One of the Hardest Things about Discipleship

My daughter, a senior in college, is home for winter break. A few nights ago, as we were talking about a variety of things, she asked me, “Dad, what is the hardest thing about your job?” I pondered a bit and then said, “One of the hardest things is when people who have been a vibrant part of the church disconnect from the church without telling you why.” I went on to tell her that when someone tells you why they are disconnecting it isn’t easy, but at least you know why. The hard thing about someone who drifts off unannounced is that you are left wondering what happened. Are they upset with something or someone? Has their life fallen apart and they simply can’t bear to share that with a church that could help them? Did they just get bored with God?

As I continued to reflect on her question, I realized that there was something else that was very hard about my job, but not my job alone. This challenge is about the life of discipleship whether you are a pastor or not. And that is the struggle to believe that doing the little things that disciples are called to do—visiting the sick, welcoming strangers, loving neighbors, loving enemies—really matters in the end. It is the struggle to believe that trying to be a church that embodies God’s vision for the world here and now isn’t utter foolishness.

Living this way is a struggle because much of the world around us thinks we are foolish. A world governed by power and the need for immediate dramatic results makes us feel ashamed to put our trust in small acts of love and kindness. As a result, our shame  often leads us to abandon this “inconsequential” way, and long to be part of some dramatic movement that will change things over night. Of course, no such dramatic way is given, and we simply end up tired and frustrated.

The disciples’ way can only be sustained by prayer. We need to pray the psalmists prayer: “Let none who look to you be put to shame” (Ps. 23:2). We need to trust that although God’s undramatic way of bringing the kingdom will bring ridicule from many— “Do you really think what you are doing will make any difference?”—we believe this is God’s way. This is the surprise of Christmas, isn’t it? We begin Advent by longing for God to act dramatically: “Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down” (Is. 64:1). But then how does God come to save us? Does God raise up a holy army to crush the infidel and change the world by force. No. God gives us a baby. God’s powerful act is as weak, vulnerable, and inconsequential as they come.

As we live the disciples’ way this Advent, let us pray that we will not be “put to shame.” Let us pray that we can keep our focus on God’s undramatic way of saving this world. Let us pray that we can believe that every act of love and kindness plays a part in laying the groundwork for God’s future for the world. Let us pray that one of the hardest parts of our jobs as disciples will become our joy. Let us pray that come Christmas we will trust that every time we embody Christ’s vulnerable way we will know that we are part of God’s saving purpose in this world.

Roger GreeneComment