Vital Discipleship: A Few Rambling Thoughts

US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River, Ne...
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Mick Turner

My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. (John 10:10 NLT)

For those of us who are followers of Christ, we must first recognize that God truly desires that we have full, rewarding lives. It is not the will of God that we suffer through life in quiet desperation. Jesus said the he came so that we may have life and have it more abundantly. Contrary to the popular Prosperity Gospel, the abundance Jesus was talking about wasn’t centered on material wealth. No, the abundant life Christ spoke of was a life filled with joy, fulfillment, and realized potential.

The life of abundance Jesus stressed first of all is a life of “vital discipleship.” Vital discipleship is grounded in love and disciplined obedience to the Master’s teaching and it results in what I have come to call lives of “noble integrity.”

Words like “nobility” and “integrity” seem outdated in the climate of relativism so characteristic of postmodern culture. Both of these traits, when found in a spiritually mature individual, imply a person of character, driven by a personal standard of behavioral excellence and an internalized value system. Nobility and integrity describe a person that has a firm sense of what is right and what is wrong and these standards are consistently manifested in his or her daily behavior.

For the Christian, a character of noble integrity is built upon the foundation of a well-reasoned biblical world view and an experiential understanding of his or her identity “in Christ.” Noble integrity flows from a deep understanding of what Christ accomplished through his mission to this planet and subsequent ascension “higher than the highest heaven (see Ephesians 4:10).

Orbiting the central sun of noble character are virtues that are rarely stressed in our postmodern culture – assets like honor, integrity, courage, discipline, compassion, and service to others. Sure, we may hear lip service paid to these foundational virtues in some brief radio commentary or at a graduation speech. But for the most part, these character assets are all too often ignored or sacrificed on the altar of social expediency or self-centered focus.

Erwin Raphael McManus, in his fine book Uprising, speaks to the issue of courage, a central component of the noble life. I treasure McManus’ perspective on this issue. Take some time and slowly read the following quotation – let his point really sink in:

From beginning to end, we will be called to make courageous decisions even while we find ourselves gripped with fear. There are no exemptions. Any claims that you should be exempt from having to walk this path are rejected. Any attempt to create an elitist category for those who live heroic lives while placing yourself outside of it is unacceptable. If your argument is that you just aren’t cut out for this kind of adventure, you can rest in the comfort that you are absolutely right, which is exactly why Jesus is calling you out. He calls you to begin a quest for honor. Courage is not an issue of birth. It is an expression of the heart. To be courageous is literally to be strong of heart. Both fear and courage are heart conditions. If you are weak of heart, fear not. Everyone who chooses to follow Jesus Christ receives a heart transplant. This new heart comes fully equipped with the spirit and courage of God ready to be pumped right into your timid soul.

 To follow Jesus is to choose to live in His adventure. How in the world could you ever imagine a life of faith that does not require risk? Faith and risk are inseparable. It should not come as a surprise to us then that a life of faith is a life of courage. ….You cannot walk by faith and live in fear. You cannot walk with God and not face your fears. God calls you to dream great dreams and to have the courage to live them. Great dreams require great courage.

 As followers of Jesus, each of us has within us the very same power source that raised Christ from the dead. With that kind of power at our disposal, how can we not boldly step out in courage and confidence, knowing that in the end we will prevail? Moreover, we have countless assurances in scripture that our confidence is well-founded and that our faith-based courage is not in vain. For example, Paul tells us:

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28 NLT)

 Noble character is forged in the mundane activities of daily living and more often than not, grows out of the countless small decisions we make day in and day out. I am not specifically talking about the major decisions we have to deal with like choice of vocation, life partner, etc. No, I am speaking instead of those little choices we have to make – choices that involve choosing between doing the right thing and the expedient thing. For a student this might be the choice between carousing with his or her buddies or staying home and hitting the books. For a wife it might mean choosing to not return the repeated eye contact and soft smile of the handsome guy in the checkout line – the guy who is obviously checking out far more than groceries. For the husband and father, it might mean choosing to spend Saturday morning playing catch and hitting a few grounders to his son, rather than playing 18 holes with his friends from the office.

No, these are not particularly heroic decisions, but they are character building choices just the same. And it is these very choices that help forge noble character and help us grow into the kind of persons God wants us to be. Further, it is these repeated acts of positive choice that prepares us to make the right decisions whenever a major issue comes along.

Remember Captain “Sully” Sullenberger, the heroic pilot who landed his crippled passenger jet into the Hudson River? US Airways Flight 1549, its engines rendered useless by a flock of migrating geese, glided into the frigid waters of the Hudson largely due to the skills of Captain Sullenberger. The point I am making here is that those skills displayed that day by the pilot and crew came as the result of repeated practice and years of experience. Time and time again Sulley made small decisions in the cockpits of the jets he flew and when the chips were down, he made the right choice.

It is the same with the spiritual formation of noble character. Those small daily decisions not only make our lives smoother and more positive, they also prepare us for those moments of crisis when we not only have to think fast, but think clearly and make the right decision.

It is this very sort of life – a life grounded in nobility of character and committed, vital discipleship – that Jesus tells us that he came to make possible. Fueled by our own efforts and the work of the Holy Spirit, such an “abundant” life is not only possible, it is promised.

© L.D. Turner 2010/All Rights Reserved

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