The really good news for humanity is that Jesus is now taking students in the master class of life.
– Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart
In every season and at every opportunity, we need a fresh experience of Jesus.
The longer we have been acquainted with Christianity, the easier it is to become stagnant in our spiritual lives. In our prayers, our relationships, and our churches, we sense a lack of the radical life-changing power of Christ.
The Life of Jesus
When Jesus first began his earthly ministry, he turned the world upside down. There was simply no way to encounter Christ and not be changed.
Jesus’s birth to the virgin Mary was foretold by angels and celebrated by shepherds and distant kings. Even as a child, his knowledge of the divine amazed the religious leaders of Jerusalem. His cousin, John the Baptist, promised his unique rule and reign, and at his baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus with visible power. By the time his public ministry began, Jesus was one part folk legend and one part controversy.
One day, while walking along the Sea of Galilee, he calls Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John to follow him. What kind of man was this? Somehow his presence had such a power, these four common fishermen left everything and followed him.
The ministry of Jesus was like nothing before and nothing since. His touch healed the diseased and disabled; his voice calmed the seas; his tears raised the dead. But his life wasn’t a show of spiritual power; Jesus came to serve and to give his life for his followers. In short, he lived to die.
After his crucifixion and burial, Jesus shook off death and walked out of the grave. What did he do next? Reappear to Pilate and get revenge on his accusers? No, Jesus caught up with some friends on a walk and taught them the Scriptures. He rejoined his disciples and asked for a fish sandwich. He completed his disciples’ training and then, in their presence, returned to his Father.
Jesus’s Earliest Followers
Similarly, when Jesus’s disciples took over his ministry, the world shook at their presence. They may have been uneducated, common people, but they had been with Jesus.
So what was so utterly world changing?
Jesus and his early followers overwhelmed their neighbors with an invitation to life at its deepest. For centuries, the Israelites and Greco-Romans had wrestled with life’s biggest questions, without much progress. The message of Jesus was revolutionary, not only because it brought about forgiveness of sins but because it offered a whole new way of life with God. This wasn’t a religion detached from reality; the words and pattern of Jesus presented a lens of viewing the world that was at once more heavenly and more “earthy” than anything before it.
In the words of the late author Dallas Willard,
The people initially impacted by that message generally concluded that they would be fools to disregard it…. How life-giving it would be if their understanding of the gospel allowed them simply to say, ‘I will do [the law]! I will find out how. I will devote my life to it! This is the best strategy I ever heard of!’ and then go off to their fellowship and its teachers, and into their daily life, to learn how to live in his kingdom as Jesus indicated was best.
So why then, if the message of Jesus is clear, life changing, and wholly rooted in everyday life, has it largely become disconnected from American church experience?
Yes, disobedience and rebellion have deep roots in our hearts. But could it also be that we have not yet recognized the immense power and practicality of Christ for our moment-by-moment lives? That our vision of the new life with God is lacking, and as a result we Christians and churches are largely powerless?
What we need is two-fold: We need a fresh vision of Christ and our life in him (discipleship), and we need the practical habits to develop new behaviors and rhythms of life in the church.
To grow in increasing conformity to Christ, we need to embrace new rhythms of life. We need new habits.
As many researchers have shown, we can only develop new behaviors through the repetition of practices that reinforce that behavior. To be a great musician, time must be spent studying sheet music and practicing chords. Often, a mentor is needed to make the most of practice—and a supportive community to provide encouragement and accountability.
So what rhythms will best cultivate discipleship in Jesus? What habits must we embrace in our personal and congregational lives to spur one another toward conformity to Christ?
The four discipleship rhythms are: Fellowship, Scripture, Prayer, and Hospitality.
To put it another way, to grow in Christ, we embrace the habits of
(1) Doing life together,
(2) Applying the Scriptures,
(3) Meeting with God in prayer, and
(4) Creating space for outsiders.
Remember, we can only grow as Jesus shaped disciples in community. We can’t do this alone. We have been created in the image of a Trinitarian God—he has eternally existed in community. To be fully alive then, we must pursue Christ in the context of committed relationships.
At Sojourn East, we’re starting a shared journey this year to encourage one another in Christ and embrace these new habits as a community. Wherever you are, in your friendships, your small group, your ministry, or your church: What does it look like to embrace Jesus’s way of discipleship—these discipleship rhythms—in the context of relationships?
It’s the most important and profound of all journeys, and it’s the simplest.
To quote Willard again, The really good news for humanity is that Jesus is now taking students in the master class of life.