After following Jesus for more than four decades, one thing has become crystal clear to me: being and becoming a disciple of Christ is our highest calling in life. Period.
Jesus cares infinitely more about our own lives being transformed into God’s planned design than about anything else. All the good and noble activities we do (or fail to do) for the Lord, including discipling others, are simply the methods by which we grow to become more like Him. It will be out of our own overflowing relationship with Jesus that we lead generations of sons and daughters back into the family of God. I always knew this in theory, but I finally knew it in my soul after a season of searching discontent.
Listening to Myself (Unexpected Discontent)
Too often in life, after spending years pursuing and finally achieving our goals – whether those are tied to vocation, education, relationships, accomplishments, achievements, even spiritual advancement – we find ourselves still longing for more. In my own life, this happened after landing a new job, completing a second advanced degree, beginning married life, buying a new home, and more. In some ways, I had it all. I had every reason to be content and satisfied. But there were deeper longings of my soul tugging at my heart, which ironically had been planted and prompted by one of my accomplishments. Completing my MDiv required deep reflection on my spiritual formation and intentional focus on becoming more like Jesus rather than doing more for Jesus. Looking back, I see that the Holy Spirit was tuning my heart and soul to the dial where God was trying to get my attention. Though I lacked clarity about the specific source of my discontent and longing, I needed to acknowledge and name it in order to move beyond it.
We must listen to the rumblings of our hearts and souls in order to grow.
Listening to A Guide (Wise Discipling)
Fortunately, I had a trusted mentor who both sensed the state of my soul and listened to the Holy Spirit’s nudging. “What do you want, Carolyn?” she asked me. And I thought to myself, “I have no idea.” But now that a wise and trusted friend had put the situation into words and had challenged me, I couldn’t ignore things. After a full life of following Jesus, I still needed a teacher and guide to nudge me forward. We never outgrow that need. And when we are in a spiritually dry place, we need it that much more.
We must listen to trusted and wise advisors when God speaks to us through them.
Listening to the Holy Spirit (Questions and Creation)
I knew I needed to take time to be still, to listen, to learn, and to discern God’s voice. So I cleared my calendar and created a Sabbath. I arrived at 4pm, just before sunset, exhausted, uncomfortable, and slightly irritated by all the unknowns that come with saying “yes” to meeting with the Lord in a quiet place for an extended time. As a people-pleasing task-oriented doer, this kind of thing can be difficult. “Alright, Lord. I’m here. Now what?” The answer had nothing to do with pleasing people or doing tasks.
“Take a nap. Rest yourself. Stay a while.”
So I did. I slept until just before sunrise the next day, waking in my small monastery cell to a brilliant sky filled with morning stars, and the particular beauty of a frozen river in the early stages of thaw. I had nothing but time. I settled myself on the portico, watching birds soar effortlessly, wings fully extended, stretched out on the power of the wind beneath them in the winter daybreak.
I heard the same question my mentor had asked me, this time directly from the Holy Spirit. “What do you want, Carolyn?” But now I had an answer. “I want to soar like those majestic birds who trust the wind, and the One who controls the wind, to live their fullest expression of life. I want that!!”
We must create quiet space where we can be with God and listen to the Holy Spirit.
Listening to Love (Deep Discipleship)
From that day until now, my journey with Jesus as His disciple has deepened in ways I could not have imagined. His well of more is bottomless. The only limits are the ones we impose out of ignorance, fear, or a worldly focus. He will give us life that runs over with limitless love and blessing – but that will likely require us to limit other areas of our lives so that we can remain with Jesus and so that our lives proclaim God’s grace and goodness.
We must listen to God reminding us that being with Him and growing into Him is the most important thing in our lives. That is the first and most important part of our ministry to others.
Written by: Carolyn Harrison, Bronx Regional Director (firstname.lastname@example.org)