Disciple’s Handbook: How to Labor with Purpose

As John reports Jesus’ last hours with the disciples before his crucifixion, Jesus give the disciples a sort of user’s manual or disciple’s handbook with instructions about how to walk with him while they are physically without him.

In John 14, Jesus explains that we must look to our place and labor in our purpose as we live in his peace.

Knowing that we have a place, a home, a position is indispensable to our mental and spiritual health. So, Jesus, knowing our weak frame, encourages his disciples with the promise that he, himself, is preparing us a place in heaven, itself, where we will be with God, himself (14:1-3). Not only that, Jesus promises that though the world will not provide us peace, he will, and is, providing a peace much better.

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Canonballing into the Mission of Christ

Meditation on John 21:7

An advertising campaign for Walt Disney World from a few years ago capitalized on the popularity of professional football, asking the winning quarterback of the year’s biggest game “You’ve just won the Super Bowl: what are you going to do now?” to which he would gleefully respond “I’m going to Disney World!”

Should the same commercial interests be applied to the scene in John 20 and 21, it might go something like this, with considerably different effect:

“Peter, you’ve just seen and heard the risen Lord: what are you going to do now?”

“I’m going fishing!”

At this point, Jesus has died, risen from the dead, and appeared to his disciples with a commission.

Due to the proximity of this episode to the appearance of Jesus to the disciples, some say that this return to normal life represented an apostasy, or falling away, on the part of the disciples. But at this time, the Spirit had not fallen on them with power, as would happen at Pentecost. And Jesus had something else to teach them.

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When the Cure is Worse (& Better) than the Disease

Many treatments of the story of Jesus calming the stormy sea (Mark 4 and parallel passages) take the form of inspirational sofa talk: “Jesus will calm the storms of your life.”

What is true about this approach is that believers will have storms. There is no doubt whatsoever that Christ-followers are not exempt from suffering, from trials, from tribulations, and in the already-but-not-yet kingdom of Christ nets still break, illness still strikes and jobs get lost.

In fact, we are told “it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29).

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Report, Re-fuel, Rejoice & Re-deploy

Believers are frequently compared with those in military service in the Scriptures. Paul describes the spiritual warfare that followers of Jesus Christ wage, instructing us to “put on the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:10-18). We are told that we are like the “good soldier of Jesus Christ,” and that “no soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits” (2 Timothy 2:3-4). Even our thoughts, beliefs and opinions come within the sphere of military imagery (2 Corinthians 10:4-6).

How does that imagery affect our gathering together for services on Sunday and Wednesday, or in small groups and Bible studies at other times?

Detail of a manuscript illustration depicting ...

Detail of a manuscript illustration depicting a knight carrying the “Shield of the Trinity.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesus sent out seventy-two disciples on a pre-resurrection reconnoissance mission (Luke 10:1-12). The men on this mission were to be very focused, undistracted, and singularly occupied with accomplishing the purpose Jesus gave them. They were to travel light, like military scouts, carrying “no money bag, no knapsack, no sandals.” And while many versions say the disciples were not to “greet” anyone on the road, the King James says they were not to “salute” anyone, which fits the tone of Jesus’ instructions. As he would later tell them, “all authority” had been given to him, and should his disciples be tempted to salute anyone else on the mission — submit to the authority of another — their allegiance to Christ would be diluted, the chain of authority confused, and the mission compromised.Later, the disciples returned and reported to Jesus what they had experienced, and how the mission was accomplished (Luke 10:17-20).

Followers of Jesus Christ today are also on a mission. But too often we allow ourselves to think that our mission happens only on Sundays and Wednesdays, for a couple of hours, and we fail to consider that the entire week, every week, every year, is a mission deployment for the King.

Consequently, when we gather, our prayer requests are about sickness. We rarely report our difficulties with marriage, parenting, employment, relationships, witnessing, evangelism or personal holiness, or even our successes in those areas. But spiritual warfare is happening all the time in each of those areas of our lives.

We can recover a whole-life view of discipleship — following Jesus into spiritual battle — if we remember that part of the reason that we gather together is to Report, Re-fuel, Rejoice, and Re-deploy.

1. Report

It’s easy to report sickness. It’s much more difficult to report our battles in marriage and parenting, personal holiness, or even in evangelism and disciple-making. But when we don’t, we risk treating the vast proportion of our lives as outside the mission we live for Jesus Christ. In practice, we begin to think and act as if the mission isn’t even relevant to those things. We don’t want to hear everyone’s “dirty laundry” every week, but treating daily difficulties (and successes) as part of the mission enhances everyone’s service to Christ.

2.  Re-fuel

“Fellowship” for many believers is fried chicken and a devotion. But biblical fellowship involves much more, including encouragement, instruction in the Word, praise and “agitation” to good works (Hebrews 10:23-25). As we fight spiritual battles at work, at home, and within our heart, our hope can be deflated, our vigor drained, and our motivation sapped. Just like the advance scouts who can carry no purse nor money bag, we need to return to “base” frequently to get supplies. Hearing the Word, praying, and praising with other believers re-stocks the tools of our mission trade.

3.  Rejoice

When the disciples returned from their advance scouting mission, they rejoiced with each other and with Jesus at what had happened (Luke 10:17). It is crucial for believers to hear how God is working fruitfully in the spiritual lives of others, whether that be progress in killing personal sin, knocking over proverbial idols, reconciling relationships, or proclaiming the gospel to unbelievers. Even when we think we are unable to rejoice in our own situations, we can rejoice in hope, and rejoice that our mission is sure to succeed because the King has guaranteed victory.

4.  Re-deploy

Unfortunately, the Christian life is not lived in the sanctuary. Devotion to Christ is not fulfilled in the prayer closet. Worship, prayer, Bible study and fellowship are part of following Christ, but there is a reason that worship services and small group meetings don’t last all week. Our mission is to keep taking assignments and keep deploying into the field of operations. You may have seen the sign, posted above the exit of the sanctuary, that says “You are now entering the mission field.” That’s good, but it’s more accurate to say “You are now starting your mission.” When we leave Sunday worship, or Wednesday prayer meeting, or our small group fellowships, we are re-deploying with a set of mission objectives to accomplish, in our personal holiness, our family life, our employment, our disciple-making.

The mission doesn’t always go as well for us personally as the seventy-two disciples reported that it went for them. But we still rejoice that our “names are written in heaven,” and that we are privileged to serve Jesus Christ in our mission.

Biblical Counsel at the Water Fountain

How often does someone approach you –over the office water fountain, or standing beside your backyard fence, or as you pass each other in the produce aisle — and mention casually that there is a problem in his life and ask that you pray about it? And just as often, we will casually, nonchalantly, reply that Yes, I Will Pray For You but then drink our water, mow our grass or purchase our greens and never give the request another thought, much less the prayer that we so routinely promised.

Traditional water fountains

Traditional water fountains (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is not surprising about these encounters is that the one who mentions the problems and asks for prayer rarely has approached her pastor with the issue. What is surprising is the severity of the issues raised; almost nothing is off limits, even for the produce aisle.Standing right there beside the celery and the cabbage, sometimes with a stock boy in earshot, or right there in the meat market with the butcher in plain view, almost-strangers will tell us of their teen with drug problems, their failing marriage, their addiction to gambling or chocolate or whatever.

And having mustered up the gumption to actually say the public words that describe their private pain, it seems she would hardly be satisfied with our pseudo-promise to “pray for her.”

Don’t get me wrong:  believers should, as we are commanded, “pray without ceasing,” even if it is praying beside the pork chops, and we should not undertake any endeavor, especially spiritual counsel, without having first prayed about the matter, without having prayed during the matter, and having prayed after the matter. Additionally, there is certainly a benefit one believer receives from knowing that another believer is praying for him (if he actually is!).

So, prayer must be part of biblical counsel that we offer one another. But while counsel includes prayer, it also includes much more than prayer. When one person approaches another and divulges dark secrets or dire circumstances, it is an opportunity to speak truth and hope into the situation.

Admittedly, not every produce-aisle confession warrants a full-on counseling session. If your friend reveals marital strife to you, it may not be appropriate to give a delicatessen dissertation on God’s original design for marriage and family, and it may not be timely to engage in back-yard Bible study on the first two chapters of Genesis. The Bible tells us to be prepared to give such an answer as is good for “edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Here are some things to keep in mind to balance the need to give spiritual counsel and guidance with a respect for decorum and timing:

1. Give Timely, Appropriate Words. God is certainly able to inspire us with the right words on the spur of the moment. Yet being prepared means that we would probably need to think about what we would say to people in such situations. Begin by remembering those occasions when someone stumped you with an unexpected confession or request, and think through what an appropriate biblical response to that would have been.

2.  Encourage Intensive Discipling. It will be a rare day, indeed, when whatever you say to someone during your water break with constitute the spiritual breakthrough they need, and fully resolve their complex needs. Direct people to receive discipleship on the issue, from a pastor or trusted (and maturing) believer who is willing to do the hard work with them of finding biblical solutions to sinful behaviors.

3.  Pray. It should go without saying that prayer should undergird and support our intensive, discipling, counsel. If we promise to pray, we should pray.  And our prayer should not merely be the sort that asks God generally to “be with” s0-and-so as she faces her troubles, but the biblical sort that applies specific promises to specific sin issues.

4.  Follow Up. Get a phone number, an email address, or, if you are antiquated, a mailing address, and follow-through with the advice you gave, the counselor you recommended, or the commiseration you shared.

The rebuke, exhortation and encouragement that occurs in biblical counsel among Christ-followers does not only — or even primarily — occur in the pastor’s office or on the counselor’s sofa. God uses ordinary believers empowered with the Word and by the Spirit to work sanctification in the lives of others. Be prepared that God might also use you.