Hello everyone; welcome to this weeks video, and thanks for sticking with me to these final thoughts on discipleship. I’ve been trying to explain what discipleship is, translating the 1st-century concept of apprenticeship to a rabbi into a contemporary idiom. I’ve shared about ways in which our discipleship grows. We started with the classic spiritual disciplines. Last week I was sharing on significant conversations and the way disciples are primarily formed in community. I want to finish off with a final category: stretching experiences.
Many of us will have made new year resolutions to lose weight. It’s a simple process. As long as calories in is less than calories burned you’ll succeed. It’s a balance of input and output. You could think of the spiritual disciplines as calories in and stretching experiences as spiritual calories burned. Faith is a little like a muscle that grows through exercise. It grows especially if we do things beyond what we feel we are capable of.
Personally, it has been the times when I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone that has been the most formative. Steve Chalke, the founder of Oasis Trust said, “you should do something every day that scares you!”
As a young Christian after university, I worked for a few months in Pakistan for an American Mission Agency. The job was running a small yard making precast concrete structures for pre-fab buildings while the manager was away at language school. Ironic, in that, I spoke no Urdu. Most that I did learn I have now forgotten, although I can just about remember the Urdu for, “please clean out the septic tank today before we all die of malaria!” While I was there, a few of us worked with a Pentecostal Pastor called Phillipas to minister in local congregations. He would translate for us, although by the end of my time, when my Urdu had improved, I realised that what I was saying, and what he was saying bore little relationship to one another. He would take us in the evenings to preach at little churches meeting in homes in the slums of Gujranwala. This was at the time of the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. Russian tinned tuna was freely available in the market – source unknown, and several of the cars in our street had Russian parachutes as dust covers. I never realised at the time quite how dangerous it was for Western 20 somethings to do this, but then sometimes it helps to be naïve. Once I was preaching in a typical Pakistani courtyard. The congregation included a water buffalo making typical bovine noises about 10 feet from the microphone. The service was a riot with children running around screaming throughout. No-one seemed to be listening, and periodically we were drowned out by the wedding down the street celebrating by firing Kalashnikovs into the air. At the end when just about ready to go home, Philippas announced, “new we are going to pray for the sick!” My quizzical, “who is going to do that?” was greeted by a firm, “you are!” I had never done anything like that before and was immediately presented by an old lady who was clearly in a lot of pain, probably from arthritis. I had no idea what to do and mumbled a short prayer in her direction, wanting above all to go home. A week or so later, I asked Phillipas, more in curiosity than expectation, how she was. Phillipas, beaming, said, “Oh she’s quite well, and a church has started meeting in her house.”
I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t offered my halting, uncertain prayer? I learnt that day that God can do remarkable things with our uncertainty and weakness. Did that build my faith and trust in God? – Absolutely. Have I seen God heal people since? Well not many, but enough to convince me he still does. Does God do things when we feel confident and spiritually energised? Well, yes of course, but the biblical pattern seems to be that he delights more to do it when we feel at an end of ourselves, powerless, weak and uncertain. That’s what Paul was driving at in 2 Corinthians 4 when he reflects on God’s work in his life, spiritual treasure in jars of clay.
So, we are apprentices to Jesus. We grow through spiritual disciplines, significant conversations and the stretching experiences that happen when we step into the unknown in places where we will fall flat on our faces if God isn’t real. If we constantly work within our comfort zone, we don’t need the Holy Spirit, we can manage fine on our own. What would a stretching experience look like for you? As simple as saying what you did on Sunday when you’re asked at work on a Monday morning. Sharing the difference Jesus Christ makes in your life when the opportunity presents itself. It could be simply be saying yes to that request to get involved in a ministry for which you feel inadequate and ill-equipped. God can show you what it might be for you. I’ll finish with a prayer.
“Father, help us to step out into the unknown and uncertain, confident only that your Spirit goes before us, and that his power within us can do more than we can ask or imagine.”