Several years ago I took a discipleship course. The instructor told me something that really changed my perspective.
"When you are discipling, you do not work alone. You are part of a team and your co-worker is the Holy Spirit. Don't try to do this alone. Find out where the Holy Spirit is working and then join Him."
The basic idea is that we often walk into a relationship with someone else, easily identifying areas of needed growth and then struggling to help that person overcome their spiritual obstacles.
This had happened to me numerous times and almost always ended in a terminated relationship. Usually because the person I was discipling simply became disinterested and walked away. I had wondered, "What is the problem? Are they just not serious about walking in Christ?"
But now I had my answer. I had not been looking to see where the Holy Spirit was already working in that person's life. Instead of finding out where He was working and joining Him... I was praying that He would join me and then crossing my fingers and hoping for the best. It wasn't working. It was frustrating and discouraging to see people I dearly cared about continuing to struggle with sin and complacency.
Understanding that the Spirit was already working in the life of a believer and that I could join HIM in that work means that success does not, in any way, depend on me. I just step in and allow God to use me as a tool to do the work He was already doing!
Let me tell you a story to better help you understand the difference:
A man becomes a believer. He is a rough man who has had a rough life. His story of salvation is beautiful and full of redemption but his life habits tell a different story and he still struggles in ways that make his new Christian family cringe. For example- each Sunday morning the church arrives to see him smoking on the church property and when he gets excited he has a habit of using Christ's name in a way that is unappreciated by everyone else.
Finally, the older gentleman who is discipling him decides that these issues are needed to be dealt with and they begin to study what it means to respect his body (as the temple of God) and the needed respect for the name of God.
Meanwhile this man's heart is breaking from a deeper unrepented sin. He is twisted up inside and does not even know how to begin to deal with the ugliness he has in his life. He tries to hide what he is doing but each time he does it, the Holy Spirit causes him to writhe in agony.
Instead of talking to anyone about it, he pours his spiritual energy and his time of accountability into those two things that seem so important to his discipler. He tries to quit smoking and he starts replacing Jesus' name with "Jiminy Cricket". Meanwhile he is physically abusing his wife and son.
So how do we avoid entering a relationship like this? Well, it takes being intentional about knowing where the Spirit is working. And that takes TIME and EFFORT. It takes shared meals, it takes prayer, it takes sharing a life together. It takes extra phone calls during the week and follow-up questions that make everyone squirm a little. It takes transparency on the part of the discipler who must also share their struggles and failures.
As Dustan and I continue with our work of discipleship, will you commit to praying for us?
Here's what you can pray for:
That we would be innocent as doves and wise as serpents.
That God would reveal His workings to us so that we can always join Him.
That our relationships with those we disciple would be healthy.
That our language skills would continue to grow so that we can understand better and express ourselves better.
That we would continue to make discipling others a priority in our ministries.