Marks of Discipleship

Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried. —G.K. Chesterton.

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

Genesis 32:22-31
Psalm 17: 1-7, 16
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

I am praying to you because I know you will answer, O God. Bend down and listen as I pray. Show me your unfailing love in wonderful ways. By your mighty power you rescue those who seek refuge from their enemies. (Psalm 17:6-7)

PRAYER FOCUS: MARKS OF DISCIPLESHIP

Su•per•fi•cial: adj., 1. concerned only with what is obvious or apparent. 2. not thorough or complete.3. presenting only an appearance without substance or significance. (Merriam-Webster online dictionary).

According to a 2012 report from the U.S. Census Bureau, citing 2010 census data and a 2008 study by the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), more than 173 million out of 228 million American citizens claimed Christianity as their religious faith. The 2008 ARIS found that 77 million adults (or 33%), described themselves as “born again.” A longitudinal Gallup Poll (from 2001-2007) noted that 38-45% of the adult population in the United States identified themselves as “evangelical.”

This is great news!

But if this is really true, if so many are truly committed to an active, evangelical faith in Jesus Christ, why are we seeing such decay and deterioration in our society? If all these Jesus-namers were actually Jesus-followers, shouldn’t things be getting profoundly better?

According to Gallup many Christians have a superficial understanding of their faith. “Americans revere the Bible—but, by and large, they don’t read it.” For example, 61% believed that the Holy Spirit is a symbol of God’s presence and power, and not a living entity. Four out of ten believed that there is no such thing as absolute truth.

But the Scriptures direct followers of Jesus to be a biblically informed community whose lives are founded on an absolute, revealed truth. And because so many Christians are ignorant of the Bible, actually holding convictions that are contrary to its clear core teachings, they live an uncomfortable and unproductive compromise with prevailing worldly “values.”

This superficiality has been devastating. Contrary to raw numbers that would place Christian Believers in a strong and influential majority, the downward spiral of both culture and morality testify to core beliefs that are indeed lightly held, if they are understood at all.

Over the past 25 years the Barna Group (www.barna.org) has conducted a series of studies of the relational impact Christians and the Church are having in the culture and society. According to Barna, of the one-third of adults who self-identify as both “Christian” and “born again”, fewer than one in five has any specific and measurable goals related to his or her own spiritual development. Only one out of six adults who attend Christian worship are involved in some type of group or relational process that is designed to help them mature and grow spiritually. Less than one out of ten have shared their faith with a non-Christian, or practice traditional Christian disciplines such as solitude, prayer, sacrifice, acts of service, silence, and scriptural meditation. (Barna, Growing True Disciples, 2000).

What’s missing here?

In a word—DISCIPLESHIP.

Whatever else we do in church, it seems we are not making disciples of Jesus Christ.

The Scriptures portray the original Disciples as people who were engaged in a disciplined way of life led by, and patterned after, Jesus of Nazareth. They followed Him. They listened to Him. They asked Him questions and did what He did. It wasn’t always an easy path to walk—in fact it could be quite dangerous. But it was a path of great honor, of miraculous good, a path that changed lives. Using the disciplines they had been taught, these Disciples set in motion a viral movement that changed the world and made history.

The Apostle Paul compared the Christian life to the discipline of an athlete. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training” (1 Cor. 9:24–25). How many Christians are actually living out a disciplined life like that?

In his extraordinary and simple book Celebration of Discipline: the Pathway to Spiritual Growth (Harper, 1998), author Richard Foster outlines the classic disciplines of Christianity and explores why they are essential to our growth in faith and freedom. We most highly recommend this book, and the process it outlines. In Foster’s words,

Prayer catapults us onto the frontier of the spiritual life…of all the Spiritual Disciplines, prayer is the most central. Meditation introduces us to the inner life, fasting is an accompanying means, [Bible] study transforms our minds, but it is the Discipline of Prayer that brings us into the deepest and highest work of the human spirit. Real prayer is life creating and life changing. (Foster, p. 33).

Barna notes that most churches encourage people to engage in an increasing amount of religious activity, pouring themselves into worship, evangelism, discipleship, stewardship, service, and community. While growth in those areas is important, Barna also points out that people often fail to realize that the end game of spiritual development is godly character, not worldly accomplishments. In other words, sometimes people get so wrapped up in church programs that they lose sight of the purpose of their faith, which is to have a life-giving, life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.

That relationship begins with a conversation we know as prayer. We recommend it!

Jesus did not leave His Disciples alone then, and He does not leave us alone now. He still calls his followers closer, and ever closer, to Himself through the same faith-building process that is DISCIPLESHIP.

Imagine what our society, what our world, would look like if 173,000,000 Americans were actively and intentionally becoming more like Jesus…

It’s Monday Morning. If you were accused of being a Christian on Tuesday, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

Reference sources:
ARIS 2008 (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/metro/documents/aris030609.pdf)
U.S. Census Bureau, 2012, Table 75: Self-Described Religious Identification of Adult Population (http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0075.pdf)

About themondayprayer

We are an independent prayer newsletter, publishing every Monday morning.
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