This essay was published in the February 2019 issue of North Coast Anglican which will be available in churches across the Diocese of Grafton this morning.
In the liturgical afterglow of Advent and Christmas with all those special services and all that wonderful music, we pause and catch our breath.
The season of Epiphany—like its more rigorous cousin, Lent—invites us to reflect on the many ways that we encounter the God who reaches out to us and then to fashion our response to Emmanuel, God with us.
We are invited into intentional discipleship, as distinct from an inherited religious identity.
Discipleship is a word that is closely associated with Jesus and the responses people made to him on the other side of Calvary, before the Easter triumph transformed their views of his significance.
To my surprise when doing a recent word study in preparation for one of the Dean’s Forums at the Cathedral, I discovered that this is not a word ever used by Paul. It is a term only found in the four NT gospels and in the Acts of the Apostles, written originally as part two of the Gospel of Luke.
The difference between the Gospels and the Epistles is stark.
So to be a disciple is to be someone with an intentional relationship with Jesus.
To have beliefs and opinions about Jesus is not the essence of discipleship, even though disciples will have beliefs and opinions that matter deeply to us.
An intentional relationship with Jesus?
That would be a continuous Epiphany experience as we discover more and more about God’s loving and compassionate purposes for the universe, including our own selves.
That would be a lifelong commitment to shape our lives around the beliefs and practices that mattered to Jesus.
That would be to engage in compassionate action to bring the effective reign of God into the lived experience of our families, friends and local communities.
An intentional relationship with Jesus is going to be about practice (what we do and how we treat people) more than with ideas (what we believe and how we explain our faith to others).
As the practical Christian wisdom found in the Letter of James puts it: “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” (James 2:18)
As Anglicans, we are blessed with a rich heritage of spiritual practices that can be embraced as we commit to intentional discipleship. Some of them (like Baptism) are a once in a lifetime event, while others are practices that we can use regularly in our own spiritual disciplines.
Gathering with other believers for the Lord’s Supper is perhaps the first and greatest spiritual discipline for anyone who is serious about intentional discipleship. We need to ensure that our weekly Eucharistic gatherings are engaging and transformative, and not simply a case of going through the motions. What we celebrate in the Eucharist is the saving presence of God in Jesus and among us. Our liturgies should express that dynamic reality.
Prayer is at the heart of intentional discipleship. At its most basic level, this means we cultivate mindfulness: we are attentive to the presence of Christ within us, in others, and around us. Our personal and collective rituals can help us develop and sustain our mindfulness, and from that will flow a deeper experience of prayer in all its forms: contemplation, thanksgiving, protest, and intercession.
Deep engagement with the Scriptures is another of the core spiritual disciplines for anyone who is serious about intentional discipleship. The church already offers many patterns for daily and weekly attention to Scripture, and there is no shortage of Bible reading plans online and in your local Christian bookstore. As the fitness gear retailers constantly remind us: just do it.
Eucharist, prayer and Bible reading are the big three spiritual disciplines for intentional discipleship, but there are many more. These include cell groups, compassionate action for justice and environmental stewardship, fasting, labyrinth, pilgrimage, preparing a rule of life, sacrificial distribution of our own resources for mission, spiritual direction, and volunteering our time for church and community projects.
Which of these spiritual disciplines we embrace depends on our circumstances and perhaps our personalities, but the call to intentional discipleship is universal.
Imagine the transformation in our mission as a Diocese and in the communities we serve if every North Coast Anglican was actively engaged in intentional discipleship.
Additional note: A video of the Dean presenting a session on intentional discipleship as part of the My Faith My Life My Church program at Grafton Cathedral is available on the Cathedral website