I first encountered Jesus Christ eight years back on 3rd of June, 2006 during the second day of my ‘Youth for Christ’ intake camp. It was during the inner healing service when, for the first time I felt a great healing taking place in me which led me to experience grace through the sacrament of reconciliation. Then, the epitome of my experience was the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the same evening. I remember clearly that, that night I went to bed extremely happy and eagerly waiting for what was ahead of me in times to come. If any of you knew me back then, I was a nice jovial guy but I thought this spirituality thing is just not for me. So my concept of prayer was attending mass every Sunday and being present for family prayers, but then, after experiencing the Lord I genuinely wanted to be much closer to him.
With time passing by and the experience of the Lord now being distant, it didn’t take too long for me to go back to my usual ways and not be bothered about prayer, God and his invitation to be in a relationship with me. However deep down I knew there was a void in me that wanted to be filled and the desire in me was to be a disciple of Jesus. So, as I do with most of my doubts I took this one to the Lord and asked Him how does one become a disciple? Would I need to subject myself to an entrance exam and then you will have a personal interview with me and then you will publish the admission list of Disciples for 2014 – 2015?
Clearly God was much simpler than our education system and he took me straight to
Matthew 16:24 –‘If you want to be my disciple, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me’
This verse seems like a clear cut answer to my question on how can I be a disciple?
But in reality this verse has so many levels to it that can be peeled off layer by layer like an onion. So let’s see what exactly this verse wants to tell us…
The first part of the verse clearly states that ‘If you want to be my disciple’ here God has kept the ball in our court and is not forcing discipleship down our throat. He wants us to decide if we want to be his disciple. God is the perfect example of what a gentleman is and he lets us decide using the gift of free will he has blessed us with whether or not we find value in being his disciple. I was amazed at this first part itself. There are so many times I force my ideas, opinions and thoughts down on others because I feel that’s the right thing to do and before me is God who is patient and loving enough to give us the choice to decide for our self.
Moving ahead with the verse and after making a decision for our self that we want to be disciples of the Lord, the next thing God tells us is to deny ourselves. Here to ‘deny yourself’ isn’t optional. It is a compulsion which flows from taking the decision of wanting to be a disciple. We all want to be disciples, but we deny the fact that it involves ‘denying ourselves’. What does God mean when he says we must deny ourselves? We are all made in the image and likeness of God which is communicated to us in Gen 1:26, but we humans put on a false self who is tainted with sin. God wants us to deny this false self and revert back to the full potential he gave us having his image and likeness. So he wants us to deny our greed, our ego, our temper, our worldly desires, our lust and deny everything that can possibly come in the way of us being reflections of God in this world.
The next step is to take up our cross. We all know the value of the cross for us Christians. It was the cross that brought about our salvation. It was the cross that defeated sin and led to the resurrection. But what exactly is our cross. Where do we go to find it and to where do we have to carry it. The good part of being a true disciple is that we don’t have to find our cross but our cross will automatically find us. The cross is a symbol of shame, suffering and pain, sinfulness, punishment etc. We need to carry all this and carry it with Joy in our hearts and a smile on our faces. The world will mock us for doing the things we do, we will be laughed at, spat upon and hated just like Jesus was and amidst this all, God wants us to love.
The difficulty is not really carrying the cross but carrying the cross with the right attitude. We have many people who are carrying huge heavy crosses, not realizing that it is the attitude you have that makes the cross light or heavy. We must not shy away from the cross but just like Jesus embrace it and be grateful because it is the cross that is the road to our salvation and discipleship.
Having carried our crosses, the last requirement is to follow Jesus. To follow Jesus and to become more and more like him is the goal of being a disciple. The definition of a disciple is the one who learns and then goes forth to teach. Therefore we must learn from the eternal master who came to earth to show us how to live.
Jesus did all of the above- he denied himself, he carried his cross with the weight of our sin and yet he did this with his heart full of love for each one of us. To follow Jesus as an example of our life we need to first understand all that he did and how he did it. We can learn about this only if we grow in our relationship with him through personal prayer and reading the word which became flesh. We need to commit ourselves to daily prayer and bible reading and study to be a disciple.
To be a disciple is almost like a reaction to the moment when we encounter God. The experience is so attractive that we cannot stay away from the person of Jesus and yet being a disciple isn’t something we can do on our own and require God’s grace and strength for the same. The only way to tap this grace and find this strength is to go before him and tell him personally – ‘LORD I WANT TO BE YOUR DISCIPLE’… what is your decision? Are you willing to be his disciple?