A year and a half ago, my wife, Rebecca, and I accepted a call to Powell River Reformed Church in British Columbia. We uprooted our family after ten years in St. Albert, Alberta, and said goodbye to the wonderful congregation of Christ Community Church. One of God’s gifts to us here in our new location is a wonderful house that fits our large family. I describe it this way: “Quirky and in need of work, just like us.”
Last weekend, I was working outside. This past year has been filled with trimming and clearing the yard, which had been neglected for the better part of eight years. I was tackling a section that was overgrown with blackberry bushes. I plunged my shovel into the sandy soil trying to destroy a particularly nasty root. I pulled back hard and then—snap! I broke my shovel.
And there is my working metaphor for discipleship. I have a large yard that needs lots and lots of work. It seems that every time I grab some tools, I work like I can get years of tasks done in an afternoon. If I just buckle down and try harder, I can get it all done and then I can relax. But all I did was break my shovel.
I can approach the life of discipleship this way, too. If I just pray, study, worship, and share the good news feverishly, I can get a lifetime of obedience done quickly, and then—bam—I will be Christ-like in no time. Of course, I don’t believe this to be true and I would never preach this because it’s not in Scripture. But I do act like it sometimes. I have come to realize that my focus has been on doing rather than on being.
In my yard work, what am I like when I am working feverishly on a large job? Generally pretty focused (read: tunnel vision) and definitely not open to interruption. I can work to the point of physical exhaustion and then I am pretty useless to my family the rest of the day. In the yard, I see only what I need to do, and not who I need to be.
This is also true for me in life and in ministry. I can be so task-focused that I forget to pay attention to how I am showing up. Am I partially or fully present to the person in front of me? Am I truly listening or just waiting for my turn to speak? Am I aware of God’s presence or only of my frustration with a problem?
What I believe about discipleship
As I stood there with two pieces of shovel in my hand, I was reminded once again what I actually believe about discipleship. First, discipleship is about resting in my identity as a beloved child of God, which was given through the death and resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit. I did not and cannot ever earn this beautiful gift of salvation. As I rest in the truth that I am loved, I am free to obey God’s commands to love him and love others.
Second, discipleship is about being a particular way in relationships so that other people can see the gospel. Right now, I am trying to live into three values that I see so clearly in the life of Jesus. I want to be calm, curious, and compassionate. Whether this is with raising five boys, pastoring a church, navigating through our denominational uncertainty, or building relationships with my neighbours, I want to show up in these three particular ways. I see Jesus being calm, curious, and compassionate in the gospels and I want to be like him.
Third, discipleship is about doing something. I can only do one part of my yard at a time. And when I break a tool, I must either repair it or find a new one. Discipleship is a lifelong process of learning to obey and teach the commands of Jesus. I don’t need to be in a hurry. I haven’t mastered obedience yet. I can only take it one day at a time. (Didn’t Jesus teach us something about daily bread?) So I will learn to be faithful with what is right in front of me. It could be hacking a nasty blackberry bush, giving my child a snack, walking with my wife beside the ocean, offering a ride to my neighbour, or leading the congregation in worship.
I thank God for that broken shovel. I won’t throw it out. I’ll hang it somewhere to remind me of this glorious life of discipleship to which God has called us.
This article was also published in RCA Today, the Reformed Church in America’s denominational magazine.
David Wulkan is pastor of Powell River Reformed Church in Powell River, British Columbia.