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Is It Possible to Apply Jesus’s Model of Spiritual Growth?

You’d think it would have gotten easier to make a disciple. For one thing, in Jesus’s time, life was more difficult. Getting food, clothing and shelter took all your time. These days, there are homeless shelters that offer whatever you lack for FREE. It was different then Expectations were …
By sethbarnes
By sethbarnes

You’d think it would have gotten easier to make a disciple. For one thing, in Jesus’s time, life was more difficult. Getting food, clothing and shelter took all your time. These days, there are homeless shelters that offer whatever you lack for FREE.

It was different then

Expectations were different then. He and 12 disciples walked around talking to people and healing them. We have laws about vagrancy. We put up fences around our houses and drive ourselves around, fully insulated from people.

Other cultural factors made it easier for Jesus than it is in our day. The nation of Israel was deeply immersed in a spiritual worldview. If you were raised a Jew, you didn’t just hear the Torah recited, you actually practiced it. Whole books were devoted to describing in detail how to do so.

In contrast, America has become a post-Christian nation. Whereas even our money was printed with the words “in God we trust,” the Church seems to be in retreat. We have an Instagram approach to life. The Church doesn’t talk much about discipleship. At least in the past we outsourced our discipleship to youth groups.

The result: Young people who go to church look like their peers who don’t. They are deeply anxious, porn-addicted, and rarely read the Bible. Parents worry about what will happen to them when they graduate high school and “go out into the world.” Given how many lose their faith, that worry is warranted.

Those of us who still say we are Christians need to take an honest look at how we impart faith to young people. Whatever our intent, we need to rethink our methods – they aren’t working. Having raised five children of our own and looking at our grandchildren, this isn’t an abstract exercise for me. I’m digging into what to do differently. Here are three things Jesus did that are still relevant. They are practices that I have seen change lives.

1. Journeying

Changing a life is hard. Changing it while surrounded by all the relationships and stuff that anchor you to the present is almost impossible. I think that’s why Jesus asked his disciples to walk away from their hometowns for a season.

1 John 2:6 says “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” How did Jesus walk? He walked away from comfort and towards a life focused on meeting the needs of others, setting them free. And he literally walked – he journeyed, engaged in a process that forced him to depend on the Father.

No food? Better pray for your daily bread. Healing the sick? Better be connected to the Father so you can know what he’s saying. Casting out demons? You better have the authority that Jesus delegated or you’ll fail.

Jesus wants you to learn to trust him. And usually that means something must change.

2. Modeling

You have to walk with them – they have to be able to see your model. You have to risk big and fail big in front of them. They have to see that both are possible. They have to see you at play and see you when you’re tired.

We see that with Jesus. After preaching on the hillside (Matt. 5-7), we read about Jesus modeling faith and ministry for another two chapters (Matt. 8-9) before he activates them in Matt. 10 to begin going out on their own. He helped his disciples to first understand the WHY of the Kingdom of God. And then he showed them the WHAT and the HOW, before at last asking them to do what they had just seen him do.

In raising our five children, we repeatedly saw the importance of modeling the behavior we wanted to see. It took my own children to show me the depth of investment necessary. Ask them and they’ll talk to you about a process that spanned years and years. They’re in their thirties now and we still talk all the time. I couldn’t be prouder of the way they seek to walk out their own faith.

3. Long-term relationship

Deep relationships take time. Jesus took three years to disciple his disciples and they still looked like a mess in the end. Three years of intensive, personal, challenging life together was just barely enough to get them to a place where they were succeeding as much as they were failing.

Jesus’ best disciple, Peter, the rock upon which Jesus said he’d build his church, was like a spiritual toddler falling down as he learned to walk. There he is walking on water one minute and chopping off a soldier’s ear or denying Jesus multiple times the next minute.

Peter got plenty of real life faith tests followed by immediate debriefings from Jesus. Each time he failed, Peter could look at his spiritual reflection and see his brokenness.

If you’re in the business of discipling others, there is no way around it. If the Master took three years and his best pupil was still failing half the time, then how long should you and I be prepared to devote?

Conclusion: Yes, our world is challenging. But the principles Jesus showed us still work. He says, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.” (John 14:23) Why not take him at his word?

Comments (2)

  • This is so good. Yes Lord! Help us to step out and journey with you as we model to those you bring our way. Not losing heart in well-doing but to persevere until the end!

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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