The Discipleship Path Starts with the Heart

The Discipleship Path Starts with the Heart

Last week, we finished up the series called What Christians Believe. That has now led us into the discussion about a Discipleship Path. What is a Discipleship Path? It’s a path not necessarily taken in a certain order, but it leads us to taking on the characteristics and expectations of Jesus when He said to follow Him.

A disciple is someone who adheres to the teachings of another, making them a follower, a learner. It’s someone who takes up the ways of someone else. A disciple is completely devoted to a teacher. But the relationship goes way beyond just a student or an apprentice. They don’t simply master a trade or a subject, they literally learn to imitate their teacher’s life.

So applied to Jesus Christ, a disciple is someone who learns from Him to live like Him — to take on Jesus’ words and Jesus’ ways.

We know that when Jesus says something recorded in the scriptures, it’s important so we should listen up. (That why it’s written in red.) Several times, Jesus starts a message by saying the word “listen” which means we better listen closely because He has something really important to say. Or how about when He repeats Himself, like we do with our kids.

When I worked in a preschool many years ago, I would get the short attention span of the children by saying, “All eyes on me, when I see all your eyes I know you’re listening. I have something important to say, so look here.” It was how I could get them to listen. And if it was something I knew they would forget in a few hours or minutes, I would repeat it often throughout the day.

I did the repeat thing with my teenager about drugs and alcohol. Many times, we had that same conversation. And he would say, “Mom, I know.” I would say, “I need it to be on the forefront of your mind, so hear it again.” We do that with our loved ones when we tell them every time we part, every morning when we wake up, every night before we go to bed, “I love you.” We repeat it because it’s important.

That’s exactly what Jesus does for us. When He repeats Himself, it’s extremely important. So important that He needs it to be at the forefront of our minds. And if it is, we’ll do a better job at it.

The four Gospels, where Jesus’ words are recorded, show Jesus saying “Believe in me” just twice. He said it and repeated it, so it’s important. But He likely only said it twice between four books because belief is holding to an opinion or conviction, like “Yes, I know there is a God.” But anyone can believe there is a God and yet still not follow Him. Because to follow God, you have to have faith which is the commitment to respond to that conviction, to that belief. Faith is literally taking action…it’s following.
The four Gospels also show Jesus saying “Follow Me,” now get this, 87 times which is the very definition of a disciple. The term Christian is used just 3 times in the whole New Testament, whereas the word disciple, one who follows (one who takes action), appears more than 250 times.

I would say that means discipleship is a pretty big deal. So over the next several months, we are going to explore the expectations that Jesus sets for us as a disciple of His. Things like daily devotion and prayer, small group meetings, sacrificial generosity, worship, serving, and sharing your story. This is the Discipleship Path, and my hope and prayer is that it will take each of us to the next step in our walk with Jesus.

In Luke 6:40 Jesus said,
“A disciple is not above his teacher, but when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.”

So today, we’re going to start by exploring a parable that Jesus told about discipleship that is recorded in books of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Luke gives the most detail, so we’ll look at his. Then next week, we’ll start looking at Jesus’ specific expectations of a disciple.

Luke 8:4-21 – Parable of the Farmer Scattering Seed
4 One day Jesus told a story in the form of a parable to a large crowd that had gathered from many towns to hear him: 5 “A farmer went out to plant his seed. As he scattered it across his field, some seed fell on a footpath, where it was stepped on, and the birds ate it. 6 Other seed fell among rocks. It began to grow, but the plant soon wilted and died for lack of moisture. 7 Other seed fell among thorns that grew up with it and choked out the tender plants. 8 Still other seed fell on fertile soil. This seed grew and produced a crop that was a hundred times as much as had been planted!” When he had said this, he called out, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”

Let’s just stop there for a moment. What is a parable? Jesus used a lot of them. A parable is a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. Its purpose is to help the listeners understand Jesus’ point so these stories described a very familiar object or situation, something they would know a lot about, yet at the same time compel the listeners to discover the truth for themselves. It compels listeners to ponder on it, put effort into exploring the truth. Because when we do that, isn’t that often how we retain it?

I can tell my kids all sorts of things. But isn’t it true that when they explore it themselves they retain it even better?

Therefore, parables also conceal the truth from those not really willing or committed to understanding the truth. Now in reading Jesus’ parables, we do have to be careful not to read too much into them, as most of His parables have only one point and one meaning.

So here Jesus is using a story of a farmer planting his seed. Farmers back they didn’t have a planter to pull behind a tractor and certainly didn’t have something like a no-till planter. Instead, they planted seed by scattering the seed by hand as they walked in the field. So as the farmer tossed the seed, the seed naturally went beyond the good soil. His goal is to get as much seed as possible to take root in good soil, but waste is inevitable as some falls or is blown into less productive areas like on the footpath, the rocks, and in the weeds and thorns.

9 His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables to teach the others so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled: ‘When they look, they won’t really see. When they hear, they won’t understand.’

I want to say right here, this is not because Jesus is trying to hide anything. This has much more to do with us.

11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is God’s word. 12 The seeds that fell on the footpath represent those who hear the message, only to have the devil come and take it away from their hearts and prevent them from believing and being saved. 13 The seeds on the rocky soil represent those who hear the message and receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they believe for a while, then they fall away when they face temptation. 14 The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity. 15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

I don’t want you to miss this. Jesus’ point in this parable is that the seed is God’s word, and the different types of soil are us, the people on earth. Whether the seed grows and matures has to do with what kind of soil we chose to be. The point is that we can hear God’s word, we can know what we are supposed to do to follow Jesus and be His disciple, but just because we hear it, know it, and even believe it, doesn’t mean we take action and actually follow it.

Therefore, some fall on the footpath. It gets stepped on so it can’t grow, the birds snatch it up so quickly that doesn’t even stand a chance. People hear God’s word, they know it’s there, but it leaves their minds so fast because they don’t want to listen, they don’t really care. The devil has them so convinced they don’t need God’s word which prevents them from believing and therefore being saved.

Then there are the seeds the fall on the rocks. They hear God’s word, get excited about it so they began to grow, come to church every week. Yet soon the excitement wears off, temptations get in the way, and they fall away from the Word and church. The soil on the rocks is not deep. So as the plant grows, they wilt and died from lack of moisture. The roots are not deep, so they don’t last long.

This is why it is so important to raise your children in the church giving them a firm foundation, even if they stray away at some point as an adult. Most people raised in the church, will fall back on their faith at some point in life. And for those who were never raised in the church, when they come, it’s important for us to do our part, build a relationship with them, share your personal testimony, do our best to get them involved and nurture them along their walk. No, we can’t control what they will do, but we have to do our best to help them along the way.

The seed that falls on the thorns are the people who hear God’s word, likely attend church often or even every week, but all too quickly the message they hear each week is crowded out by the worries and concerns of life, the lure of wealth, the pleasures of this world and the desire for other things. And so they don’t grow into spiritual maturity. They come to church each week, but never really get involved with God or the church.

And lastly, you have the fertile soil who hears God’s word, retains it, treasures it, even clings to it, and then grows and produces a crop. They bear fruit, for themselves and for others. Remember the fruits of the Spirit that we develop when we have the Holy Spirit in our lives? This is the crop that is produced in us.

Galatians 5:22-23
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control.

Then we go on to produce fruit in others. The way we live our lives is an example for others by the way we share our fruits. And when we share the word of God, the seed, now we’ve planted a crop for God to harvest.

Let’s look closer at how we can be the fertile soil? Look at Luke 8:15 again.
15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

There are three things this scripture tells us to do as disciples. You have to:

So first hear God’s word. Jesus said, “Anyone with ears to hears should listen and understand.” Luke 8:9 We all have ears, but are you really listening and seeking the truth?

Secondly, we retain it. We need to treasure the word of God so much that we always hold onto it, that it’s at the forefront of our minds.

Then we preserver. Other bible versions say patiently produce a harvest, or bear fruit with patient endurance. So we practice patience and perseverance. In other words, we need to work at it. We are not going to produce a crop overnight. It’s going to take some time and a whole lot of effort. It’s going to take practice.

When I think of what practice means, I think of training, studying, repeating, having a support team and a coach (like a church community and a pastor). And if you ever practiced at anything, you know there are going to be times when you fall and fail. Which at that point, there’s one of two choices you can make: you can either give up or you can get back up and keep practicing.

Please hear this warning, the devil will lie to you throughout anything you are doing for God. He will swear to you that it’s not worth it, that you are no good at this, that you are defeated and should just stay there, give up, it’s what is easiest. And let’s not give the devil too much credit because in all reality we are our own worst critics, are we not? And we know full well how to beat our own selves up.

But if we want to be disciples of Jesus Christ, we have to preserver knowing full well there will be times that we fail. But when we hear, retain and practice with perseverance and patience and obey God’s word, we produce what verse 8 said, “This seed grew and produced a crop that was a hundred times as much as had been planted!”

How is that possible? The seeds we plant in the ground can’t do that. The point is that God’s word can do amazing things. It can grow so much in our hearts that it overflows to the people around us.

As I studied and read and re-read these scriptures from four different bibles over and over, one thing kept jumping out of the pages. The seed is for everyone, and everyone can hear God’s word, but even though you may hear it, you may not fully “hear” it until you have a change of heart.

Look closer at Luke 8:15,
15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

In other words, you are not going to hear God’s word, let alone retain it or produce a crop, if your heart is not noble, honest and good, if it’s not in the right place. Honest people want honesty. They want truth, so they seek it. Good hearted people want to do good. They work hard to do what is right. So if your heart is not honest and good, if you are not seeking the truth and working hard to do what is right, you won’t be able to hear or retain God’s word, nor will you be able to produce the crop or be a disciple.

I recently heard a fellow pastor say this. He told a story that someone in his church came up to him one Sunday after worship and said, “I have never heard that scripture preached on. That moved me, so thank you.” The pastor thought, “I’ve preached on that scripture here at this church and likely so did pastors before me. But the mans never heard it because his heart wasn’t in the right place to hear it.

You have to want to hear it. You have to want to know what Jesus is saying. You have to want to know your Lord and Savior personally.

I believe we have a logic problem. We know what we are supposed to do, but we fall short of the practice. And why is that? Why are we not committed to the practice, to putting the time and energy into it? Because of the relationship or lack of the relationship.

When we get to know someone, a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker, a future spouse, the first thing we need is honesty. Both parties have to be honest about who they are, what they like, what they don’t like. Then the honesty leads to trust. And when we believe we can fully trust each other, then comes love. Now you genuinely care about the other person, you want to be with them, and they matter to you.

All of this takes time and energy (practice), and it takes risk and vulnerability which we need to be open to. No one really likes being vulnerable, I get it, but if we ever want to get to the love part, we have to take a chance and be vulnerable.

The same is with Jesus.

The reason we don’t do what we know we should is because of the lack of relationship we have with Jesus. Without spending time with Jesus, you can’t get to know Him, trust Him, and love Him. Without the risk, we never really know how great God’s love is for us.

Many of us want to know, we want to know so badly, we try to go from zero to 60mph and forget about the first 59 steps. Relationships take time. But if we build the relationship, if we are honest with Jesus, trust Him, love Him, we are so much more inclined to do what He has asked of us. Why? Because we begin to care about what He cares about. And you know what He cares the most about, people.

Our logic problem is created by our lack of surrender, of letting go and letting Jesus into our lives, letting Him in control, letting Him lead us. In all reality, I believe we know that if we surrender to Jesus, if we truly make a relationship with Him, we know there are some things we are going to have to let go of. And I’m not so sure we want to do that.

We love our sin don’t we. I’ll admit it. Sin can be fun. But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be consequences that we pay later for it. But look, if you want to say yes to Jesus, you are going to have to first say no to the worldly pleasures and desires. You can’t follow both at the same time.

Luke 8: 16-21 – Parable of the Lamp
16 “No one lights a lamp and then covers it with a bowl or hides it under a bed. A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house. 17 For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all.

18 “So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.”

In a time of no electricity, candles or oil lamps were the number one source of light in a dark house. Light was precious. You would put a single light up on a stand so it shined all over. What happens if you put a candle under a bowl or a jar? It snuffs it out. What happens if you put a candle under your bed? It’s very likely you’ll burn your whole house down. You didn’t snuff out the light or hide it.

The Light is the word of God and is precious. You shouldn’t want to snuff it out or hide it. If you do hide God’s word, block it out of your life, you’ll eventually lose everything. Jesus is saying why take what I teach you and not use it.

God knows all. He sees what is done in secret. You can’t hide from the Word, nor should you want to. That’s the lie the devil try to make us believe. He has us bound to sin. But know that the Word will come out. Truth always prevails.

The scripture continues…
The True Family of Jesus
19 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they couldn’t get to him because of the crowd. 20 Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, and they want to see you.”

21 Jesus replied, “My mother and my brothers are all those who hear God’s word and obey it.”

Now Jesus is not being rude here. He is simply trying to drive His point home. The crowd’s expectation was that Jesus would stop what He was doing and pay more attention to His mom and brothers, that they are more important. But Jesus is saying, “I pay attention to my family, all of my family. And my true family is comprised of those who hear and obey God’s word. Hearing without obeying is not enough.”

I take this statement as a compliment. As Jesus loved His mother, so He loves us.

In Luke 6:46-49, Jesus is wrapping up His Sermon on the Mount and says,
46 “So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? 47 I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. 48 It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. 49 But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house right on the ground, without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.

How do we build a foundation? HEAR God’s Word; RETAIN it; PRESERVE. We practice. But first, we have to make sure our hearts are in the right place, that we are building our relationship with Jesus every day.