Discipleship Is Not Primarily about Changing Circumstances

Discipleship Is Not Primarily about Changing Circumstances

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Imagine the Apostle Paul coming to you with a thorn stuck in his flesh, metaphorically speaking, and wanting your help. What would be your primary goal as you try to serve Paul? Would you try to help him change his circumstances primarily, or would you try to help him make personal heart changes in light of his unchanging problem?

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If you choose the latter over the former, you are a wise Christian because you already know the end of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” story as you gaze in the rearview mirror. You would see the foolishness of trying to change Paul’s external circumstances. In his situation, it was God who was writing an unchangeable “thorn in the flesh” story (2 Corinthians 12:1-10). And because no discipler knows all the reasons a person is going through their situational difficulty, the careful Christian will not give “unwise hope” for a situational change but provide biblical hope in God alone, whether the situation changes or not.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).

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Sometimes a discipler, as well as the one being discipled, falls for the temptation to overly focus on changing the situation at hand while not providing adequate time for a different kind of work that God is doing in the heart of the disciple. Sometimes God will change your circumstances. Sometimes He will not. Whether He changes your situation or not is not the main thing. The point of all of God’s activity is that you trust Him in both the good and bad times.

Let the Gospel Inform You

Your primary discipling focus must incorporate a comprehensive “sovereignty of God perspective.” That is, you believe that God controls all things, He is working in all things, and He is always working for your good in all things regardless of what you are going through at any moment. The thoughts that flood your mind regarding any situation, whether the issue is to your liking or not, is an unwavering mental fixation that God is good.

The gospel informs you of this transcendent truth. And though you may be having a difficult time living in the practical reality of that worldview at the moment, it is still true. You must “take your soul to task” by bringing any contrary thoughts to the obedience of God’s Word (2 Corinthians 10:3-6). You will need to remind yourself of God’s goodness–over and over again. You can do this by going back to the gospel, where you see your perfect Lord doing great things for you. You repeat to Him:

God, you are good, and you desire many good things for me. Help me to see your good work through this adverse circumstance. I want to be teachable. Teach me, oh Lord.

When I heard of the tragic murder of my brother in 1987, my first question to God was, “Dear Father, what is it that you are trying to accomplish through this awful event?” That trial was profound and life-altering, but there are zillions of disappointing “mini-events” that happen in my life regularly.

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Dangerous Gospel Amnesia

It is in those moments of personal challenges and disappointments that I can forget this fundamental truth: God is good, and He is working for my good. This transformative idea is a significant and personal application point of the gospel. Can you imagine walking by the cross on the day that Christ was crucified and seeing Him bleeding and dying on the tree? That death on that day made no sense to many people, even to some of the people who were the closest to Jesus.

For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Corinthians 1:25).

What appeared to be confusing, weak, and foolish to some was God doing great work for the benefit of millions of people (1 Corinthians 1:23). Is that how you think about the death of Christ? What about this: Do you bring that kind of gospel thinking and living into your life as it pertains to your daily challenges? How can God’s strength and wisdom be magnified through weakness and brokenness?

Call to Action

  1. What are the last couple of things in your life that have brought dissatisfaction to you?
  2. What did you think about those situations? Did the goodness of God as perceived through the gospel inform your thinking, or did your preferences for a better outcome manage your thoughts?
  3. When negative things come into your life, do you tend to hold tenaciously to your way of thinking, or are you more like a gospel explorer, looking for God’s strength and wisdom in the adverse circumstance?

I want to be a “Gospel Explorer” with all things in my life. When something disappointing happens to me, I want to begin a gospel expedition to uncover God’s goodness found in that circumstance. I know that there is good there because God is good. If I can see good in the crucifixion of the Son of God, most certainly, there can be the Lord’s goodness found in my secondary afflictions.

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