Jesus writes long stories.
I grew up in church and was very religious, but didn’t know Jesus. In my early 20s, the Holy Spirit opened my blind eyes, and I saw the redemption story in Scripture. I was awestruck that God chose me in Christ before the foundation of the world to praise his glorious grace (Eph. 1).
One of my first reactions was: “I don’t want any child to grow up in church and not hear the gospel.” So I immediately began teaching children. Within a few years, the Holy Spirit pressed Titus 2 into my heart, and my passion expanded to include discipling women. There was passion, but my vision of their stories was no longer than my lesson plan and their observable response.
Now, at age 82, I see more clearly that discipleship is entering into those long stories Jesus is writing and trusting him to put his law within people and “write it on their hearts” (Jer. 31:33). I have lived long enough to see the Lord do immeasurably more than I could have imagined asking in my 20s (Eph. 3:20).
The long-story perspective of discipleship helps me persevere even in old age. The prayer of an old man in Psalm 71:17–18 resonates with me:
O God, from my youth you have taught me,
and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
So even to old age and gray hairs,
O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
your power to all those to come.
The old man does not deny the “enemies . . . accusers . . . troubles and calamities” (Ps. 71:10, 13, 20), even as he embodies the promise that the righteous will “flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him” (Ps. 92:13–15).
Discipleship Is Covenantal
Discipleship happens in the courts of our God. Our salvation is personal, but God adopts us into his covenant family. In that context we participate in the Great Commission together, our stories entwine, we experience the joy of covenantal connections and say to one another, “Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together” (Ps. 34:3, NIV, emphasis mine). This protects us from becoming possessive of “our” disciples. We see the need for each other. We rejoice that discipleship is multi-layered. And we remember that the fruit of discipleship ultimately comes from God:
Neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Cor. 3:7–9)
Discipleship Is Generational
Discipleship is not only multi-layered, it’s also multi-generational. The old man’s prayer in Psalm 71 is not shortsighted. He sees beyond the generation he wants to tell to the ones they will tell— “all those to come” (v. 18). Of course, as we share the gospel with the next generation and they do likewise, we see a generational pattern of discipleship. But prayer also enables us to take part in the discipleship of generations we will not know on this side of eternity.
I don’t know all of my story, but I do know there was a great-grandmother I never met who prayed for future generations. My imagination soars as I think of the generations of prayers that preceded her, and of my prayers mingling with theirs as I pray for my grandchildren and the generations to come until Jesus returns.
Discipleship Is Informational, Relational, and Transformational
Effective discipleship demonstrates the importance of both information and relationship. Consider Paul’s captivating and comprehensive description of his discipleship of the Thessalonians:
We were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. (1 Thess. 2:7–8)
We’re called to share the content of the gospel in the context of relationships that reflect God’s relationship with us. If we only share the information, our discipleship will be academic. If we only share our lives, it will be anemic.
If we only share information, our discipleship will be academic. If we only share our lives, it will be anemic.
Note Paul’s motive: the Thessalonian believers had become dear to him. They may or may not have been dear, easy-to-love people, but they had become so to Paul. They were the ones the Lord entrusted to him. And as he shared the gospel and his life with them, he grew to love them.
We may not know the outcome of our investment in the lives of those we disciple, but as we obey Jesus’s Great Commission, he is with us (Matt. 28:18–20) and he transforms us. We begin to love those he loves. Even if we see no fruit in their lives we pray with confidence, not in them but in him:
The Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. (2 Thess. 3:3–5, emphasis mine)
In this season of old age, I don’t fret as much about what I don’t see. I increasingly wait and watch with anticipation, knowing God is moving his story, in my life and in those I pray for, at the proper pace to accomplish his predetermined purpose. Prayerfully waiting stretches my trust in the Lord and my love for the ones I’m discipling.
Jesus writes long redemption stories. His stories are good and true and beautiful. His stories are full of the wonder of eternal things.