“Mommy, I’m bored.” So my 6 year old daughter complained in a whisper to her mother as she listened to her long-winded father trudge through his sermon last Sunday. Ever quick on the draw, my wife spoke a word of advice which though it had never before been uttered sounded almost axiomatic: “when you are bored, you should pray.”
Moments pass as I drone on, until Christy once again feels the tug of The Bored One, who then inquires, “can I pray for him to finish his sermon?”
Two weeks into our study of the Story of the Son we recognize that the only proper way to follow the plot of this story is to imagine how to follow its Subject. Sunday we sought to outline the broad contours of discipleship, noting its cost, its purpose(s), and its practice. But time (and my torrential tongue) didn’t permit a few more concrete takeaways. Here’s a few with, I promise, minimal elaboration.
1. Learn your neighbor’s names.
Discipleship, we argued, purposes both to warn and to bring the healing that comes in Jesus. Since that is a message addressed to each person as an individual, our purpose demands bringing that message with respect of them as persons. It may seem unworthy of mention, but a recent excerpt from a forthcoming book on the way of faithfulness confirms how easily we forget the earliest of steps in respecting a person’s dignity–namely, learning their name. Jesus ate at table with “tax collectors and sinners” to enter into their world, dignifying them as persons even as He intended to confront their sin (sin whose offensiveness to God was, ironically, bound up with the depersonalizing effects of greed and unjust gain). He sought to know them that He might speak into their condition. Knowing our neighbor’s names (and I define “neighbor” not strictly as those among whom we live but anyone with whom we have regular contact) begins that dignified way of making Him known.
2. Pray for those you’d like to see yield to Jesus
J.R. Vassar, pastor of Apostles’ Church in Manhattan, spoke at a conference I was privileged to attend earlier this week (which you’ll hear more about in the coming weeks). His church recently began an online initiative to encourage its body to commit to prayer for those whom they’d like to see come to faith. If every conversion is itself a miraculous work of God then for those sent to proclaim that way of salvation not to appeal to the power of God for help is like seeding flowers in a darkened room: it fails to respect the necessary conditions for fruitfulness. God must cause the growth. Why then would we not solicit His necessary contribution to the endeavor?
3. Compose the briefest summary of the Gospel in your own words
Finally, Thabiti Anyabwile shares his recent exchange on a flight home with a seat-mate who in short order revealed both her interest in and confusion about Jesus. Life (Providence) ushers us into encounters in which unexpected opportunities to speak even the slightest tidbit about our hope emerge. When much will militate against our willingness to make Him known in an unprepared moment, having prepared in advance a simple summary of the gospel readies us, as it implicitly invites God to grant us opportunities to bear witness. Peter calls us to have a ready defense of the hope in us should one ask (1 Peter 3:15). His call is not to compose a treatise, nor is it to speak with scintillating elocution (cf. 1 Cor 2:2-5). Rather he exhorts us to cobble a summary you can describe in everyday language, even scribble on the back of the napkin for the peanuts and Schweppes.
So the way of discipleship requires respect, intentionality, prayerfulness, and forethought.
It will sometimes be disorienting, other times clarifying. It will destabilize us and fortify us. It will enliven and sometimes enervate, eliciting both agony and ecstasy. But one thing it will never be so long as we submit to His call: boring.