One of my favorite words for years has been discipline. I love the idea of someone being so passionate about something that they’re willing to spend hours every day working on it. A skill or talent that takes years to develop. Overcoming one’s urges or addictions little by little and prevailing. Chasing a dream that to many seems foolish and finally attaining it by working harder than everyone else.
But recently, I started thinking about a similar word – disciple. I’m not sure which one came first, but I found it odd that while I always considered myself a person of discipline, I never considered myself a disciple. Truthfully, I never wanted to be.
I bet that people in the first century would have found that odd. I bet that back then, if you were a follower of Christ it was assumed that you would be a disciple. After all, to be a disciple means to, slowly and over time, become the kind of person who thinks and acts like the person they are following. And if you believed that Christ was who he said he was and took seriously his command to put down your nets, pick up your cross and follow him, it would seem that becoming a disciple was not the exception but the rule.
But somewhere along the way that changed. Perhaps it happened hundreds of years ago after Christians stopped being nailed to crosses or stoned to death or fed to lions in front of angry crowds. Perhaps it happened in the 20th century as humanism (and man’s happiness and comfort) became the objective of mankind. Who knows. But at some point it became not just accepted but normal to be a believer but not be a disciple.
To think one way but do (or not do) another.
To talk the talk but not walk the walk.
To call Christ your master but ignore his desire for your life.
I know this has been the case for me, and it has been the case for just about everyone I’ve ever met. The arguments against discipleship almost immediately bubble up – that not everyone is called to do that, that I don’t feel God leading me in that direction, etc etc etc.
But the more I’ve thought about it, the more wrong I think that is. The more wrong I think I’ve been my entire life.
You see, Christ rarely talks about heaven, about a life after death. He spends the majority of his time talking about how to bring heaven here to earth – about how by loving each other and caring for the poor and seeking peace and avoiding anger and sharing our gifts and talents with each other we can bring God’s kingdom to our world now.
But very few Christians (myself included) don’t live this way. For us, Christianity is about saying “the prayer” so we don’t go to hell, and then living our lives pretty much the same way we would have otherwise. Only with less cursing. Out loud at least.
Some go further and talk about “growing in their walk with God”, but that doesn’t really mean much other than going to church and praying more often and reading the Bible some more. And when we’re not doing that we’re still ignoring the homeless guy en route to our fancy cars with the bags of fancy clothes in the back that we’ll try on when we get back to our fancy house, careful not to brake too fast lest we spill our fancy coffee drink in our laps and ruin our fancy pants.
No wonder so many people think God is dead. Our lives are no different than they would be if we believed in the tooth fairy. We’re not disciples, we’re just believers. And we sit here, watching Season One of 30 Rock for the third time after another long week at work, waiting to die.
I think there’s another way.
A way that starts with a decision to actually take God up on his offer. A decision to actively learn to walk and talk and act and think the way that Christ did. A decision to become a disciple.
It’s a very recent realization, and I haven’t the slightest idea what a life like that would be like in modern America. But I imagine it involves constructing my days quite differently than I currently do.
I imagine it means not sleeping in until 11 on Saturday, or spending three hours getting my butt kicked by a 9 year-old in Madden football on a Sunday afternoon.
I imagine it means centering my life around the same disciplines of study, prayer, solitude, fasting, simplicity, and the like that hundreds of Christians before us have used to draw closer to God.
I imagine it means working my tail off at work, not for a promotion or money or equity or bragging rights but because God gave me breath and and a brain and the ability to make things look pretty and words sound compelling.
I imagine it means being much slower to anger, not allowing myself the demented joy that comes from holding a grudge.
I imagine it means sitting down with my wife and honestly assessing how we spend our money, and determining how much we’d need to give away in order to truly be stewards instead of misers.
Most importantly, I imagine it means asking God what he really wants me to do with my life – what my part to play is in this grand plan to bring heaven to earth.
I imagine it means to stop sitting on the sidelines.
Belief is easy. Following is much more difficult.Follow @intentionally