A Primer on the Discipleship Process

“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts14:22 NIV)

Problems, everybody hates them, but where would we be without them?  From birth we all have had to face problems on a daily basis.  In the process we have learned how to progress from flailing helplessly to rolling over to walking. 

We can look back nostalgically on our childhood through young adulthood and say that despite the discomfort most of our problems and challenges were ultimately our friends.  Without them we would not have developed the character and competencies so necessary for a mature and successful life.

We just wish the day would come when we could finally graduate and move on to a problem free life.  But like everyone with a diploma knows, the real world and adulthood are laden with problems and pulling into the driveway at night can be no easier than backing out in the morning.

But the good news is that God uses problems in our lives to work His purposes.  In essence, problems form the curriculum of the discipleship process.  They are structured to be the stepping stones to spiritual growth. 

In fact, if you read the Gospels with this in mind, you will notice that Jesus specifically and frequently engineered problems for His disciples.  He was continually challenging them with problems.  He sent them out on mission trips with no support or provision. (Luke 10:1-4)  He feigned abandonment in a storm. (Mark 6:48-49)  He asked them to feed a multitude on the spur of the moment with no resources. (John 6:5-6)  He challenged them to try again, even in the face of prolonged and repeated failure. (Luke 5:4-6 & John 21:15-18)  They were confronted by people with physical maladies and asked to heal them. (Matthew 17:15-16)

It is no different today.  Anyone who wants to be a disciple of Christ must enroll in a curriculum with similar challenges and problems.  But as in any apprenticeship process, to endure and even prosper, one must keep focused on the “why.”  The ultimate goal of Christ’s discipleship is that we be transformed into His image. 

Problems are meant to increase our faith, develop perseverance and character and impart wisdom.  (Matthew 8:26, Romans 5:3-5 & James 2:2-5)  That is great motivation to face the problems that come our way with hope!

One of the greatest quotes of all time on the power of divine perspective is from Friedrich Nietzsche. “He who has a why, can endure any how.”  Understanding the “why” of discipleship and its accompanying problems empowers us to endure the “how.”

It is interesting to note the message God gave Paul and Barnabas to share with the churches they had founded and were revisiting near the end of their first missionary journey.  It is recorded that they were “strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God. they said.” (Acts 14:21-22)

God wants to strengthen and encourage us in the discipleship process.  Yes, problems are necessary but they are not without purpose and are redeemable for good through a persevering faith in Jesus Christ. (Romans 8:28)

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