This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Extreme Devotion, compiled by Voice of the Martyrs. In the following short quotation from a letter smuggled out from the underground church in Romania, there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
"We don't pray to be better Christians, but that we may be the only kind of Christian God means us to be; Christlike Christians, that is, Christians who will bear willingly the cross for God's glory."
A moment of introspection: As followers of Christ, we long to be more like Him as we grow in stature and in grace through our lives. But our desire to be Christlike often falls short. He gives us an example to emulate; He has sent a helper, a comforter if one would see it thus; yet a three-letter word often brings our emulative efforts to a grinding halt. This word is "...but...". Matthew 8 tells of two who responded to Christ. One said "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go." Another said "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." In the first case, Christ responded to resolute determination to follow Him, by recounting the cost of discipleship. In the second, the "...but..." was rebuffed as Christ again put the "but" in perspective for the disciple. Luke 18:18-27 tells of another young man who was intent on learning from Christ; the Lord taught him the cost of discipleship--and that cost evoked a rueful "...but..." as the young man became very sad.
Jesus has placed a call on each of our lives--to be intercessors "standing in the gap" for our family experiencing a world of hurt. Yet service within the confines of one's local church, and intercession, can both be a secure and comfortable "...but..." as we consider further calling of the Lord to emulate Him. Someone said, with a good degree of insight, that prayer does as much to change us as it does to impact the world. God honors our prayers, and uses the prayers to change us increasingly into the image of His Son, Jesus the Christ. In praying, though, let us consider the will of the Father and respond with no "...but..." if and when He calls us into deeper service for which He has prepared us. We see the boldness of Christian witness of brothers in countries for which witness carries a cost. We see the willingness of Christian victims of attacks or torture forgiving their tormentors. We see the struggle apparent in the widow's eyes as the death of her spouse leaves her without income and thence destitute. We see the image of Christ in the song of joy that comes in the morning, after the night of trauma. We sense the heart of Jesus in the congregations that rally around embattled pastors. And these many examples show us the continuing cost of discipleship--in the lives of those whose desire is to emulate Christ.
We pray for the trauma, the struggles, the torment, the battles which trouble the persecuted church. Yet true discipleship almost always involves a cost, and hence may elude us as we, too, say "...but..." to Christ and his further call on each of us. Further understanding of discipleship can be obtained through prayer, through reading, through study, and through communion with God. Navpress has produced a vital resource entitled "The Complete Book of Discipleship: On Being and Making Followers of Christ" (ISBN 1-57683-897-8, $16.99 USD, www.navpress.com). Quoted in the above book, Dietrich Bonhoeffer averred: “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” As we pray, let God change us--remake us in the image of Christ, who in Matthew 26:42, was obedient even to death on the cross, with no plea of "...but..." given to His Father. May we indeed be "Christlike Christians ... Christians who will bear willingly the cross for God's glory."