We’ve all had our rough spots in our journey to follow Jesus. But have you ever experienced the challenge to extend grace to someone with a difficult discipleship journey?
As Christians and disciple-makers, one of the things that excite us the most is the prospect of leading someone to Christ.
When a person shows interest in knowing Christ, we are willing to go the extra mile just to lead the person to Jesus. We overlook the cringey Facebook posts; we lovingly correct the occasional cursing; we patiently guide the person toward overcoming his or her struggles; and we are willing to repeat the same things over and over again.
But as soon as the person becomes a Christian, it seems like our “standards” begin to level up. All of a sudden, the person is expected to be mature and self-controlled in every aspect of his life and to be a good Christian at all times. The longer the person has been a Christian, the thinner our patience seems to run.
But each of us is still a work in progress.
The Bible describes us as “God’s workmanship”—a tool that’s being sharpened on God’s anvil; an unfinished painting on His canvas; a great novel that is still being written; a sweet melody to a yet unfinished song.
We are still rough around the edges. We are imperfect and flawed. From time to time, we still struggle with sin, give in to temptation, or revert to our old habits and behaviors.
But the good news is that we are being transformed by God, making us more and more like Him as we are changed into His glorious image (2 Corinthians 3:18). This is what the Bible calls “sanctification.” We are being perfected and pruned until we reach perfection.
Yes, God is not finished with us yet.
This truth also applies to the people we’re discipling. Just like us, they still struggle, fail, and give in to sin. When we forget the fact that God is not finished with them yet, we can resort to these negative responses:
We blame ourselves. We ask ourselves what we did wrong or where we fell short. We let our self-doubts and insecurities take over, resulting in bitterness, anger, or frustration.
We pass negative judgment. When the person that we’re discipling backslides or falls into sin, we tend to respond in anger, frustration, or disappointment. This results in the person feeling condemned, ashamed, or judged.
We give up on the person. We grow more and more weary of extending patience and understanding until we lose the desire to guide the person.
But discipleship isn’t a mission to fix people. It is an invitation from God to partner with Him as He does His transformative work in a person’s life.
All of us are mere recipients of grace. The grace that pardons our sins is the same grace that will remind us to love and guide the people that He entrusted to us.
Here are some truths that we must remember in order to help us disciple others with grace:
The person’s transformation doesn’t depend on how good we are at discipling. Sure, our efforts and faithfulness contribute a lot in helping others follow Jesus. But it is God alone who can transform a person’s heart.
This is what Paul was addressing in 1 Corinthians 3. According to him, all of us are mere servants who were assigned by God to plant or water the seed of faith in people’s hearts, but it is only God who makes the seed grow (1 Corinthians 3:5–7).
I pray that you will be released from the false burden of seeing immediate transformation in the people you disciple. It is God who works in them, in the same way that it is God who works in you and transforms you.
Frustrations arise when we measure people according to our own level of maturity or our own perspective. Thank God, He knows each of us completely and He deals with us uniquely as individuals. Psalm 139 describes how much God knows us; He knows even the intimate and untold details of our humanity.
Therefore, we can trust that as God does His work in the people we’re discipling, He is dealing with them in a way that will effectively lead them toward greater maturity or intimacy with Him.
All the efforts that you pour and invest in the life of the person you’re discipling will bear fruit. They are never in vain. In fact, God is more committed than we are in carrying out His purpose and design for each of us.
So, in light of these things, how can we disciple someone in a way that reflects God’s grace?
Since discipleship is a partnership with God, we must keep in step with Him. As you pray for the person you’re discipling, ask God to give you wisdom about the things that He is teaching and dealing with in that person’s heart.
As you gain understanding about the season that God has placed that person in, you will be able to disciple the person more effectively and even patiently.
Discipleship would have been easy if the people we’re discipling just did whatever we told them to, right? But that’s not discipleship. That’s manipulation and control. God doesn’t override people’s will, so neither should we.
Discipleship isn’t about making people conform to our standards and expectations. We disciple them to help them follow Jesus, not to behave as we expect them to behave. It’s about helping them to become more like Christ, not to become more like us.
Instead, we must make room for God to do His work. God is sovereign and in control. He uses even our mistakes and disobedience to accomplish His plans. In the end, we will see that God really makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
Because we know that only God can transform a person, we rely on the Holy Spirit as we disciple people.
The best expression of our reliance on God is through prayer. Discipleship is a spiritual battle. When we pray, we are fighting against spiritual forces that desire to harm, mislead, deceive, or destroy people’s lives. Through prayer, we call upon the power of God to protect our friends and to save them from the enemy’s attacks.
When the person you’re discipling seems to have backslidden, don’t lose hope. Pray fervently for that person. Nobody is beyond the grace and the power of God.
Don’t give up. Don’t give in to disappointment and discouragement. As you entrust the person’s discipleship journey to God, you can focus on loving the person genuinely without pressure or expectation.
So, be a friend who loves at all times. Stick with the person and love the person just as Christ loves him or her.
Throughout my 21-year journey as a Christian, I have received so much grace from God. He never gives up and He never turns His back on me. When I’m tempted to give up on people or whenever I feel frustrated with their unwise decisions, I remember the mercy and grace that I myself have received countless times.
May our own experience with God’s grace inspire us to extend the same grace to the people we’re discipling.
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