The Beauty of Belonging

Man was created to participate in beauty and not just to be an observer. A lack of beauty rarely comes to mind when dealing with personal problems but when other approaches with your disciple have failed an absence of beauty should be considered.

There is beauty in belonging to others of which the Psalmist writes in Psalm 133: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.” To paraphrase, being united to others is a beautiful thing.

This beauty flows from the eternal love between the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. God designed man to enter into this beauty by being connected to Him and His other children. But sin in the Garden of Eden brought shame and a separation between God and mankind and man with one another, which resulted in ugliness.

A relational breach demoralizes and creates a void of beauty in a person which will compel him to desperately seek out perverted and distorted forms of beauty to compensate for this vacuum. This search will lead him to self-destructive attitudes and behaviors such as pornography, flirtation, sex, eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, materialism, etc.

Your disciple will become confused and frustrated over the contradiction of this behavior. He desires to love, belong, and please the Lord and he is aware that his behavior is sinful and self-destructive but he continues it anyway and he does not understand why. He soon discovers that his self-determination and self-control cannot compensate for this void of beauty.

The nature of God moved Him to restore man’s relationship to Him and mankind’s relationship with one another through the death of Jesus.  So once where there was sin, shame, hatred, and discord there now can be the beauty of unity and peace. Although the story of relational restoration through the gospel is familiar to your disciple the implementation of this reality may prove difficult. A large part of the disciplining process is helping your disciple understand the beauty of how he is restored to God and how he can now be connected to others.

In closing,

  • Only make disciples in the context of community. It is in community that they will experience the beauty of belonging and how to love others.
  • As a community discuss how the group can help each member understand how he or she belongs to the Lord and to the others in the group.
  • Communicate regularly to your disciple how he belongs to his heavenly Father and also to the others in the community. (e.g. Tell him what you have heard from others in what ways they appreciate him.)

Love Limits to Multiply

To love requires time.  To disciple is to love, therefore disciple making necessitates time.  To make a disciple is to say, “I will spend time with you.” When Jesus said, “follow me” to each of his disciples, he was saying to him, “I want to spend extended time with you.” He who is too busy cannot love and therefore cannot make disciples.

Jesus chose to spend three years with his small band because he was not only going to instruct them about love but he was also going to cultivate the group so that they could experience what it is like to be part of a group that loves one another.  (Notice that others came to Jesus asking to be his disciple but he kept the number at twelve.)

Here in Chicago we pace our growth based on how many people we can disciple and on how many people we can love.  We are surrounded by millions of people and tremendous need so we must be extra careful not to “swamp” our canoe.  At the moment that a group has more people to disciple than there are disciplers they become “swamped.”    The same is true with love, when there are more people to love than our group can love effectively; once again we have allowed the boat to be “swamped”.  Once the group is “swamped” with too many people I am convinced that there is no effective way to “unswamp” the canoe.

Sin and Your Disciple

Sin is the principal issue in your disciple’s life.  Man was designed to love and to be loved, sin prevents both.  It has estranged him from God and alienated him from others.  It has opened his life to the dark force of shame; a shame that prevents him from drawing near to God and prohibits him from building authentic relationships.  When man lives a detached existence his behavior becomes unstable, erratic, and often self-destructive as he explores ways to attach to others and to belong.

As a discipler, one of your first concerns should be to gain an understanding of your disciple’s perspective of his sin, the cross of Jesus, and his relationship to it.  There are even those who grew up in Christian homes and gospel centered churches that have not been able to apply the gospel to their lives.  Pride and disbelief will cause your disciple to make himself the exception to the rule by believing that he has sinned beyond the patience of God. He must humble himself and acknowledge that he can do nothing to pay for his sin.  His forgiveness is a gift from God because of his mercy and love.

The truth of the good news of Jesus is best learned and experienced in the context of a loving relationship with a parent or a discipler.  The parent/discipler provides an environment of love and forgiveness which illustrates the gospel for the disciple as he explores the gospel and applies its truth to his sin.

A couple of closing thoughts:

  • Most people (including believers) will never have anyone talk with them about their sin and the application of the gospel to their lives.  If you do not discuss it with your child or disciple probably no one will.
  • Just because someone has “made a profession of faith” at some point in his life does not mean he believes he is forgiven by God today.
  • Your disciple’s behavior, rather than his words, is an indicator of his understanding of the gospel.  (Is your disciple comfortable with God? Does your disciple love others well? Does your disciple receive love well? Is his life style contradictory?)
  • Our God is love.  Our message of the gospel is love.  Our love for one another is an expression of the gospel.  Love is a reliable test of a person’s understanding of the gospel.

Pursuing Your Disciple

Love pursues.  Your first step with a disciple is to pursue him. Just as Jesus chose his 12 disciples and as Paul chose Timothy, it is important for you to take the initiative in pursuing your disciple. This first step is key because it establishes the tone of the relationship and sets a trajectory for discipling relationships for generations to come.  When others came to Jesus and reversed the initiative by asking to become his disciple he turned them away, which indicates the significance of the discipler pursuing the disciple.  (Matt 8:19-22; Luke 9:57-62)

The good news of the kingdom is that the Father pursued man and adopted him into the family of God.  As I pursue a disciple I am demonstrating to him and the world the pursuing love of God in the cross of Jesus.

Recently I was at a gathering where several disciples shared their stories.  A recurring theme was the life change as a result of being loved by their discipler.  Not only will your disciple never forget being pursued by you, but it will serve as a point of reference for the rest of his life.  Because he has experienced the love of being pursued, he will pursue others.

Some closing lessons from the pursuit:

  • Pursuing is hard work.
  • Pursuing is deliberate.
  • Begin the pursuit by having your disciple tell you his story.
  • The pursuit of your disciple will take months.  Depending on the individual it may take many initiatives before you see a response.  (The pursuit often causes a disciple to face his deepest fears which he has avoided for years.)
  • The experience of being pursued teaches your disciple how to pursue others.
  • Parents, pursue each of your children. Children, pursue your parents. Brothers and sisters, pursue one another.  Friends, pursue your friends.

Friendship and Making Disciples 2

Making disciples and making friends requires an initiator. Jesus told his disciples that He had chosen them – they had not chosen Him.  It is life changing to be pursued by love, whether in romance, friendship, or discipleship.  As a discipler I do not wait for disciples to come to me, I pursue them.

Jonathan gives us a good example of taking the initiative in his friendship with David. Jonathan begins their relationship by drawing David into a love covenant with himself. “And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself” (1 Samuel 18:3). To understand their friendship we need to be aware of how a covenant worked in the eastern world. A covenant was an agreement between two parties that set the conditions of the relationship. A covenant was not between equals; rather it followed the pattern common to the ancient near east treaties. The victorious king would set the terms of the covenant with the conquered people. The covenant implied relationship, promise, and expectation. At the beginning of their friendship, Jonathan, as the crowned prince, initiates the covenant with David who, at this point, makes no commitment to Jonathan.

Making disciples is a covenant friendship. In a discipling relationship the discipler takes the initiative to reach out to his disciple. In the beginning a discipler cannot expect a disciple to understand biblical friendship nor discipleship. My purpose is to be their guide as Jesus guided his disciples and Jonathan guided David.  Jonathan guides David for 13 years through his formative years in preparation for his life’s purpose to be the king. One example of this guidance is during a time when David discovered that King Saul was on his way to kill him. Jonathan found David and had him focus on the Lord, reminding David of God’s sovereignty and purpose in his life (1 Samuel 23:16-18).

Here are a couple of closing thoughts on being the initiator in a discipleship-friendship:

  1. Friendship is a learned skill. I teach my disciple how to receive friendship and how to be a friend.
  2. The pursuit of the friendship is an expression of love and value. The pursuit is a key component of the discipling process. Jonathan pursued David, Jesus chose his disciples, and Paul recruited Timothy.
  3. The pursuit takes time. I must continue the pursuit of the friendship until my disciple comes to the place of maturity and understanding where he can reciprocate in the friendship.  If I waited for my disciples to contact me after our first few meetings, I would have few disciples. The process takes months (sometimes years) rather than weeks. It is important to remember that Jonathan and David’s friendship covered 13 years, Jesus was with his disciples for 3 years, and Paul was with Timothy for 16 years.