack the spiritual muscles necessary to do it with ease right now. But, the good news is that you can get there. It starts with putting your hand on the bar and pulling.
The Tools for Discipleship.
The Bible - There is no substitute for regular Bible reading. It is most important.
Read it. Memorize it. Think about it. Apply it.
Psalm 1:1-2 - “Blessed is the man…[who] delights in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night.”
Prayer - Regular prayer is a part of the healthy Christian life. Pray alone. Pray with others. Pray.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 - “...pray without ceasing…”
The Church - There is no substitute for the gathered people of God.
We are instructed, commanded even, to be together regularly and to prioritize it.
Hebrews 10:25 - “Do not neglect gathering together as is the habit of some…”
Fasting - Fasting is an act of faith whereby we deprive ourselves of food (mainly) in order to heighten our own awareness of our dependence upon the Lord.
Fasting is meant to direct our hearts and minds to God.
Psalm 69:10 - “...I humbled my soul with fasting.”
Relationships - This is a big one. Christians need other Christians.
We need friendship and encouragement, but we also need correction and confronting at times.
God gives us other Christians to guard and guide us.
Hebrews 3:12 - “Take care, brothers (notice the plural), lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.”
-The Church is where a lot of discipleship happens. Not the building per se, but in the lives of the members. It happens as our lives bump up against others. We watch each other love the Lord, hear each other pray, raise families, deal with stress, handle crises, etc. All of it together.
Jesus taught His disciples to follow Him by sharing His life with them. Why would we think it happens any differently with us?
Humility - No Christian has it all figured out. We are all growing. We all needed humility.
1 Peter 5:5 - “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
One of the keys to growth in discipleship is the honesty of saying, “I need help.”
Being Intentional - Decide to commit yourself to it.
Walk up to the bar, grab it, and try to pull up. It might hurt at first, or like me, feel like nothing is happening.
-Colossians 3 is full of instructions for intentionally pursuing spiritual growth.
V. 1-2 - “...seek the things that are above…set your minds on the things above..”
V. 5 - “Put to death, therefore, what is earthly in you…”
V. 12 - “Put on, then, as God’s chosen ones…[holiness]...”
V. 16 - “Let the Word of Christ dwell richly in you…”
Just do it. Be intentional. Read the Bible. Pray. Go to church. Make time for relationships. Sing a praise song. Memorize a Bible verse. Just do it.
Consistency - Finally, be consistent. Keep at it. Growth will happen.
In the first week of my pull-up work, I felt defeated, embarrassed, and like a failure. But I didn’t give up. And now, I can see growth.
It's been slow. Slower than I would like…but it's coming.
The same will be true with our discipleship. It starts slow. And others will be watching. People will see that we aren’t as good or as strong as others. And that’s okay. True saints don’t measure what others can’t do. They encourage them to keep at the process.
My workout partner didn’t laugh at me when I couldn't do a pull-up. He said, “Don’t give up. It took me a long time too.”
David Powlison helpfully summarizes discipleship like this…
“Constructive [spiritual] change occurs through the interplay of five factors: God, Scripture, other people, life circumstances, and the human heart.”
God changes you.
Truth changes you.
Wise people change you.
Suffering and struggle change you.
And in the end…you change. That’s discipleship. It's a process.
Let’s Get to Work
Discipleship doesn’t happen because we hope it will. It happens because we get to work. And this work is not only the primary work of the Church (Mt. 28:18-20), it is also a work that God blesses and joins us in.
Colossians 1:28-29 - “[Christ] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all [Jesus’] energy that He powerfully works within me.”
So…walk up to the discipleship bar, and get to work.