Understanding discipleship – the kind that Jesus modeled

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it (Luke 9:23-24).

When I was on staff at my church I thought discipleship with another person was dealing with his or her “problems.” If someone had a problem that was brought to my attention I would spend some of my precious time trying to help him or her, that day.   It may have required I speak with the person during the week, just to check in, but otherwise it was a Sunday only proposition.  My implicit definition of discipleship was helping someone overcome challenges or grow in Christ – from a distance.

My world and understanding of discipleship was turned upside down when I moved into the “hood” and took homeless men into my house. One of the first men I took in urinated on my favorite chair.  He eventually stole all of my earthly possessions and sold them for crack. Anyone reading this that has lived with someone addicted to alcohol or drugs understands. Hard does not even begin to relay the challenges.  Add mental illness to the mix and you have a potential nightmare.  Dealing with one person in this condition is a full time job; I had several of them.

In all my efforts to try to fix these broken men, trying to solve their problems, sticking to my preconceived understanding of discipleship, I could not.  And trying to fix them left me on the verge of insanity.  How can I have a life of my own with these guys? That left me with three choices:

1) Kick the guys out for easier men,

2) Move out of the hood, or

3) Let go of my life, choose to spend much more time with these guys, stop trying to fix them and allow God the freedom to use me as His instrument to love these men as He intended.

I chose option three.

I gave up my life to help these men – starting with my ministry partner. It was no longer about what I could do or achieve for God’s Kingdom, it was about what God could do or achieve through the men I was “discipling.” I began modeling Jesus through my example – which required much more of my time.  It also required me to love people rather than try to fix them.

And guess what happened? All the men I spent my time with started to grow. Most of the changes were baby steps, but isn’t that true of all of us? Few people I know take giant leaps in their spiritual journey – most of us take three steps forward then two steps back along our path.  Don’t we?

I wasn’t called to fix someone, I was called to love them by being the hands, feet, mind and heart of Jesus.  And that wasn’t going to happen until I gave up my life – including my definition of success.  But isn’t that what discipleship is all about?  Isn’t that what Jesus means when He tells us whoever wants to save his or her life must lose it?

When we get to Heaven I doubt there will be much to do about what we accomplished or achieved in our earth suits.  It won’t last.  But the people we loved while on earth – I bet in some way that love lasts forever.

Thomas Wheeler