Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Discipleship is like Riding a Bike—You Get Better at It the More You Do It.

Veteran cyclists know that while they still must work hard to move along at a good pace, they get better at it with experience. They develop stronger leg muscles and more overall stamina. They pick up techniques that improve their efficiency, learning when to shift to what gear, how to deal with head winds, when it’s wise to slow down, etc. They still work hard to cover ground, but they find that they get farther, faster, and with less fatigue the longer they've been riding.

Veteran disciples experience the same dynamic; they get stronger the longer they walk in God’s ways. They develop spiritual muscle allowing them to more easily deal with tests, temptations, and difficulties that would have been harder to conquer earlier in their walk. As their trust in God grows, they are able to weather longer periods of adversity; they grow in spiritual stamina.

They also grow in specific spiritual disciplines—prayer, time in the Word and in Christian community—that help them more effectively cover the course God puts before them. While there’s no doubt that experienced disciples must still put real effort into their walks, and that their paths become more challenging the further they go, it’s also undeniably true that the Holy Spirit makes them better able to deal with those things the longer they walk with Him.

That pattern is reflected in scripture. Moses started out hesitant in Exodus chapters 3 and 4, but grew increasingly strong as he followed the course God laid out for him. Jesus repeatedly, and in different contexts, taught that “[a]ny one who has will be given more [.]” Matthew 13:12 (New Jerusalem Bible). See also Matthew 25:29; Mark 4:25; Luke 8:18 and 19:26. Peter went from denying Jesus on Good Friday to boldly proclaiming Him in very threatening circumstances. See Acts 4:1-22; 5:29-33,40-42.

Just as there’s no denying that “[i]n this world you will have hardship,” John 16:33 (New Jerusalem Bible), there’s also no doubt that God increasingly strengthens those who diligently follow Him.

(Images dealing with cycling themes were posted July 11, 15, 20, and August 3, 2005.

Images about the process of growing/maturing in our walk with God were posted October 3a and 17, 2004; May 11, June 11 and 18; July 20, August 21 and 27; and October 3 2005.)

Friday, July 15, 2005

Discipleship is like Riding a Bike—There’s More To It Than Just Getting There.

Those who've spent time cycling have experienced a very real dynamic—how the very act of riding provides joy that goes beyond getting to your destination. Freedom, grace, and smoothness are an inherent part of riding a good bike, and even though you may be expending serious effort to get where you’re going, the air you move through keeps you cooler than you’d expect. It’s hard to adequately describe these things, but any one who has done serious cycling "knows" this dynamic.

The same is true of living according to God’s Word. While it too will get you where you need to be, it provides joys beyond that. It also provides a very real freedom: freedom from uncertain, and ultimately unhealthy, worldly perspectives. Moreover, the inherently perfect nature of God’s ways provide unique grace and smoothness and, although there is no denying that God requires real effort from us, something about the discipline of living in conformity with His precepts makes it easier than one would expect. Finally, that reality can only be partially described; it must be experienced to be fully appreciated.

That is reflected throughout scripture. Proverbs teaches that wisdom (i.e. living in conformity with God’s ways) “fills your soul with delight,” and provides “smooth” paths that “lead to contentment.” Prov. 2:10; 3: 6 and 17 (New Jerusalem Bible). Jesus tells us that shouldering God’s yoke is easier than it would appear and, as Jeremiah also recognized, gives “rest for your souls.’ Matthew 11:29-30; Jeremiah 6:16. Paul noted that living according to God’s direction gives us, among other things “joy, peace, patience,” Galatians 5:22, and strength beyond ourselves. Phillipians 4:13.

That’s not to say that being a dedicated disciple is without difficulty; the Old Testament, Jesus, Paul, James, Peter, and John make it clear that it can be very, very, demanding. But the truth remains that those who commit themselves to God’s direction are, like a cyclist, given special, indescribable, graces to get through those things as they get where they are going.

(Images dealing with cycling themes were posted July 11, 15, 20, and August 3, 2005.
Images about savoring God’s blessings were posted May 16 and 20, July 7, and 15, 2005.
Images about diligence/perseverance in doing God’s will were posted on October 1, 3a, 8, and 17 and November 7, 2004 and January 10c, June 11, 13, and 18; July 15 and August 27, 2005.)

Monday, July 11, 2005

Discipleship is like Riding a Bike—You Can’t “Get It” Until You Get on it.

You can understand why someone who’s never experienced a bike would be skeptical about riding one. “It looks flimsy and can’t even stand up by itself,” he thinks. “Why should I give up the stability of my own two feet and get on it. I’d probably fall and hurt myself if I try that thing. Besides, it’s going to take some serious effort to make it move.”

But those fears are dispelled if he actually tries it. After the first wobbly feet he develops enough momentum to gain some stability, it gets easier to peddle, and he realizes that he’s moving faster and easier than he could on his feet. There may be a few spills at first, but if he gets past those he sees that this thing works after all.

We see the same dynamic in believers who are hesitant to move beyond just accepting Jesus’ forgiveness into a life of real discipleship. It doesn’t look like it’ll work. Instead, they think it would be safer to stick with the way they've been living; there are fewer risks and a fully surrendered life looks hard.

But like the novice cyclist just described, a newly committed disciple comes to see that God’s ways work better than his own. If he gets past the initial wobbles, he realizes that, like momentum on a bicycle, the Holy Spirit will keep him upright, moving ahead faster, and with less effort, than he could have managed through his old ways. He will take a few falls, but the experience will ultimately dispel his fears if he sticks with it.

Scripture validates that pattern, perhaps most clearly in Luke chapter ten. Jesus sent some disciples out with instructions to do ministry in total reliance on God, instructions that must have seemed impractical from a human perspective. Luke 10:1-12. But they followed Jesus’ instructions, and, true to form, God came through. When they related their experiences, Luke 10:17, Jesus’ response well summarized the dynamic: “I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to little children.” Luke 10:21 (New Jerusalem Bible).

What Jesus was driving at is that disciples must act with childlike faith, even if God’s instructions seem foolish according to human “wisdom.” Again it's like riding a bike; little kids are more eager to try it than adults. In short, we’ll never fully experience God’s wonderful power if we don’t step out in faith and try His ways.

(Images dealing with cycling themes were posted July 11, 15, 20, and August 3, 2005.
Images about trusting God amidst the unexpected/difficult/incomprehensible were posted November 7, and 15, 2004, and April 25, July 11b, and August 9, 2005.)

Discipleship is like Riding a Bike—Introduction

Living in the power of God’s word is a lot like riding a bicycle. As will be developed in the next few posts, it doesn’t make sense until you try it, the full extent of its benefits only become apparent once you’re up and running, and you get better at it the more you do it.

(Images dealing with cycling themes were posted July 11, 15, 20, and August 3, 2005.)

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Our Daily Bread—Savoring God’s Smorgasbord

The other day my wife and I planned to take our three year old daughter to the zoo, but before we left I read something in the newspaper that made me envious of a colleague. I prayed for forgiveness and help appreciating—“savoring” to use the language of a previous image—the many ways God has blessed me and off we went.

God answered that prayer on multiple levels, one of which could not have been more direct. We went into the aquarium to check out a floor to ceiling tank replicating a coral reef. My wife and daughter went right up against the glass while I stood back and took it all in.

At that point it hit me; God was giving me a smorgasbord of blessings. I had the pleasure of seeing my wife having a radiant time with our daughter, my daughter being gigglingly thrilled with what was before her, and the neon beauty of each of the many varieties of fish, all at one time. Like the offerings at a buffet, each of those things was independently succulent, but here they were all together, presented in a way that complimented each other. And, to top it off, God made it plain that this was His answer to my earlier prayer by calling it to mind at that moment.

I don’t have a grand point to make here, just a practical observation: God is incredibly faithful and richly generous. We simply need to turn to Him and look for his subtle, but stunning, blessings. "[H]ow extraordinarily great is the power that he has exercised for us believers; this accords with the strength of his power.” Ephesians 1:19 (New Jerusalem Bible).

(Images about savoring God’s blessings were posted May 16 and 20, July 7, and 15, 2005.
Images addressing what we can learn about God from being parents were posted September 17b, 17b, and 17c; November 13, 15, and 24; December 2, 2004 and January 2, February 18, April 25, August 9 and October 3 2005.)