When I was younger, the word “disciple” always dredged up images of dusty, bearded middle-aged men in robes, trudging along behind Jesus, as he moved from town to town preaching and healing people. The image is, of course, courtesy of the film Jesus of Nazareth, which I watched when I was about eight years old, possibly my first visual impression of what Jesus and his disciples looked like.
Of course now, some 35 years on, I am aware that the film, while eye-opening in many ways, did also put blinders on how I had viewed discipleship. It is also the shallow understanding of the Great Commission that many of us have, to “go into all the world and make disciples of all nations”. It seems like a daunting call, that requires a great sacrifice of family, career, income and often, life.
My key misunderstanding was with the word “go”. To me, it meant foreign lands, different tribes and tongues, time away from work, separation from family, poverty, hardship and even illness.
But the “go” in Matthew 28:18 does not mean any of those things. The word was written in the present continuous tense, and is meant to be read “as you go.” That changed what discipleship meant to me. It meant that in the everyday things I do, working, taking care of my family, serving my church, I am called to be a disciple and to make disciples.
The call to discipleship that I received feels more like a mandate. I knew that above everything else that I could possibly do to serve the Lord, the one thing I had to always be doing is making disciples. The message of the Great Commission resonates with me personally, and I know that it is actually God doing the work, and I was in the privileged position of being allowed to help. It is like story Ps Rhordan shared in his book Marked to Magnify, about Ken Malmin allowing his small son to paint the fence with him (pg27). God is always looking for people to “help” him paint the fence, not because we are so good at it, but because He enjoys the relationship.
So, I am glad that I have been allowed to try and fail. I am only too aware that I don’t have all the answers and have made mistakes in discipling. In fact, I would be the first to confess that not everyone I had been in discipleship with still walks with the same fervour that they did when we first began. But I am grateful that I still have the opportunity to keep the friendship, to continue to speak life to them, and to pray for them with understanding. And through these things, God does His work. He hears, he heals, he restores, and in that, they know that there is a loving God who will always wait with open arms for his sons and daughters to come back to him.
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