A common desire many of us share in the new year is to grow closer to God. But the challenging part in all of this is knowing where to start.
Fortunately, Jesus specifies the starting point in Matthew 4:19:
And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Notice the order of the invitation.
Follow Jesus then be used by Jesus.
Be with Jesus then work for Jesus.
Enjoy Jesus’ presence then offer Jesus’ priority.
Jesus makes it clear that our first invitation is actually not disciple-making but disciple-being. Although, disciple-being is not a replacement for disciple-making, it is a requisite.
We often flip the order. We go straight to the work of disciple-making without first enjoying the grace of disciple-being. This is called religion and it’s one of the main reasons why we get so tired, lonely, and discouraged in our pursuit of God. In all our doing, we’ve lost sight of being.
“In all our doing, we’ve lost sight of being.”
So here are a couple of suggestions to help us elevate the priority of disciple-being.
First, recover a Vision for Disciple-being:
In Luke 10:38-42, Jesus and his disciples were welcomed into the home of a woman named Martha, who had a sister named Mary. As the account develops, we learn that Martha was “distracted with much serving” while Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet.”
Martha—perceiving her sister’s behavior as irresponsible—goes to Jesus and complains. Surprisingly, Jesus actually confronts Martha, saying she’s the one who missed it.
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion [disciple-being], which will not be taken away from her.”
But why did Jesus’ commend Mary and confront Martha? Wasn’t Martha the responsible one? Not in Jesus’ eyes. Although, Mary was busy serving God, she had lost sight of being with God—the first call of every Christ-follower.
Jesus was more impressed by Mary because she had a vision for what we so often miss. That is, Jesus desires that we be with Him before He expects us to work for Him. Accepting and embracing this truth is the first essential step in growing closer to God.
“Jesus desires that we be with Him before He expects us to work for Him.”
Secondly, develop a Plan for Disciple-being.
Every Christ-follower has a choice to make. We can purposefully love God more this year or we can accidentally love Him less.
We are a little under two weeks into the new year. How’s this going for you?
Do you feel closer to God now than you did at this point last year?
Either way, without a purposeful plan for disciple-being, the distance you feel will increase, or the nearness you enjoy will decrease. So, here are three essential areas for disciple-being worth planning out and thinking through.
a. Bible Intake.
Thanks to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, God’s Word is the primary place where we seek to hear His voice and encounter His presence. Apart from Bible-intake, disciple-being is simply not possible.
That’s why I believe one of God’s great gifts to our generation is the Bible app by YouVersion. This free tool gives access to hundreds of pre-set Bible intake plans to help us read, hear and explore God’s word on purpose.
I recommend searching for one of the plans by The Bible Project. The guys at BP offer a number of great Bible intake options for every spiritual stage and major section of Scripture, which include videos to help you better understand what you’re reading.
Regardless of which plan you pick, pick a plan, work the plan and enjoy disciple-being that way!
Many methods have been used over the years for approaching God in prayer. If you don’t have one you’re currently using, here’s a faithful outline you may want to follow:
C.A.T.S. (don’t have to be a cat person to benefit!)
C – Confession (agreeing with God about sin)
A – Adoration (for who God is)
T – Thanksgiving (for what God does)
S – Supplication (personal requests & needs)
In addition to methods, we also have our preferences. Some enjoy typed prayer lists, some index cards, others journaling. Over the years, I’ve benefitted greatly from a typed list that I can update every month. About a year ago, I made the switch to handwritten prayer cards, which has been deeply impactful as well!
The point here is not to get hung up on which method or preference is best, but which method or preference you can commit to in your own disciple-being journey.
c. Biblical Friends
You will be hard pressed to be Jesus disciple in isolation from other disciples. The steady refrain of Scripture is this: no one grows close with God or does great things for God alone. Here are a few examples…
Adam needed Eve in the garden.
David needed Jonathan through conflict.
Mary needed Elizabeth through pregnancy.
Jesus needed the disciples in Gethsemane.
Paul needed brothers while in prison.
There are 3 key Biblical friendships we see in the New Testament, which illustrate the friendships we all need today. As these friendships flourish, our disciple-being efforts fortify.
First, we all need a mentor-Paul who will push us.
Second, we all need a trusted peer-Barnabas who will encourage us.
The first two friendships make the third possible…
Third, at some point, we all need a mentee-Timothy who will learn from us.
Are one or any of these relationships in place for you? If not, pursue them as if your joy in Christ depends on it. Start with the Paul / Barnabas relationship. Once more, the Timothy relationship will flow from those two.
And be patient in pursuit! These relationships take time. We should not expect something so meaningful to form over a week or even a month. They are the fruit of established trust and patient, purposeful pursuit, within the life of the local church.
What makes these relationships worthwhile is how they invariably draw us closer to God—something we all need.
In reality, disciple-making is the fruit of disciple-being. Like a child who must learn to walk before running—as Jesus’ followers—we must learn to be before doing. When we aren’t doing for God well it’s most often because we aren’t being before God well. To be little with Him is to be little for Him. This explains why Jesus said what He did, in the order that He did, in Matthew 4:19.
God put this pattern in place on purpose. He’s out to show us that our joy in Him doesn’t begin with earning, it begins with being. That’s the grace of the gospel and that’s the order of discipleship.
“Disciple-making is the fruit of disciple-being.”
If you read all or part of this post, please know that I prayed for you—that you would grow closer to God in 2019 by recovering a vision and developing a plan for disciple-being that results in effective disciple-making.