[24AUG2011] Wiki-Faith and Drive-thru Jesus
Discipleship is slow and arduous work. The more I commit myself to the process, the more I realize just how painstakingly slow it is and how demanding it can be. I want to arrive on the “other side” of denying self, so I might realize what it is to live life as depicted in the Sermon on the Mount. Try as I might to speed the process along, I am learning that without the arduous process of discipleship there is no “other side.” Sanctification or Christian Perfection does not have an instant or fast-food version.
I wonder sometimes if I am so different from other sojourners of the Way. It seems to me the only way to stay engaged in progress with the process is to stay engaged with the process. A couple of illustrations that are very real to me that help to explain what I mean might be helpful. One is the sport of baseball. I used to be pretty good at the game and played at a fairly high level of competition for several years. Granted, that was a long time ago, but I digress… The point of this example is this: my level of commitment. While natural athleticism played some part in my ability, dedication to the science and strategy of the game and perseverance in physical training were the things that took my game to the next level. I participated in other sports year round in order to keep my body toned and in shape for the next baseball season. When the season started, I was at the baseball park almost every single day to practice and scout other teams to learn about the players who I would compete against. These efforts helped me to keep a sharp edge. My skills and my ability were continually being stretched and perfected. The converse of this experience was realized the year I joined the Navy and stopped playing baseball. I went to boot camp, went to my specialty school, and was sent to my ship. Almost a year passed and I returned home on leave during the summer baseball season. Some strings were pulled and I was allowed to dress out with my old team and play a game with them, but my skills were seriously lacking. I was in shape for the game physically, but my mental skills and fine motor skills specifically attuned to the sport of baseball were not honed to the competitive level that they had once been. Oh, I could play the game and it was fun, but my skill level was no threat to the competition.
Another example of “being in the process” comes from a current hobby of mine, playing the guitar. When I first started to play the guitar several years ago, after playing for only a few minutes my fingers on my left (fretting) hand felt like they were going to bleed. Holding down the steel strings with enough pressure to make the note sound clearly was torture to my tender fingers. It took several weeks before I could play much longer than twenty minutes or so at a time without wanting to cry out in pain. Slowly, my fingertips grew calloused and I was able to play longer and longer without pain. There are other maintenance issues that need to be addressed too with the hand I fret with when playing the guitar; I can’t let my calluses get too built up and I can’t let my fingernails grow very long. Either of these finger “hygiene” matters, if left unattended will cause sloppy notes and chording when I play. There has to be constant attention to these little details if I want to maintain a level of proficiency…and playing regularly has to be a component of this maintenance as well. There is more to this, but the point is this: in order to keep the edge and continue to develop I have to keep in process with the activity of playing constantly.
Being a disciple of Jesus is similar in certain respects to both of my examples. There is no easy path; there is no “forty days” to success…and then you arrive. There are no “seven steps” to a “new you.” True discipleship is a lifelong process; process meaning you decide to engage and then you remain engaged as you involve your entire heart, soul, mind, and strength to the process. The Apostle Paul uses the metaphor and analogies of a soldier and athlete on numerous occasions as he describes the path of being a determined disciple of Jesus Christ. It is interesting to me in a curiously sad way that we have moved in an opposite direction from this Biblical teaching. I suppose it should not be all that surprising as our culture has trained us to expect that everything and anything can be obtained almost instantly. If we want information, we go to Wikipedia on the internet. If we are hungry, there’s drive-thru for almost any style or flavor of food a person could want…and available at any time of the day or night. If we need a date or a mate, there are phone services and websites for that too. Anything a person could dream of is available at their fingertips; why should our religion and faith be any different?
Sadly, the substance of our discipleship processes has been reduced along with the gospel to “drive-thru Jesus” and “wiki-faith.” We sell congregants on “Insta-Jesus” the Solver of all things awry. We essentially proclaim that persons can have most earthly life and all eternal life issues resolved by way of our Drive-Thru Jesus programs and discipleship process is optional. Not true. Jesus teaches that if we are not in His process, we are not…in process. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ cannot be undertaken as a hobby and being a disciple is not optional; you are either a disciple and fully engaged all the time in the process or you are not. I am reminded of the following story I read not too long ago:
“A brother came to Abba Theodore and began to converse with him about things he had never put into practice. So the old man said to him, ‘You have not yet found a ship nor put your cargo aboard it and before you have sailed you have already arrived at the city. Do the work first; then you will have the speed you are making now.’”
I get frustrated with the process of discipleship too. I get tired, I get dry, I get discouraged sometimes, and I ache in every way that God asks us to give ourselves to Him—my mind aches, my spirit aches, my soul aches, my emotions ache, and my physical body aches too. All of this is part of the discipleship process, denying ourselves, taking up our “cross daily” and following Jesus. It is slow and painstaking work, but the process also brings with it rewards of God’s kingdom today and eternal hope for God’s kingdom tomorrow. As the story from Abba Theodore states; “Do the work first, then you will have the speed you need.”
—A Prayer of Psalms—
Hearken to my voice, O LORD, when I call; have mercy on me and answer me. You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face.” Your face, LORD, will I seek. Hide not your face from me, nor turn away your servant in displeasure (Psalm 27:10-12). Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the LORD. Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts. Oh that my actions would consistently reflect your decrees! I will thank you by living as I should! (Psalm 119:1-2, 5, 7). Those who trust in the LORD cannot be moved, but they will stand forever (Psalm 125:1). Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be world without end. Amen.