Living a Life of Discipleship

Sandra Elizabethby Sandra Elizabeth Yim (second from left)

We’re all probably familiar with the story of the five loaves and two fishes (John 6): how Jesus took the bread and fish offered by a little boy, gave thanks to God and distributed it to thousands of people with 12 baskets of leftovers to spare. Everyone knows about the miracle itself, but what happens after that?

The crowd who saw the miracle were so intrigued by Jesus, they followed Him asking Him what God wanted them to do with their lives. To which, Jesus answered that what God wants them to do is to “believe in Him whom He has sent” (v. 29). But the people weren’t exactly satisfied with that answer. They wanted to see what other miracles Jesus could perform in order to believe. They wanted to see something as spectacular as manna falling from heaven, like what their ancestors had experienced in the desert.

So what does it mean to be a follower of Christ? Just like that crowd, are we seeking Jesus for the wonder of His works? Or are we truly seeking Him for who He is, believing that He is the Lord and God of our lives?

It Starts with a Choice

When Jesus told the people that He is the Bread of Life and whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life, the people were terribly confused. “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (v. 42) they questioned. Knowing what they were grumbling about, Jesus said, “Does this offend you?” (v. 61) And sadly, many of them walked away and decided not to follow him any longer.

There will be times in our journey with the Lord where we’ll have absolutely no idea what’s going on or what He’s trying to say to us. Times when unexpected instances in our lives exceed all understanding. In moments like this, we have a choice to make.

Raphael, Christ’s Charge to Peter

When Jesus asks: “Do you also wish to go away?” (v. 67) we can choose to be like the ones who walked away in disbelief or we can choose to be like Simon Peter who said: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (v. 68-69) Even in times when we don’t understand, in fact especially in those times, we’re called to make the decision to trust and believe in Him.

Putting the Discipline in Discipleship

Choosing to be a follower of Christ isn’t a one-off decision. It’s something we’ll have to actively decide to do every single day, over and over again. Therefore, a fundamental part about discipleship is not surprisingly – discipline. The spiritual writer Henri Nouwen breaks it down really nicely: “Discipleship without discipline is like waiting to run in the marathon without ever practicing. Discipline without discipleship is like always practicing for the marathon but never participating.” (A Spirituality of Living) The two go hand in hand.

Fr Henri Nouwen (1932-1996)

He goes on to explain that: “Discipline in the spiritual life is the concentrated effort to create the space and time where God can become our master and where we can respond freely to God’s guidance.” The more time and effort we spend consistently making space for God to intervene in our lives, the more He becomes the centre of everything we do; we become more in tune with Him. Whether that space set aside for the Lord comes in the form of more prayer time with Him, going for daily mass or regular confession, being a disciple is something that has to be intentional.

This year, I attended the School of Christian Leadership (SOCL). Every day in the School was a struggle to say “yes” to God. I found myself desiring the Lord and yet being too stubborn to step out of my comfort zone.

All my life, I had been someone who wasn’t particularly bad but wasn’t particularly a saint either. I was in the safe middle ground. I had become so used to this version of myself – that I had built based on my accomplishments and experiences – that even the idea of God making me a new creation sounded so bizarre.

The truth is there isn’t a safe middle ground when it comes to following God, as Scripture says: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.”(Deuteronomy 30:19) When we choose to opt for anything other than life – when we give God our “maybe” and not our full hearted “yes” – we’re choosing to walk down a slippery slope towards darkness.

Daring to Say “Yes”

If any of you wants to come with me, you must forget yourself, carry your cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. – Matthew 16:24-26

As the days of SOCL went on, God revealed how present He had been in my most painful memories. In moments when I felt most alone and broken, He was right there crying with me. I had known that God was always there for me but I had never realised how close he actually was.

After receiving God’s healing grace, I knew that I couldn’t stay in my comfort zone of darkness anymore. I had to put down my pride so that God could heal me of my spiritual blindness. I had to choose to walk in His light.

God’s healing and restoration power is so real and I know in my heart that God really wants to heal our brokenness so thoroughly, if only we’d let Him. Yet, as much as God wants to heal us and make us new, He patiently waits for us to give Him permission to enter the doors of our hearts. And when we do finally say “yes” to the Lord: “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ be ‘No’.” (Matthew 5:37). Let us mean what we say and choose the Lord so that we can remain in Him and He in us.

Choosing God in our daily lives will not be easy. It is so much easier to conform ourselves to the standards of the world and to just do what everyone else is doing. But God calls us to be set apart and to strive for holiness. When we’re tempted to revert to our old ways, remember that we are always given the option to choose life over death.

Just as I know that He is right here with me, I know that He walks with all of us so closely too. So let us dare to desire the fullness of life that God wants to give you and believe that God will make you a new creation in Him. For only when we experience the joy of accepting God into our lives can we genuinely share about God’s goodness with those around us.

Read our past stories on discipleship:

  1. The Call and Cost of Christian Discipleship
  2. Finding Beauty in Our Brokenness
  3. The Cracks Bring the Light out
  4. Be Not Afraid: Walking the Steps of the Great Apostles
  5. Constant Conversion: An Everyday Guide

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