Sunday, May 14, 2017

Learning to Dance: An Ode to a Friend on Discipleship

I remember the day I heard her name. I wandered into a Bible Study and was handed a beautifully made bible study book with a woman's feet sunk deep in ocean waves. I hadn't been to a women's bible study before. Ever. This workbook was handed around the room and I held it in my hands and thummed through it and there her name was, written in the corner. The woman who had put this whole thing together.

I passed over her name quickly and dove into my first women's bible study and the beauty of scripture. Walking in Freedom, I think it was called, and my heart craved the nuggets of truth it helped us uncover as we dove into the scriptures together. My soul began unfolding like a flower as her words drew us to scripture and the truth that we are free from performance and from needing to be good enough. There was grace and we couldn't be perfected by our own efforts.

Then, months later, an invitation came through facebook to a young women's retreat from this lovely woman. We had met, I had seen her face around church, but I remember this retreat so vividly. We walked into her family's home in the country and her bright smile made me feel welcome and loved immediately. She hugged me and laughed and welcomed me, and though I didn't know many women, I immediately felt drawn to her. She was beautiful inside and out. She taught that weekend, opening the scriptures and sharing her heart and all that God had taught her. I drank in her words and God's words through her. One small phrase, possibly said off-handedly, changed my life.

"If you read the scriptures for five minutes a day, you'll finish the bible in a year." What? I realized I didn't know whether I had ever read through all of scripture. Most of it certainly, but all of it? I didn't know. "You can do almost anything for five minutes a day." How many other things did I waste five minutes a day on? Too many. And this was important. I made a commitment that day that began to change my life - to read through scripture daily.

The retreat ended and life went on. She continued to follow Jesus and I continued to watch from afar, picking up bits and pieces here and there. She wrote a blog that I began to follow - the only blog I've ever followed - and her words daily felt like they were written just for me. As if the Spirit had authored those words in her specifically for me. Sometimes, it felt as if she had read my thoughts and my struggles and was laying them bare with her words and then offering me the solution I didn't have the wisdom yet to find myself.

I was asked, one day, who were people I trusted to give me council on my life, and I realized, though I had little relationship with this woman, that she was on my "board of directors," as they called it. She didn't know it, but Jesus in her life was changing my life.

Then an announcement on Sunday at church, this woman and her husband were going to plant a church. Our church sent them with love and support and I felt a sudden need to somehow support them. We didn't know what that meant, but Andy and I both knew immediately that we either needed to give to the church or go with them to start it.

It ended up being a bit of both. We joined their church plant and stayed at our other church (which was a bit complicated, but God worked it out in the end!) and this woman and I began to develop a friendship.

We did bible studies together and our children played together. We announced the pregnancy of our second child and they rejoiced with us. We prayed and walked with them as they had a woman who lived on the streets come and live with them. We became closer friends and began meeting regularly to pray and share our hearts with a couple other women from our church.  We led bible studies together and I shared hard things from my past with her that brought freedom to my life. We learned about healing and deliverance together. We learned about prayer together. We grew in the knowledge of Christ and His love for us together. Their church became our home and they became our family.

And through the years we've spent together, I've watched and learned. You see, after all these years watching this woman and learning from her, I've realized something about discipleship.

Following Jesus isn't something you can learn.

Before you throw me under the bus for that statement, please keep reading. Following Jesus isn't something you can learn, it's something you can do.

Please hear my heart - having good theology is essential, but all the head knowledge in the world won't mean anything if it doesn't translate to what we do.

A verse in the bible says, "Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says."

I grew up in the church, watching people who just listened to the word and who were themselves deceived. You can listen to the word and know the truth, but it means absolutely nothing if you don't live it out in your life.

I watched this woman live her life for the past 6 or 7 years DOING what the word said. It captivated me in a way that nothing else in this world has. For so long, I had only seen people who knew what the word said, but I hadn't met someone who so radically DID what it said. I started following her because she was actually and literally following Jesus.

Paul says, "Imitate me as I imitate Christ." In so many ways, we need less learning in the American church and more people imitating Christ. But it is a hard jump from normal daily life to imitating the God of the universe, which is why I think He gives us other Christians who are following Him to imitate. I "learned" more about following Jesus from watching her follow Jesus than I have from anything I've ever read anywhere.

I saw her suffer for His sake, and give radically and joyfully for His sake. I got to see her faithfulness in showing up when it was hard or didn't have any immediate rewards. I watched her faithfully obey His quiet directions to her to buy or not buy certain things, to eat or not eat certain things, to do or not do certain things, to pray, to fast, to give, to serve, to love, to share, to teach, to train, to hug, to speak truth in challenging situations, to surrender, to honor, to build up. Her life was a constant picture to me of how to listen to God's Spirit and apply His word and to live for Him.

It changed me in ways I don't even have words to describe - far beyond probably what she has any idea.

But it wasn't my dear friend who changed me - it was Christ. Her yielded submission to Him became the model I began to imitate and as I learned His rhythms, I began to find a new place of freedom in Him. Where I started imitating her, I ended up imitating Him. Where she inspired me, He took reign.

Slowly, like learning the patterns of a complicated dance, I began to grow confident in the steps. I had leaned on her in the beginning to show me how the steps went from theory to practice, but I was developing my own strength and beginning to dance out the steps with God Himself.

You see, I think this is how God intended discipleship. So often we think head knowledge is enough to equip someone .to follow Jesus, and maybe for some with the partnership of the Holy Spirit, it is. But more often than not, it seems to me, that God chooses to use people surrendered to Him to teach the steps through their own life to those who are just learning the ways.

You can grow up in church all your life and know the Bible, you can even preach the Bible, but until you learn the steps, until you learn to do what the Word says, you aren't dancing. You aren't following Jesus until you start moving. It's so easy to deceive yourself, that you are living according to the word - we're not bad people after all - and that's a sobering thought. But when we see with our own eyes someone dancing to the rhythm with God - someone living in complete surrender to His will - we can see clearly that we aren't dancing like that. When you see how beautiful it is to dance with Him, it creates a longing in our hearts to join in and to learn the steps.

This is discipleship, and it is beautiful. May we all join the dance.

{To my dear friend, Kari, on Mother's Day: 
words are not enough to say thank you for leading with your life} 

Photo by Lacey Meyers Photography

[Update: This dear friend recently released her book, Sacred Mundane,
and I highly recommend everyone order a copy.
It is a book worth reading from a life worth imitating.
I pray it impacts you as much as it did me.]

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