A generation ago, Pastor Jack Miller asked Christian leaders a question that jumped hot and fresh off the page of Galatians 4 – What has happened to all your joy?
The question was not one we saw coming. It was like a high school exam, but we found we’d studied the wrong chapter. We were prepared for questions like, “Has your performance lagged?” (No, it hasn’t!) And, “Have you kept the rules?” (Of course!) And also, “Has your orthodoxy slipped?” (No, not us!) But those were not the questions we were asked.
Instead, the question the Spirit was asking through Jack had to do with, not the external, but the internal.
The Spirit was asking, Is the gospel alive in you?
Do you care about the glory of God?
Does what God’s done for you spill over into a heart of compassion for others?
We were being probed about the state of our hearts.
So too, when we mentor and disciple others, it’s important for us to remember that God is, first and foremost, relentlessly in pursuit of the human heart.
External measurements are not irrelevant – the outward fruit of life, whether wholesome or putrid, tells you something about the root of the tree.
But so often the fruit is frankly unremarkable unless you look more closely. Many of us still mostly “show up” for life and fulfill expectations. And if we’re showing up and checking the boxes, most people won’t usually inquire after what’s going on inside us.
But Jesus talked about a Father who is seeking worshipers who will worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23). The expiration date has not passed on that divine work – it is a present pursuit, an ongoing search! He is never content to let us punch the clock, bored by the Kingdom and indifferent to glory.
He is still, now as then, a jealous God who says to each of us, “My son, give me your heart” (Proverbs 23:26). And because God is that kind of God, so too must there always be mentors and disciplers who are attuned to that pursuit and who thrill to that hunt.
In discipleship, we can remain observant of the external, but we must be even more curious about the heart, aware that that is where the real drama of life begins and then flows outward.
When we stay rooted in that awareness, there are three ways it radically changes our ability and desire to participate in the Lord’s pursuit of others:
1.We know that the Lord is seeking us, too.
God’s pursuit is not just of other people, but still, today, of me. Every morning, I know, He’s after me. My heart is incorrigibly drawn toward other things, and every day He pursues me again. (Because His steadfast love is new every morning, so is His pursuit.)
And increasingly, we learn to welcome it – as in Psalm 139, the knowledge of God’s relentlessness (where can I flee from your Spirit?, v. 7) leads ultimately to inviting his pursuit (search me, O God, and know my heart, v. 23).
If you know that God pursues you, then you’re growing wise to the way that search plays out in your own life – and some of that practical life-wisdom is transferable to other people.
And though in some ways you join the hunt and participate in the Lord’s pursuit of others, you also know what it is to be the quarry – so you disciple as one who is fundamentally in the same boat, humble and not cocksure.
2.We know that the field of God’s concern is wide.
Not only is the Spirit’s pursuit narrow enough to include me; but it’s also wide enough to include the nations. The discipling of each ordinary person happens against the backdrop of a plan of redemption both ancient and broad.
And in that way, our ordinary heart-probing conversations are dignified by their place in that wide field of concern, each of them a specific expression of the Spirit’s work toward the reclamation of fallen humanity.
Because you know this, there’s extra courage for the work, extra confidence. You are not the first to blaze a trail through the wilderness – this was not your idea. No, you’ve only been recently invited to play a small part in the long-standing family business of God your Father and Christ your Brother, a work that long precedes you and that will continue after you’re gone.
You are not the first to engage in it and you won’t be the last – in every culture others are doing it in parallel with you. And that means, there is a road map for this. This is what the Spirit does – uses ordinary people. Are you weak? There is precedent for that!
From the beginning, the work has been done by weak men and women. This is the way it happens every day, all over the planet. This is normal and it is grand.
3.We know that the work is really the Lord’s work.
You’ve been invited to come along, to watch and listen, to open your mouth to speak when the time is right.
But if this is heart-work, then you know that you are powerless to make things happen.
As the Spirit equips you, you can be a “person of understanding” who draws out the deep purposes of a person’s heart (Proverbs 20:5) – but it is not yours to convict, or to transform, or to make new.
Because you know this, you are entirely dependent on the Spirit for any good fruit.
That means you can try and fail. Sometimes you’ll be awkward, sometimes you’ll be incoherent. All is well – it never depended on you.
And sometimes the day of the Lord’s breakthrough will be the day when you babbled and made no sense at all. So that He gets the glory – but in His kindness, you got to be there when He did it.
Too much of ministry is about the external: Get people to come. Teach them to talk the talk. Orient them more adequately to the rules.
The fruit is important. But there are even better things.
As God continues to seek your heart, so also get a vision for His pursuit of your neighbor’s heart (whether she is inside the church or not.) Listen to your neighbor’s story. Pay attention – and know that, ultimately, He is seeking worshipers whose hearts belong to Him.
Be attuned to God’s pursuit, let your heart thrill with the hunt, and come along.
Do you want to grow in mentoring or discipling others?
Discipleship Lab is an online discipleship training program that brings together all of the best practices Serge has gleaned through more than 25 years of helping people experience gospel transformation in their lives. It’s created to equip both formal church leaders and lay leaders to make disciples who make more disciples.
Find out more at www.serge.org/discipleship-lab