One of the great ways of measuring your discipleship is to consider how you interact with those who cannot do anything for you. Of course there isn’t really anyone in the world who cannot offer themselves, so in that sense everyone is capable of giving something, but there are some who are not capable of offering us the things we normally seek. An example of this is a homeless person. One of the reasons we tend to pass a homeless person is that we cannot have the normal relationships of mutual giving we are used to. They would have much to offer us in experience but their distance from our experience makes us too uncomfortable to sit with them and engage in conversation.
Another group that falls into this category but doesn’t get much discussion is the elderly. As the pastor of a church with a significant number of people over 80 I have the opportunity to interact with the elderly on a regular basis. What this usually means is going to someone’s home, sitting, and listening to stories of their lives and their children and grandchildren. Sometimes it is more difficult than that. One woman I went to visit was pretty much deaf, even with hearing aids, so for an hour she spoke a little and then I yelled in return to try and be heard. Then there’s the elderly woman who comes to Bible study and interrupts every few minutes to share the same story over and over because she doesn’t remember she’s told it over a hundred times before.
No one would want to say it, but I think the easiest thing to do with the elderly is to see them as distractions and inconveniences to the real life we have going on. It’s easy for me to see the woman at Bible study as a distraction from the real stuff we’re trying to discuss or the woman I have to yell at as an inconvenience taking me away from “real ministry.” This attitude is one endorsed by our culture. Too often it’s endorsed by our churches too. I went years in the church without thinking one bit about the elderly because there were few if any around. We just structured ministry in a way the elderly didn’t like. The few that were around had their own class they could be a part of where we didn’t have to think about them much.
Compare this to what the Bible says about the elderly.
“Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD.” Leviticus 19:32
“Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” Job 12:12
“The eye that mocks a father, that scorns an aged mother, will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley, will be eaten by the vultures.” Proverbs 30:17
Certainly there are way more passages relating to the elderly than these three, but these three point out a few important things. 1) The elderly are worthy of respect. 2) There is wisdom the elderly have that you can only gain by long life. 3) God’s not a huge fan of disrespecting the elderly. Overall, it is important that we treat the elderly with respect and value the gift they are to each of us and to our churches.
Two things I take away from how we deal with the elderly. First, being transformed by Christ leads to showing love, respect, and dignity for those who the rest of culture belittles or dismisses–the elderly fall in that category. If we do not value the elderly because being with them can be difficult or uncomfortable then we are veering from the Way of Jesus. Disciples of Jesus will have hearts that are shaped to show compassion and love to all people, including the elderly. Second, we are the ones who lose when we set up our lives and the lives of our churches to avoid the elderly. We lose a wealth of wisdom. We lose the chance to see people of great faith face death. We lose the opportunity to be shaped by situations that require great patience. We fail to be confronted by a God who wants us to be with people who cannot expand our social network or church ministries.
In pursuing discipleship I challenge you to find ways to foster at least one or two relationships with the elderly.
I am a big proponent of seeing discipleship as something that impacts every moment of life. From the way I talk to my kids in the morning to how I handle the guy that cuts me off in traffic to the way I use my time at work and so on, all of life is about discipleship. It is about having my very self transformed into something that looks increasingly like Jesus and his way.
But I have to admit that I have little pockets built into my life that are immune to the impact of my desire to be a disciple of Jesus. It’s not about doing things that don’t fit with the way of Jesus as much as it’s about areas of my life that exist without ever coming under scrutiny. For example, most evenings after putting the kids to bed and doing a little work around the house my wife and I plop down on our couches (yes, we each have our own couch) to watch one or two (okay, sometimes 3) shows. This is something we do consistently and I seldom give any consideration to how my discipleship might impact that habit.
My point here isn’t to say I shouldn’t watch any TV, but that I have this built-in time off from discipleship. An hour or so of my day that has a force field around it. It is easy to build time off from discipleship into our lives. Most of the time it’s not planned or conscious, it’s just what we do. Today I find myself challenged–not necessarily to cut out all TV from my life–but to not have any pockets of life that are free from being formed by my discipleship of Jesus.
Thousands of years ago, many people’s ideas of God were very primitive. They worshiped sticks and stones, earth and water, the sun and the moon. Now thanks to science we know how silly they were, and we are much more “advanced.”
But many people today still have an odd concept of God. They worship vending machines and butlers. What I mean is that the way that they interact with God is the same as you would a vending machine or a butler. They don’t usually want much to do with God, and they definitely don’t want God interfering with their lives. But if they have a real need or problem, then they cry out to God to fix everything or clean up their mess.
If you think about it, treating God like a vending machine is as silly as believing some stick is God.
What do your typical interactions with God look like? Are you always asking Him for things? Do you constantly expect Him to meet your needs and take care of you, and yet if you’re honest you treat Him as if He was just a lowly servant?
Do you respect God? Do you fear God? Do you see yourself as His servant and your purpose on this earth is to make things better for Him? Do you live for Him, or do you just act like He lives for you?
I think we’re still pretty primitive… we’re full of backwards thinking. We live as if we’re God, and God is our creation that we get to boss around. How messed up is that?
Let me leave you with an even deeper thought… if our concept of God doesn’t line up with who the Bible reveals God to truly be, then do we know (or have a real relationship with) the one true God? Is God your God? Or have you made yourself God?
Tim Bordeaux is the Student Minister of Youth and Worship at North Manchester First Brethren Church. This post was originally published here.
Unique Conformity is about reigniting the Church to be devoted and active disciples of Jesus. There are many reasons why this is important, but I came across an article that exposes one of these reasons today–lack of real discipleship is an important part of the reason so many young people are leaving the Christian faith. In his article entitled “The Leavers: Young Doubters Exit the Church”, Drew Dyck says;
“I realized that most leavers had been exposed to a superficial form of Christianity that effectively inoculated them against authentic faith. When sociologist Christian Smith and his fellow researchers examined the spiritual lives of American teenagers, they found most teens practicing a religion best called “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” which casts God as a distant Creator who blesses people who are “good, nice, and fair.” Its central goal is to help believers “be happy and feel good about oneself.”
Where did teenagers learn this faith? Unfortunately, it’s one taught, implicitly and sometimes explicitly, at every age level in many churches. It’s in the air that many churchgoers breathe, from seeker-friendly worship services to low-commitment small groups. When this nave and coldly utilitarian view of God crashes on the hard rocks of reality, we shouldn’t be surprised to see people of any age walk away.”
We are failing our friends, children, and grandchildren because we’re missing the boat on discipleship! There are many reasons discipleship is important, but certainly this is one of them. We have to make changes. We have to start getting this right or we will see more people leave the Christian faith because they weren’t taught or exposed to the real thing to begin with.
Discipleship is not just something for adults. In fact, the way we go about discipling kids is really important. Over time we’ll be featuring posts on what discipleship looks like in many different areas, and today we want to share one about parenting from Michelle Lee. She is a stay-at-home mom of two who is passionate about teaching her kids to follow Jesus–to find their own unique conformity. Here is a recent post from her blog about teaching kids to pray.
Teaching Kids to Pray
Lately our kids have been taking a break from wanting to pray. This pains me since it is one of the most important parts of a Christian’s life. We decided to make a daily prayer sheet for our kids for each day of the month with what they could pray for. I actually got this idea from Isaiah’s teacher. She sent home a list of each child in the class and asked the kids to pray for each child every day of the week. It really motivated Isaiah, as he would ask, who am I praying for tonight? I love that. Our list includes family members, our church, the poor, the Holy Spirit to be working, friends, community, etc. It would be fun to cater your list to your family. I am excited to see how this ignites our kids passion for prayer!