A couple of years ago, I was exhausted in my faith and my bad habits, and still felt like I wasn’t doing enough to warrant being an authentic Christian. Pastor Sherman recommended that I take a break and visit a Christian retreat center called Bethany on Cheung Chau Island. So I made the journey to the island, where I was greeted by Bill, who ran the lodge. He invited me into his office, listened to my story, and asked me a simple question:
“What do you think it means to be a disciple of Jesus?”
I thought about it for a second, then said, “to be a disciple means to abide in Jesus, and I will produce fruit.” Bill quipped, “Ah, so your faith is works-based.” My inner Protestant immediately jumped to my aid. “Well, no. I don’t work to attain my salvation, but when I abide in Jesus, the evidence of being a disciple should be that I am producing fruit!”
Bill smiled and replied, “But is that really all there is to being a disciple? Do me a favor: flip over to the Book of John and start reading from the first chapter. Discounting the moments Jesus tells his disciples to follow Him, can you find the first time Jesus tells his disciples to do anything?”
I’d like for you, reader, to do this – would you mind opening your Bible and taking on Bill’s request? Keep skimming, and don’t read further until you find it!
Jesus called His first disciples in Chapter 1, but did not tell His disciples to do anything but follow Him. Then we move to Chapter 2 where He performs His first miracle, and then clears out the temple, yet He still does not ask anything of His disciples. Chapters 3, 4 and 5 pass along and Jesus is affirmed by John the Baptist, meets with a Samaritan woman, heals a couple of people and preaches quite a bit… yet He still asks nothing of His disciples.
It is not until verse 10 of Chapter 6 (John 6.10), when five thousand people show up to see Him, when Jesus tells His disciples, “have the people sit down.”
What were the disciples doing for the first six chapters?
“They were simply following Jesus around, enjoying His company and being amazed by all He was doing. They were not doing anything at all, but simply marveling at our Lord. That’s what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.”
Upon further study, I realized that this assertion was true among the rest of the gospel accounts as well. In Luke, five chapters pass between Jesus calling His first disciples and his sending them out to evangelize; in Matthew and Mark, the difference is six chapters. Also, in every account, the disciples are sent out but once or twice, and then return to Jesus’ side to marvel at Him for the remainder of the ministry.
Friend, when considering your personal discipleship to Jesus, do you often feel like you never do enough to keep it up? Perhaps you think that you haven’t read as much of the Bible as you ‘should have,’ or that you haven’t loved your neighbor enough, or that you haven’t shown up to church for too long a time, or even that you keep failing to kick the bad habits that spring up whenever you try to be good… Dare I suggest that the reason we feel inadequate is because, deep down, we simply cannot fathom how we can be desired by God just the way we are, and therefore need to perform to reach His acceptance?
But the truth is that our Emmanuel has come to us.
He came in flesh as Jesus, and now His Spirit dwells in every one of us. He is here because He loves you, because He is not ashamed of you, because He simply wants to delight you and bring light to your eyes.
To my exhausted and discouraged brother and sister, may I suggest that the hardest step of faith that you can take today and in the days to come is to:
Take a few minutes to pause and believe that you are enough just the way you are, that you are welcome to rest in His arms and to let Him captivate you all over again.
To be His disciple means to surrender to the wonder of all He is doing around you, and to trust that the fruit will come.
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” – Luke 10.41-42 NIV
- What did it mean to you to be a disciple of Jesus? How has your view changed from this exercise?
- How does this exercise change how you think Jesus views you? How does it change the way you view and approach your own faith life?
- What is one truth you can take away from this exercise that you can ponder over your faith life?
- Discuss with a friend: What are some practical, daily habits you can adopt to help you stay aware of His goodness in all situations?