By Andrew Scott
Andrew is the Vice President of Recruiting for Operation Mobilization USA.
‘You cannot be my disciple ….’ Jesus stated to those who gathered to listen. ‘Unless…’ I can imagine that the listeners waited with baited breath. With a readiness. A longing.
This is exactly what they wanted to be. They had followed him for some time now and were totally amazed at what this Rabbi from Nazareth could do. Now he was giving them an opportunity to join him.
An invitation to be part of the revolutionary mob, who would change the Roman dominated world. A ticket for the front row seat to miraculous stuff happening every day. They were ready for what would come after the ‘unless’ because this is what they wanted. Or was it?
Would they want it so bad that no matter what came next they would be willing to do it? Would they be willing to count the cost of obedience to the post ‘unless’ list? As it turns out most wouldn’t. In fact, most left and over the next months many of the rest would fall by the wayside.
What came after ‘unless’ proved too much for the once enthusiastic crowd. Sadly, it seems that it still is too much for most today.
Very few ever make it past the initial enthusiasm of the hand raised at a worship time; the walk up the aisle after the call to missions; the promise made to God after watching the video on suffering in Central Asia; or the commitment made at the last Passion conference.
I have personally attended many missions conferences at colleges, Urbanas and Passions and watched while hundreds stood to their feet in response to the call to join God in missions. I have to ask the question, ‘Why is the number going to give their lives not going through the roof?’
Did these students lie? Did they stand up just to please Louie? Are they ‘commitment less’? I do not believe so. In fact what I have seen and heard from this generation of students is quite the opposite.
What stands in their way in my humble opinion is firstly, the lack of support from Mission agencies (of which I am one) to help coach them through the obstacles.
Secondly, the students lack understanding of what it will take to fulfill what they just committed to. It is not my mandate to address the first one in this article but take my word for it that I am addressing it in my organization.
Let’s look at the second reason then. When the student stood, knelt, lay, whatever the prescribed formula was, they sincerely wanted to follow God. They were as enthusiastic as the crowd listening to Jesus, maybe even more so as Jesus did not have Chris Tomlin to warm them up.
They could begin to imagine themselves, even wish themselves in that village helping the AIDS orphans or in rural India helping to set up a micro business.
A day later they find themselves back at their campus sitting in class with 3 more years of study ahead.
For most the stresses and strains, distractions and attractions, escalating student debt and parental pressure to get a job and pay it off will be enough to make them bury the dream that God birthed in their hearts a few years back in large stadium where His presence and voice felt so real and compelling.
Sadly, most resign themselves to this death as if it is inevitable and even ‘the right and logical thing to do’ in light of their current circumstances. The question then is, ‘Is this disobedience to God?’ I would propose that it is.
Some may argue that this is a bit harsh. After all they have to pay off their debt. Shouldn’t they listen to their parents? Maybe it was not God speaking to them in the first place.
Their girlfriend/boyfriend that is now their fiancée really did not have the same call to missions and so as in any relationship you need to compromise some things.
Hmmh… all of these sound great and all have an element of truth to them. But when Jesus said, ‘You cannot be my disciple unless….’ He was laying out that there was a cost. A price to be paid. A bar to be reached. A standard to be met.
Let’s be reminded of Jesus words – Luke 14:26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.
Luke 14:27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
Luke 14:33In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.
Jesus did not leave anything to the imagination or for second guessing. ‘Giving up everything’ has something pretty complete and comprehensive about it.
As a 23 or 24 year old we should listen to our parents advice but if it goes against what we believe God has told us to do – Jesus makes it pretty clear who we should listen to and follow.
When it comes to choosing potential life partners God has given us only one guideline – find an equal yoke. This means someone who shares your life passions and dreams as a Christian – not someone who will pull you from them.
If we allow anyone (even if you scored the homecoming King or Queen) to pull us from the dream that God birthed in our hearts then Jesus says we cannot be His disciple.
When we look further in Luke 14:28-33, Jesus uses a great example of a man wanting to build a tower and a king going to war. My paraphrase is – if these guys want to accomplish their plan/dream then they will sit down and think through what it will take to see that happen. If they don’t, then they are foolish and will fail. The very next verse is,
‘In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.’
In other words, if you are not willing to put steps in place to achieve your dream and then sacrifice everything in order to accomplish the dream then you cannot…….you know the rest and you’re a knuckle head on top of it – OK my paraphrase again.
This is strong stuff. No wonder so many of those listening to Jesus left Him. What about you? Are you ready for what comes after the ‘unless’?
Ready enough to sit down and make some plans to ‘build that tower’ to ‘win that war’? Ready enough to sacrifice everything in order to see the plan through.
To finish college as passionate about God and His call on your life as you were when you stood at that event with open hands saying, ‘Yes Lord, send me’? To graduate and be ready to leave for the ministry God laid on your heart as a Freshman? To have no ‘anchors’, whether debt or unequal relationships, holding you back?
I fully accept that it is very difficult not to accrue debt and to avoid distractions. Actually there is very little that is easy about following Jesus – the ‘taking up your cross’ part sort of gives that away.
It is much easier to live as you wish, do as you want and flow with the crowd – at least for now. But if you are serious about living out what ever Jesus puts after the ‘unless’ then I would like to give you some practical pointers which I have benefited from that will help protect you from some typical downfalls and raise your chances of fulfilling the call at the end of college.
Stay Connected to the source of your life
Take time to read and reflect on John 15. Before you work, the plan you need to understand that ‘apart from (Jesus) you can do nothing’.
So it is vital that you take responsibility for your spiritual growth – persistently pursue maturity in Christ, feed your mind and heart with godly things.
Exhale the world’s junk by breathing in the Word. Understand that unless you are connected to the Source of life you will lose your ability to live the life. A good friend of mine says it this way – we need to stay Constantly Connected, Desperately Dependent.
Address unholiness in your life
We all struggle with sin in some way. It is vital that we wrestle with sin and overcome it by the power of God. So often we settle to live with the guilt which leads to feelings of unworthiness to serve which leads to inactivity.
Instead lets respond to the conviction of the Holy Spirit when it comes and Recognize when we have done wrong; take Responsibility for it; Repent from it; Renounce Satan and his attempt to sideline you.
Let’s keep short accounts with God on this and live in the fullness of His forgiveness and grace so that we are ready for what ever He calls us to do.
Form Constructive habits
It is so easy to waste time during your college years. Between Internet, Movies, hanging out until the wee hours etc. Nothing wrong with any of these things if done in moderation. Be careful how you spend your time.
Start setting boundaries in your life which allow you to have the time to do the important things first. This does not come easy but if we are not willing to apply self discipline in these areas then we are probably not going to stay the course.
Choose the Simple Lifestyle
Probably the biggest obstacle to students moving out on cross cultural missions after they finish is student debt. It is the greatest vision killer and the vortex into which most get sucked into leading them further and further away from fulfilling their vision.
I have heard frightening numbers. Some are due to the college the person chose and some are due to undisciplined spending for 4 years.
If you are serious about serving in missions then you need to come up with a plan to keep your debt to a minimum if not eradicated completely. It may mean picking a college of less prestige.
It will involve making daily decisions on where you drink coffee and how much, the clothes you buy, frequency you watch movies, housing, transport to name a few. It may also mean finding a job while you study and pay as you go. This may take a year longer to finish college but get you out to the field 5 years earlier.
There are a couple of great courses out there which can help you a lot in setting good financial practices – Financial Peace University by Dave Ramsey and Crown Financial Ministries.
Bottom line is that the simple lifestyle is a daily choice which is not easy now but will lead to a faster track in achieving your God given vision.
Form Kingdom Building Relationships
Dating – Be very careful who you date. Remember God has only one standard for your partner. It involves their standing with Him and their standing with you. If they do not measure up on any one of them, get out of there. Do not ask someone to walk through this stage of life with you who is not ready to carry the yoke of service to God with you.
Friends – Among the many friends you no doubt will have during college make sure you prioritize finding and building deep friendships with those who share your burden for the lost. It is they who will encourage you when you start to lose the vision.
Ministry partners – Get connected to a church local to your college. Build relationships with the leaders and members. Keep connected to the church you grew up in by visiting when you go back and communicating with them while at college.
You will be laying the foundation for your financial and prayer support for when you are ready to leave. Too many college students disengage from home churches and never connect strongly with a church near their college. They end up with no support base to stand with them in their vision.
Engage with the world and what God is doing in it Continuing to inform your mind and engaging your heart in the big issues around the world is critical to keeping the flame alive.
Sign up for mission news letters covering the issues and /or regions you are interested in. Start a monthly prayer group and engage others in these issues through prayer. Visit the region at least once during your time in college to gain greater understanding and deeper engagement in the culture and issues. Start to contact mission agencies inquiring about the key needs in these regions. Begin exploring where you can fit.
Bring others with you
Walking a path is much easier if you have friends to walk it with. Share your passion and vision with others and invite them to join you on the journey. Bring them with you on your STM trips, to the prayer gatherings. Be infectious. It helps you stay contagious.
Remember Jesus said to those looking on ‘You cannot be my disciple unless….’ Are you ready to do whatever comes after the ‘unless’? No matter how painful. Inconvenient. Uncomfortable. Un-cool.
If you are then get ready for the ride of your life because Jesus also said to His disciples ‘I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these.’