One of the hardest things about being a coach is watching the game. This is especially true if the game isn’t going the way that you had hoped it would go. During practice there are plenty of opportunities to stop everything, start over, and plan for a better outcome. But during the game itself those opportunities are limited, you don’t get to start over, and you have to change your plans as you go. One sentence that is often spoken from the coach to the player is, “I can only tell you what to do, you have to do it, I can’t do it for you.” The coach coaches, but the players are the ones who are out there playing the game. Therefore it is up to the players to learn from the coaching, to run the plays, and to play the game as they have been taught to do.
The same scenario of a game can be seen in the church as well. Pastors and church leaders spend a lot of time preparing and coaching. These people design plays based upon God’s handbook (The Bible), they study them, look for areas to emphasize as well as spots to be careful with, and encourage the people to study them as well. The Pastors and leaders spend countless hours getting ready to teach and train the people (the players) how to run the plays, how to live their lives, in such a way that they have the best possible chance to defeat their opponent and at the same time grow more confident. This process is called discipleship.
Now there’s a word that gets thrown around a lot in church circles, and unfortunately it is a word that is often feared, ignored, or all together avoided. Maybe we avoid this word because it consists of the word discipline and we know all too well that discipline isn’t very much fun. Discipline is what we lack when we are trying to lose weight or when we are trying to start exercising. Discipline is what we do to our children when they have done something bad or undesirable. Discipline is only eating one piece of chocolate, one bite of pie, or one serving of cheesy potatoes. And discipline is especially difficult when the people around you don’t seem to have any discipline for themselves.
Yet Jesus was followed by a group of people called disciples. What are disciples? What are the qualities of a disciple? Well, I am glad that you asked! We know that the disciples were students of Jesus. Matthew 11 records Jesus calling people to him in order to rest and to learn from him. Disciples are a lot like an apprentice, one who is learning to be just like their trainer/teacher. John 15 tells us that disciples are friends of Jesus and agents of love. John 15:14, “You are my friends if you do what I command.” And John 15:17, “This is my command: Love each other.” Matthew 20 tells us that being like the Teacher means we must become servants; Matthew 20:26-28, “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Finally, a disciple of Jesus is a follower, a life-time of commitment, none too easy, fully dedicated follower. Being a follower of Jesus comes with requirements, stipulations, backlash, and persecution. It means being willing to stand out from the crowd, suffer for injustice, and endure people’s ridicule and judgment. Jesus related being his follower to being a builder of a tower. The builder of the tower will first estimate the cost to see if they even have the funds to build. Also to a king headed out to war. Does he have enough men for success or not? Then Jesus says these words found in Luke 14:33, “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”
My prayer for this New Year is that we will all find the cost of discipleship to be a worth-while cost. That we will dedicate all of ourselves (family, hobbies, occupations, and lives) to God and live in ways that reflect that dedication. May we be willing to suffer the cost of being a follower of Jesus! The coach can’t play the game for the players; they have to do it for themselves. But the coach can do all that he can do to help them succeed. So friends, Jesus is telling us what we need to do, how we need to do it, and even when it needs to be done if we will only listen and obey. The play has been called, the players are on the court, now run the play and just see how great things are about to happen.