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The word “discipleship” carries layers of meaning, but two are dominant. A disciple of Jesus is a learner and a follower. Both understandings are essential, and neither can stand alone. To be a learner of Jesus, you must follow Him. Those who follow will grow in their understanding of Jesus. Regretfully, these paired truths can be separated in our thinking. For many, discipleship is mainly an academic exercise. They learn about Jesus and the scriptures, as if data was all that was required. But as essential as knowing is, discipleship requires more.

Jesus said, “…if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lu.9:23, ESV). Obedience to this command can’t be satisfied by information alone. Studying the practice of crucifixion is not enough. Our understanding must morph into practical daily experience. What will that experience look like? Many books have been written, but a single title might suffice. Eugene Peterson wrote a book on the Psalms of Ascent called, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. Before you delve into the book, spend time with the title. It suggests three essentials for our experience as disciples.

Obedience. Followers of Jesus practice submission. They surrender their control, agenda and expectations to their Lord. That doesn’t mean that disciples are void of wants; but they live with a “not my will but Thine” mentality. Self is denied and Jesus is obeyed. Every one of you recognize how difficult that is. We all consider the risk of what absolute surrender may entail. But obedience is the path of every disciple.

Same Direction. Discipleship is a pilgrimage in one direction. We are led by the Voice of God and moved towards His glory. Disciples do not try to be novel and create new paths of their own. Methods and means of discipleship may shift over generations, but the brand of discipleship is consistency. One Lord. One faith. One baptism. One God. We may have times of drift, but disciples return to the same direction.

Long Time. Discipleship is a long haul. The shaping of our lives is not rushed. Becoming takes time. Lessons may have to be repeated. Gains may be lost and then recovered. Being a disciple at 85 years old is not identical to being one at 35. It takes a lifetime to follow Jesus. So, expect to be doing this for a long time.

I have been a Christian for over 6 decades. You would think that I would have this discipleship mastered by now. The early years were filled with the learning aspect. Sunday School. Sermons. Seminary. While the education has not ended, my discipleship experience has changed. The knowing has shifted to becoming. The tests of being are harder than the quizzes of knowing. Here is the hope that holds both you and me. Whatever obedience demands, whatever direction God sets, however long it takes, the practice of taking up our cross daily leads us to a full life. Following Jesus lands us where He is.

Scott Tolhurst

Scott Tolhurst

Scott and his wife have spent almost 50 years following God together through life, marriage and ministry. They’ve hop scotched across Canada and landed at the water’s edge on Vancouver Island. They’ve harvested the riches of family (5 grandkids!) and the delights of God’s people. Life has not always been clear but the fog has been pierced with these truths. The heart matters. Kingdom work is God’s. Nothing can replace faith. It never ceases to amaze Scott that, if his life is a gift, how great the Giver must be!

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