When Does the Easy Part Come?
After working on the first stage of a flooring project the other day, I began thinking about how its process relates to making disciples of Jesus. (Yes, theology is everywhere, even in mundane activities like nailing hardwood floors — and yes, I’m always thinking of analogies.) I finally laid down the first few courses of floor and was glad that part was over because it takes extra planning and upstream neuron activity in my cranial cavity to get those important first boards nailed down perfectly straight. But this project required me to use the sides, the front, and the back of my brain as well because the room was not very square. As relief swept over me about having nailed down the elusive perfect starting courses in that challenging and less-than-ideally-shaped space, I looked forward to the rest of the project where I could proceed with half my brain tied behind my back.
That’s when the theological thoughts began flowing. I started to think about the easy stuff and the hard stuff. I had just done the hard stuff concerning the floor project. It took extra time, extra thought, and extra energy to get to the point where I felt free to “fly” through the rest of the floor — the “easy” part. Surely, I thought, disciple making must have a harder stage and an easier stage, a brief beginning period of planning and a longer coasting period when the mind can disengage a bit. “This is great fodder for my next Training Resources post,” said the writer to the nail gun. Later, I started typing away, assured my analogy had legs.
Perhaps the thinking, preparatory, and labor-intensive part of disciple making is the praying, the studying, the planning, the devoting time in the Word, the equipping of believers for works of service (Ephesians 4:12), the looking for opportunities to speak, the care for others (Philippians 2:4), the maturing of one’s mind like Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5), the devoting one’s self to others in love (Galatians 6:2), the coaching of others (Hebrews 10:24), the training in the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16), the journeying on mission trips near and far (Romans 15:24), the submitting to God’s sovereignty (Psalm 40:8)…
…the bringing up the hard conversations with people, the persevering when it seems like progress is too slow (Psalm 37:7), the expending of more energy than one seems to have, the dying to the selfish and/or sinful whims of the flesh, the humbling that comes with admitting it’s time to move on, the learning to trust in God’s power for Gospel multiplication, the loving the many people God has gathered in our city (Acts 18:10).
Okay, this “hard work” list is getting long, so let’s move on. Perhaps the “flying” stage — you know, the “easy part” — of making disciples of Jesus is…[Crickets chirping.]
This is not only where the analogy comes up short, but where I’m personally brought up short by the implications of its failure. In my book, the flying stage of any project is when the job is less taxing. Who wants to do hard stuff for very long (if at all)? Give me the easy part, please! My weak and lazy human attitude says, “Give me the disciple making ‘work’ where folks waltz up to me and say they noticed that I was a Christian and then ask, ‘Why are you so positive, upbeat and hopeful all the time?’” Then, I will fall off my log and preach Genesis to Revelation to them. In reality, there is no “easy” part, but I have behaved like there should be.
The easy part? If there were a second stage of disciple making, “easy” wouldn’t fit. How about a different terminology? Let’s call it the “being diligent” part or the “joyously spreading the Gospel” part or the “spiritual worship” part (Romans 12:1) or the “unashamed workman” part (2 Timothy 2:15) or the “praying continually” part (1 Thessalonians 5:17) or the “persevering despite constant headwinds” part or the “getting up from the ground after being left for dead and going back into the same city” part (Acts 14:19–20) or the “wide-open heart” part (2 Corinthians 6:13).
Somehow in my thinking of old, the prospect of employing human ingenuity in order to spread the Gospel seemed to me to be all too entrepreneurial. Why should imperfect humans do all this planning and preparation (and yes, praying) when the perfect God in His sovereignty has already chosen the salvation of particular souls from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4)? If it’s already ordained, what need is there for me to be involved other than just to be there at the right place at the right time (the “easy, fall-off-a-log” times)? If it’s God’s will to elect souls for His kingdom, what matter is human choice? (I was never actually aware of having organized my theology around these notions, but now I can see it was my perspective, nonetheless.) Let’s call this attitude “Que sera sera serendipity” or “Whatever-will-be-will-be-happy-coincidence” disciple making, where God does all the thinking, all the sowing, and all the watering. Why train? Why pray? Why make my heart vulnerable? Why submit to coaching when God has this whole thing on autopilot?
I’m brought up short here because my analogy — bifurcating hard and easy — reveals my myopia about how making disciples of Jesus is a divinely sanctioned process that involves human effort. Paul said, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow” (1 Corinthians 3:6, NIV). Ask any farmer out there and you’ll hear about the hard work that must precede any God-supplied crop success. Paul also said, “And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?” (Romans 10:14, NIV). Answer: God sends someone to preach. Yes, spiritual life and its consequent patterns of growth are indeed God’s alone to give and make flourish, but in His grace He has ordained that humans be integral to the process. He calls people to himself by means of the people He sends.
Here’s the nub of my transformed thinking on the matter: making disciples of Jesus is not just an activity; it’s a lifestyle to which God calls all believers. Disciple makers pray, plan, study, and pray some more. Their head is on a swivel, their ears are tuned in, their eyes are focused on Jesus, and their wide open loving hearts beat for souls — lost souls, newly-saved souls, growing-in-Christ souls. Disciple makers are Christians and Christians are disciple makers. Disciple making is what believers do because Jesus sends them on mission (Matthew 28:19) and because their joy is like the angels rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:7).
Somehow, I had clothed myself with the mantle of a passive disciple maker, if such an oxymoron as that can even exist. My que sera sera mindset assumed that God was not just the husbandman but the field laborer as well. Now, however, I am yearning and learning to be an active disciple maker (the only kind in God’s book) because therein I would be behaving like Jesus, and I would be obeying Jesus, and I would be responding to His grace in the best way possible. As Jesus said, “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8, NIV).
My name is Jack and I am a recovering que sera sera Christian. I wonder how many other que sera sera Christians are squandering the privilege of being on mission for Jesus Christ. That’s the word that really catches in my throat: “privilege.” The Gospel message is a gift and its message is about the Gift. Why make excuses for neglecting the glorious and beautiful calling to honor Jesus’s command to live out the Gospel by being its herald (Matthew 28:19)? Why not instead diligently apply the gift(s) that God has lavished on us for the singular mission of making devoted followers of Jesus? If you’re a recovering que sera sera Christian, then you’re in good company and I think we need each other. So together let’s strain toward what’s ahead (Philippians 3:13) because “the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37, NIV).
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