Back in March, I found myself cooking some questionable day-old sausages over an open fire with a bunch of Guatemalan high school guys on the side of a volcano. You know, the usual.
I was down in Guatemala spending a month with a really cool ministry called Saber y Gracia. Wisdom and Grace. It’s a Christ-centered school whose principle, Rudi, is practically a pastor to those kids. He loves them and shepherds them and teaches them…
So when I threw out the idea of climbing nearby Volcán de Agua[BR1], he agreed, then immediately invited a bunch of the school’s teenage guys to come along. Rudi never misses an opportunity to build into the lives of these young men.
The story of our climb is probably best left for another time, but I want to tell you about one moment on the mountain that really stuck with me.
We had been climbing for about four hours. We were getting tired, and the altitude was making it a bit harder to catch our breaths. The complaints of the high school guys became a constant din in the background.
At a bend in the path, we all dropped our packs and sat down for a breather. The kids naturally formed a circle around Rudi[BR2], who was talking about life and faith, and sharing his story. They were hanging on every word.
All of a sudden, I was struck with this image of Jesus and his disciples. Not Jesus preaching to a massive crowd, or casting out demons. No miracles. Just a group of disciples taking a breather on the side of the road, listening to the man they followed.
It really got me thinking.
A few days later, I went back and re-read the book of Matthew, looking for these kinds of everyday moments – reading between the lines to get a sense of how much ordinary, unremarkable time Jesus spent with his disciples.
Turns out, there was a lot. For example, when we read that they went from one town to another, sometimes that was a journey of two or three days by foot. They would have been cooking meals together, taking pit stops, hanging out… Lots and lots of everyday life lived together.
Suddenly it makes so much more sense why these young men – these nobodies – went on to live out such epic, influential callings. They weren’t just hanging around during a couple of Jesus’ sermons. They spent three years of their lives sitting at the feet of the Messiah, and it changed the trajectory of their lives.
Because these young men were disciples of Jesus, the world would never be the same.
For the past few weeks, we’ve been in a series called “Your Story.” Act 1 was about surrendering to Jesus. Act 2 is about following him.
Last week, Tim shared the story of Zacchaeus, and how becoming a disciple of Jesus completely transformed the type of person he was. We learned that walking in the way of discipleship with other Christ-followers is the best way to transform your character.
Today we’re going to look at another aspect of discipleship – how it can transform your purpose in this world, your destiny, your calling.
Discipleship is the very best way to develop who you are, and what you’re on this earth to do.
Next week and the week after that, we’re going to get super practical and talk about how we actually do discipleship here at Grace. And there will be specific next steps for you to take.
But for now, I want to spend just a bit more time setting the stage and thinking about how different our lives would look if we became disciples. If we followed others as they follow Jesus.
So to do that, I want to look at the relationship between two other people we read about in scripture whose years of discipleship (like Jesus and his disciples) developed outside the words we read on the page. Their names are Paul and Timothy.
So. Some background. Paul was once public enemy number one for the early Church. His whole life was dedicated to destroying the Christian movement. But then he had a life-changing conversion and became God’s chosen messenger to bring the gospel to the Gentiles.
He started traveling all around the Roman world, planting churches, training leaders, evangelizing…
At one point, he was traveling through the town of Lystra, in the foothills of what is now south-central Turkey. In Lystra, there was a young man named Timothy, who everyone spoke very highly of.
We don’t know a ton about Timothy, but we do know his mother was Jewish, his father was a Greek (a Gentile), and for whatever reason, Paul decided to take him along for the ride.
From there it gets a bit hazy, but we know that the friendship between these two must have become quite strong. Paul refers to Timothy as “my true son in the faith.”
Timothy is a co-author of six of Paul’s letters in the New Testament. And in another place, Paul asks Timothy to join him as he faces the final days of his life. These guys were close.
And to top it all off, we learn that Paul entrusted Timothy with a ridiculous mission: to become the leader of the church in Ephesus, a city second only to Rome in its influence at the time.
In our Bibles we have two letters written from Paul to his young disciple, what we call the books of 1st and 2nd Timothy. Reading between the lines of these letters, it’s clear Timothy did not have an enviable job.
As the overseer of the church in Ephesus, Timothy would have faced some incredible obstacles.
First of all, as was common all over the Roman world, there would have been a Jewish community in Ephesus.
Based on some of the stuff we read in Paul’s letters, it’s clear the Jewish believers got caught up in debating genealogies – who had the coolest ancestors. They also taught new believers a whole bunch of falsehoods about what was and wasn’t allowed for Christ-followers.
So Timothy had to deal with that.
Meanwhile, Ephesus was the home of the Temple of Artemis, one of seven wonders of the ancient world. People would have come from miles around to participate in the temple’s highly sexualized idol worship. There was some really dark, disturbing stuff that went on there.
Some of Timothy’s congregation would have come from that crowd.
Because the city was so influential, the church would have undoubtedly had some ridiculously wealthy congregants, not to mention the many, many servants and slaves who would have come along with them.
So wealth and poverty and power and desperation and greed and hunger would have always been factors for Timothy to deal with.
Finally, there were just a whole bunch of false teachers wandering around – people attracted to fame or influence or power – who spread teachings completely contrary to the gospel.
Oh, and let’s not forget. Many people hated Christians at the time. Timothy would have faced rampant violence, imprisonment, and vicious persecution.
IN OVER HIS HEAD
The fact is, Timothy was in WAY over his head. He didn’t have the gravitas to be the leader of such a huge, influential church.
He didn’t have the right personality to combat rampant immorality. He didn’t have the right credentials to stand toe to toe with false teachers. On paper, there was no reason why Timothy should have been the leader of the church in Ephesus.
And yet, Timothy was called to that role. God had a special destiny in mind for this young leader and he used him in powerful ways as the shepherd of the Ephesians.
How was this possible? How could Timothy live out a calling he wasn’t qualified for?
That’s the question I want to answer today.
But before we go any farther, I want take a moment to briefly explain what we mean when we talk about “calling” here at Grace. I’m going to give you three facts that should sort of set the ground rules.
Fact #1: All of us who follow Christ have a destiny.
Each one of us is called by God to do great things for the his kingdom. To be his instruments in the world.
In one of Paul’s other letters to the Church, he writes,
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
We have a purpose. A calling. A reason for being here on the Earth. And it’s so much bigger than just you and me. Healing the six broken places of this world, loving the unlovable, bringing the light of Christ into dark places…
It’s not always grandiose. And sometimes it takes years to figure out exactly what your calling is. But we – all of us – have a destiny.
That leads us to Fact #2.
Fact #2: We rarely start out equipped for the mission God has for us.
I’ve met tons of Christ-followers around the world over the years who are living out compelling and world-altering missions, and I can’t think of a single one that would tell you that they are the right person for the job.
Even in my life, living out my calling over the past decade has led me to live in slums and refugee camps, to travel to remote mountain villages, to eat goat brains… Ten years ago I was a comfort-loving, picky-eating couch potato – absolutely unprepared for the things God had in store.
A verse in 1 Corinthians, another letter by Paul, sums it up really nicely.
1 Corinthians 1:26
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
God doesn’t hand out callings based on our resumes. Thankfully, there’s fact #3.
Fact #3: God will give us what we need to fulfill our purpose.
I know it’s an overused aphorism, but it’s true. “God doesn’t call the equipped. He equips the called.”
Sometimes God gives us new skills or gifts or even personality traits to help us fulfill our purpose. Sometimes he brings people into our lives who have the resources we lack. Sometimes he just gives us courage to plow ahead when we don’t know what’s in front of us.
The words of Christ in 2 Corinthians 12:9 say it best:
2 Corinthians 12:9
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
Whatever God has called you to… big or small… he’s not going to leave you hanging.
BACK TO PAUL AND TIMOTHY
So those are the facts. We all have a destiny, a calling. Very few, if any, of us start out equipped for the job, but God will give us the tools we need.
Ok, so let’s go back to poor ol’ Timothy, living out his insanely difficult calling as the leader of the church in Ephesus. Let’s assume that God did equip him with the skills and gifts and personality traits and co-workers he needed to do the job.
That still doesn’t answer our question. How was this possible?
I mean, how on earth did Timothy know what he was doing? What would have made Timothy stick to his guns when things got ridiculously hard? How could he have discovered such a profound life calling in the first place?
The answer really comes down to one thing. Timothy was a disciple.
Yes, Timothy’s calling was nuts. But he wasn’t going it alone. He wasn’t figuring things out the hard way. Timothy was a disciple. A disciple of Paul.
Timothy sat at Paul’s feet, listened to his teachings, accepted his rebuke. He had an ongoing relationship with someone who had his own ridiculous calling from Jesus. Timothy walked in the footsteps of a leader just a bit farther down the road.
And it was this disciple/discipler relationship that, I believe, helped develop Timothy into the man whose calling would change the world.
And guess what? It still works that way today.
Discipleship is the very best way to develop your calling in this world.
So let’s dig into Paul and Timothy’s relationship as discipler and disciple. How did Paul’s influence allow Timothy to do the impossible?
Well, just like all the time Jesus spent with his disciples – those normal, everyday moments we don’t see in black and white in the Bible, we have to read between the lines to understand what was really going on with these two.
SETTING AN EXAMPLE
So grab a Bible and turn to 2 Timothy 3. Let’s look at these letters from Paul to Timothy and see what we can infer.
2 Timothy 3:10
146: It should be page ______ in the house Bibles in the seat in front of you
Fishers: If you don’t have a Bible, raise your hand and an usher will give you one to use
Now, we’re going to be jumping back and forth between First and Second Timothy, so keep your Bible open.
Ok. 2 Timothy 3. Here, Paul is reminding Timothy of how difficult things will get for him (as if he needed a reminder). Like I said before, as the leader of the Ephesian church, Timothy faced terrible times, evil people, persecution, and lots and lots of sin in his congregation.
But then Paul says this, in verse 10:
2 Timothy 3:10-11
You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings – what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured.
Uh, yeah. The first time Paul came through Lystra, Timothy’s hometown, people stoned him, then dragged his body outside the city thinking he was dead. I think Timothy might remember that…
Paul goes on.
2 Timothy 3:11-14
Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it.
Paul is not preaching at Timothy from some lofty pulpit. He’s not saying, “Trust me… When you’re older and more experienced, you’ll understand.”
No. He’s saying, “Yes, things will be tough. Being an instrument of God is no walk in the park. You’re going to face hardship. But look at my life. You’ve seen me live out my calling. You’ve seen the things I’ve endured. Name one time God didn’t come through for me.”
Because Timothy was a disciple, because he walked in the footsteps of Paul, he didn’t have to learn the hard way. He didn’t have to wonder if God was who he said he was. Timothy was following in the footsteps of someone who had walked this road before.
What is a discipler? A discipler is someone who sets an example so we don’t have to figure out our calling on our own.
I know there are some of you who would say, “I have no idea what my calling even is!” Well, what better way to discover it than to follow someone who’s been through the journey of discovery already?
Back to Guatemala for a second. When I was climbing the volcano with Rudi and the high school kids I got to see true discipleship happening right before my eyes.
Rudi had come from poverty and faced incredible obstacles in his pursuit of Christ. Today, he is living out his calling as a transforming influence in his community. These young men following him face the exact same obstacles in their lives.
But because they are disciples of Rudi, they don’t have to learn things the hard way. They are following the example of one who has walked this road before. And just imagine how God is going to use them.
Discipleship is the very best way to develop your calling in this world.
So. Disciplers walk ahead of us. They show us the path to take. They set an example. But that’s not the only role of a discipler. Sometimes they come alongside us, put their arm around our shoulder, and remind us of where we’ve been.
Flip back to Second Timothy 1. Throughout the letter, it’s pretty clear that Timothy has been through the wringer. I mean, shoot. Leading a congregation of nitpicking genealogy nerds, idol-worshiping sex addicts, greedy millionaires, desperate slaves, and prideful false teachers… That would be exhausting for just about anyone.
So here at the beginning of the letter, Paul goes back to the basics. He reminds Timothy of where he’s been. Look at verse 4.
2 Timothy 1:4-7
Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
I love this passage. There’s no way to know this for sure, but in my imagination, this is something they talked about many times over the years. I imagine them going from city to city together, Timothy constantly struggling with feelings of inadequacy or timidity, and Paul saying time and time again,
“Timothy, you know this. That timidity you’re feeling doesn’t come from God. What does come from God is power. It’s love. It’s self-discipline. You have a gift, Timothy. I should know. God used me to give it to you! I’ve seen you live it out time and time again. You need to fan this gift into flames. And think about your heritage. Your mom, your grandmother… God has been setting the stage for you to live out your calling since before you were born.”
I can imagine Timothy up late one night after a long, difficult day in Ephesus where he decided to quit for the thousandth time. I picture him pulling out this letter, reading this passage by candlelight and saying, “You’re right. God gave me a spirit of power. I can do this. ”
This is what disciplers do. They have a different vantage point on our lives. When we’re deep in the weeds living out our calling, it is so easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. But disciplers have a much broader perspective. They see where we’ve been. They remember where we’re going.
One time, during a meeting with David Bell, one of the other guys on the teaching team, who has been discipling me for a few years, I was talking about something I was wrestling with… a decision I had to make. And he said, “Well, do you remember what you told me two years ago?”
I said, “No,” and he went on to remind me of an observation I had made about myself that shed some fascinating light on the decision I had to make two years later. His perspective on the trajectory of my ministry was completely different than mine.
A similar thing happened during a phone call I recently had with one of the young men I was discipling. He was going through a really dark, difficult time, and was struggling a lot with his identity and purpose.
During our conversation, I listed off some ways I knew God was using him, and some specific gifts he had, and just… the kind of leader I thought he was.
It got real quiet on the other end of the line. Finally, he said, “I had forgotten that about myself.”
In the midst of pain and doubt, he couldn’t see his own value. But I had a different vantage point. I knew where he came from. I saw how God was using him. My unique perspective gave him encouragement when he needed it the most.
Living out your destiny in this world has some really high highs and some really low lows. A discipler sees the bigger picture.
Discipleship is the very best way to develop your calling in this world.
But disciplers don’t just set an example for us. They don’t just come alongside to remind us of where we’ve been. If they did, nothing new would ever get done. No. True disciplers call us out to a mission far beyond their own.
Back to Paul and Timothy for a second. Flip back to 1 Timothy, chapter 4.
We know Timothy’s ministry life was a difficult one. He was a young, unimpressive guy who was the overseer of a huge, influential church. He was opposed at every turn.
But here’s what Paul writes in chapter 4. Verse 12.
1 Timothy 4:12-16
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.
Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young.”
Now, we don’t know how old Timothy was when he started his ministry in Ephesus, but we know he was younger than Paul. The Ephesians might have looked down their noses at Timothy because he was just a kid. Or, they could have thought, “We’re the biggest, most important city in the region, older, wiser Paul should be our pastor.”
Whatever the case, it seems clear that Paul commissioned Timothy to a ministry so big, he had every right in the world to do it himself. Paul could have taken the reins in Ephesus. He could have kept Timothy along as a lowly sidekick and no one would have batted an eye.
Instead, he threw Timothy into the deep end of the pool and said, “I want you to go farther than me. I want you to do the impossible. Remember when we laid hands on you and a prophecy was spoken over you? God has called you to do great things. The very souls of the people in Ephesus are at stake, and I’m not going to let you stay in the background.”
Disciplers aren’t content with good enough. They call us out to bigger and better missions than we would ever pursue (or even discover) on our own.
Back in 2005, I did a year-long internship with Nairobi Chapel in Kenya. As part of the internship, I had the chance to be discipled by two incredible leaders, Pastor Muriithi Wanjau and Pastor Simon Mbevi.
I sat at their feet, asked lots of questions, watched them do ministry, and even worked alongside them from time to time. Along the way, they spoke into my life in powerful ways.
That year I had become very aware of my own brokenness. It was the first time I had ever really taken an honest look at my sin struggles, my addictions, the un-confessed junk in my life.
Although I had experienced tremendous healing and freedom from utter transparency and confession, I had developed a sense that, in all my brokenness, God wouldn’t be able to use me for much.
Until one night, when Pastor Simon pulled me aside and asked if he could share a prophecy he had for me. (I realize that prophecy is not a very common thing around here, but the leaders at Nairobi Chapel are very in tune with the Holy Spirit, so this sort of thing happens quite a bit.)
He said, “The other day I was praying and I saw a vision of you. You were a basket of fruit, surrounded by people. They were taking fruit from the basket and eating their fill. Everyone was laughing and full of joy. Barry, I believe God is going to use you to bring life to many people.”
And then he put his arm on my shoulder and prayed for me. And I walked off into the darkness, sat down by a tree, and bawled my eyes out. All I could see was my own brokenness. My own sin. But I was a disciple of Pastor Simon, and he saw so much more.
He called me out to a vision far grander than my own. He set me on a path to be used by God in ways I couldn’t have even imagined.
That’s what disciplers do. Sometimes they walk ahead of us and show us the path to take. Sometimes they come alongside us and remind us of where we’ve been. Sometimes they stand behind us and send us off to do the impossible.
Discipleship is the very best way to develop your calling in this world.
When Jesus spent hours and days and weeks walking from town to town and living ordinary life with his disciples, he wasn’t just biding time until his next sermon.
When Paul took Timothy along as a sidekick on his missionary journeys, he wasn’t just looking for a traveling companion to talk to.
These leaders were setting the stage for a movement of redemption that would cover the globe.
Because those disciples they built into one day had disciples of their own. And then their disciples had disciples. And on and on it went. A pattern which has continued for two thousand years.
Men and women – broken, imperfect, weak – walking the road of faith together…
Following in the footsteps of those who have come before, giving guidance and hope to those coming after… It’s an unbroken chain stretching all the way back to the messiah and 12 disciples cooking breakfast on the shore of Lake Galilee.
Are you a link in the chain?
Do you follow someone as they follow Jesus? Is anyone following you?
All of us have a destiny – a calling – to live out God’s purposes in this world. It’s a grand adventure. A ridiculous mission. We’re all in over our heads.
But together we can accomplish what none of us could alone. Together we can change the course of history. Together, we can see God’s kingdom come.
Jesus has a destiny in mind for you, but you don’t have to walk that road alone.
Next week we’re going to dive in and look at how we do discipleship here at Grace.