Many of us who grew up in church were encouraged or required by our parents to come to Sunday school and church every week and perhaps to even be a part of a youth group. Our parents were serious about the vows they took when they had us baptized. They tried to set an example and follow through so we would know about God and church when the time came for us to be in confirmation class and join the church.
In those days, there were no Sunday children and youth sports. The stores were all closed because of the “blue laws”. Sunday was a day when families went to church together in the morning and then enjoyed some time together in the afternoon. Sunday was set aside for church and family, so we did church and then had family time. It all seemed to go together quite well.
We learned about the disciples and we were taught that Jesus said, “Go and make disciples.” In those days, I remember being encouraged to do activities with the church to help people who were less fortunate than we were. But I am not sure I understood I was supposed to be a disciple, even though my teachers did teach us that we should learn from and do what Jesus did.
Given all that, I am not so sure why I was surprised a few years ago when I preached about discipleship and several of our members asked me why it was not enough to just be a member. I equated the vows of membership to the task of discipleship and for some that did not equate at all. So is it the case that prayers, presence, gifts, service, and now witness were things only to be done on Sunday? Or are they the essence of the work of a disciple who is following, learning from, and emulating Jesus?
And given all of that it is not surprising when people ask me when things changed such that we are expected to have a relationship with God. Going to church and Sunday school was what we were taught so why would we think anything more is required? But the fact is as you read the Bible there is no mistaking what God is wanting and that is a relationship with us. And in Jesus that relationship became very personal.
So what is up with being concerned about discipleship? Well, that is what Jesus called us to do. He said to make disciples in all the world and the fact is: to make one you need to be one. And as disciples, we are to follow, learn from, and emulate Jesus. When we do that we grow in our relationship with Jesus.
Why do we need a close and personal relationship with Jesus? I can’t tell you how many times people have told me that they have prayed and prayed and not heard an answer from God yet. First, it is hard to recognize a voice or nudge unless you are familiar with the person. With God there is no caller ID, you have got to know the voice. And just one other question. How would you react to someone who only called on you when they wanted something from you? The good news is that God is not like us and he keeps reaching out and hoping we will take him up on the offer of real relationship.
So, discipleship and personal relationship are interrelated. And whether we were taught that or not as young persons, it is what God wants. And in God’s grace he keeps reaching out to each of us and hoping that we will respond.
Blessings for the journey –