Paul used an interesting analogy in his letter to the church in Galatia…one that we have identified with several times in our ministry. In chapter four verse nineteen He said, “my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” Discipleship is like childbirth…I get that. Here are some similarities I see between the two…
1. Both involve hard work.Ok…so I don’t know FIRST HAND how much hard work is involved in childbirth. I’ve never actually birthed a child myself. But I was present for the births of all of my children…and from the look of things it wasn’t exactly a day at the beach for my wife! It was INTENSE work…they call it “labor” for a reason!
Discipleship is hard work. It’s so much more than just doing a “Won-by-One” study for a couple of weeks…New Testament discipleship was a LIFELONG, day in and day out endeavor! Listen to how Paul describes it to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20.
Acts 20:18-20 (ESV)
18 And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia,
19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews;
20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house,
To the church in Thessalonica Paul said,
1 Thess. 1:7-8
7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.
8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
This was intense…through tears and with trials…and it was more than just preaching. It was also LIFE on LIFE…HOUSE to HOUSE. That’s intense and life-invading. That’s biblical discipleship.
Real, biblical discipleship takes work…it takes labor. We are not going to become Christlike overnight, nor are the idols of our hearts going to come down easily. There will be battles, and trials…and we have to continue to work…to labor until “Christ is formed in them.”
2. Both can be painful. As I said earlier, I was present for the births of all four of our children and the best word I can use to describe the event is “traumatic.” I had seen it on TV and thought (foolishly) that I knew what to expect. Well…NOTHING could have prepared me for that moment. Watching my wife cry and scream in pain and being virtually helpless was, I stated before traumatic.
So am I saying that discipleship can be traumatic? At times it has felt that way! When you have poured hours of hard work, prayer, time, and tears into someone only to have them walk away from Christ is heart wrenching. Watching the effects of sin in the life of someone you love is sickening…especially considering you know they knew better. I’ve worked with people for months and months teaching, and praying…only to see them make sinful decisions that shatter their lives and do damage to the name of Christ. It can be very, very painful.
What’s interesting is that we don’t expect childbirth to be pretty and sweet. Though we may not understand the extent of the pain, we all know it’s going to be painful. But how many pastors sat in seminary and dreamed about the joys of making disciples? I know for me the pain and struggle of discipleship was a surprise. I didn’t expect ministry to be easy…but I didn’t understand the amount of work and pain that was involved in working with people.
Ok…that was all pretty negative. But here’s the point I want end with…
3. When successful, they both end with incredible, amazing joy! It’s amazing, isn’t it? The moment the labor is ended and the child arrives, the terrible pain is replaced with unspeakable joy! I’ll never forget the moment I laid eyes on Grant. Words fail…there is this feeling of amazement and wonder, and pride, and humility…all mixed together because here is this amazing, beautiful baby. All the pain is forgotten…it was all worth it.
There is also few things that bring more joy than when you see people “get it.” When God’s Word takes root in the hearts of people you love, and you see them make hard, God-pleasing choices…it’s simply fantastic and brings great joy.
Right now, I’m working with a man who has been caught in pornography for more than 20 years…and he’s getting it! He’s living in victory! He’s been restored to his wife, his local church is involved, and he’s enjoying the grace of the cross daily. Has it been hard work? Oh yeah…but it is worth it. I’ve seen God take marriages on the brink of failure and make them wonderful stories of reconciliation and victory…and couples have found biblical love to be so much stronger and more fulfilling than worldly, selfish love. It’s so fun to be a part of that. Broken relationships are hard and seeing people sinned against is painful…but the moment repentance occurs, the tears and trials of “labor” vanish. The moment the Father embraced the prodigal, all the heartache of his rebellion vanished. And they danced together in joy.
Disicpleship has to be the most heart-breaking and heart-rejoicing work on the planet. And there is hardly a day that goes by that I don’t thank my God for calling to this work.