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Mature Discipleship

by R. Kenneth Strachan

One of the greatest needs in the Christian today is maturity. It is the key to success, the foundation for spiritual growth, a chief requisite for meeting the tests and challenges of life. It is the basis of morale in the missionary.

By maturity, I mean that quality of tried discipleship which shows up in a settled attitude of obedience and trust in the Lord and in a positive acceptance of life with its laws and responsibilities. Because the mature disciple knows that the Lord is ruler over all and that his life is in His hands, he can co-operate in an organization, and work under authority. He is pliable yet constant and can alter his own desires according to time, persons and circumstances. He has learned to see a job through, to wait patiently, to live and let live.

It is this lack of maturity that is chiefly responsible for the young missionaries who return defeated and disillusioned from the mission field. And behind much of the frustration which plagues us on the field are those same traits against which we must carry on unceasing, exhausting fight.

Under fire or pressure, the immature individual cracks up; he can’t take it, and unconsciously seeks to run away. Where no special emergency or pressure is brought to bear upon him, he manifests his immaturity by a general lack of self-discipline in life–in work, personal habits, social relationships, spiritual culture, witnessing, etc.

You say, but isn’t maturity a matter of growth and won’t that come in due time–as a result of experience on the field? Yes, to some extent it is a matter of growth. But there is a foundation that has to be laid long before one ever gets to the mission field, and it’s because so many of us did not lay down this foundation properly that we have such a hard fight now–and some of us have given up. It frightens one to see so many child adults today in full-time Christian work. (Child adults beget child adults–spiritually as well as physically.) That is why I cannot think of anything more important in your preparation than this laying down of foundations for maturity.

Then how can I grow up?

You ask how one can go about this? What courses should you take? Or to whom should you go for counsel and help? That’s just the trouble! Today our whole educational set-up is one that breeds immaturity because it babies and nurses the individual along, spoon feeding him a smattering of knowledge, sheltering him from facing alone, as he ought, the major decisions of his life, and rationalizing failure for him by putting the blame for everything upon his childhood environment and upbringing. You can’t expect to get maturity as a premium for attending a two-hour semester course, and personnel counselors, while possibly helpful, can’t give it to you either. It’s up to you alone!

The first foundation stone for you today is an act of self-determination (if you haven’t come to it before) to really yield your life to the Lord and to take His cross into your bosom and His yoke upon your shoulders. Having thus seriously committed your life and recognizing that you can make it good only through the Holy Spirit who dwells in you for that purpose, your next step is to provide for a daily ratification of this major decision. And right here the cross and the yoke cease to be merely heroic symbols and become hard but healthy realities that start you on the road to adulthood.

But how do you go about this daily ratification? Just as an undisciplined life is a hallmark of immaturity, so a life of self-discipline (enabled thereto by the Holy Spirit) is the only road to maturity.

Therefore, as you analyze yourself and consider’ the various phases of your life and work, you will soon see where discipline needs to be applied. You will recognize that both your curricular and extra-curricular activities (carefully chosen) are God’s means for your training, and you will impose upon yourself all the necessary discipline for giving the most to those activities and thus getting the most out of them. It isn’t necessary for me to go into detail–but you should, as you thrash this thing out for yourself.

But let me suggest that you give priority to three points—because you will find these things of greatest need on the field and because you will probably have your principal battles over them.

A three-point formula

The first has to do with prayer. Do you know how to pray? I mean, have you had definite dealings with the Lord? Do you know what it is to wait upon Him in prayer to claim specific things and exact guidance, to wrestle with God, to pray through until the request is granted and the blessing received? It is indispensable that you learn.

It is hard for us, accustomed as we are to walk by sight, to realize that the chief weapon in our missionary walk and warfare is prayer, and that prayer is a hard discipline which–if not begun early in the Christian life–will rarely be mastered later on. But after you get out to the field and come to realize the invisible nature of our warfare and the stubborn strength of Satan’s strongholds and your own weakness and need, you will see the place of prayer and will long for the ability to lay hold of the Lord. And you ‘II discover that prayer is not learned in one easy lesson–not even in the hour of need; it is the product of long practice and discipline.

So lift your heart right now to God and ask Him to teach you to pray, and set yourself right away to begin that discipline of prayer.

The second point concerns self-denial. You ask me if it isn’t a bit out of date to talk of self-denial? Doesn’t it verge on medieval asceticism? Do you want me to wear a hair shirt? Time enough for that when one gets to the mission field.

Of course there’s no special virtue in self-denial for its own sake; as a matter of fact, it can lead to spiritual pride and pharisaism. But can you suggest some better way of discipleship than that which our Lord took and commanded? And can you suggest any better way of learning to deny self than by putting it to practice in the little things now? And don’t you know that it is just as easy, perhaps easier, to indulge yourself on the mission field than it is at home? Therefore how are you going to develop that self-control and that ability to endure hardness as a good soldier unless you begin now?

Well, then, if it is necessary how do you go about it, you ask? Here again this is something for you to determine for yourself. Bit it shouldn’t be hard, if you’ll let the Lord point it out. You’ll have no trouble determining in what ways to practice self-denial if you really mean business.

Let me warn you, however, against becoming a queer duck. You don’t have to wear a hair shirt for all the world to see. You don’t want to become a fanatic. But by the same token you don’t have to drift along with the soft and self-indulgent crowd.

Discipline for witnessing

Finally there is witnessing. While seeking every opportunity for experience in the work to which the Lord is apparently calling, remember that the fundamental activity and chief end of all Christian service is to win souls to Christ and to establish and edify the Church which is His Body. Therefore you will impose upon yourself the discipline of habitual witnessing and you will seek opportunities to learn and practice the art of personal evangelism, house-to-house evangelism, street evangelism, rescue mission work, and other work of this sort.

But you say that this is what you find most difficult and that you are not really gifted for this type of work. Isn’t it all too true! The fact is that practically all of us feel just the same way. But this work is basic to the missionary enterprise, and the weakness of the Church both at home and abroad is precisely this, that too many of us are concentrating on secondary, behind-the-lines activities in order to escape the discipline of in-season and out-of-season witnessing.

But you say that you don’t know how? Well, it’s up to you to learn. And how do you go about learning anything? How did you learn to walk? How did you learn to swim? How did you learn to play golf? And don’t you see it’s in the exercise of self-discipline right here–forcing yourself into the very activity which is normally so difficult–that you lay the foundation for your future work and become an adult?

One final word of advice. If you’re like some of us, you may fall down on this job of self-discipline at times. With each failure will come the temptation to give up the whole business and follow, as everyone else seems to be doing, the course of least resistance. But remember there is no other way, no short cut, no substitute road to maturity. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me. So when failure comes there’s only one thing to do. Set your face to it and come right back, and keep coming back, to this life of discipline. For it is only as we learn to take the cross and bear the yoke that we will lay the foundation of maturity for any successful and satisfying life-work.

Copyrighted, 1949, by Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship.
Used by permission of HIS Magazine.

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Philippians 4:13