Sunday, December 10, 2006

Thoughts on Discipleship

Discipleship has been a recurring theme for me lately. Two Thursdays ago, I was playing Steven Curtis Chapman's 'For the Sake of the Call' on guitar, and reading Luke 5:1-11 and John 21. Somehow this combination led me to a place where I just broke down and cried.

I never cry in worship. And this wasn't worship. Or was it?

I was still in the midst of the STPM, but somehow that morning seemed to call me away from the demands of my books. I was glad I followed. This entry is more of a reminder/marker/checkpoint for me, so it'll be quite lengthy. But if you've got some time to spare, do come along with me.

For the Sake of the Call
By Steven Curtis Chapman

Nobody stood and applauded them
So they knew from the start
This road would not lead to fame
All they really knew for sure was Jesus had called to them
He said, Come, follow me
And they came
With reckless abandon they came

Empty nets lying there at the water's edge
Told a story that few could believe and none could explain
How some crazy fishermen agreed to go where Jesus led
With no thought for what they would gain
For Jesus had called them by name and they answered

We will abandon it all for the sake of the call
No other reason at all but the sake of the call
Wholly devoted to live and to die
For the sake of the call

Drawn like rivers are drawn to the sea
no turning back for the water cannot help but flow
Once we hear the Savior's call we'll follow wherever He leads
Because of the love He has shown
Because He has called us to go we will answer

We will abandon it all for the sake of the call
No other reason at all but the sake of the call
Wholly devoted to live and to die

Not for the sake of a creed or a cause
Not for a dream or a promise
Simply because it is Jesus who calls
And if we believe we'll obey

We will abandon it all for the sake of the call
No other reason at all but the sake of the call
Wholly devoted to live and to die
For the sake of the call

To me, the passage that captures the spirit of this song (or rather, whose spirit is captured in the song) the most, is Luke 5:1-11, which I here quote from the NIV:

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water's edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch."

Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets."

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon's partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, "Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men." So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

It occured to me again that morning, that when God calls, He equips those He calls. Who would've ever guessed that these fishermen would influence centuries of thought, paradigm and lifestyle? Who would've ever guessed that the name of Jesus would be proclaimed in the 21st Century?

That morning also, I was reminded of a passage that greatly encouraged me during this year's Easter season, which was a very trying time for me, as many friends know.

[Jesus] called out to them, "Friends, haven't you any fish?"
"No," they answered.

He said, "Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some." When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, "It is the Lord," he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

--John 21:5-9 (NIV)

Jesus had been crucified, and Peter decided to do some fishing in the Sea of Galilee. Some of the disciples decided to follow him. Max Lucado has time and again pointed out that this passage mirrors Luke 5, and it was in reading his writings on this text that brought me to tears in Easter--the only other time I cried this year.

It's as if something about discipleship is being drummed into me.

John 21 mirrors Luke 5 in that the miracle is similar. But also, the disciple in question is the same: Peter. The first time, Jesus told Peter that he'd catch men from that moment on. Fast forward some three years: all the disciples but John chickened out and fled the night Jesus was arrested.

Here, in the very last chapter of the Gospels, Jesus prepares a fire of burning coals. As Lucado likes to ask, what were Peter's thoughts? Not long ago, he had denied Jesus three times before a fire. Now, a fire stands between him and Jesus. Does he remember the moment of betrayal?

I think the only thing more overwhelming than the power of sin, is the grace of God. Maybe that is why I was driven to tears. Maybe, like Peter, it was a moment when those same words resonated within me: "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!"

But Jesus persists. As Michael said in his sessions on John at d'NA last year, "Do you think God would go through all that--to become a man; think of the energy involved--and let you go so easily?" And to the very 'friends' who betrayed Him, Jesus asks, "Haven't you any fish?"

First the fire of betrayal; then, the fire of redemption. It is a moment from which the disciples--and Peter--would never turn back. They would go to the ends of the earth for the sake of the call. But Peter himself didn't quite travel to the ends of the earth; even Paul moved about more. And tradition holds that Thomas travelled all the way to India.

The point, I think, is not a matter of geographical location, but of whether we will leave our nets 'at the water's edge' and follow Jesus wherever He leads. Maybe that is why, at the end of John's Gospel, we find these words:

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!"

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, "Lord, who is going to betray you?") When Peter saw him, he asked, "Lord, what about him?"

Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me." ecause of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?"

--John 21:18-23 (NIV)

Jesus tells Peter not to worry about what will happen to John, but to mind his own business and follow Him. The words of Jesus to anyone who would be His disciple are, "What is that to you? You must follow me."

A dear friend of mine knows just how irritating the 'inferiority complex' can be. And to that friend, I proudly proclaim that I'm indeed 'The One'! (I owe you a fudge sundae; someday we'll go out for ice-cream!)

This morning at church, I gained a new perspective on John's Gospel. Pastor Linda preached from John 2:1-12, and as I flipped back to John 1, something hit me.

And Jesus turned and saw them following, and said to them, "What do you seek?" They said to Him, "Rabbi (which translated means Teacher), where are You staying?"

He said to them, "Come, and you will see." So they came and saw where He was staying; and they stayed with Him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.

One of the two who heard John speak and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother.
He found first his own brother Simon and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which translated means Christ).

He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas" (which is translated Peter).

The next day He purposed to go into Galilee, and He found Philip And Jesus said to him, "Follow Me."

Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter.

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote--Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."

Nathanael said to him, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see."

--John 1:38-46 (NASB)

The first four phrases uttered by Jesus, recorded by John, are:

"What do you seek?"
"Come, and you will see."
" shall be called Cephas."
"Follow me."

The well-known late Islamic polemist, Ahmad Deedat, hurled much of his attacks on Christianity, on the book of John. He kept pointing out that if much of what John wrote was literal, it was in conflict with logic and the other accounts of Jesus' life on earth. But I think Mr Deedat overlooked one major point that struck me this morning:

John crafts his Gospel not as a mere narrative, but more like a thesis. And he uses lots of metaphor and imagery, making it, in my opinion, the New Testament counterpart of Isaiah.

And as a thesis, John is therefore selective. Certainly those four phrases were not the very first spoken by Jesus, but collectively they describe the way Jesus calls each and every one of us. First, He asks what it is we are looking for. Then, He tells us to come with Him and see His revelation. Finally, He issues the call to follow Him.

But what then of the renaming of Simon to Peter? I think it represents the transformation of the person as he/she decides to come with Jesus and follow Him. We are given a new identity in Christ, derived from our present identity but given a whole new dimension of meaning and purpose in Him.

It is also interesting to note that the first chapter of John explores the effect of discipleship, in that we are to echo Jesus' call. So it is that we find Philip saying to Nathanael:

"We have found Him..."
"Come and see."

The renaming and call to follow, only Jesus can issue. But the proclamation of discovery and the invitation to come to Jesus is our duty. The narrative of John's Gospel begins with this image of what we are to do as disciples; it is, in some ways, John's version of Matthew 28:18-20.

I know God is calling me. But I know not where to yet. In my story Evanescent Shadows, which recently won the MPH Search for Young Malaysian Writers, I wrote these words: "Voices call us off our platforms. Will we follow?" The question was influenced both by T.S. Eliot and U2.

Eliot's 'The Dry Salvages' talks of journeys, of embarking and disembarking--of leaving platforms. The question 'Will we follow?' is an echo of U2's song, 'I Will Follow'.

If all goes well (i.e. if there is stock), I will buy Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book The Cost of Discipleship tomorrow. I believe God is leading me, to use a phrase by C.S. Lewis, 'further up and further in' in my journey of following Him.

I have no confidence apart from the fact that He knows what He is doing. I can only say, "I will follow."


Anonymous said... have no idea which chapter this is locaed in, but you should know. Jesus said he and God are one.Then, before he was crucified, he said:Oh God, please help me!!!. If he and God are one, then why does he need to ask for his help? Even better still, why is he in the company of humanS???

Anonymous said...


I would have made a proper link if it weren't for the fact that Blogger does not allow tags on its comments.

Anonymous said...


I would have made a proper link if it weren't for the fact that Blogger does not allow tags on its comments.