PART OF GOD’S PLAN TO RECONCILE THE WORLD TO HIMSELF
I have had the wonderful honor and privilege of discipling many women over the past 20 years. If I were to capture the great joy this has been for me, it would be to echo this verse in Ephesians:
Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. (Ephesians 3: 12 NLT)
For me there is no greater blessing than to witness someone discover that they can boldly and confidently come into God’s presence. Discipleship is simply about helping someone meet with Jesus, primarily through prayer and scripture, and discover the depth of His love for them and His desire for them to become intimate with Him. They move slowly from being dependent upon me to help them know and be known by Jesus to being mature followers, able to recognize their shepherd’s voice, expressing a love that responds in obedience, and a passion for sharing in the Mission of Christ.
My own story of maturing faith, began as my mentor who happened to be a pastor, helped me understand what I had professed to believe in but didn’t know how to live into. For many of us, we have the mechanics of the faith down (the head part) but flounder when it comes to the heart part. Grace has not made its way into our hearts and we feel distant from the God who loves us. My sister-in-law’s story illustrates my point.
About 18 years ago I found myself sitting across the table from my sister-in-law who was in tears telling me how she had always wanted to feel close to Jesus but some poor decisions in her past made her certain that she had failed and would never be welcome in heaven. She was a lapsed Catholic, but to be honest, I’ve encountered very similar stories from men and women of many denominations. I explained grace and suggested she had misunderstood what she had been taught. Her teenage son wanted to be baptized and she was realizing that she had never taught her children anything about Faith. Now she wanted to make this possible for him. I suggested she take the time to explore her own relationship with God since her son would need to see faith in action in her own life too. So, began a journey for her that has changed her life and that of those around her. At my urging, she got involved in Alpha Course which I was leading at the time. From there she continued in one small group after another, laying a firmer foundation of faith and basic practices of reading and meditating on scripture and learning how to pray with confidence that she could connect with her creator.
A few days ago, I happened to be at a family gathering where in a very natural and impromptu way she told her story to my son who is currently on his own journey of discovery. Her witness was powerful and honest. I was surprised, delighted and grateful for being given the chance to see how God is now using her to witness to others, not to mention that one of those was someone I love deeply.
Discipling someone can look different depending on the situation and needs of the one wanting to grow. I’ve met with women one on one, just reading the Scriptures together and discussing what we have read. I share what I’ve learned and what I don’t understand yet. I model what I hope they will learn to do. With one woman, I suggested we focus on prayer, particularly meditative prayer techniques because that was something I wanted to learn how to do. At other times, I’ve had a small group of women with whom I have used the Discipleship 2:7 series by the Navigators. This series focuses on basic beliefs and practices common to all believers. I find it to be a great foundation for new or young Christians.
I met a woman a while back, who really wanted to grow in her faith. I suggested we do a Bible Study together but to make it worth my while to travel to her location, I asked her to invite two other women to join us. For the next four years, I met with five to six women as we worked our way through the Navigator series. A few drifted in and out, but three remained faithful. We struggled to form habits of daily quiet times meditating on God’s Word. We labored to memorize verses and discussed difficult passages and even more difficult understandings. We laughed together, went on a prayer retreat together, shared an occasional meal, and learned to show up for the difficult trials in our lives; the death of a husband, a run-away teenager, a child suffering with debilitating anxiety. Through it all, we learned to take our burdens to Jesus in prayer, to search the Scriptures for direction and comfort in our daily lives, and to live according to God’s plan.
In the last year of our time together, I had explained that Jesus would want us to share what we have learned with others. I identified one of the ladies as a potential leader and spent extra time with her, honing her group leadership skills and encouraging her to take over the group. She went on to organize regular prayer breakfasts for the women of her congregation and to invite more women to join their little group. All the women are now serving God in ways they never thought possible. I don’t take credit for any of this. I am simple grateful to be a part of God’s plan to reconcile the world to Himself.
Written by Valerie Hobbs – Director of Adult Ministry, Redeemer Lutheran Church, Damascus, MD, and member of the NALC Renewal Team. Originally published in The Atlantic Vine.