Living for the Kingdom isn’t easy. It was never told to us that it would be. But we aren’t left to fend for ourselves. Jesus calls us to come and find rest in Him, to learn and grow beside Him, and find joy as the character and sacrifice of Christ is revealed and made known to our hearts.
The Yoke of Discipleship
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." – Matthew 11:28-30
To give this some context – a yoke is a harness used by farmers to link two oxen together, which would then pull a plow or some other type of equipment. When a farmer has a new ox that needs to be trained in a yoke, the farmer may often pair it with a more experienced ox. The more experienced ox helps the farmer establish the rhythms and acts as a guide for the newer ox.
When Jesus calls us to come to Him and take His yoke, it isn’t a passing of the harness from Jesus to us, but rather it is the call to put ourselves under the yoke with Christ. He says to “learn from me,” meaning him who is more disciplined, knowledgeable, and trained. The yoke that we carry on our own is heavy, but by coming under the yoke of Christ, we can begin to learn and grow from the more experienced ox. The yoke of Christ doesn’t make life itself easier (in fact, some would say life gets harder). What it does do is teach us how to find rest in something infinitely greater than the challenges of life.
As we grow and learn these truths, we continue to mature in Christ's likeness. An overflow of that is making disciples, so that they may come to know the love of Jesus too. We must bring them under the yoke of Christ with us, where we become the more experienced ox. This is no easy task; Jesus teaches in Luke 6:40 that “a disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher”.
That statement is incredibly challenging. Do you feel confident that you could be Christ’s image bearer for a new believer to imitate? If not, what do you think is keeping you from having an abundant desire to see others grow in Christ, and is keeping you from living a life for Christ accordingly? Although living a discipleship minded life can be time-consuming, sacrificial, and antithetical to the world we live in, there is great joy in seeing others grow under the yoke of Christ.
The Joy of Discipleship
When someone completes something that they have been working towards for a long time (like riding a bike for the first time, graduating college, or a getting a promotion), you may experience happiness, excitement, surprise, or some other emotion towards or for them.
But what about joy? What even is joy, anyway?
That’s an entirely different topic, but simply put, joy exists apart from any one emotion. It is a fruit of the Spirit, and is demonstrated as something not from the heart of man but rather the Spirit of Truth exuding out of man. Fruits of the Spirit are outward representations of inward transformation. It is often in the case of suffering or tribulations (which is often void of happiness) that joy can appear most clearly.
Jesus is the ultimate example of this, as John 13-17 intently describes. At the onset of the passion narrative, Jesus reveals and shares many final thoughts with His disciples. A remarkable quote in the midst of it all was this:
“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15),
“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:15).
In this moment, Jesus has recognized His followers as those who have grown from the simple men whom He called three years prior, to now being the leaders who would begin the Commission of the Kingdom. He had great joy in sharing in life and seeing them grow, and even though He knew He was headed for the cross, that joy exceeded the suffering. Jesus still made known His love for them. What joy we should have when seeing those who are young in Christ grow up and into spiritual maturity.
This is the beauty of discipleship – that just as we were trained up with care and compassion, but also through the sacrifice and commitment of someone, we too can and should go and do likewise.
In the end, the joy of seeing the Gospel take its full affect is worth everything it took to get there.
As we start and work through the next few years together, here are a few final thoughts regarding discipleship:
- We’re called to make disciples, not converts. Discipleship is not a one-time event, but a continuous journey.
- You may till the soil, you may plant the seed, or you may water and feed, but Jesus always gives the growth in discipleship (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). You may never see the end, but you may very well have helped in the beginning.
- Not all discipling relationships need to be a more mature Christian guiding a less mature Christian (Paul / Timothy relationship). There is great need for Paul / Barnabas (peer discipleship) relationships as well.
- Discipleship will look different in different stages of life. What you experienced in college will be different than what is possible when married with kids. But the principles stay the same – make time for each other and live life with one another. Establishing rhythms, no matter how small, begin to tune the heart accordingly.
- Discipleship has always been, and will always be, a long obedience in the same direction. Discipling relationships may last only for a season, but our walks with Christ go until the end. As you go, go together.