“Anyone who listens to my teaching and puts it into practice is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock.” Matthew 7:24
Dallas Willard wrote relentlessly urging Christians to place real, rugged apprenticeship to Jesus back at the center of Christian faith and the church’s task. The problem, Willard says, is that “The idea of having faith in Jesus has come to be totally isolated from being his apprentice and learning how to do what he said” (The Divine Conspiracy).
Jesus’ brother said it first. We cannot be “hearers of the word only, but also doers” (James 1:22). We either have a faith that seeks to obey and put into practice Jesus’ teachings, or we don’t have true faith at all. According to James, such people are “deceiving” themselves. “Faith without actions is no faith at all” (James 2:14ff). Another way to put it is:
“The idea that you can trust Christ and not intend to obey him is an illusion…. In fact, you can no more trust Jesus and not intend to obey him than you could trust your doctor or your auto mechanic and not intend to follow their advice. If you do not intend to follow their advice, you simply do not trust them” (Willard).
We have inherited a brand of Christianity that has equated “belief” in Jesus with giving mere mental assent to certain spiritual ideas, usually pertaining to the afterlife, but that rarely have any impact our everyday thinking and acting. We need to become apprentices of Jesus and enroll in his class on Kingdom Living. Jesus’ last words to his disciples were very clear:
“Train them to do everything I have told you” (Matt 28:20).
“The greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heartbreaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as ‘Christians’ will become disciples – students, apprentices, practitioners – of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence.” -From The Great Omission
Willard would have us to look around the church today, and ask how many programs or classes actually help people apply Jesus’ radical ethics to concrete situations. Are there people gathering together to learn how to love their obstinate neighbor who is making their life as miserable as possible? Are we offering classes on how to better forgive our offenders? When was the last sermon series on how to control lust, turn from anger, or “go the second mile” for those who are trying to take advantage of us?
I have scratched my head and pondered for years now how best to “make apprentices” of Jesus in a local church context, in a way that places adherence to Jesus and his teachings at the center of the process. The idea/vision I have toyed with (mostly in my head) is what I call the “Jesus: LifeCoach” model.
This concept is simple but disarmingly personal. I invite people who want to join Jesus in becoming more like him, to choose one area of their life to focus on, and meet with me and Jesus (through the Spirit and under the authority of Jesus’ words in the Gospels) to explore Jesus’ wisdom on this or that specific life issue.
I ask people the question: If you could sit down for a 90-minute conversation with Jesus, what areas of your life would you want to talk to him about?
I would give people a long list ahead of time of areas/topics to consider and ask them to circle the top 3-5 they would like Jesus’ wisdom and perspective on for starters. The list includes things such as:
- Relationship Issues
- Depression/Mental Health
- Handling Stress
- Employment Problems
- Enduring Hardships
- Family Issues
- Marriage Problems
- Fear of Failure
- Purpose/Meaning of life
- Heaven, Hell & Afterlife
- Coping with Death/Loss
- Body Image / Weight Issues
- Fear of Future
- Violence/Abuse Issues
- Faith & Doubt
- Evil & Suffering
- Decision Making
The couple times I have experimented with this model, people have typically been (1) surprised that Jesus might actually have thoughts and opinions on such “non-religious” practical things, and (2) they are a bit hesitant to open up such personal areas of their lives to me (as their pastor) and Jesus. They are happy to have Jesus as their savior (i.e., “fire insurance” for the after life) but not quite sure they want him for a Life Coach meddling in their here-and-now business. Again, Willard:
“Our most serious failure today is the inability to provide effective practical guidance as to how to live the life of Jesus. And I believe that is due to this very real loss of biblical realism for our lives.” -From The Spirit of the Disciplines
While have no problem worshiping Christ as savior of the World and making him Lord of our spiritual life, but when it comes to the everyday stuff of our lives — finances, relationships, career choices, parenting, etc. — we trust the advice of other human experts more.
“We are ready to believe that the “latest studies” have more to teach us about love and sex than he does, and that Louis Rukeyser knows more about finances. “Dear Abby” can teach us more about how to get along with our family members and co-workers, and Carl Sagan is a better authority on the cosmos” (Divine Conspiracy).
Yet, we are talking about the one through whom stars and galaxies came into existence, the one who still holds the universe into existence by the power of his word:
“He is not just nice, he is brilliant. He is the smartest man who ever lived. He is now supervising the entire course of world history (Rev. 1:5) while simultaneously preparing the rest of the universe for our future role in it (John 14:2). He always has the best information on everything and certainly also on the things that matter most in human life.”
I hope to continue developing and offering this model of discipleship to folks under my spiritual care, and I hope more will have the courage and desire to schedule a 90-minute “consultation” with Jesus, our Life Coach, and I hope I am able to steward and pass on Jesus’ wisdom to others in ways that inspire, shape, heal and transform people more and more into the likeness of Christ!
All of this takes time and intentionality. Many have slotted out Sunday mornings for God, and filled the rest of their weeks with a dizzying amount of activities and appointments. My challenge to you all: At least be as intentional about scheduling regular check up appointments with Jesus (via your pastor, a mentor, small group, etc.) as you are about your dentist visits!
I’ll leave you to ponder one more great Willard quote to whet your appetite for a more personal, life-on-life apprentice relationship with Jesus as Life Coach:
“Individually the disciple and friend of Jesus who has learned to work shoulder to shoulder with his or her Lord stands in this world as a point of contact between heaven and earth, a kind of Jacob’s ladder by which the angels of God may ascend from and descend into human life. Thus the disciple stands as an envoy or a receiver by which the kingdom of God is conveyed into every quarter of human affairs.” -From Hearing God
This is a repost from September 2017.