Reflecting on Discipleship

Pebbles and seashells on the shore as waves crash

Following Jesus does not require us to be perfect. Only with Jesus can we be refined, redeemed, and restored.



As a culture, we can be obsessed with the notion of perfection. We curate our lives through social media, showing only the best of ourselves, of our families, of our work. We engage in constant comparison, aiming to separate the best from the worst. In a manicured and manufactured world, mistakes and missteps can feel like the end of the line, leaving shame and disappointment in their wake. This misunderstanding of a standard of perfection can also impart feelings of high expectations that to be a good disciple of Jesus we must be perfect in our faith.

Plagued by these unrealistic expectations, we often forget the examples of discipleship in scripture; that disciples of Jesus were imperfect human beings seeking Jesus. Peter took his eyes off Jesus and nearly drowned. Later he denied Jesus, three times. Martha lost her focus on what mattered most when Jesus was sitting right before her. These are the examples of disciples who followed and loved Jesus. They all fell short of perfection but kept coming back to the one who continues to transform lives through forgiveness. Only with Jesus can we be refined, redeemed, and restored.

In this life, we will not avoid all poor decisions or any wrestling with our faith. Discipleship is merging our brokenness with the willingness to seek Jesus even in the messiest tangles of imperfections and failures. It is accepting that no fault is unseen and yet grace is given. That all our broken edges are known and yet forgiveness is given. That all shame and guilt are laid out before God and yet unconditional love is poured out. The truest form of discipleship is surrendering all that holds us back and knowing that following Jesus means being a work in progress, always pursuing and coming back to Jesus even when we wish to hide our faces from him.

When the disciples wavered, Jesus would continue to guide them with intention. When Peter was afraid and lost sight of Jesus, he caught Peter and reminded him of his faith. When Thomas asked for proof of the resurrected Jesus, he showed Thomas his hands and side. When the disciples asked Jesus to turn away the hungry crowds, Jesus instructed them not to and instead fed the 5,000. In all the times the disciples fell short, Jesus asked them to trust him and to have faith in him. He offered visions of a new and beautiful world, reminders of truth, and comfort in these moments. No shame, no condemnation.

The Latin meaning of the word “disciple” is not directly translated to “follower”. It is actually “student”. While in the religious context, the Christian meaning of discipleship has been equated to being a “follower” of Jesus, we might better view discipleship as being a student of the teacher in order to become more like the teacher. Students need someone to learn from by example; students need a relationship with someone who is an expert. And students need to try and fail. What matters most, in the end, is that a student grows, learns, and becomes changed as they try to become more like their teacher.

Jesus did not come to set an example of perfection, he is perfection. Jesus came to set an example of grace, and that grace allows us to draw near to God more and more. As we continue to lean into our relationship with Jesus, the less superficial, unrealistic expectations of perfection are placed on ourselves and others. Ultimately, we are disciples when we love Jesus and love others unconditionally. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35). It is in love that we become mirrors that reflect Jesus. It is in love that we encounter and build a relationship with Jesus. It is in love that we allow Jesus to take our imperfect journeys as his disciples and transform them into reflections of redemption and goodness.



Words:
Mary Taylor

Photography: Annie Spratt

Pebbles and seashells on the shore as waves crash
The shoreline of a beach
Overhead shot of seashells on the sand
Seafoam on the sand

Following Jesus does not require us to be perfect. Only with Jesus can we be refined, redeemed, and restored.



As a culture, we can be obsessed with the notion of perfection. We curate our lives through social media, showing only the best of ourselves, of our families, of our work. We engage in constant comparison, aiming to separate the best from the worst. In a manicured and manufactured world, mistakes and missteps can feel like the end of the line, leaving shame and disappointment in their wake. This misunderstanding of a standard of perfection can also impart feelings of high expectations that to be a good disciple of Jesus we must be perfect in our faith.

Plagued by these unrealistic expectations, we often forget the examples of discipleship in scripture; that disciples of Jesus were imperfect human beings seeking Jesus. Peter took his eyes off Jesus and nearly drowned. Later he denied Jesus, three times. Martha lost her focus on what mattered most when Jesus was sitting right before her. These are the examples of disciples who followed and loved Jesus. They all fell short of perfection but kept coming back to the one who continues to transform lives through forgiveness. Only with Jesus can we be refined, redeemed, and restored.

In this life, we will not avoid all poor decisions or any wrestling with our faith. Discipleship is merging our brokenness with the willingness to seek Jesus even in the messiest tangles of imperfections and failures. It is accepting that no fault is unseen and yet grace is given. That all our broken edges are known and yet forgiveness is given. That all shame and guilt are laid out before God and yet unconditional love is poured out. The truest form of discipleship is surrendering all that holds us back and knowing that following Jesus means being a work in progress, always pursuing and coming back to Jesus even when we wish to hide our faces from him.

When the disciples wavered, Jesus would continue to guide them with intention. When Peter was afraid and lost sight of Jesus, he caught Peter and reminded him of his faith. When Thomas asked for proof of the resurrected Jesus, he showed Thomas his hands and side. When the disciples asked Jesus to turn away the hungry crowds, Jesus instructed them not to and instead fed the 5,000. In all the times the disciples fell short, Jesus asked them to trust him and to have faith in him. He offered visions of a new and beautiful world, reminders of truth, and comfort in these moments. No shame, no condemnation.

The Latin meaning of the word “disciple” is not directly translated to “follower”. It is actually “student”. While in the religious context, the Christian meaning of discipleship has been equated to being a “follower” of Jesus, we might better view discipleship as being a student of the teacher in order to become more like the teacher. Students need someone to learn from by example; students need a relationship with someone who is an expert. And students need to try and fail. What matters most, in the end, is that a student grows, learns, and becomes changed as they try to become more like their teacher.

Jesus did not come to set an example of perfection, he is perfection. Jesus came to set an example of grace, and that grace allows us to draw near to God more and more. As we continue to lean into our relationship with Jesus, the less superficial, unrealistic expectations of perfection are placed on ourselves and others. Ultimately, we are disciples when we love Jesus and love others unconditionally. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35). It is in love that we become mirrors that reflect Jesus. It is in love that we encounter and build a relationship with Jesus. It is in love that we allow Jesus to take our imperfect journeys as his disciples and transform them into reflections of redemption and goodness.



Words:
Mary Taylor

Photography: Annie Spratt

Overhead shot of seashells on the sand
Shoreline of a beach

Additional readings

Finding God in Mystery and Wonder

How mystery and wonder invites us to seek God in newer and deeper ways.

On Relinquishing Control, A Prayer for Anxiety

Reflective thoughts and study of Philippians 4:6-7 on how God is in control in the midst of anxiety.

Creativity as Devotional Practice

A reflection on how we can approach the creative process as a devotional practice.

Adaobi Ugoagu Is On A Mission

We talk with fashion blogger/model Adaobi Ugoagu about the intersection of fashion, art and justice.


Additional readings

Finding God in Mystery and Wonder

How mystery and wonder invites us to seek God in newer and deeper ways.

On Relinquishing Control, A Prayer for Anxiety

Reflective thoughts and study of Philippians 4:6-7 on how God is in control in the midst of anxiety.

Creativity as Devotional Practice

A reflection on how we can approach the creative process as a devotional practice.

Adaobi Ugoagu Is On A Mission


We talk with fashion blogger/model Adaobi Ugoagu about the intersection of fashion, art and justice.