I have been thinking lately about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. We live in a strange time when many people in our culture will lay claim to the title of Christian, but they seem to live this out in name only. The fact is that we are called to be disciples. As an old farmer from my first parish was want to say, “Just because you’re in the henhouse don’t mean you’re a chicken, and just because you’re in the church don’t mean you’re a Christian.” Disciple is a form of the word discipline. Or as one of my favorite Sunday School teachers used to proclaim, the key to understanding what it means to be a disciple is the word discipline. Both these expressions are trying to get to the point that being a follower of Jesus—and that is of course what Jesus asked us to do, follow him—is more than just taking on a label, but is meant to be a way of life.
So what are the marks of discipleship? What are the disciplines that every disciple should commend themselves? Or to put it more down to earth, how can you tell if that animal in the henhouse is really a chicken! I’m sure there are many things that we could add to the list, but here are five marks of those who want to be more than just Christian by name; but actual disciples of Jesus:
Daily Prayer: Most followers of Jesus know that prayer is important and yet it can prove to be difficult for many of us. Don’t be discouraged as even the original disciples felt ill-equipped in this matter and asked for direction from Jesus (Luke 11:1 “He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”). This is a good place to start. Use the Lord’s Prayer, but pray it slowly and purposefully. In fact, you can pray a single part at a time. For example, “Thy Kingdom come….” What might this mean to see God’s kingdom or reign here right now? How might God be using me to help others experience the kingdom? Have a conversation with God.
Scripture Reading/Study: While most Americans own a Bible when was the last time you knocked the dust off of yours? The Holy Scriptures are an important means by which we not only encounter God’s word but connect our lives with the faith stories of God’s people throughout history. Why not commit to reading one chapter of the Gospel of Matthew each week or if you are ambitious one chapter a day!
Weekly Worship: I know this might not always be possible but it should be the goal of all followers of Jesus. We need each other! We need to come to the Lord’s table and remember that we are a part of the body of Christ. In worship, we are reminded of those things of God and grounded in the truth of what brings lasting joy and contentment. Michael Foss in his book, “Power Surge” says: “To absent oneself from worship is akin to a hungry person turning away from a meal.”
Service on behalf of others: There is no getting around it: the life of a disciple involves service. Such service can be given within the congregation and/or beyond: at our workplaces, in our communities, in volunteer organizations. The community of faith is present wherever a follower of Jesus gives love, support, help, and energy in the name of Jesus Christ. A follower of Jesus serves beyond themselves.
Generosity: Over the years I’ve come to see that truly grateful people tend to be generous people. And generous people tend to be really happy people. Generosity has nothing to do with means, and everything to do with desire. The poorest of the poor can be as generous as the richest of the rich. The widow in the temple who gave her last two coins is emblematic of one whose desire runs deep. Followers of Jesus learn to strive to be generous with all they have. When Jesus calls us to follow him, he’s not just inviting us to wear a cross or mark “Christian” on the census form. He’s calling us to live out what he has proclaimed.
When the time comes for me to leave this life, I hope my kids, family, and friends can say…he didn’t just hang out in the henhouse…that guy was a real chicken!