Means and ends. Motives and outcomes. Habits and desires. These are the issues of discipleship.
Your faith in Christ has in some way compelled you to do things you probably wouldn’t do otherwise: go to church, read the Bible, confess your faults, sing out loud around other people, etc. Such things often become indicators. When we see people raise their hands during worship or lead a small group, we tend to assume something about their spiritual maturity, and likewise when we see someone sin. Ask someone how their walk with the Lord is going and you will likely get an answer that has something to do with an activity— usually how consistent (or inconsistent) they have been in having their quiet time. In circles where the “most important” indicators are well defined, they usually become ends in and of themselves. In other words, following Jesus becomes less and less about the transformation of our character and more and more about our faithfulness to certain activities. Now these activities are not bad. They are very good, but they are means toward an end and not the end in and of themselves.
To determine where you are in all this, ask yourself the question of motive: why do I do this and that? What do I want the outcome of this activity or thought or word to be? An honest answer to that question is gold in God’s economy.
Mark illustrates this in a subtle contrast of Peter’s mother-in-law (1:29-31) and a leper (1:40-45). The outcomes are the same; Jesus heals both of them. The contrast is in their motives, which is evidenced by their response. When Jesus “came to her [Peter’s mother-in-law] and raised her up, taking her by the hand, the fever left her, and she waited on them.” What she hoped to gain by being healed was the opportunity to serve Jesus. The leper, on the other hand, takes a different course. Jesus gave him specific instruction to “see to it that you say nothing to anyone … but he went out and began to proclaim it freely and to spread the news around.” It’s understandable that a leper— an outcast in every way— would want to go hang out with the fellas and mingle in the crowd and make up for all that he had been deprived of before Jesus touched him and made him clean. I have no doubts that he was grateful. But I think his response reveals that what he really wanted from Jesus was the opportunity to get on with his life.
C’mon, if you have leprosy and someone heals you, you at least make sure to do the one thing he asks of you, right? Well, you do if the opportunity to follow and obey him is what you wanted in the first place. But if our motivation in asking God for healing or help is really just a plea for a quick-fix for our discomfort so we can get back to our normal life, then perhaps that is why sin can be so easy at times. And perhaps that is also why we pray less when “things are going good.” Similarly, if our motivation for a quiet time or church activity is something other than an attempt on our part to experience the life of Christ, then we make and end out of means and rob ourselves of what matters most.
Sometimes I don’t feel like reading the Bible, or praying, or serving, or singing. I am too often ruled by the urgent and drawn to comfort and ease. My complaining and whining is the evidence. But these moods and tendencies are not insurmountable. Jesus is able to transform them at the deepest levels of our desires if that is actually what we want. And if it is, then we can force ourselves into disciplines and habits even when we don’t feel like it, and they will become our delight so long as our aim is nothing less than that Christ be formed in us.
Luke 14: 25-34
[Will Walker works for Campus Crusade for Christ, makes his home in Austin, TX with his wife Debbie, 2 year old son Ethan, and skittish mutt Abby.]