Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The Hallmark of Christian Discipleship

On Sunday, I was asked to give a talk in church (in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, members of the congregation take turns giving sermons instead of a clergy member) and decided to post it here for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

One reason why I think our prophet President Nelson has insisted that we use the full name of our church  the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints  instead of the nickname "Mormon" is that he wants us to be perfectly clear about our primary identity: first and foremost, we are disciples of Jesus Christ.

The Cost of Discipleship

The word 'disciple' comes from the same Latin root as the word 'discipline.' Think of a discipline as a subject area you might study in school, like psychology or engineering. 

In order to be a successful student of one of these disciplines, you know that there are certain formulas, concepts, and ways of thinking you're going to have to work hard to master.

Likewise, the word 'disciple' suggests practice, learning, self-control, and working toward a high and specific standard. The kind of discipleship we're called to is more than just belief, acceptance, or agreement. It's actively following Jesus Christ.

The Hallmark of a Disciple

I've taken college courses described as "rigorous," but no discipline I've ever studied is as exacting of the discipline of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The scriptures tell us we need to serve God "with all our heart, might, mind, and strength" (Doctrine and Covenants 4: 2, see also Luke 10: 27 and Deuteronomy 6:5.)

You can't get more rigorous than that.

Because discipleship is meant to fully encompass us, it can sometimes feel overwhelming. We want to follow the Savior's example, but that's a tall order for someone as imperfect as me (and I imagine, as imperfect as you, too.)

That's where the Holy Spirit comes in. It's how God helps each of us know what to do, at what time, and in what order so that we can become our best selves, one day at a time. 

Being able to recognize and act on those promptings is the hallmark of a disciple of Jesus Christ.

One Step Forward with Faith

Between the cold weather and COVID, this has felt like a never-ending winter. And maybe like some of you, I've struggled with feeling like a poorly-cast Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.

The idea of shaking off this funk was so overwhelming that one day I just leveled with God in prayer: I needed Him to tell the one single thing I should do next, because I couldn't handle anything more complicated than that.

I finished my prayer and didn't feel anything in particular, so I thought about standing in front of God and visualizing what he'd say in response.

"Pray," came a thought into my mind. 

Still unsure whether that was an inspired answer or just the first church word my brain supplied, I knelt down to pray again. And as soon as my knees hit the floor, the lyrics of a Primary song teaching kids to pray popped into my head: "I begin by saying 'Dear Heavenly Father,' / I thank him for blessings He sends."

The answer to my prayer seemed so simple and yet so profound: I needed to focus on gratitude.

I can't guarantee that the answer to your Lockdown Blahs will be the same as mine, but I do know if I hadn't followed the first direction to pray then I wouldn't have received the second one. 

And some of the time (if not most of the time) that's what disciples need to do: take the next step in faith without knowing the whole way.

Using the Atonement of Jesus Christ

When I think about discipleship, I think about the New Testament account of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.

At a basic level, this was a fantastic object lesson about the importance of serving others. In John 13: 15 Jesus teaches, "For I have given unto you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you."

But there's also a deeper meaning, one Christ said the twelve disciples wouldn't understand until later on (John 13: 7.) He hadn't suffered for our sins in Gethsemane yet nor had He been crucified and resurrected, but this foot-washing was foreshadowing those very events.

Peter initially refused to let the Savior wash his feet, quite naturally horrified it wasn't happening the other way around. But when Jesus said to him, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me," Peter responded, "Lord, not my feet only, but my hands and my head." (John 13: 8-9.)

Unless we accept Christ's atoning sacrifice into our lives to cleanse us, we simply cannot be His disciples. There is no other way. 

Peter may not have understood everything that was going on, but he knew enough to accept what Christ was offering with his whole might, mind, and strength. Because that's what a disciple is: someone who trusts God and makes full use of the Atonement to repent, partner with the Savior, and become better every day. 

Where Do You Think You Fall?

At the last General Conference, President Nelson gave a talk called "Let God Prevail." In it, he asked some questions that can help us gauge our current commitment to discipleship:
  • Are you willing to let God prevail in your life?
  • Are you willing to let God be the most important influence in your life?
  • Will you allow His words, His commandments, and His covenants to influence what you do each day?
  • Will you allow His voice to take priority over any other?
  • Are you willing to let whatever He needs you to do take precedence over every other ambition?
  • Are you willing to have your will swallowed up in His?

Being a disciple of Christ, as you can see from that list of questions, is a pretty rigorous discipline. It isn't easy and there's no shortcut or substitute for small and simple repeated acts of faith. 

But as President Nelson promises, "when [our] greatest desire is to let God prevail... so many decisions become easier. So many issues become non-issues." And the blessings of discipleship  namely, peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come  are well worth it.

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Holli said...

Loved your talk on Sunday! Thanks for sharing here!

Holli said...

Loved your talk on Sunday! Thanks for sharing here!