Deeper in Faith
The Discipleship Journey
by Kevin Trimble
A 40-something man from Kenya recently attended my Bible study as we pondered questions about the sovereignty of God in the life of Samuel. “I just want to know more about God,” he told me. I was delighted. The best gift a chaplain can receive is a person who wants to know more about God.
As I sit outside my CHU (Containerized Housing Unit) in a valley near the city of Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan, I can’t help but realize that God has placed me on a path filled with many opportunities to know God in a magnificent way. The road of life has many choices, rest stops, detours, and the occasional accident as we do our best to follow Christ. Just like my student at Bible study, I still want to know more about God.
Discipleship is learning more about God along the journey of our lives. When I consider the first disciples, I can imagine their hunger to know Christ better, more deeply—to understand and see through His eyes. Like us, however, the apostles struggled with issues that clouded their desire to know Him more. They worried about lunch in John 4, how much fish and bread they had in Matthew 14, and who was the greatest in Mark 9.
A few years ago, I began to realize that everyone has a story to tell, and if I would listen, I could learn his or her perspective on faith, whether agnostic, atheist, or Christian. Every person who pauses to share his or her story is on a journey. For many, it is a journey of faith, of discipleship. When I interview incoming soldiers and ask them to share their faith perspective, some indicate they are atheistic. I’m grateful for their honesty. Why? I want to know what brought them to this point. Many struggle with their faith and, like the student from Kenya, simply long to know more.
My journey started like many other Free Will Baptists. Raised in a rural, conservative church where church attendance was very important, the lessons I learned early prepared me to follow Christ. In fact, around age four, I invited Christ into my heart. (Even at a young age, powerful preaching made it clear that I did not want to go to Hell.)
This was the beginning. My journey led me through adolescence and college, into relationships and marriage, and multiple ministry opportunities. Looking back, I recognize times when I truly thought I knew God and would have considered myself an established disciple. Today, I realize how little I knew. More important, I also realize how little I know now. Discipleship isn’t about how many Scriptures I can quote, how well I can exegete the Word, or the depths of my theological wisdom. Discipleship is about following Christ.
The simple meaning of the word is “one who embraces and assists in spreading the teachings of another.” I like the way the New Oxford American Dictionary defines it. Disciple means “follower, adherent, believer, student, or supporter.” In Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, we find that the Greek New Testament word for disciple is mathetes, literally, “learner or pupil.” A disciple believes and follows the teachings of another, constantly desiring to learn more of his master’s will.
Seminars, conferences, revivals, and training events are themed around the subject of discipleship. The New Testament teaches clearly on the subject. We understand the cost of discipleship. We recognize the need to conform to Christ by studying and practicing His Word, living a holy life, bearing fruit, and loving one another. Though I understand all of this, I still ask, “Does the constant bombardment of this information into our lives actually make us better disciples?”
Perhaps, but there is a danger of doing discipleship without being a disciple. This can easily drive us into a mechanical, works-based, tradition-led lifestyle. If our relationship to God and His Son, along with the work of the Holy Spirit, is a journey that culminates in Heaven, should our goal simply be to know Him better? Of course!
Ministry for me now is about simple. If my theology is simple, people will understand it. Dare I say it? Soldiers like simple. I do as well. Simple discipleship involves three perspectives on the journey to know God more fully. Mark 8:34-37 reveals one of the many models of discipleship found in the New Testament. In this passage, Christ called His disciples to forget self, to surrender fully, and to follow Him.
How difficult is it to forget self? For me it is very hard, perhaps for you as well. When we do something good, we want praise. When we are hurt or offended, we want consolation. We live to massage, comfort, please, and love self. In his book The Way of the Heart Henri Nouwen speaks of desert fathers who spend their entire lives forgetting self. We quickly dismiss this because our lives are too busy to live alone in the desert. How different would our lives be if we truly forgot self, if our selfishness were not in the way—what I want, how I feel, what I need?
If you think forgetting self is difficult, how much more difficult is full surrender to Christ? I’m sure you know the words to the old gospel song “I Surrender All.” Have you truly lived those words? Forget the Facebook posts; the busy schedule; the activities, stuff, and nonsense that keep us from giving all to Christ. I challenge you to embrace a full, complete, surrender to Christ. When was the last time you spent a day asking God for wisdom in every decision?
You would think following Christ is easy. In the military, I live in a pluralistic world that claims all faiths are valid. I’m sure the same is true for you. Whether you gather at an office party, go to a ballgame, or attend a family reunion, you quickly realize that “following Christ” is different than it has been in the past. Please understand, I continue to believe and preach that there is only one way to God—through Christ. He tells us He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Got it. No issue; it’s just harder to live that out in a world where “anything goes.”
Back to my journey…I’m still on the road to being discipled, discipling others, and learning continually. Discipleship is a journey. Have I completely and fully mastered forgetting self? You bet…until someone steps on my toes. Have I learned to fully surrender? Of course, unless the path doesn’t match my own plans; then I struggle.
Am I following Christ? Yes. Every day I get up with a determination to follow Him, “to be a fully devoted follower of Christ,” as Joseph Stowell describes it. Sometimes, I am a miserable failure and wonder why God continues to put up with me. Yet, He continues to remind me that He loves me, and He is leading me along the journey closer to Him each day. He is making me His disciple—teaching, convicting, and convincing me daily. With each turn and twist, I am becoming a more ardent believer, a deeper student of the God I love and live for each day. To Him be glory!
About the Writer: CH (CPT) Kevin W. Trimble is currently deployed in Afghanistan.