Life in Discipleship: with Evan Musgraves
Over the past several weeks, we have been posting a blog series featuring student ruminations on their experiences of “Life in Discipleship” here with UMin. The fall is going to be an important time for new folks to get involved in mentoring discipleship relationships. Our prayer is that the Holy Spirit will challenge you to take advantage of this opportunity for real and deep growth during your time in college.
This post comes to us from Evan Musgraves, a senior History and Religion major at Samford.
Much of my summer has been spent in solitude as I work in Nashville at the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives. The job itself is awfully quiet (it is a library after all) and I have had the house to myself for 7 weeks. This time to myself has opened up wonderful opportunities to grow in Christ as I have had time to read and reflect in quietness. I have been studying Hebrews and reading Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, a wonderful book by Paul Tripp. As fruitful as this time has been, it has also brought me to the realization that most growth in the Christian life occurs in the context of community.
Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands is a wonderfully gospel-centered book on ministering to others. Tripp notes that Christians will often take great pains to prepare to teach the Word but scramble to find something to say whenever a friend encounters a tough spot in life or a difficult struggle with sin. We end up offering out of place Bible verses and meaningless platitudes. In one of his most compelling paragraphs, Tripp implores Christians to make the God the center of personal ministry rather than ourselves:
What we think of as ministering the Word is little more than a spiritual cut-and-paste system. This kind of ministry rarely leads to lasting change because it does not bring the power of the Word to the places where change is really needed. In this kind of ministry, self is still at the center, personal need is the focus, and personal happiness remains the goal. But a truly effective ministry of the Word must confront our self-focus and self-absorption at its roots, opening us up to the vastness of a God-defined, God-centered world. Unless this happens, we will use the promises, principles, and commands to the Word to serve the thing we really love: ourselves. This may be why many people read and hear God’s Word and remain unchanged. Only when the rain of the Word penetrates the roots of the problem does lasting change occur.
With this in mind, Tripp addresses the need for discipleship in community. He responds to the notion that Christians can live life on their own, thinking that they can perceive their need for God without the help of other Christians. To this, Tripp says
I need you in order to really see and know myself. Otherwise, I will listen to my own arguments, believe my own lies, and buy into my own delusions. My self-perception is as accurate as a carnival mirror. If I am going to see myself clearly, I need you to hold the mirror of God’s Word in front of me.
This is what happens in discipleship. This is why discipleship is so important. I have seen this in my own life through SMBC. Discipleship certainly brings personal change and transformation based upon the Word but it does much more than that. It forces me to think of spiritual growth as extending beyond myself. If the goal of Christianity is to think of myself less and about God and others more, as Tripp says, then discipleship in community is critical to becoming who God desires me to be. It is community based sanctification. In a discipleship group, it is harder to keep “self at the center, personal need the focus, and personal happiness the goal.” I can read the Bible on my own, pray on my own, read spiritual books on my own but I can still be self-centered in all of that—thinking only about my spiritual health, my relationship with God, and how spiritual I will look to others. Discipleship addresses this deepest problem: self-centeredness. I am forced to not only think about others, but actively love them. We see that God’s work extends well beyond ourselves. In my discipleship group we read the Bible together, we pray together, we share in the Christian life together.
In my discipleship group, we have focused especially on prayer. This focus on prayer leads us to lift our eyes up to God and outward to each other. We share our own struggles of course, but the focus is on bearing each other’s burdens whether they are burdens of suffering or personal sin. One practice that has been particularly helpful is taking turns writing out prayers. There is something special about sitting down and writing on paper what is in my heart.
But as great as the accountability and prayer is, sometimes it is just nice to have friends who you can eat barbecue, watch Hot Rod and True Grit, and build blanket forts with. But in all these things, God is molding us more into his image as we hold the mirror of God’s Word up to each other in accountability, prayer, and fellowship.