A disciple of Jesus is what exactly?
Should a disciple be defined as an ultra spiritual person, able to appear at a moments notice, offering words of wisdom and knowledge?
Or is a disciple a person who travels from town to town carrying meager possessions, dusting their feet when they aren’t welcomed?
Could a disciple be simply understood as a person who sits in pews each and every Sunday, singing songs, and patiently listening to sermons?
Or am I just drumming up the term disciple too much?
Maybe there’s nothing more to it than putting a hand up in a darkly lit church meeting, and repeating prayers with the practiced users of microphones.
It’s with these thoughts that I have become increasing unsure of what a disciple of Jesus looks like.
How are we disciple-like? In what manner is a person a disciple? Is it in the way they speak? The way they act? Or is it in the brand of Christianity they adhere to?
The question keeps ringing out; how do I live in such a way, that I live as a genuine disciple of Jesus?
For over 6 months now, my wife (Rhiannon) and I have been living as “missionaries” in a foreign land. After years of feeling like we were living in exile, like we were empty of vision or hope, Rhiannon and I decided to dive off the deep end, and move from Australia to Cambodia. We wanted to put feet to our faith, and for us, we felt like Cambodia was to become our new home.
Just the other day, I was anxiously swerving my small motorcycle through the disregarding Phnom Penh traffic. Rhiannon and I were on our way to our local market, and on our way we passed a local slum village.
The slum is squashed between two residential blocks, built into a long and winding ally way. From the vantage point of the main service road, the far- reaching sight of tried and faded blue plastic tarps, barely protecting families from the elements, greets the observer. There is no running water, no electricity, and no safe environment for children to enjoy their childhood.
Rhiannon urgently tapped my shoulder.
With a hint of disappointment, she leaned over and told me that a father and his young son had been traveling on a moto next to us while we passed the slum. The father had covered his child’s eyes as they had passed the slum area, only to uncover the child’s eyes when they had traveled far enough ahead.
I was shocked and surprised.
The father and child were both Cambodians.
This is their nation.
My wife and I are aliens, far from home.
And we can’t bring ourselves to cover our own eyes from what we see, let alone anybody else’s.
I’m not sure why the father covered his child’s eyes. I don’t know if he is ashamed of the slum, or he wishes to shield his son. I don’t know if he’s trying to show respect to the slum dwellers in his own way, or “saving face.”
I don’t know the man, and probably never will. But I know how it feels to have covered eyes. There have been times in my own life when I have made the effort to cover my eyes from the things that challenged me, the things that were out of my way, or an inconvenience to my way of life, and the life of my family.
I’d cover my eyes through empty words, and half-hearted responses.
I’d look the other way, or steer people in the other direction.
I’d do my best to insulate myself.
I found an easy grove in empty words. I could talk about love, and hope, and peace, but I found that because of my inaction, I didn’t know how to bring those words to life.
It took a while, but I became dissatisfied with the type of follower of Christ I had become.
The more I’ve had my eyes uncovered, the more my ideas of what discipleship is have had to adjust and enlarge.
Being a disciple of Jesus is as much about the external as it is about the internal life we live.
When I think about the Scriptures where Jesus sent his disciples out, I think of the fact that in sending them out, Jesus was sending out the ambassadors of Heaven’s Kingdom. People who would live and serve in the same manner as Jesus himself. People who would leave their comfort zones, and offer their peace and abilities every place they visited.
It’s this active engagement of other people and their stories that has been such a challenge to me. I have preferred to live out my faith behind the closed doors of my private space, but instead, I find that the Jesus that I have tried to draw close to through my empty words would rather see that I am out and about doing the work of a disciple.
I have been working on a book with a friend here in Cambodia. We have been meeting each week to discuss how people can serve faithfully in their callings and desire, about how we all need a little clarity to light our paths, and about how our motivations for serving, seeking and following Jesus can influence all that we set our hearts and hands to do.
We have recently found ourselves discussing and praying over Jesus’ response to the teacher of the law’s question on which commandment was the most important. Jesus said that the fulfillment of the law comes when we love God with;
All our Heart
All our Soul
All our Mind
All our Strength.
And to love our neighbors as ourselves.
My friend and I continue to wrestle with this challenge; how we can encourage and allow this commandment to permeate through our lives. To move beyond the positive words, and into the action that language like Love, Heart, Soul, Mind, Strength and Neighbor, should provoke.
Meeting in an open-air street stall. Talking over a Kafe-dik-duk-koe duk-kor (Iced Coffee with Milk), we are encouraging each other to understand what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
I hope I never cover my eyes again.