Active Discipleship- Zephaniah 1:12, Malachi 3:14

And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil.

Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts?

COMMENTARY

The men that are settled: that say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither do evil
It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance
The only reason why any of us do anything in this life is because we expect to gain something worthwhile by it. The easiest actions to take are those that are immediately pleasurable, such as eating, sleeping, and pursuing entertainment. But we can even learn to endure actions that are momentarily inconvenient if they provide later benefits, such as exercising, gaining an education, or working a job. Even selfless acts of service still benefit us for the warmth of conscience we gain by them.
Indeed, we can perform any action and overcome any obstacle, so long as we are properly motivated by the promise of goodness afterward. But if there is something for which we see no gain, then we will struggle immensely to invest in it. The root of complacency then, is the lack of desire, the inability to see any reward in the striving. These verses I have quoted describe those that do not see the profit in following God. I have been in that state myself, where life seems pretty fine just how it is, so why should I distress myself with the difficult work of spiritual progression? Why should I lay up treasures in an unseen heaven, when there is mortal pleasure to be had in the here and now?
An object at rest will stay at rest. This is our natural and default state, it is the entropy to which all of us would be consigned if God did not come and disrupt our lives. But He does disrupt, and tomorrow we will examine how he puts the desire in us that we all need to push forward.

Active Discipleship- Question

My default state is to live as a passive disciple. This means to not do anything that might stretch or improve myself. It means to not live by faith, rather to only take steps that I feel I am totally capable of fulfilling without any outside help. It means knowing that God is important and all, but to not wanting to need Him. It means wanting to reach heaven by checking items off a list, with no messy life-altering transformations along the way.

Until recently I did nothing to challenge this default state of mine, but then, about three years ago, I took some steps to push against it and began to live with intentionality. Things have been much improved since then…but it would be dishonest if I said that I’ve never looked back since.

Even now I still find complacency to be a very comfortable robe, one that is all too easy to slip back into. I have to continually agitate myself to continually live as a more active follower of Christ. While some days are more successful than others, I have noticed some abiding changes in me that are invaluable. One of them is that I sharply recognize when I am falling back into my old cadence, and I remain restless until I get up and start moving again.

Living the life of an active disciple is hard by its very nature. Thus I am certain that I am not the only one entangled in this never-ending dance with my old ways, and not the only one that would benefit from a study on this topic. In my following research, I will be exploring how the scriptures advocate for a more active discipleship, and what wisdom they offer for how to maintain it.

In the meantime, I would love to hear from you how you have kept yourself on task. Does it always have to feel like a grind, or is there a point where it becomes a joy? How do you tell when you’ve slipped back to complacency? How do you rouse yourself once you realize that you have?

Seeking Spiritual Witnesses- Matthew 9:20-22

And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment:
For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.
But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour.

COMMENTARY

For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole
Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole
The woman with the issue of blood being healed is further evidence that we can seek specific blessings and witnesses from God. She felt in her heart what she needed to do to receive from God, she acted on that knowledge, and her faith was rewarded.
When I was young, I would try to ask for things of God, and I would pile upon the request every ounce of believing that I could muster. Then, if I did not receive, I felt convinced that I had not possessed enough faith. In my childhood mind, faith was a sort of currency, and if one just had enough of it they could get whatever they wanted.
I do not believe that God is opposed to us asking Him for our wants, but we should understand that His answer might be yes or no. In fact His answer might be nothing at all, simply to let the matter unfold naturally without any intervention.
But sometimes it isn’t just a want. Sometimes we know in our bones that there is something our soul needs. And we know that it isn’t only something that we want for ourselves, but that God wants for us, too. I suspect that the woman with the issue of blood might have known, as in really known, that God wanted her to be healed, and that touching Jesus’s garment would effect that. In my life I have really known that God was ready to heal me of my shame and addictions, and I knew what actions I needed to take to receive that blessing. I did not wonder in those moments whether God would meet my reaching. I had the reassuring confidence that if I would act, then my faith would be rewarded. And it was.

Seeking Spiritual Witnesses- Personal Example

Of all the reasons why God’s children seek witnesses from Him, surely one of the most common is to know if He is even real. As small children we are able to accept the existence of God on authority, but over time we start to require greater proof. If I have not seen it, then how am I supposed to know that it is real?

We especially require greater proof if the thing is doubted by others. I have never seen Australia, but I have never met anyone that disputes its existence, so I don’t really struggle to believe that it exists. The existence of God, however, is most certainly disputed, and so a child that used to believe in Him without question, now wants a reason to continue doing so.

The trouble, of course, is that if you ask God if He is real and you do not receive an answer…have you received an answer? Is silence proof of non-existence? No, you cannot prove a negative.

A common next step is to say “well, I can only be expected to wait for an answer for so long. God, you need to tell me that you’re out there by this date, or else I’m out of here.” One might even have specific stipulations for how they need to be answered. “People in the Bible saw angels, so I want to see them, too.”

If God knows my heart, and this is what my heart needs to believe in Him, then surely He will meet me on those terms, right?

Well…no. If we cannot be faithful unless He manifests in the way that we want Him to manifest, then why would he do so? To win a conditional follower? A relationship does not work with stipulations like “speak to me, but only say these words.”

I have seen these frustrations in others, and I have felt them in myself. In my personal experience, “I will follow you if…” has never worked with God. That simply is not what He’s about.

What did work for me was deciding that I could follow Him in some ways whether or not He showed me that He was real. I wasn’t necessarily ready to do everything, but I could do some things. Thus I put forth an unconditional faith. It was small, but it was real. And when I did, He was willing to give me a witness of His existence. It was a witness that came on His terms and in His own way, but it was real.

What Sort of Disciple Are You?- John 19:35 (NIV), John 3:11

The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.

Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.

COMMENTARY

The man who saw it has given testimony, and he knows that he tells the truth
We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen
How did John know that his record of Jesus’s crucifixion was accurate? He saw it, and testified of that which he witnessed directly. Why was Jesus so bold in teaching new doctrine to Nicodemus? Because he was speaking that which he knew, testifying of things he had seen.
When one grows up in a faith-based community, it is easy to feel pressured to already know the realities of God and his gospel. We hear other people say that they know, and feel that something is wrong with us if we do not as well. We assume that because we have been taught about the gospel, we have a testimony of it. But to have been told something is not to know it.
I was told of God’s grace many times, and I believed in it. But that belief was nothing like the knowledge I obtained after I personally witnessed the power of Christ being used to forgive my sins and change my nature. So now I do not only believe, I even testify of its truth. At the same time, I honestly have not yet had any great spiritual awakening from fasting. I hear others say that it is a spiritually right thing to do, and so I have faith in it…but I cannot claim a testimony of it at this time.
Accepting that there are some aspects in which we lack a testimony is alright. We are, by our natures, born with the capacity for faith, but not with testimony. Testimony comes only by experience, and some things we just haven’t experienced yet. It is to be expected that we are still developing our direct knowledge, all that is required is that we foster the opportunities for it.

What Sort of Disciple Are You? -Question

Whichever belief system you subscribe to, are you a good one? Do you believe in it wholeheartedly? In my youthful years I was convinced that I was as devout a disciple as there could be! Later I came to appreciate how little I really knew in my heart. This moment of self-doubt led me to explore my faith, and I would say that as I result I am a stronger disciple now than when I was young…though also far more tempered in how I describe that spiritual strength.

Of course there are also those that think they are weak in their faith, but when tested are surprised at how well it holds. Also there are those that are a disciple in name only, openly admitting that they don’t really follow the teachings they have been given.

Honest self-appraisal is the first step towards changing oneself, and no matter how positive or negative the outcome of that appraisal, one is progressing just by having done it. So long as one remains deluded about the convictions of their own soul, there is nothing for them to do. With this study I’d like to consider how we can take an honest inventory of ourselves, and work on what we find.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you about the development of your own spiritual maturity. What dramatic shifts have you had in your perceptions of your faith-commitment? What events caused you to see yourself more clearly? How did that awareness enable to you to reach for something more?

Divided from God- Romans 8:24-25, James 1:3-4

For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?
But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.

Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

COMMENTARY

But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it
We have previously noted that God would not have put this divide between us and Him unless it was for our own good. One of the good qualities that this brings about in us is patience.
Patience is a virtue that is too easily forgotten. We all know that faith is supremely important, but there cannot be any faith without patience. Faith is putting trust and confidence in a yet-unrealized good, it is anticipating a blessing that we do not yet hold. By necessity, there is a period of time between us establishing our faith and our receiving the fruits of it. But we won’t be able to get through that period unless we are willing to wait…with patience.

But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing
Patience is both a means and an end. By exercising it we stop demanding that we be given things right now, and so we become content, “wanting nothing.” But then, having become a patient being, we receive all, and thus are “wanting nothing” in an entirely different sense.
We long to see our Father, it is a desire ingrained in our infinite soul. What better way to teach us patience than to remove the possibility for that very thing? We have to make our peace with living incomplete. But if we have made our peace, then we are complete. And then, being complete, we are ready to receive the Father.