Skip to main content

Called to be a Disciple

Recently I had the opportunity to return to some work I did a couple decades ago.  In my younger years, I was fascinated with the concept of “discipleship.”  People who belong to the Christian tradition typically are called disciples.  And I know that earlier philosophers also had disciples.  The term is not inherently religious, much less Christian.  One can even say the Buddha had disciples.  So what is a disciple or how does one become a disciple?
           
In order to keep it focused, I will stick with the process of someone becoming a Christian disciple.  I don’t think it would be much different for other traditions.  But before pursing the Christian process, a word can be said about the term, disciple.  It is from Latin and literally means a “student” or a “learner.”  Clearly, the English word, discipline, is related to being a disciple.  In effect, then a disciple is a student or learner who is willing to exercise a certain amount of discipline to pursue the path.
           
Jesus set about to call disciples very early in his ministry.  The way the New Testament tells the story, the call of disciples follow immediately after Jesus is baptized by John in the river Jordan and serves his 40 days in the wilderness.  In Mark’s Gospel, probably the oldest of the written Gospels, Jesus comes out of the wilderness ready for his ministry.  Soon he encounters some guys who are fishing.  We are told he “sees” them and “calls” them to follow him. (Mark 1:16ff)
           
The powerful story is narrated very succinctly.  In only a couple verses the lives of a couple guys are profoundly altered.  But that’s the point.  To be called as a disciple should be disruptive, disorienting and displacing.  Life, as you have known it, should be changed.  The narrative of the call to discipleship intends to make that clear.  And it implies the narrative is not simply a story about a few old guys who were called to special roles.  The narrative implies the same thing is meant for all of us who experience this kind of invitation into discipleship. 
           
It is no wonder the church has watered down the meaning of discipleship.  In fact most churches I know seldom use the language of discipleship.  Instead I hear the language of membership.  This sounds like the same language I hear for country clubs  and other social organizations.  There may be a fee to join, but the cost of membership is not too heavy.  None of them ask for much sacrifice and none I know of ask for your life!  I think Jesus had both sacrifice and life in mind when he called people into the way of discipleship.
           
I tell this story with no pretense that I am any further down the road than the average person.  Of course, I like to talk about Mother, now Saint Teresa, or Desmond Tutu, but I am a minor leaguer compared to people like them.  It is as if I am in Christian pre-school.  The tricky part of being Christian is having the knowledge is easy.  And it tempts us to think that is sufficient.  But it’s not.  Christianity, like Buddhism or any major religion, is a way of life.  To be part of the faith---to be a disciple---should alter life, as we knew it before enrolling in the journey.
           
To respond to the call to be a learner of the way of Jesus is to agree to be committed.  I have thought a great deal about commitment---what it is and how it is sustained.  A commitment is basically a promise.  A commitment is a yes to a relationship.  I am not sure our contemporary culture encourages or supports commitments the way it used to support them.  Commitment too often seems conditional---I stick with it as long as I get something out of it.  This kind of attitude does not lead to sacrifice and certainly not the giving away of my life.
           
Deep commitment requires an ego-less approach to things.  If I am egocentric, there is no way I will make lasting commitments---certainly no life-long commitments.  Egocentric commitments are conditional and tentative.  An old-fashioned way of saying what Jesus asked for is a self-transcending commitment.  If I am called to deny myself and follow him that is an invitation to self-transcendence.  Another way of saying it is remembering the Lord’s Prayer, which says, “not my will, but Your will.”  This is a hard prayer.
           
Where does this leave me?  To experience a call to discipleship is profound and humbling.  It is a call into the deepest kind of life possible and, yet, it means giving up the petty dreams we may have had for ourselves.  Essentially, it is an invitation into a loving relationship.  And we all know that love is the greatest of all.

Popular posts from this blog

Inward Journey and Outward Pilgrimage

There are so many different ways to think about the spiritual life.And of course, in our country there are so many different variations of religious experiences.There are liberals and conservatives.There are fundamentalists and Pentecostals.Besides the dizzying variety of Christian traditions, there are many different non-Christian traditions.There are the major traditions, such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and so on.There are the slightly more obscure traditions, such as Sikhism, Jainism, etc.And then there are more fringe groups and, even, pseudo-religions. There are defining doctrines and religious practices.Some of these are specific to a particular tradition or a few traditions, such as the koan, which is used in Zen Buddhism for example.Other defining doctrines or practices are common across the religious board.Something like meditation would be a good example.Christians meditate; Buddhists meditate.And other groups practice this spiritual discipline. A favorite way I like to …

A Pain is not a Pain

A rose may be a rose, but a pain is not a pain.  Maybe somebody has said that before, but I have never heard it.  So I am assuming (for the moment) I made it up.  Of course, most of us have heard that line, “a rose is a rose.”  I don’t know who said it first or if I should give it a footnote, but I do know that I did not create that line.  Furthermore, we all could explain what the phrase, a rose is a rose, means.

However, if I say, “a pain is not a pain,” the reader may not be too sure what I mean by that.  And if the reader is unsure, he or she does not know whether to agree with me or say balderdash!  So let me explain it by some development.

For sure, every adult knows what pain means.  It is difficult to imagine living into adulthood and not experiencing some kind of pain.  There is physical pain; we all know this.  There is emotional pain----a pain many people know all too well…and others may barely know.  There may be something like spiritual pain, but this one is tricky.  Not …

Spiritual Commitment

I was reading along in a very nice little book and hit these lines about commitment.The author, Mitch Albom, uses the voice of one of the main characters of his nonfiction book about faith to reflect on commitment.The voice belongs to Albom’s old rabbi of the Jewish synagogue where he went until his college days.The old rabbi, Albert Lewis, says “the word ‘commitment’ has lost its meaning.”
The rabbi continues in a way that surely would have many people saying, “Amen!”About commitment he says, “I’m old enough when it used to be a positive.A committed person was someone to be admired.He was loyal and steady.Now a commitment is something you avoid.You don’t want to tie yourself down.”I also think I am old enough to know that commitment was usually a positive word.I can think of a range of situations in which commitment would have been seen to be positive.
For example, growing up was full of sports for me.Commitment would have been presupposed to be part of a team. If you were going to pl…