A friend of mine is fond of saying “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
As a phrase, it perfectly encapsulates discipleship: both the need for, and the process of, discipleship.
Take, for example, being a parent. Being a parent, or at least making a good job of being a parent, is tough. Nothing really prepares you for it. Sure, there are shelf-loads of books on parenting out there, but really the only way to learn how to be a good parent is to have in your life other people who are trying to be good parents, who are perhaps a little further down the road from where you are right now, who you can look to and say, they seem to be doing something right. Not perfect examples – they don’t exist, and unless I mistakenly believe I can become one, they wouldn’t be much help to me if they did. But living examples, accessible examples, who are willing to share with me their successes and failures, their highs and lows, what they found hard and what helped and what enabled them to keep going when things were hard. What they discovered about God and themselves and their children along the way. It might help a little if we ourselves experienced good parenting as a child; but to be honest, as a child you don’t watch your parents to learn how to be a parent; hopefully, you are – quite rightly – free to learn how to be a child. Really it is when you become a parent that you need role-models, or disciplers – and not least because with God explanation generally follows experience, rather than being front-loaded and abstract.
Or take, for example, any calling to serve others, whether we felt that we chose it (of course, the truth is never so simplistic) or whether we felt that it was thrust upon us (of course, the truth is never so simplistic).
You can’t be what you can’t see.
And neither can anyone else.
Which is why discipleship can never simply be about my receiving from others (and far less about my taking abstract theological information from anonymous others).
To what has God called you? And who do you have in your life to whom you can look, to learn how to be the person God has called you to be? What examples can you look to, in Scripture, in church history, in your local community of faith?
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