Several years ago, people were circulating humorous, made-up facts about the accomplished martial artist and actor, Chuck Norris. One that particularly makes me laugh is, "If at first you don't succeed, you're not Chuck Norris." Well, there is one thing that could make even Chuck Norris feel like a failure: discipleship. Discipleship can be great, but it can also be incredibly challenging. Are you attempting to help someone follow Christ, but things do not seem to be going well? Maybe you feel inadequate for the task. Maybe it is really difficult to interact with the person with whom you are meeting. Or, perhaps, you are discouraged that you see so little fruit in the life of the person to whom you are ministering. If any of these describe you, I would like to offer 3 reasons why you should persevere in discipleship.
1. This is the Task God Has Given You
Objection: "I don't know what I'm doing! It feels pointless for me keep meeting with Tiffany when I know somebody else could do a way better job discipling her. Why can't Susan disciple her instead?"
Response: Perhaps it is true that someone else is better at discipleship than you. There are most likely lots of people who know more about the Bible than you, are better communicators, are more godly, and are more mature in a host of other areas than you are. But that is not the point. This is the task that God has given you. Not him, not her, not them, but you. Your wise and sovereign Lord wants to use this specific discipleship relationship to grow you and the person you disciple in specific ways. You must trust him in this. And you must be obedient to the task that he has placed before you. God has prepared this good work for you to walk in (Eph 2:10). Do not get distracted from running your own course. Hear the words Jesus spoke to Peter when Peter began focusing on John's course: "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!" (John 21:22). Likewise, you follow Jesus.
2. Discipling Someone Can Grow You
Objection: "It's just really hard. Every time I meet with Ron, he can be very dramatic and talk forever about all his problems. I feel exhausted just listening to him, then I rarely know how to respond. Why should I keep spending my time on something so difficult?"
Response: Perhaps you need to try a different approach with the person you disciple or ask for some outside help. Perhaps after praying and seeking counsel, you should no longer disciple this person. But perhaps God intends to stretch and grow you in this just as much as he intends to stretch and grow the man or woman with whom you meet. The Lord may use this situation to make you more patient and understanding, more loving, and more dependent on him for wisdom (Jas 1:2–4). Through the very process of discipling, God often exposes sin in our own lives, uses our weaknesses as a billboard for his power, and uses our personal failures as a testament to his steadfast love and sanctifying grace. If you are too quick to cut off a difficult discipleship relationship, you may cut off a means of personal growth.
3. More Is Happening Than You Realize
Objection: "I don't know if anything I say to Helen really gets through to her. She's still struggling with some of the same things that she wrestled with a year ago. I don't really feel like I'm making any impact on her life. I'm not so sure I should keep doing this."
Response: Remember that change is slow. How quickly have you grown in your faith? How often have you backslid? How easily do you receive and respond to correction? We must be patient and take the long view regarding the people we disciple. If the Holy Spirit dwells within the man or woman with whom you meet, Christ will indeed finish the work he began in his or her life (Phil 1:6). Be encouraged by baby steps! This is the God-ordained process of growth. And in this process, God is using you far more than you realize. You have said things and done things that God has used to make a real difference in this person's life. Without realizing it, you may have set an example for the person you disciple by speaking kindly to your spouse or by sacrificially loving your friend. Whether you see it or not, your influence is making an impact on this person's life.
One could give many more reasons as to why it is a good thing to persevere in a difficult discipleship relationship. But at the end of the day, just remember the words of the apostle Paul: “... in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58). The Resurrection is coming! In this life, you may not see the fruit of your work; you may never see the myriad of ways that you have helped the person you discipled. But when God has raised the elect from the dead, he will reveal what each one of us has done and reward us according to our work (Matt 16:27). Even if you face the heart-breaking agony of watching the person you disciple walk away from the Lord, shipwrecking his or her faith––may it not be, Lord!––, you can still know that God will reward you for your faithful, obedient work. No matter what, then, in the Lord your discipleship is not in vain.