Six weeks ago, we began looking at a fairly straight-forward question: What does it look like to make disciples?
Does it look like Sunday morning at a mega-church? Does it look like coffee with a friend at Tim Hortons? Does it look serving the homeless at a soup kitchen? Does it look like a neighbourhood block-party? Does it look like a ladies Bible study or youth group or Sunday school or kids club or any of these things?
Well, to find the answer to these questions, we started by defining discipleship. And of course, the key passage we looked at was Matthew 28:18-20 – which by now, I imagine most of you have memorized – since we’ve looked at it for each of the last six weeks! But it says this:
18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
Now this isn’t the only place where the Bible talks about making disciples – its actually quite a re-occuring theme – but based on that passage, we defined discipleship as: helping people trust and follow Jesus.
Discipleship: Helping people trust and follow Jesus.
It’s really as simple as that. If you are helping people trust and follow Jesus – then you are making disciples. And we came to realize that we can help people trust and follow Jesus in a lot of different ways – and in a lot of different contexts.
In fact, we identified 5 different contexts in the life and ministry of Jesus that we could learn from as we try to model our discipleship on what He did.
At a glance, those five context’s were: The Public Context, The Social Context, The Personal Context, The Transparent Context, and the Divine Context.
And so the first context that we looked at was the public context.
Jesus often operated in the public context as he ministered to the crowds – teaching, preaching, telling parables, doing miracles – and all that in the presence of 100s or even 1000s of people at a time. And I think we could safely say that all of those things that Jesus said and did in the public context helped many people trust and follow him.
So for us today, we too can make use of the public context in much the same way. Our Sunday morning gatherings are probably the best example of this – where we can use preaching and teaching and inspiration – through the stories we tell of what God is doing in our lives to motivate, persuade, encourage, influence, move, stir, spur on, energize, and awaken people in their spiritual journey. All of that can help people trust and follow Jesus.
The second context we looked at was the social context.
We defined the social context as communities of 20 – 70 people. We often see Jesus at dinner parties or other social gatherings where he lived out the lessons that he wanted the people to learn.
If the public context is where Christianity is taught – the social context is where Christianity is caught. We’re not just hearing how to be a disciple – we’re seeing an example right in front of us – we might even be participating in that example. And so for a church, the social context includes everything from kids clubs to potlucks to helping at the Fall Festival – And in all these gatherings, we (and everyone else there) gets the opportunity to see how Christians live. We get to live out all those one another commandments – like “serve one another”, “have compassion on one another”, “forgive one another” – “encourage one another.”
This is a key part of helping people trust and follow Jesus.
Then the third context was the personal context.
In the personal context, we are discipled by friends who support and challenge us. For Jesus, this would most certainly include the 12 disciples. We also looked at the example of Daniel and his three friends as they supported and challenged each other while in captivity in Babylon.
For us, this kind of discipleship might happen within our own families or small groups of about 4-12 people. This is the context where we go through life together with all it’s ups and downs. These family-like relationships allow us to practice things like forgiveness and mercy and patience and all that other good (but sometimes difficult) stuff as we learn to love others like Jesus did.
And then last week we talked about the transparent context.
The transparent context includes our closest relationships. I think we see this type of relationship between Jesus and the his three closest disciples – Peter, James, and John. We also see it in some of the famous duos of the Bible – Paul and Silas, Elijah and Elisha, David & Jonathon, Naomi & Ruth.
This is the type of relationship that you’d see between a life-long mentor and mentee, a group of two or three best friends, or even husband and wife. It’s the kind of relationship where you don’t feel you have anything to hide. You can be honest and open with each other – It’s ok for the other person to see you exactly for who you are – warts and all – because you trust them. You know that they’ve got your back – no matter what.
But its in this context that we can really begin to deal with heart issues. You can get past the surface level stuff and start tackling those deeper issues & questions – and matters of the heart. And that’s so important, because those heart issues will really direct the course of your life.
It’s so important that we are being discipled in each these contexts. The public, the social, the personal, and the transparent context – because they all play an important but different role in helping us trust and follow Jesus.
But there is one more context that we need to look at. And that is the Divine Context.
Now of course, God is at work discipling us in every context that we’ve talked about, so they really could all be considered to be ‘divine contexts’. But there is a separate context of life where God disciples us directly. Bobby Harrington writes:
“The Divine Context is how we describe our direct interaction with God himself, apart from other people, as we respond to the gentle yet distinct promptings of the Holy Spirit. The focus here shifts from relationships with others to solitude with God as he encounters us in our inner world.” ~ Bobby Harrington: Discipleship That Fits
This is a critical part of our discipleship process. Remember, Christianity is not about becoming a better person or following the principles of the Bible – it’s about having a personal relationship with the God of heaven! If we neglect this direct interaction with God as part of our discipleship process, I think we’re really missing the point of Christianity.
Certainly we see Jesus keeping his personal relationship with the Father as the focal point of his life and ministry. Jesus was always interacting with the Father – talking to him, listening to him, seeking His will, obeying his leading.
And I think sometimes, when we see just how in-tune Jesus was with the Father, we brush that off and discount that simply because Jesus was God. “Of course, he had a good relationship with God the Father – he was God the Son” We think that Jesus and God the Father interacted differently with each other than how we might interact with God.
But I’m not sure that’s the case. I think we see Jesus interacting with God the same ways that you and I can.
How many times do we read about Jesus going off into some solitary place to pray? The answer is: often!
16 But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer. Luke 5:16
12 One day soon afterward Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night. Luke 6:12
You see, I don’t think Jesus’ intimate relationship with His Father was because He had some special ‘God-head connection’ with him. No, I think it was simply because Jesus recognized how central his relationship with the Father was and he made that relationship the highest priority in his life. We can certainly see that as Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane the night before he was crucified.
32 They went to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and Jesus said, “Sit here while I go and pray.” 33 He took Peter, James, and John with him, and he became deeply troubled and distressed. 34 He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
35 He went on a little farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. 36 “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Mark 14:32-36
Even when facing his own death on a cross, Jesus remained anchored by his relationship with his Father. That relationship was the foundation, the guiding point of Jesus’ life.
And the cool thing is that we can have that same kind of relationship. And we need to. We need to be discipled by God Himself in very much the same way that Jesus was.
As much as we need to be discipled by others in the public, social, personal, and transparent contexts, even more so do we need God to disciple us in the divine context.
The primary way we engage with God in the divine context is through the spiritual disciplines – just like Jesus did. We talked about that extensively earlier on in the year as we went through another sermon series – Healthy Habits – and we talked about prayer and Bible reading, fasting, silence & solitude, and several other physical activities that we do for a spiritual benefit. We see Jesus engaging in all of these activities as he centered his life around his relationship with the Father.
Likewise for us, all of these activities are geared towards developing that personal relationship with God. The activities in themselves are nothing special – but they create opportunity for us to speak to God and to hear from Him – to learn his character and his ways, and to understand his will for our lives.
I love what Bobby Harrington has to say about this. He says:
“One of the best lessons we learn when practicing the spiritual disciplines is to approach God as a person, not as a means to an end. In other words, when we fast or pray, we don’t always need an immediate, clear answer in order to accomplish our goal. Indeed, being close to God is the goal!” ~ Bobby Harrington: Discipleship That Fits
Sometimes I struggle with that. Sometimes I see Bible reading and prayer as items on my checklist – things that I need to do in order to have success that day. I pray to get answers rather than just humbly and gratefully express to God that I need Him in my life.
And that’s one reason why it’s so important for me to take some significant, unhurried time each day and just quietly engage with God. If I rush and just try to make sure I get through all the steps (read these chapters, pray for these people and these issue) there’s no real connection with God there. I don’t give Him any real opportunity to speak to me or to disciple me in any significant way.
But I’ve found that when I slow down and make the time just to be with God, he takes that opportunity to teach me new things, to change my heart and my attitudes, to refresh me and to give me strength.
It’s exactly what James says will happen. In James 4:8 it says…
“Come close to God, and God will come close to you.” James 4:8
If we make the effort to draw close to God, God will draw close to us. God is not just a fact to know about – He is a person to know personally. As we seek to get to know God – particularly through these spiritual disciplines – God reveals Himself to us. He speaks to us through his Word and through the quiet, yet distinct promptings of the Holy Spirit.
And this can be some of the most significant moments of discipleship that you can have. I mean, God is the Master Teacher. He knows us intimately – He knows exactly what issues we’re working through, He knows exactly what words we need to hear in that exact moment, He knows what beliefs or attitudes we need to change.
If we give Him the opportunity to speak into our lives, He will transform us.
And so I would really encourage you, to make sure that you are providing opportunity for God to disciple you in this divine context. Engage consistently in these spiritual disciplines – and not just so that you can check them off your list each day – engage in them with the goal and purpose of drawing near to God.
Now having gone through our sermon series on Healthy Habits not that long ago, I won’t go into too much detail as to what that might look like – but at the very least, I would include both reading Scripture and spending time in prayer.
For me, one of my best practices that really helps me slow down and focus on hearing from God is journalling. In fact, by way of practical application today, let me quickly teach you the SOAP method of journaling. And not that there is anything really special about the method, but I’ve found that it’s just an effective way of helping me pay attention to what God is trying to say to me. And so maybe that can be effective for you too.
So this is the SOAP method of Journaling. So let’s start with the S. The “S” reminds us to start with Scripture.
S – Scripture. For me, I like following a reading plan of some sort where I read through the Bible in a year or something like that. I think it’s good to work your way through all of the Scriptures – since, like we read in 2 Timothy 3:16 last week:
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17
So all Scripture is useful and important. But if you’re just getting started, maybe you just want to pick a favourite book of the Bible and read a few verses each day. Or maybe you want to follow a devotional book of some sort. A lot of people go through the “Our Daily Bread” booklets that come every few months. And by the way, if you’re interested in getting those – they are free and I can get some for our church if you’d like. Just let me know. But Any of those options would be great.
But then, once you’ve read through the Scripture, whatever that might be, write out the verse or the verse that seem to stick out to you. Quite often there will be at least something that catches your attention. So then write that out. This is a great way to help you remember and focus on the words of God throughout your day.
Secondly is the O – Observation
Take some time to look at the verse within the context of the passage. What does this verse actually mean? Of course, you’ll want to consider the author and the audience and the setting – what are they trying to communicate? What does this passage tell you about God? What does it tell you about human nature? What nugget of truth can you find in this verse or these verses.
Try to observe what’s going on and see the intent of what’s written.
A – Application
So how does this verse apply to you? Based on what you’ve observed, how should that impact your life? If you really took this verse seriously, how would this change your view of God? How would this change your attitude towards others or your attitude towards the situation you find yourself in?
Because that’s really where life-transformation happens – it’s when we change our beliefs and our attitudes – because, as we talked about last week – it’s our beliefs and attitudes in our heart that determine our actions and thus, the course of our life.
So how do we apply this verse to our beliefs or attitudes – and with that, our actions?
P – Prayer
Write out a prayer to God based on what you’ve just learned. Thank Him for speaking to you through these verses. Ask him to help you apply these truths to your life.
And these are all very simple easy steps – but they really make a significant impact because you’re inviting God to disciple you. You’re taking time and making the effort to draw close to Him so that you can learn to trust and follow Him more. And when you do that, God will draw close to you. He will teach you new things about Himself and yourself. He will transform your beliefs and your attitudes as you learn more and more about who God is and how He wants you to live.
You know, when you think about it, it’s a pretty incredible opportunity we have, to have this direct interaction with God Himself – that we can talk to the Creator of the Universe and have Him teach us about Himself, about our world, and about how He intends us to live.
Discipleship in the Divine Context is really a glimpse into what eternity will be like. It’s a foretaste of being in the presence in God Himself. Who else would we rather learn from? Who else would we rather answer our questions about life, about God, and about ourselves?
Why would we not daily take a significant part of our day just to spend it with God? This is what we were created for – to have a deep, meaningful relationship with our Creator.
This is why Jesus came to earth, why he died on a cross and rose to life again – so that you know and be with God.
In the old testament times, people only had access to God through the high priest. There wasn’t that direct interaction. In fact, the temple was setup so that there was a huge, thick curtain that separated the people from God. The Holy of Holies was off limits to everyone but the high priest – and he could only enter it once a year.
But when Jesus died on that cross, the curtain was torn in two.
50 Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit. 51 At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Matthew 27:50-51a
I think we often overlook the significance of that in the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Because of Jesus’ death on the cross, our sin no longer separates us from God. Each of us can know God personally and have a relationship with Him.
Discipleship in the Divine Context is all about our direct interaction with God Himself – and it’s only a foreshadow of things to come. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we can look forward to an eternity of direct, face-to-face interaction with our Creator.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:12…
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12 NIV
What a privilege we have to know our Creator. Partially now – but one day soon, fully.