One of the primary reason today’s church is becoming less of a force in society and even in the lives of those professing to be Christian is the fact that for many years the Body of Christ as a whole had lost the real meaning of the word “disciple.” A disciple of Christ is nothing less than a “Christ-follower.”
When Jesus encountered Peter and Andrew, as well as the son’s of Zebedee busy at their nets, he said to them, “Follow me.” And they did. I think one of the reasons the modern Church has downplayed the role of discipleship is fairly obvious. True discipleship requires sacrifice and beneath our sacrifice, no matter what form it takes, is another issue: change.
Following Christ requires change.
This lack of emphasis on discipleship in the contemporary church has led to many unfortunate circumstances, not the least of which is that so many Christians are walking around feeling as wounded, depressed, and hopeless as those outside the faith. That this is so, however, should not be surprising. Christ did not call us to a “country club” religion. In fact, he didn’t call us to religion at all. He called us to relationship and mission. To participate in this life-giving relationship and to fulfill our mission as Christ-followers, we must indeed become just that – Christ-followers. Tragically, few realize that this involves far more than belief in a few arcane doctrines, tossing off an occasional prayer, and being a tithing member of a local congregation. And perhaps nothing is more essential in this challenging age than having an army of true Christ-followers.
In Paul’s remarkable prayer to the Ephesians (3:19) he petitions the Lord that “you may be filled with the fullness of God.” Have you ever really reflected on the magnitude of what the Apostle is saying in these few words? Basically, what Paul is asking God is that the believers in Ephesus, and us as well, become like Jesus. Any close examination of scripture reveals that the goal of our development as disciples of Christ is to become Christ-like.
Later on in Ephesians (4:15) Paul goes on to say, “Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” This statement by Paul should not surprise us. Two verses earlier he flatly stated that in achieving maturity, we are to attain “the measure of the full stature of Christ.” I don’t know about you, but when I read this statement two things immediately occur within me. First, I am strongly convicted about how far I am from manifesting this kind of maturity in my daily life but, secondly, I am filled with hope that it is at least remotely possible. Paul would have never put it this way, under the leading of the Holy Spirit, unless it was indeed true.
“Very well,” you may say. “Where do I begin?” There are no clear cut answers to this question, but there are a few general guidelines. Whenever you want to transform any part of yourself and create a new, healthier, and more balanced lifestyle, you must realize that old patterns and habits of behavior must die. Jesus once said that you cannot “put new wine in old wineskins.” What he meant by this was simple. If you put new wine in an old wineskin, when the new wine begins to ferment and expand, it will burst the old skin. The same is true for each of us. If we want to establish new patterns of behavior, we have to get rid of the old. In the Bible, this process is called taking off the old and putting on the new.
This process can be difficult and at times discouraging. Usually there is a time lag between the manifestation of your new behaviors and the dissolution of your old patterns. At times, this transitional period can seem chaotic. You may feel at times like you are losing control over your life and events may seem to become increasingly unpredictable. You may feel, for example, that you no longer have anything to hold on to. The fact is, you may be holding on to an old pattern of behavior, even if it is unproductive, simply because it is familiar. This is a very common experience for most of us. I know with certainty it has been true in my life.
I have often felt that I was open-minded and prided myself on my lack of rigidity. But careful examination of my life revealed a pattern that was at times startling to my false sense of openness and flexibility. This hanging on to the comfort zone, that which was familiar, showed up in many areas of my life. Take my softball glove for example.
From the time I was five years old I have been an avid baseball fan. I played the sport throughout my school years and, once I became an adult, played competitive softball for many years.
I normally played middle infield, either second base or shortstop. For many years I used the same softball glove. In fact, I used it so long that the strings kept breaking, all the padding was gone out of the pocket and the leather was cracked in several strategic places. Nevertheless I refused to buy a new glove, in spite of the frequent protestations of my teammates.
The reason was simple. I was comfortable with this old glove. It molded to my hand perfectly over the years and it felt reassuring to put in on before I took the field. All too often, however, I would catch a hard line drive right in the pocket and my hand would sting, then remain numb for several minutes. Still, I wanted no part of a new glove.
A new glove, as anyone who has played the sport knows, is a real pain for awhile. It feels funny, awkward and stiff. It is easy to make errors with a new glove, at least until it is broken in properly. No, my old glove was find thank you very much.
One day our third baseman wasn’t able to make the game and I played the so-called “hot corner.” Things went okay for the first two innings. Then, in the third inning the batter hit a hard liner right at me. I responded quickly and raised my glove, only to have the ball break right through the ancient webbing an hit me square in the forehead, knocking me out cold.
Two days later I bought a new glove.
My experience with my old softball glove is not unlike my experience with the behaviors that flow from my old self. No matter how much I try to take off the old and put on the new, the old keeps rearing its head and biting me. I suspect that I am not alone in this predicament.
Many of my old behaviors, like my old softball glove, may hurt me time and time again. But, they are comfortable in the sense that they are familiar and predictable. My old self resists change and it is here that we are vulnerable to our habitual responses to life, however unhealthy and painful they may be.
Yes, change can be difficult. We resist looking deeply and honestly at ourselves and seeing what real issues are festering below the surface – real issues that may be standing between us and true intimacy with Christ. Yet we must look squarely at our sin and weakness if we want to change. We need courage but the great news of the gospel is that the Lord has provided us assistance. He has not left us alone to face our demons. We have inside of us the power that raised Christ from the dead. Further, walking along side of us we have the Comforter, the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit. He, indeed, is the divine Helper and our source of courage.
I don’t know about you, but I want to be all that I can be in Christ. To do this, I have to make changes, no matter how uncomfortable. I have to let go of my old infielder’s glove and put on a new one. It may be awkward at first, but guess what?
In the end, I will be a better player.