Under Orders: Part 1

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  • Christian discipline means placing oneself under orders.  It is no mere business of self-improvement, to be listed along with speed-reading, weight watching, jogging, time management, home repairs, or how to win friends.  Such programs have a strong appeal that is largely self-serving:  what’s in it for me?  Will I improve my IQ, my looks, my build, my efficiency, my house, my bank account?  Will I be better liked, courted, taken more seriously, promoted?  If these are the goals, certainly it helps to pursue them with the encouragement of and in the company of others with the same ambitions.  Social pressure goes a long way, but in the end a do-it-yourself program depends on willpower alone, which is not enough for most of us.

    The disciple is one who has made a very simple decision.  Jesus invites us to follow Him, and the disciple accepts the invitation.  I do not say it is an easy decision, and I have found that it needs to be renewed daily.  The conditions are not such as attract multitudes.  Jesus stated them:
    1. He must leave self behind
    2. He must take up his cross
    3. And come with me

    The result of the decision is guaranteed: 
    1. Whoever cares for his own safety is lost
    2. But if a man will let himself be lost for my sake, he will find his true self

    The disciple is not on his own, left to seek self-actualization, which is a new word for old-fashioned selfishness.  He is not “doing his thing” to find his own life or liberty or happiness.  He gives himself to a Master and in so doing leaves self behind.  Any ordinary life in any ordinary town provides ample opportunity to do this.  Riding on a New York bus recently, I saw a woman reach over and slide open a small section of a window.  The bus was very crowded, and I was glad for a little fresh air.  The window was angrily slammed shut by another woman.
    “It’s not really cold out,” said the first.  “Can’t we have a little air?”
    “Not on my back you can’t,” came the reply, a perfectly natural one.  

    The disciple, however, lives by a different rule, a rule not natural to anyone who is a sinner.  He will let himself be “lost.”  It is the great principle of the cross that he takes up—out of his own loss comes another’s gain, out of his discomfort another’s comfort.  How easily we profess a willingness to follow, imagining some notable work for God, some great martyrdom—but forget the first condition the minute there is a little cold air on the back of the neck. 

    **Excerpt originally published in “Discipline, the Glad Surrender” pp. 24-25.