Friday, October 22, 2010

'-wards' of Discipleship

TITLE: The ‘-wards’ of Discipleship
Date: 22 Oct 2010
Written by: Conrade Yap

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” (1 Cor 13:11)
KEY POINT: Use the '-wards' of discipleship as a 'spark plug' to ignite your journey of discipleship.

Discipleship. If you are like most people, then you will know how easy it is to pronounce this word. It is even easier to get fellow Christians to agree with you that discipleship is the will of God for every Christian and for the Church. Yet, when pressed further, it is quite a challenge to find someone who can give a satisfactory answer to what exactly is discipleship. Look at some of the definitions (and misunderstandings).


  • “Discipleship is about disciples on a ship.”
  • “Discipleship is about disciplining people to go to Church.”
  • “Discipleship is obeying the Ten Commandments.
  • “Discipleship is obeying the Four Spiritual Laws.
  • “Discipleship is about following the Four spiritual disciplines: Fellowship, Prayer, Bible and Outreach.”


This week, I want to contribute a ‘spark-plug’ to ignite people’s desire toward disciple-making, beginning with ourselves. Discipleship has 5 key elements, which I call the ‘-wards’ of discipleship. An inward, upward, downward, outward and sideward perspective. I believe the lack of discipleship is the root of apathetic spirituality. This is the chief challenge in any Church. Before we can embark upon disciple-making, let me suggest that we learn to understand discipleship through the ‘-wards’ of discipleship.

A) Imitating Christ INWARD
HE WHO follows Me, walks not in darkness," says the Lord. By these words of Christ we are advised to imitate His life and habits, if we wish to be truly enlightened and free from all blindness of heart. Let our chief effort, therefore, be to study the life of Jesus Christ.” (Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Book I Chapter 1)

Disciples of Christ need to imitate Christ’s life and habits, not to merely copy his deeds and parrot his spoken words. Kempis urges us to study the life of Jesus well. Every Christian needs to read the gospels on a regular basis. Read Matthew’s account from the Jewish perspective. Read Mark’s account to garner a sense of urgency in Jesus’ mission. Read Luke for a meticulous recollection of Jesus’ deeds on earth. Read John to gather a sense of teachings that Jesus wants us to focus on. Each gospel produces a particular perspective of Christ. Put them together and we have a very comprehensive picture of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, our Saviour.

KEY POINT: We need to imitate Christ inward, by regularly studying and learning from the gospels. This is a natural desire of a Christian disciple.

B) Seeking God UPWARD
“You I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens!” (Ps 123:1)

The Christian cannot live apart from faith in God. In every situation, he needs to learn to relate his experience back to God. When he is happy, he rejoices in the LORD. When he is sad, he looks up to the LORD. When he is fearful, he hides under the shadow of the LORD’s mighty wings. When he is helpless, he trains himself to trust God. Whatever one’s situation, at either end of the spectrum of ups and downs, the Christian will always look to God for help. He will worship God alone. This is only possible when the Christian realizes like Augustine.

“You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” (St Augustine, Confessions, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998, p3)

KEY POINT: Like a compass that gravitates toward true north, our emotions must automatically point us to seek God in whatever emotional state we are in. This is a habit of a Christian disciple.

C) Living Humbly DOWNWARD
The more you know and the better you understand, the more severely will you be judged, unless your life is also the more holy. Do not be proud, therefore, because of your learning or skill. Rather, fear because of the talent given you.” (Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Book I, chapter 2)

The golden rule of stewardship is ‘much is given, much is expected.’ The more we claim to know, the more we need to be humble about our knowledge. The Christian must never be prideful. Arrogance and boastfulness has no business in the life and behaviour of a Christian. Sometimes, those of us who have been in Church for many years can be very skeptical people. We easily dismiss the basics of Christianity simply because we thought we have already heard them. We think we want more. Yet, when we get more, we complain that the speakers or teachers spoke beyond our basic levels of understanding. It is really unfortunate. I have met people who are Christians for more than 20 years. When people teach Christianity 101 basics, they sneer at its basic level. Yet, when they are given a taste of Christianity 201 or even 301, they shudder and they retreat by saying that they are all too ‘heavy-going’ for them.

For people like these, it makes me wonder how much have they really progressed beyond a 101-level. My advice for people who have been Christians for many years: Keep learning the basics with humility. Let the desire to know Christ be demonstrated by a hunger for the Word of God, and a humility to be educated at all levels.

KEY POINT: Much is given, much is expected. Do not be content with milk only. Seek solid food. In other words, grow up. The more you know, the more you need to ask God to show you how to let this knowledge humble you. Christian discipleship is humble learning and meekly living out the ways of Christ.

D) Demonstrating Christ OUTWARD
“THE life of a good religious ought to abound in every virtue so that he is interiorly what to others he appears to be.” (Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Book I chapter 19)

Our outward actions must reflect a healthy inner life. This is what authentic living is all about. Disciples must manifest their Christlikeness inside through good works outside.

There was a story of a man being pulled over by a traffic policeman. When asked why he was pulled over, the police said.

“Is this your car, sir?”

“Yes, of course. What’s the problem?” replied the man.

“I saw your bumper sticker which says, ‘I am a Bible-believing Christian.” From the way you drive, I had thought it was a stolen vehicle.”

We may laugh at this silly joke but the point is serious. True Christians are determined by the fruit they bear, not what they claim to be. It is a rich inside that determines a fruitful outside.

KEY LEARNING: Whatever the perceptions, it is one thing to declare our Christian faith by name. It is yet another to demonstrate Christlikeness outwardly. Christian discipleship is about demonstrating Christlikeness in our daily lives.

E) Sharing Blessings SIDEWARD

All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 2:44-45)

No man is an island. There is no such thing as a Church of one. This is one reason why I believe that we should continue to meet together, as often as possible in the name of Christ. When we come together, we avoid the insidious vacuum of self-absorption, to worship with people who are different from us. The more we get together, the more we practice the presence of grace to people around us. I think people who go to Church simply to get something out of Church have gotten it all wrong. They have reversed the biblical teaching by saying: “I go to Church in order to get more blessings.” When a person comes to Church on the basis of self-needs, everything will need to revolve around him. Such a person will often leaves unsatisfied and frustrated.

What about reversing it? Come to Church, that others will be blessed by your presence? Give to anyone who has a need. Give our time, and our resources, and watch how God faithfully demonstrates His grace through you.

KEY LEARNING: Christian Discipleship is not about seeking more for ourselves, but in sharing more of ourselves. Blessings become double blessings when shared.

My friends, how should you grow? Where are you in your path of discipleship? Consider what ‘-wards’ you can practice daily. Do what you can to imitate Christ inwards. Constantly ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in your seeking God upward. Live out your faith by living humbly downward. Demonstrate your Christlikeness outward for God to see. Share your blessings sidewards.

Practice the ‘-wards’ of discipleship and watch God work in your life. Try it. Let it be a spark-plug to ignite your spiritual vigor toward Christian discipleship. Simply put, when we say we disciple each other, we are in fact pushing one another to be more Christlike inside, and outside.

Thought: “The religious who concerns himself intently and devoutly with our Lord's most holy life and passion will find there an abundance of all things useful and necessary for him. He need not seek for anything better than Jesus.” (Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Book I chapter 25)


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