Buried in the account of Paul becoming a Christian and a leader in the church there is a small phrase that I think has some fairly significant implications for how we understand discipleship:
Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, “Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.
When many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do away with him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death; but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket.
-Acts 9:19-25 (emphasis mine)
This story is about the tremendous transformation that happened in Paul’s (then Saul’s) life. Just prior to this, Saul had just been killing Christians and was finally stopped when the Lord knocked him to the ground, blinded him, and subsequently healed him. But one of the indicators of Saul’s total transformation was that within a few days (and possibly a few weeks) of his conversion, Saul had his own disciples.
Don’t miss this. These weren’t just random disciples. These weren’t disciples that already existed in Damascus. These weren’t disciples that were made by Paul after he had known the Lord for a decade or better. These were *his disciples*. Saul’s. They were disciples of a man who had come to know the Lord only days or weeks before.
Why is that significant? Well, when was the last time you expected a new believer to have disciples? When was the last time you saw someone who had just come to Jesus preach Christ in a way that caused others to gather around them? When was the last time you expected your new convert to begin pointing others to the Christ they had just received?
What this story tells me is that discipleship is not for the oldest believers or the most experienced believers in our midst. Discipleship is the responsibility and the inheritance of even the youngest believers among us. When we teach them to wait until they know more about Jesus, the church, and everything, we teach them discipleship is about knowing stuff. But discipleship isn’t about knowing stuff, it’s about obeying Jesus. Even relatively new believers can teach newer converts how to obey, if they’ve learned how to themselves.
My point isn’t that this is the story for every believer or we should expect this out of everyone who has come to Christ yesterday. Instead, I want us to be open to the possibility that the Holy Spirit can do this. The Holy Spirit can so transform a person’s life in an instant that they can make disciples quickly. There will be those that the Lord powerfully moves on and can start making disciples from day one or day two following their conversion. It’s not impossible.
More specifically, what if instead of doubting this possibility, we encouraged those who came to Christ to do this? What if we
stopped believing that God only works through those with seminary degrees started believing that Christ within someone is enough to point others to Jesus and help grow them into maturity? What if we encouraged people in this direction instead of encouraged them into immaturity and dependency on us?
Saul had disciples within days or possibly weeks. Not everyone you lead to Jesus will be like this, but I think we sell our disciples short when we don’t believe that it’s even possible.
Maybe it’s time we started encouraging our disciples to make disciples, even right out of the gate. Who knows? Maybe we might find a few more Paul’s that way.
Sometimes doing the thing God called you to do will require you to get more uncomfortable than you’d like. It means stepping out beyond where you feel comfortable, safe, or even assured everything will work out okay.
It probably won’t.
Think about it. The Holy Spirit can meet you in an Acts 2 moment. You still have to step outside of your upper room and address the people who are making fun of you for being drunk.
You may be called to pray for the sick and see healings. But you still have to lay your hands on people and pray for them to recover. You still have to confront the awkward moment between when you finish praying and you have to turn and ask the sick person if they feel any difference in their body.
See, it’s all about the gap.
No matter what God has called you to, there is always a gap between what is and what we’re called to accomplish. You can hear God clearly, but you’ll still have to face the gap. The gap can hurt people. The gap can be costly. The gap is scary. You can believe what God said, but you still have to stare the gap down.
It’s those people, the people who see the gap and run with all of their might towards it, trying to jump the ravine, those people who know the odds but fling themselves at the obstacle anyways that we call people of faith.
This is the thing that separates those who are afraid from those who breakthrough–those who break through face the gap and still make the leap. They aren’t less scared. They just still jump. What has God called you to? What is the gap? What’s the scary, crazy unknown that is keeping you from doing what God is saying?
Perhaps it’s time, instead of ignoring the gap, that we face it head on.
Often when we hear people talk about God’s power from the front of a room it’s in the context of words like faith, holiness, “filled with the Spirit,” or even words like fasting or prayer. There are times I’m even one of the guys sharing messages just like that. Sometimes, though, I wonder if we may be missing one of the true keys to seeing God’s power activated in our lives because it’s something we fear talking about.
What would be so scary, you ask, that we would purposely not talk about it? What topic would be so off the table that even though it leads to God’s power being manifested, we avoid it? What truth would be so unthinkable to talk about that we would not pass on a secret to God’s power?
The answer: Your weaknesses
Now, I know that seems a bit counter intuitive and maybe even a little too easy. Isn’t that not speaking in faith? How could talking about your weaknesses give you access to more of God’s power in your life? Paul tells us this:
Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
-2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Pay attention to what Paul says here: I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. There was something about the way that Paul would talk about his weakness, his set-backs, his trials, and possibly even the ways he still felt imperfect in himself, that actually caused him to trust more fully in the God who raises the dead and does what no one else can do. As Paul boasted about his weakness and trusted in God’s power more, the power of Christ would dwell more in him.
I would tell you that in my brief experience following Jesus, the same thing has been true. Whenever I’ve known someone who truly moved in God’s power, they were always telling me stories about how the odds weren’t right, or how they weren’t deserving enough, or some impossible setback that made true breakthrough against the odds for them. They were quick to make Jesus the hero of their story. These people–the ones who boast in their weaknesses–have been the kind of people who I’ve seen God use powerfully.
So, if you want to have more access to God’s power, stop pretending to be a rock star. Instead, purpose to be weak. Be forward, even in your speech, that you are weak. Let the weakness not just be something you say, but something you believe. Begin to trust, not in your greatness, but trust in a God who is great, even when you and things in your life are not. It’s a doorway to God’s power in your life, in a way that few ever truly learn or comprehend.
When I was in Bible College, I had one of the best roommates I could have asked for. We had both come to the school to learn more about the power of the Holy Spirit. My friend was an evangelist, but our school focused almost exclusively on prayer and the power of Holy Spirit. So late in our first year at the school, he got permission from the head of the school to do some intensive research about how those three topics intersect.
My friend completed his paper, but I always remember the conclusion he came to in the paper was simultaneously simple and profound: The New Testament church’s experience was one of rhythms. Instead of focusing on one aspect or the other (something the church is exceptionally good at), the church of Acts would continually move through rhythms: The community would gather and pray, the Holy Spirit would respond, and the result would be a missionary thrust that lead many people to the Lord.
You see this in Acts 1-3. Jesus ascends into Heaven but tells the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit is poured out on the believers and a great harvest is gathered in from Peter’s message. The Harvest continues in Acts 3 with the healing of the lame man and many people coming to Christ.
The rhythm begins again in Acts 4-6. The apostles are brought before the high council and warned not to speak of Christ. When they are released they gather together and pray. This time the building they are praying in is shaken by the Holy Spirit and those gathered were filled with great boldness. Miracles begin to happen, a great number of people came to the Lord, other leaders were raised up, and the mission continues to go forth.
One more example is Acts 13-19. Acts 13 opens with believers in the diverse church of Antioch ministering to the Lord and fasting. It was during this time of prayer and fasting that God by the Holy Spirit spoke to the church to send Paul and Barnabas on their first apostolic mission. This apostolic mission was marked by signs and wonders and culminated in a number of new churches in Galatia and Asia Minor.
This is important for a simple reason: There is a great divide in the church. Often people who devote themselves to prayer are separated from those who give themselves to evangelism. Oddly enough, people who experience the Holy Spirit in profound ways are often separate from the people who pray and the people who evangelize. This isn’t the way God designed the church to function. We weren’t designed to live in continual prayer meetings that never see the Holy Spirit spill out to the streets and touch the lost. Nor were we designed to be constantly evangelizing without the power of the Holy Spirit that comes when we gather together and pray.
Instead, the church often will find itself somewhere in this cycle, praying, going in the power of the Holy Spirit, and then proclaiming the Gospel to lost people. In fact, this is the testimony of many of the great moves of the Spirit throughout history, starting with the book of Acts right up through the church planting movements that are happening across the globe right now.
Are you in a season where evangelism and mission is low? Maybe it’s time to return to the place of prayer and ask God to pour out His Spirit. Are you continuing in the place of prayer, but not much else? It may be time to lift your eyes to where the Holy Spirit might moving. Are you experiencing the Holy Spirit in profound ways but not seeing much harvest? It’s possible that the Holy Spirit is sending you to people outside of your church community to share the Gospel with power. The key is knowing what season you’re in. We get stagnant (even disobedient) when we choose one activity over what the Holy Spirit has us in.
So, what season does the Holy Spirit have you and your church in right now?
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ around the country,
Our house church network is in a season where we need to hear from the Lord about a number of things. There is no external threats, per se, but a number of us our sensing its time to gather together and seek the Lord in prayer in the way I described above. We are gathering tomorrow night for an extended time of prayer and listening to Jesus. Will you pray for us, that God would speak and help us forward in the next season of our lives together?
I would greatly appreciate it.
Yesterday was a hard day. It was the kind of day that would normally discourage me and cause me to wallow in self-pity for more than a few days. The good news was as I was preparing for the event that made my day hard, a Pharrell Williams song started playing in my head. Now, that’s not unusual, because Pharrell’s song “There’s Something Special” has been a song my kids and I have been listening to and singing since we heard it in Despicable Me 3.
But this time, it was different. This time, as I heard the words, I heard them as if the Lord was singing them back to me. I started singing along and felt the Lord draw close to my heart as I sang the song:
There’s something special on the other side of this moment
And it’s about what you and I decide
And it’s important for you to remember we did this together
And finally, they’ll know the story of our lives
It was more than just a song. It was an invitation to remember that no matter how bad the day got, no matter what went wrong or right with yesterday, my reward wasn’t what happened yesterday, but what waited for me “on the other side of this moment.” As I sang and received from the Lord, I could sense He wanted me to know there was a reward for treasuring Him in that moment, not the outcome.
We weren’t promised ease in this life. We were promised joy and trouble. William Barclay wrote, “Jesus promised his disciples three things—that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.” How do those things go together? How is one absurdly happy and in constant trouble?
Much of it, I believe, is done by keeping our eyes on the reward that awaits us for perseverance, faithfulness, and loving well. This reward may be found to some degree in this age, but it is fully realized in the age to come. There is an eternal reward that is stored up for us that is so easy to lose sight of right now, but it’s real and designed to encourage us when things are difficult.
Friends, regardless of what you’re going through, “there’s something special on the other side of this moment.” We need to remember that even the trials and difficulties we encounter here are forming something is us…something that can receive a reward greater than we can contemplate. Don’t forget the eternal things that are being stored up for you, right now, in this moment, based on your obedience.
It will strengthen you to follow Jesus.
There is a story buried in the book of Acts that teaches us a profound reality about serving others in the body of Christ. It starts with Peter and John being asked to give money to a lame beggar. Peter’s response to the beggar is instructive:
I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!
Peter didn’t have money. That wasn’t a resource that the Lord had given him. What he had was the power of the Lord operating in his life. He had experienced healing in the ministry of Jesus. He had participated in healing the sick and casting out demons before. The power of the Holy Spirit was real in Peter’s life, so it was easy for Him to give it away.
There is a spiritual principle here that many people fail to recognize: We can only give to others what we have received from the Lord. Yet I often see people try to give away the things of the Lord that they have no experience in. Some do this in their teaching, trying to teach Kingdom realities that they have participated in themselves. Others counsel or advise outside of the realm the Lord has called them to. This can inevitably get us into trouble.
This issue is one of dependency. We can only give to others out of the overflow of what Jesus gives us. This means that we are completely dependent on receiving all of our love, authority, and giftedness from Jesus before we can give it away to anyone else. The New Testament is filled with phrases that echo this dependency: “…so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord,” (Acts 20:24); “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you…” (1 Corinthians 11:23). Paul was living a life of passing on the things that he had received from God.
Friends, the Lord has called us to access the resources of Heaven for others. So by writing this, I’m not telling us never to step out into new things. I’m simply saying we have to operate in a radical dependence on Jesus and be constantly receiving from Him. It’s out of this overflow that the ministry of Jesus happens. Jesus is generous and wants to give us so much more than we have if we but ask. So receive and out of this receiving, pass onto others that which Jesus has given you!
…you can’t always see what is happening beneath the surface.
The call for many of us who are planting and participating in house churches is a call to the underground. In China, this is by necessity. They have to hide their fellowships, their worship, and to some degree their walk with Christ in order to survive. Here in the West, we participate in the underground by choice. House churches are one way we participate, foregoing some of the flash to focus on the essentials which happen under the surface. Regardless of whether it is by choice or by necessity, we are part of an underground movement.
The price you pay to go underground is to be misunderstood. It can seem like you’re not growing. It seems many times like things are at a stand-still. Often it seems like you are being lazy and not producing very much. In reality, deep below the surface of the Earth, where no one is watching and no one sees, there is a life being formed that will sustain and produce fruit.
It’s just that no one sees it. No one notices. Sometimes you aren’t even aware of the deep work that is going on inside of you. You just know you aren’t seeing the results you thought you would see. Jesus compared this process to death: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the Earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit,” (John 12:24). Every individual must go through this process, but each house church must go through this process as well.
It’s in this season that the foundation for life and fruitfulness is being laid. Everything depends on this season happening the way God designed it. So don’t be discouraged if you don’t see fruit as fast as you’d like. Don’t think that God isn’t working just because you don’t see results as quickly as others. If God has called you to His underground, He’s called you to grow deep so you can be fruitful in season and out of season.
I started to write this out yesterday and in the midst of writing it, a dear friend sent me a prophetic note that he had sent me about a year ago. In it, he describes the Lord showing him how apostolic works need to have shoots and roots. In the vision, the shoots could only go as far as the roots. The level of fruitfulness was determined by our level of rootedness.
Friends, don’t be discouraged by a rooting season. Give yourself to it. Grow your roots as deep as you can. God has a fruitful season for you, but your ability to sustain it will be determined by the depth of your roots.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ around the country,
Recently a brother in Christ who is dear to many of us hear in Iowa suffered a massive heart attack. Rick Lumbard is the Director of Wind and Fire Ministries, a man of prayer, and a servant of the Lord that has been used in a number of peoples’ lives throughout our city and the state. He currently is unconscious and in a hospital in Des Moines. Would you join us in prayer for Rick as we believe for healing for him? He has a wife and several children that would be thankful for the prayer support.