I was recently amazed to learn about all the training and preparation service and guide dogs are required to go through. After pups are one year old they are assessed for intelligence, temperament, aggression and sensitivity to touch and sound. The dogs are scored in character and temperament and if they pass they are deemed that they are ready for formal training, not ready and have to try again, or are unsuitable is a guide dog.
If initially found suitable as a service animal, the dogs then undergo a four-month training program. During this time they will learn and have to be confident in:
Walking in a straight line without sniffing.
Walking on the left hand side slightly ahead of the trainer.
Stopping at all curbs.
Waiting for a command before crossing roads.
Stopping at the top and bottom of stairs.
Avoiding head high obstacles.
Avoid spaces too narrow for a dog and person to navigate.
Board and travel on all forms of public transportation.
Take the trainer to an elevator button.
Learn 40 commands.
Lay quietly in restaurants and workplace.
Intelligently disobey commands that could lead the handler into danger.
The overall time devoted to training these dogs is about two years!
After learning about all the training and work involved in producing a service animal I began wondering, " What would be possible if Christians took their development and learning to be like Jesus this seriously?"
If we were intentional and devoted to our relationship and training with Jesus… what would we look and live like in six months – let alone two years! Today we're going to talk about what it means to be fully devoted to Jesus. We are going to discover what it means to be a disciple – to be a become "guide Christians" much like the "guide dogs" I mentioned earlier.
Disciple is an interesting word. We usually associate it with the 12 that followed Jesus – Peter, James, Andrew, and so on. They were Jesus first disciples, but not his only students. If we recognize the truth of the role of being a disciple – all Christians are to be Jesus students.
"The word disciple in the Greek language means "student" or "learner". It was common in ancient times to teachers to attract followers that were exclusively committed to the teaching of one teacher. These teachers would train their students on an intern basis. The student would leave their home, move in with the teacher and serve him. The disciple was expected not only to lean all that his rabbi/teacher knew, but was also to become like him in character. In turn the teacher provided food and lodging for the student. It was his way of insuring that his teaching was carried over to future generations. When the gospel of Mark says that Jesus appointed 12 that "might be like him," (Mark 3:14) Mark was referring to this custom. (Dictionary of Bible words, Lawrence O. Richards)"
Jesus did not invite the original disciples or us to be casual acquaintances; he invites us to be his disciples – his fully devoted followers. What do you think a disciple looks like? Lets look at some more passages to give us more insight.
A DISCIPLE IS PREPARED TO PAY THE PRICE.
What is the price of discipleship? Mark 8:34-35 gives us some direction.
Mark 8:34-35 (NIV)
34Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35For whoever wants to save his life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.
1.Come after me – The crowd had a decision to make. They can choose to carry on living life they way they have been, for their own purpose and gain or they can choose to become a disciple of Jesus. They will first have to let go of life lived on their own terms and be willing to live in obedience to Jesus. Jesus has to become their teacher, tutor and leader. The people have to take on the role of student.
A person who wants to become a disciple of Jesus needs to admit their need for forgiveness of sin in their life asks Jesus into their life and make a decision to pursue living a life like Jesus lived.
-This is similar to a puppy that goes into training to become a guide dog understanding that he has to leave behind his old way of life for a new one.
2. DENY YOURSELF – The Christian life is a life of saying "no" to selfish desire and "yes" to God. It is the acknowledgement that you are no longer living to please yourself. Your life's purpose is now to see and take action to meet the needs of others over the desires of your own heart.
-Like a guide dog that sits quietly at his owner's feet in a busy restaurant, while deep down he's like to run over get some attention from people across the room. Instead, he sits obediently with his owner living for a greater purpose than a tummy rub.
3. TAKE UP YOUR CROSS – Taking up your cross has more to do with your attitude in life than the circumstances you find yourself in. Taking up your cross is a daily decision to live your life in a way that honors Jesus. Taking up your cross is the daily application of the lessons and principles Jesus taught. It's putting all that discipleship and training into action!
- Like a guide dog in action. Walking his owner to safety across a busy street full of noise and distraction.
4. FOLLOW ME – When ever you play the game follow the leader, it is the group's job to duplicate everything they do. The leader touches his/her nose and everyone else has to touch their nose or they are out. Just like a guide dog is trained to follow the leader's commands, we as Christians need to be trained and follow the principles that Jesus taught.
- The Christian life consists of following Jesus – of doing what he would do as best as we can in each and every situation of life. You may not be able to open the eyes of the blind, but you can show compassion. You may not be able to feed thousands with a little fish and bread, but you can be sensitive to the needs of others.
Following Jesus means making an effort in every situation to do what Jesus would do and that comes down to treating people as Jesus would treat them. There is a price to discipleship – it is self-sacrifice and surrendering your own agenda to following after God's purpose.
Within this strange and quickened dust…
Oh God, within this strange and quickened dust
The beating heart controls the coursing blood
In discipline that holds in check the flood
But cannot stem corrosion and dark rust.
In flesh's solitude I count it blest
That only you, My Lord, can see my heart
With passion's darkness tearing it apart
But your love breaks through blackness, burst with light;
We separate ourselves, but you rebind
In dayspring all our fragments; body, mind
And spirit join, unite against the night.
Healed by your love, corruption and decay are turned,
And whole, we greet the light of day.
In this poem by Madeline L'Engle she discusses the conflict of being human and desiring to be close to God. She comments on the frailty of our bodies and our own tendency to fall apart. It is her comfort that God is capable of being healed by love so to start each day with expectation and possibility.
Being a disciple of Jesus is a calling that takes surrender to God, the ability to follow direction, taking up living for God's purpose and not your own, and putting all that learning into action by taking up your cross.
Matthew 11: 27-29
28"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
In the midst of becoming a disciple it's important to remember that we are not alone in the journey. Jesus says that it is possible to rest while we carry his burden. " Take my yoke upon you" may sound like a heavy burden, but a yoke is meant for two oxen. When we take up a life that follows after Jesus, we are not left to carry the weight of burden alone. Jesus is not only our teacher and rabbi. Jesus is out yoke mate.
Jesus is calling us to follow him in all circumstances of life. If we take up his yoke we not alone. We have been promised that,
In all things God works for the good of those who love him, [j] who [k] have been called according to his purpose. "Romans 8:28
Jesus is calling us to follow him into a changed life of expectation, hope and purpose. Will you take up the cross of love and follow? The adventure is waiting.
A disciple is a student or learner. Being a disciple of Jesus is a leaning process that takes a lifetime. No matter if you are new in your relationship with Jesus or you've been a disciple for years, the process is the same. Take up your cross – what you've learned about Jesus – and follow him every day.
Taking on Jesus' yoke requires that we leave something behind. You can't pick up something new if your hands are already full. We sometimes think we've arrived or have learned all we can learn and that our lives are already full. We have only begun to learn what it is to follow Jesus. Let go of carrying your burdens by yourself. Let go of what you thought was so important and take up the yoke that gives a life of purpose here on earth as well as in eternity.