God’s Beauty Plan


Edgar Degas - 'The Star'We’ve talked about issues in discipleship in the last ten days (though, honestly, this whole blog is about discipleship), but I wanted to say one more word.

Let’s step into Dan’s Magic Imagination Machine and consider what follows.

Scenario A: A proud father knows his daughter will be beautiful. He takes care of the child and allows her to develop slowly over years. Childhood is encouraged, outside play is cherished, friendships with other children are promoted, and time for rest and recuperation are given. When Dad realizes his daughter is mature enough, he enrolls her in charm school. When ready, the girl is given ballet lessons. Her father also oversees her education, adding one lesson at a time as the girl is ready to receive new knowledge. At eighteen, that young woman is revealed to the world. What a stunning beauty! A woman whose elegance, sophistication, and loveliness capture the hearts of all who meet her.

Scenario B: A proud father knows his daughter will be beautiful. To hasten that day, he has the girl pumped full of growth hormones, with bone stretching rods inserted into her limbs to make certain the girl grows tall. At five, the girl is subjected to calculus and physics classes, plus courses in three languages. The girl is only allowed five hours of sleep each night because her schedule is packed. And because Dad was never allowed to waste time in outdoor play, neither is his daughter. When the daughter doesn’t score well on her tests, Dad berates her, telling her how badly she’s failed and how she’ll never be the beauty queen she’s supposed to be. Then how will her Dad be perceived by the world? And on and on…

I’m sure that everyone reading this will agree that the Dad in Scenario B sounds like a psychopath. What normal person would treat a child that way?

Why is it, then, that Scenario B (the irrational one) is the way portions of the American Church try to make disciples?

And now for the NtBV, the “Not the Bible Version”:

He has made everything beautiful in our time…
— Not Ecclesiastes 3:11a

One word: Unlikely.

As we know, the real verse reads this way:

He has made everything beautiful in His time…
—Ecclesiastes 3:11a

As I’ve gotten older in the Lord, He’s taught a me an inescapable truth: if we try to make disciples in our time (or any other way that is ours and not His), we’ll only break them and make them less than useful to Him.

I see now that we must view disciplemaking with the following understandings:

1. The Lord builds the house. We do not build the house.

2. The Lord builds disciples on His timetable, not ours.

3. The Lord does not break reeds and quench smoldering wicks. We, however, do so with reckless, clumsy abandon.

4. The Lord has expectations. We do, too. Ours, however, do not matter.

5. The Lord sees the final, perfect end-product of discipleship and fully comprehends all the stages along the path of growth. We look in a temporal mirror and wonder why the end-product does not look exactly like we did at every stage of our own personal development.

6. The Lord disciples with love. We disciple with impatience.

7. The Lord disciples perfectly. (You can probably guess by now how we disciple.)

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen a “discipler”—typically loaded down with one agenda after another—run roughshod over a “disciplee.” I’ve lost track of how many people have walked away from the faith or turned irrevocably bitter because a discipler didn’t take the time to ask, “What is God doing in this person’s life?” Asking that question rather than stating, “And now, this is what I will be doing in this person’s life,” would have made a world of difference.

Some disciplers pump their disciplees with more knowledge than they’re fit to handle. Others get upset that the process of growth goes more slowly than they would like, so they ramrod truth down immature throats. Some disciplers are unwilling to be at peace when their disciplees occasionally feel discouraged because the disciplers believe “a true disciple always lives in victory.” Or—and this is one of the trickier ones—the disciplees are actually further along in an area of discipleship than the disciplers and the disciplers are unwittingly asking them to take a step backwards.

You can probably come up with you own “discipleship gone bad” stories. Sadly, those stories should be rare to non-existent.

The other day, I was in an odd position in a group of Christians when each of us was asked to share one area in which we might be disappointed with God. After no one said anything for a while, I volunteered a disappointment, hoping my vulnerability would encourage others to share on a deeper level. I related a tough situation that launched a series of tangential events that I still deal with today. Immediately, several others felt it necessary to tell me why I shouldn’t feel disappointed. (Talk about walking into a baited theological trap!) Needless to say, I was surprised that others felt my disappointment was somehow invalid. Oddly enough, only one other person volunteered to share and that sharing came with trepidations and qualifications to keep the others from repeating their disapproval.

That type of story happens too often in Christian circles today. I know I can handle that kind of response, but what about a more fragile person?

Anymore, I feel that my role in discipling consists of one thing: to be available for other people. Just to be there. When they struggle with an area of life, rather than me telling them, “Oh, you shouldn’t be struggling,” or “You should be doing this, this, this and this,” instead I’ll be asking , “How can I be there for you to help you become more like Jesus?”

Because when it all comes down to it, God makes disciples. And He makes them by His means, in His time, under His conditions. What He asks of me is that I be available for His use as a tool in other people’s lives. “Here am I, send me” is not just a call to the mission field, but the call of one person to walk alongside another.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t teach people the things they need to know. It doesn’t mean that we don’t reprove. Only that we do it in a way forged through that incalculably valuable question, “How can I be there for you to help you become more like Jesus?” I’ve got to believe that such a perspective on discipleship, that availability, that desire to love others no matter their issues, makes all the difference when it comes to making disciples.

Because when God makes all things beautiful, they are filled with a loveliness beyond our comprehension. And that’s how it should be.

11 thoughts on “God’s Beauty Plan

  1. Wow Dan. Exactly. I’ve noticed that over the past few years I’ve been discipling a few younger ones… at the same time as someone else has been attempting (badly I might add) to disciple me. It almost cost me my calling. It almost cost me my marriage, and it cost me friendships, my reputation, and I got an eye opening view of the state of the Church and its leadership.

    Or—and this is one of the trickier ones—the disciplees are actually further along in an area of discipleship than the disciplers and the disciplers are unwittingly asking them to take a step backwards.

    Oh my. Hit the nail on the head. I don’t know how many times I tried to speak to my leadership and say “but this is what God is showing me…” and I got back pretty much the cursory pat on the back and the “oh you are just the little disciplee, now fall into rank and shut your mouth”. I was pushed backwards for so long, I almost spiritually died.

    God did some incredible things to get my attention and confirm to me that I was what had been spoken over me, I was hearing correctly, the words I’ve spoken over people were NOT mis-spoken, and that I WAS exactly what my leadership said I wasn’t.

    Why do leaders think that if they don’t see it in a person, it can’t be true about them? Do they really think that if we aren’t pastors (and what about those of us who have been?), then we aren’t on the same level as them, and we can’t possibly be spiritually more mature than them in areas? Do they really think that immaturity in one area means immaturity in all areas? I guess I’m just thinking outloud.

    I’m grateful I’m NOT being discipled anymore. I don’t know if I could survive that again. Granted my heart cries out for it, because I know I need it, but well… just pray I can trust again. *sigh*

    It’s rediculous we injure our own…

    • Ronni,

      I’m not sure I understand your comment “Why do leaders think that if they don’t see it in a person, it can’t be true about them?”

      Fruit is fruit. It’s visible one way or another. If it can’t be seen, it may very well NOT be there.

      I guess I’m not understanding what you’re saying.

    • jfn

      Direct hit, Dan. And Ronni, you are point is smack on as well. Sadly, many of our ‘brethren’ are trying to forge programmed mirror images of themselves, and give little thought to real discipleship. Recently I have had the opportunity to interact on a regular basis with a few folks who are still recovering from such attempts at discipleship. They are reluctant to even offer their thoughts in Bible Study, for fear their questions or observations will be trivialized or completely discounted all together. Fortunately, the group on the whole is very understanding of their past, and is working toward their healing, and a return to helping them toward discipleship.
      Personally, I think more of us who were wounded (and nearly killed) by such actions, need to become active rescuers, and work diligently to ‘pull’ folks from such situations. Or at the very least be attentive to our own discipling efforts, and have someone partner with us and hold us accountable for our actions as disciplers.
      Provoking one another to love, should not be an abusive act.

  2. Spot on! Thank you for this wonderful exhortation! A good reminder of what it really is about.

    I remember hearing someone describe (authentic) disciplers as those who are on the same road, but just a little further down the road than others. And that their task was to facilitate (similar to what you said, “How can I be there for you and help you cooperate with who God has called you to be?”) primarily by serving the disciplee in a way that helps them to fulfill their vision, their purpose, their destiny. Kind of turns the traditional, hierarchical understanding of discipling processes on its head – the upside-down kingdom of God! And looks a lot like the father in scenario A – a powerful servant who is motivated by love.

    I think we have so much trouble actually trusting God with people… not sure why. He’s more trustworthy than I am! That’s for sure!

    • Sarah,

      I agree with your “little further down the road” idea. That’s how I’ve always looked at it. Thinking of it that way lessens the tendency to lord one’s maturity over another.

      • “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.” (2 Cor. 1:24)

        Undershepherds are helpers of their sheep’s joy. Surely this involves encouragement, namely pointing out evidences of God’s grace in their lives. Yet, make no mistake here: it may involve don’t-do-that kind of warnings too! (just read the gospels for a sample of that)

        Bottom line: lack of discernment and lack of humility on both sides is what -I believe- hinders discipleship. If disciplers don’t work with disciplees for their joy, then we fail…

      • jfn

        I agree with a little further down the road concept as well.
        In teaching discipling classes, I have offered the image of a person climbing a ladder, and reaching back to pull the person behind them up with them as they climb higher. Or mountain climbers who are tethered together, and are conscious of each others place on the mountain, fully realizing that the goal is to get every person to the peak.
        Or like Jesus reaching down to pull Peter back up, when he started to sink into the water.

  3. I’m finding the recent postings and comments on discipleship interesting. I’m a part-time seminary student working on a practical theology degree in Spiritual Formation (formerly know as “discipleship”). Someday I’d like to be involved in vocational ministry in this area. I don’t want to be a typical pastor. I don’t think I even want to be ordained (otherwise I’d be working no an MDiv). One time when I was speaking with a Christian counselor about this, she asked “Do you think anyone would pay you to do that?” Good question. I’ve been wondering that myself. With all the great need that people see for discipleship, it often looks to me like there are few who really want it. Being a disciple takes us our of our “comfort zone” (to say the least!) and most people seem to be strong comfort seekers (understandably). I don’t really see any “role models” doing what I would like to do and being able to support themselves doing it. So I wonder should I just plan on keeping my day job? What do you think?

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