What It Means to Be a Disciple of Jesus

by Colonel Philip D. Needham –

This is my first opportunity to address the readers of New Frontier, so I want to start off on the right foot. I want to share something I consider to be essential for us–both for us personally and for us as a Salvation Army.

I am speaking of discipleship. Discipleship is crucial because the real purpose for which Jesus came into the world was to make us his disciples (if you are not sure about that, read the Gospels). If we have not become convincing disciples of Jesus, we have not realized Jesus’ intention for us. And if we are not making others his disciples, we are failing in our mission. (Read Matthew 28:18-20)

It is time for us Salvationists to take discipleship and discipling seriously again. I want to share four key things about the meaning of discipleship:

An enduring, loyal relationship with the Master: Communion

This is the first and foremost step of the disciples of Jesus: they want to be with Jesus. They want to know God. For them, prayer is not simply an act of the will, it’s a state of life. It’s living life in his presence and for his pleasure. And so they pray without ceasing, not so that they can get as much as possible from God, but so that they can get as much of God as possible. How did Peter Lord say it?–‘Going after God’s face rather than his hand.’ ‘Thy face, Lord, do I seek,’ says the Psalmist. What do you look for–his face or his hand–his presence or his presents? When the chips are down, when things are not going well, how loyal are you to him, how enduring is your appreciation and trust? And when you commune with him, when you pray, do you embrace the unsettling fact that the most important thing prayer changes is not ‘things,’ but us?

A daily walk with the Master: Companionship

First and foremost, prayer changes us. How? Well, it changes our walk. We don’t pray to spend our time with Jesus and then go about our daily business. We spend time with Jesus in prayer so that we can keep up with him the rest of the day. So that we can be his constant companion. Or to use another expression of Peter Lord, so that we can stop acting like we’re just dating God, and start acting like we’re married to him.

How’s your companionship with Jesus going? How does it express itself day by day as you go about your business? I like the way Mother Teresa of Calcutta expresses her companionship with Jesus. A reporter from Time magazine once asked her why she worked with the poor. Her simple answer was this: ‘Because I find Jesus in the poor and I am in love with Jesus, and so it is my privilege to work with the poor because it enables me to spend more time with Jesus.’

So, how do you keep company with Jesus all day?

A consistent discipline with the Master: Commitment

Like Eli, we learn to accept God’s will even when it is distasteful, even when it is disparaging to ourselves and honors someone else, even when it means we die to ourselves. We say, “The Lord must do what is good in his eyes.’ (I Samuel 3:18) And then, like Noah, it is said of us: ‘…he did all that God commanded him.’ (Genesis 6:22, RSV)

Listen to these words of William Booth:

“Oh how men will sing about the Cross, amuse and ornament themselves with the Cross, weep oceans of tears about the Cross, which means painful and ignominious death, not only to the Master who hung upon it, but to the loves and lusts he died to destroy; but as to making it the tree on which they are crucified, on which they die to the power, and charm, and fascination of a vain, fashionable, frivolous, God-hating world, that is quite another thing.” (Salvation Soldiery)

Spiritual discipline seems to have become a foreign concept, and the spiritual disciplines have become a lost art. This scares me because without discipline there is no discipleship. Without the choices to deny ourselves this, to die to that, to give up something here and there, we will never companion with the Jesus of the Cross. How disciplined is your walk?

A following of the Master into the world in mission: Compassion

I liked the quote Bill Arthur gave us: ‘The Holy Spirit’s never going to go in where he can’t come out.’ This Army of ours has done well in placing itself at the disposal of the Spirit that not only sanctifies us but also sends us out. If you want to be a disciple of Jesus, turn yourself inside out, follow Jesus into the world, arm yourself for battle–a very different kind of battle.

Some of you may have seen Ken Burns’ television series on the Civil War. Do you remember him describing a remarkable event that took place in 1913 on the 50th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, when the living veterans of those two armies re-enacted Pickett’s charge? The Union veterans took their places on the ridge among the rocks, and the Confederate veterans started marching toward them across the field below. Then something extraordinary happened. As the old men on the ridge began to rush down at the old men coming across the field, a great cry went up–only instead of re-enacting the ferocious, bloody encounter of half a century ago, they threw their arms around each other and openly wept.

We, all of us, are called to throw down the stupid weapons of our self-defense, open our arms, and follow our Commander-in-Chief to war. And with open arms, we will win that war, because the love of Christ is the un-weapon before which the weapons of this world have no real power. If you want proof, visit Calvary. Are you ready to turn out upon the world, not your competitiveness, not your drive for personal prosperity, not your prejudices, and not your self-righteousness­but your compassion?

Are you ready for discipleship? I hope you are.

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