Discipleship should be more than a nice idea to talk about. It should be a way of life.
Where do we begin? We are walking our way through a basic process to follow in order to develop influential, biblical, transforming friendships.
1. Follow Jesus.
2. Pursue people.
The emphasis being on the word pursue.
If you want to disciple someone, you have to be willing to go out of your way, get out of your comfort zone, in order to get to know and understand them.
There’s another way of saying it that may be more helpful, and that is if you are going to disciple someone, you need to find a way to enter their world.
What I am talking about is looking at the person you want to develop this biblical friendship with, and thinking to yourself, how can I really come to understand them, who they are, and what they are experiencing?
And then pursuing that.
This is not just sit back and come to me discipleship. This is going and making disciples, and we think this way about discipleship, because the kind of discipleship we are interested in as believers is not any old discipleship.
We are convinced that the ultimate model of discipleship is Jesus Himself.
Jesus provides the basic model for helping people grow and change and one of the primary things we can learn about discipleship from the example of Jesus is that to really help people we must make sacrifices to pursue them by entering their world.
Now that may sound a little funny to you, so really what does that mean?
To enter their world?
To pursue people?
It means when you go to disciple someone, you are not just lobbing grenades of truth at people. You are not just drive by shooting little bullets of truth at them from your safe, protected vehicle and then rushing away.
In other words, we are not going to disciple people from way up above in our ivory towers, but we are coming down from there and coming alongside them in order to help them grow.
That’s the principle, really: “I can help someone so much better when I come to help from alongside, instead of from above. When they know, I know what they are experiencing. When they see, I can see what they are seeing. When they hear, I hear what they are hearing.”
Herman Bavinck, who was a godly Dutch theologian, once said, “It is only when I begin to understand a people, only after I have recognized in them my own … inclination to play a game with God that I can begin with calling them to repent. I must feel a community with this man; I must know myself to be one with him. As long as I laugh at his foolish superstition, I look down upon him; I have not yet found the key to his soul. As soon as I understand what he does in a way that seems childish and naïve to me, I also do and continue to do again, although in a different way, as soon as I can actually stand next to him, I can in the name of Christ stand in opposition to him and convince him of sin, as Christ did with me and still does each day.”
I like that, I need to stand next to a man before I can really stand against a man. And honestly though, that’s difficult, I am going to be straight up, when you are trying to disciple someone, they are usually not going to be exactly like you, they are going to struggle with sin in different ways and it can be so easy to make assumptions and think you understand when you really don’t and the truth is, there are some people who it feels impossible to understand, we can’t get what they are thinking, and I am saying, to disciple, we need to at least try.
Because when we look at Jesus and the way He entered our world, He went to great lengths to make it clear to us, so we could know he understands us.
My dad teaches a course on counseling and he highlights some of the ways Jesus entered our world that we should seek to imitate in our discipleship relationships.
First, he entered our world physically. Hebrews 2:14 says that since the children, that’s us, share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things. To help us, he didn’t simply stay in heaven. He became man and entered our world. And this is a very simple step, we can take in order to more effectively disciple others. Obviously, we don’t have to become human, we have got that part down, but we can still do what we can to be able to physically see life from their perspective. It can be so easy if you don’t do that, to assume things.
For example, you might meet someone who is constantly worried and afraid; and you might assume this person just is foolish and they are overreacting, but then you go to their home and meet their parents, and you discover some of the things that happened to them in their background, and maybe the fact that their parents are incredibly afraid, and you realize, this person has been mentored in worry for their whole lives, they have been shown this one way to respond to difficulty for so long it has become part of them, and though that may not change your counsel totally, it helps you as disciple them.
Or you might be discipling someone who isn’t getting their homework in on time, and you are just going off on them about getting their homework done and how they are being lazy, and then you go to where they are staying, and you realize, oh, this guy doesn’t even have parents, and he doesn’t have a place to study, he’s just sleeping in the hall with about fifteen other people in the flat, playing video games most of the night.
Sometimes it helps to go where someone actually lives, because it helps you see the particular temptations they face. I remember how sometimes I get on Americans because so many of them have so much stuff, like me, right, but then I went back recently and was walking in Walmart and man there was stuff everywhere and it was cheap, and I wanted things I didn’t even know existed and felt like I had to have them, and I am not saying that makes materialism right, but with that amount of temptation right there in front of you all the time, I know if I am discipling someone from there, I am going to probably need to talk about it.
A second way Jesus entered our world was experientally. Hebrews 4:15 points that out. It says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” And knowing that about Jesus, what it does, it gives us confidence to approach him in our time of need.
It can be very difficult to take someone serious, if you don’t feel like they understand what you are going through, and obviously when we disciple someone we won’t be able to go through everything they have, that would force us to live a thousand lives, but what we can do is try to ask enough questions to discover how and what they are experiencing in the midst of whatever problems they are going through.
I have found there are two kinds of disciplers, there is the person who basically says, you can come to me, you can learn the way I think, you can focus on my interests, and maybe I will have something I can give to you and then there’s the discipler like Jesus who says, I will come to you, I will think about your interests, try to understand your needs, and consider the way you think.
What we are talking about basically, but still this is a big step, if you want to disciple others, is working on becoming really, really interested in them.
B.B. Warfield writes that Jesus, “was led by His love for others into the world to forget himself in the needs of others…Self-sacrifice means not indifference to our times and our fellows; it means absorption in them. It means a forgetfulness of self in others. It means entering into every man’s hopes and fears, longings and despairs…”
Entering into a person’s world means loving someone else like that, opening your eyes for the hurting, which is going to be a challenge for many of us, because opening our eyes means that we might open our hearts, and opening our hearts means we that we might have them broken for the sake of the lost and needy.
This is a third way, we definitely see Jesus entering our world, he entered our world emotionally. He felt for us. It’s interesting if you read through the gospels you will find that the dominant, primary emotion the writers ascribed to Jesus was that of compassion. Over and over again, Matthew 14:14; Luke 7:11-15; Mark 1:41; John 8:1-11.
Effective discipleship costs. You have to be willing to open your heart. It means getting personally involved with the person you are discipling. This is so key. As someone has said, “You can impress people from a distance, but you can impact them best up close, and the closer you are to them, the greater and more permanent the impact.”