The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together

The Imperfect Disciple (Baker Books, 2017)

Jared C. Wilson, currently director of content strategy at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently published The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together.  In his Introduction, Pastor Wilson states he wrote the book to demystify discipleship.  Because all of us need tuning up in the gospel every day, Jared thinks of discipleship as not simply following Jesus, but refollowing Jesus every day.  We veer off track so easily.  Yet, we don’t often realize our souls are greatly troubled when, in fact, that’s the case.  As a result, the author notes, we need to feed, nourish, and lubricate our souls.  Through this process, we don’t need good advice.  In contrast, we need good news.  And there’s good news for those on the bottom!  Jesus turned things right side up, not upside down.

Thus, discipleship rests on our trust of Jesus’ mercy toward our total inability to become bigger, better, or faster.  In addition, discipleship must deal with the tension between the glorious reality we believe in and yearn for and the harsh reality of life.  As a result, Pastor Wilson underscores, “every day when you encounter God . . . you face the choice of simply looking at Jesus or actually trying to see him.”  As G. K. Beale observes, people resemble what they revere, either for their ruin or their restoration.  Therefore, to truly behold Jesus, it’s crucial to cultivate Spiritual formation.  This means we find ways to immerse ourselves in the work of the Holy Spirit.  In the process, we re-sync ourselves to the rhythms of the Kingdom of God.

Through centering on the gospel, the essential duties of maintaining a relationship with God seem more delight than duty, more rhythms than rules.  Contrary to popular belief, hearing is believing.  In other words, to see we must first hear.  For, Jared states, the glory of God blares from the pages of Scripture.  Thus, God’s not giving us the silent treatment.  In fact, the author stresses, He’s practically yelling.  To behold Jesus, we must feast on His presence rather than giving Him crumbs.  Prayer enables us to strengthen this relationship.  Also, we need to think of duty as worshipful prayer rather than worshipful prayer as duty.   Our daily life communicates when where we place our hope and trust.  And the more we pray, the more we abide in God’s strength alone.

In conclusion, Jared emphasizes that our availability to God’s call to sacrifice is predicated on our understanding that God needs no more messiahs.  Jesus already took care of that job.  Thus, God doesn’t need us.  Ah, Jared adds, but we’re wanted!  God’s grace goes all the way down.  It meets us in the darkest valleys of the heart.  But God’s grace also goes all the way up to His glory.  Therefore, to practice followship of Jesus is to believe, through God’s grace, that heaven’s beyond our imagination or ability to conceive.  One day the Lord “will pull out a chair and seat us at his own table at the wedding supper of the Lamb.”

Patience is more than endurance

Dad’s first new car, a blue/white 1962 Rambler Classic 4 door sedan.

“Patience is more than endurance.  A saint’s life is in the hands of God like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer.  God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, and He stretches and strains, and every now and again the saint says — ‘I cannot stand anymore.’  God does not heed, He goes on stretching till His purpose is in sight, the He lets fly.  Trust yourself in God’s hands.”- Oswald Chambers

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”- Romans 12:12

“People ask me a lot about the values I got from playing for the Cubs for so many years (1953-1971).  The value I got out of it was patience.”- Ernie Banks, “Mr. Cub”

In the summer of 1962, after 13+ years of marriage, my parents – Bill and Elinor- bought their first new car.  For a little over $2,000, they purchased a blue/white Rambler Classic 4 door sedan from South Side Rambler on South Ashland Avenue in Chicago.  The Rambler replaced an aging, green metallic 1949 Chevrolet Fleetline Coupe.

One notable feature of the Classic was a safer, twin circuit brake system.  Only a few cars used this in 1962.  However, my most vivid memory centers on the colorful push buttons that engaged the automatic transmission.  In addition, I remember the rounded upper window points on the back door and the rounded tail lamps.  With the demise of the Electroliner, the Rambler provided reliable highway transportation.

Approximately three hundred years ago, a prisoner in the Tower of London carved the following words in his cell wall.  He truly understood that patience is more than endurance:

“It is not adversity that kills, but the impatience with which we bear adversity.”

As Jared C. Wilson discerns in The Imperfect Disciple, at its root, impatience reflects confusion about control.  In other words, impatience represents the rotten fruit of self-sovereignty.  To our chagrin, people and circumstances don’t operate as if we’re the center of the universe!   Therefore, we need the gospel to cultivate patience in us.  For patience is more than endurance.  Denial of our adversity, in contrast, fosters impatience.  Hence, as we trust our sovereign God, who ordains all things, we grow more patient with others.  And we relax in God’s better hands.  We realize what impatience costs us in our relationship with God.  We enjoy abiding in Christ.

In conclusion, Pastor Wilson summarizes how the gospel grows patience through humbling:

“We are sinners who stand only by the virtue of grace. . . . saved by grace alone.  Knowing this helps us climb down from our pedestals.   It’s at the top that we mistakenly inflate our own sense of importance.  Coming down to see that the ground is level at the foot of the cross helps us regard others with more thoughtfulness — and more patience.”

Beholding a vision of the glorious Christ

“You boast in your constant inability to get your act together . . . by beholding a vision of the glorious Christ, whose power rests on you if you’re a believer.”- Jared C. Wilson

Jared Wilson concludes Chapter 10 of The Imperfect Disciple as he notes the inadequacy of words to describe God’s glory.  Consequently, Jared cites his friend Christian George, writing in his book Godology.  Christian states:

“The deeper I dig into God’s attributes, the shallower I find myself.  The harder I shovel, the thicker the ground.  How can anyone describe the indescribable? . . . to perfectly articulate the glory of God requires tongues we don’t have, words we cant say, and alphabets we can’t know.”

Just as the apostle Paul isn’t proud of his sin, Pastor Wilson adds, we shouldn’t be proud of our struggles and sluggish Christian life.  However, when we own up to our great sinfulness, it’s the only way to boast in our Savior’s greatness.  In addition, Jared notes, “Like Paul, we boldly claim to be the chief of sinners because we have the chief of Saviors.”

Also, Jared reminds us, God’s grace goes all the way down to our weakness and suffering.  But, it also goes all the way up to our deliverance, all the way up to the throne of God.  Furthermore, there Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father.

In conclusion, as Jared writes, heaven reverses the vanity and meaninglessness of Ecclesiastes.  Thus, Jared states:

“The tapestry quickly assembles, line by line in quick succession, and the backside of loose threads and disjointed pattern we have struggled to comprehend all our miserable life turns away from us and we wee the front side, the full portrait of all God has been doing to renew the world and us for it.  In heaven, believe it or not, we will catch the wind!”

Today’s question: What Bible verses help you look forward to beholding a vision of the glorious Christ?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Find joy and affirmation in the hidden”

Please note: the annotated bibliography of The Imperfect Disciple posts Thursday, October 19th

Until God becomes our only hope

“It is true that sometimes God doesn’t become our only hope until God becomes our only hope.”- Jared C. Wilson

Jared Wilson concludes Chapter 9 of The Imperfect Disciple as he notes that grace goes all the way down to our deepest pain.  In fact, Pastor Wilson posits that we’ve all prayed “I just want this to be over” kind of prayers.  Put differently, Jared asks if we’ve ever been undone from how done we are with suffering.  Jared adds:

” . . . given the sovereignty of God over all things, we ought to acknowledge that the Bible doesn’t teach that grace goes down only until you get to the point where Saran takes over and starts doing his (emphasis Jared’s) work.  No, it’s grace all the way down, even into the deep, dark cellar of affliction.”

Therefore, the author observes, when you’re in the pit of suffering, Jesus doesn’t send heavenly “good thoughts” or “good vibes” your way.  In addition, Jesus doesn’t blast you with some ethereal virtues.  Pastor Wilson continues:

“No, when you  are laid low in the dark well of despair, when the whole world seems to be crashing down on you, when  your next breath seems sure to be your last, Christ Jesus is down in the void with you, holding you.  He keeps your hand between his own. . . .  offers his breast for your weary head.  He whispers words of comfort a whisker’s breadth from your ear.”

In conclusion, Jared reminds us that grace is all-sufficient for suffering.  And for pain and glory too.  Grace not only goes all the way down, but grace also goes all the way up.

Today’s question: What brings you to the point that God becomes your only hope?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Swallowed up into his glory”

Our dependence on God – all grace or no grace

“When it comes to our dependence on God, it is all grace or no grace. . . . it must be grace all the way down.  We bring nothing to his relationship except our nothingness. . . . We bring our pit and he brings his rope.”- Jared C. Wilson

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ “- 2 Corinthians 12:9

In Chapter 9 (“Does Grace Go All the Way Down?”) of The Imperfect Disciple, Jared Wilson talks about the all-sufficiency of grace.  Not only is God’s grace all-encompassing, Jared underscores, it’s grace all the way down (emphasis Jared’s).

Furthermore, Pastor Wilson sees verse 9 as the key verse, the key takeaway of 2 Corinthians 12:1-10.  Also, Jared notes, the apostle Paul doesn’t define sufficiency as “good enough.”  However, that’s how we usually explain the term.  Therefore, when Paul defines grace as sufficient, he means that grace supplies all our need.  Grace isn’t “fine,” but rather, more than enough.  Jared goes on to explain:

“It is grace that goes all the way down through our self-sufficiency and our self-righteousness, exposing them as rusty, feeble scaffolding indeed.  It goes all the way down to meet us at our realest self, at our most vulnerable self, in the reservoir of our soul, in the deepest, darkest valleys of our heart — in our weakness and in our suffering.”

In conclusion, Pastor Wilson states that grace goes all the way down to our deepest need.  As a result, that means owning up to the reality that everything about us would blow apart without Christ.  Thus, we need not fear our weakness, for it’s the only thing God works with.  And the weaker we are, the stronger we discover Jesus to be.

Today’s question: How do you view your dependence on God – all grace or no grace?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Until God becomes our only hope”

The actual church – a motley crew of sinners

“The actual church is a motley crew of sinners who are more primed, together, to really experience grace than they would be if they were all apart.”- Jared C. Wilson

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus.”- Romans 15:5

As Jared Wilson continues Chapter 6 of The Imperfect Disciple, he talks about what happens when grace takes over a church.  Sometimes, though, risk-taking for grade lands you right on your face.  However, Pastor Wilson asserts, it’s worth taking that risk.  Often our honesty and transparency serve to liberate others from their “having it all together” prisons.

Therefore, while experiencing a unity of doctrine is crucial, the church must also experience the harmony of what that doctrine produces.  Pastor Wilson explains:

“The doctrine of grace when administered with a spirit of grace gradually becomes a culture of grace.  A message of grace will attract people but a culture of grace will keep them (emphasis Jared’s).  See, the gospel . . .[is] not tuned to the frequency of accusation.”

As a result, when coming to church we first seek our real priorities, not what we’d prefer.  Rather than desiring our own fulfillment, we seek the flourishing of others.   Hence, Pastor Wilson adds, “you cannot grow in holiness and holier-than-thou-ness at the same time.”

In conclusion, Jared states, we must not view the church as a club with member privileges.   Therefore, the author adds, we approach the community of faith as a contributor rather than a consumer.

Today’s question: Does the actual church where you belong view itself as a motley crew of sinners?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “A community of Christ-followers”

Refollowing Jesus every day

“This is how I like to think about discipleship, then — not just following Jesus, but refollowing Jesus every day.  We go off track so easily (emphasis author’s).”- Jared C. Wilson

Jared Wilson concludes Chapter 1 of The Imperfect Disciple as he notes we all “need tuning up in the gospel every day.”  Thus, Jared reflects on the dominant biblical portrait of the pastorate.  That portrait? – a shepherd with his flock.

However, the author humorously observes, pastoral ministry more often seems to center around herding cats than herding sheep.  Sheep tend to go astray because they’re dumbly distracted.  On the other hand, cats stray because they’re “smug investors in their own narcissistic autonomy.”  And, Jared adds, that picture describes us.

But, Jared states, we keep looking for the answers inside us.  That won’t work.  Because the solution’s found in a different place than our problems.  The author explains:

“Our souls are greatly troubled . . . especially when we don’t feel they are.  Sin is deceptive.  The devil comes as an angel of light.  The way to destruction is wide and easygoing.  All of this spells trouble for the one who doesn’t work at deciphering the riddle of himself.  Our souls need a good looking at.  Most people don’t and won’t do this.  In fact, all day our souls are whispering to us that they need leading . . .”

As a result, we must feed, nourish, and lubricate our souls.  In addition, we need awareness of what’s going on in our souls.  We must question why our soul’s  messed up.  Jared explains:

“By God’s grace, then, disciples of Jesus look for the places we have yet to surrender to him, the places where we’ve given up ground, the tender spots we want to hide, the stubborn spaces we want to protect, and we ask him humbly to help us.  He will never say no to that.”

Today’s question: How do you envision refollowing Jesus every day?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The dark cave of shame”

Our Lord is more than able

“Our Lord is more than able to take care of our past.  He pardons instantly and forgives completely.  His blood makes us worthy — all we are and all we have is by the forgiving love of God.”- A. W. Tozer, I Talk Back to the Devil

In Chapter 6 (“Dare to Pray Without Condemnation”) of Your Powerful Prayers, Susie Larson notes the devil wants us to trust our own efforts.  Why?  So when our own efforts fail us, he’s right there to accuse us.  Thus, Satan love it when we sit there and repeatedly rehash our failures.  In contrast, Jesus wants us to sit there and think about what He’s done.

Ms. Larson explains the importance of doing this on a regular basis:

“Why is it important to think about the Lord and what He’s done for you on a regular basis?  Because even though what we do matters deeply, what Jesus has already done matters most of all (emphasis Susie’s).”

As a result, Ms. Larson exhorts us to never stop relying on God’s goodness.  After all, He’s the one who paid for our place at the table of grace with His blood.  And even though we can’t always discern His hand in our lives, we must remember God’s always good and He’s always good to us.

On the other hand, Susie cautions, it’s easy to lose our way and footing in a heartbeat.  That happens the minute we believe life’s good because we’re good.  Or that God owes us when life gets uncomfortable.

In conclusion, Ms. Larson cites Dr. Warren Wiersbe.  Dr. Wiersbe writes:

“When we think we are strong, we discover that we are weak. . . . Good beginnings do not guarantee good endings. . . . Experience must be balanced with caution, for we never come to a place in our Christian walk where we are free from temptation and failure. . . . Yet, God provides a way for us to overcome.”

Today’s question: How’s the Lord shown He’s more than able in your life? Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “A lifestyle of listening to God”

To neglect communion with God

“Some things may be neglected with but little loss to the spiritual life, but to neglect communion with God is to hurt ourselves where we cannot afford it.”- A. W. Tozer

“May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.  Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”- Ephesians 3:19 (NLT)

In John Eldredge’s foreword to Susie Larson’s book  Your Powerful Prayers, he compares giving up on prayer to a solder laying down his arms in the midst of a firefight.  Prayer, Mr. Eldredge adds, “is something you grow into, something you mature in and get better at over time.”  In addition, John adds that prayer’s far more like learning to drive than sneezing.

Thus, as Ms. Larson notes in her introduction, Jesus wants us to be comfortable with, as well as undone by His great love for us. As a result, God’s love and acceptance of us has everything to do with prayer.  Furthermore, Jesus invites us to:

  • know Him more intimately
  • walk with Him more profoundly
  • trust in His Word more confidently

Most importantly, Ms. Larson exhorts, as we get to know God’s love, our life spills with grace, insight, and power.  The author explains:

“If we want to be powerful in prayer, we must spend our lives learning to accept and embrace how fiercely God loves us.  We must continually stand in awe of the fact that Jesus defeated death and sin for us.  And then from there, live our whole lives in response to what Jesus has already accomplished for us.  This is what it means to stop striving and to know that He is God (Psalm 46:10).”

Today’s question: During your desert, land between time, what circumstances cause(d) you to neglect communion with God?  Please share.

Coming Monday: the new Short Meditation, ”

Tomorrow’s blog: “That place where joy and faith collide”

Real freedom = internal freedom

“Real freedom is not the external freedom to gratify every appetite; it is the internal freedom not to be enslaved by our appetites.”- John Ortberg

In Chapter 12 (“Temptation: How Not to Get Hooked”) of The Me I Want to Be, John Ortberg tells of when he and his wife fly-fished for the first time.  Reflecting on what he learned from the guides, John quips: “To a fish, life is ‘see a fly, want a fly, eat a fly.’  A rainbow trout never really reflects on where his life is headed.”

You’d think, Pastor Ortberg wryly observes, that fish would wise up when they see their friends go for a lure, fly off into space, and never return.  Aren’t you glad, John asks rhetorically, that we’re smarter?

Obviously, we give in to temptation as well.  Pastor Ortberg notes that temptation:

  • creates pain from the inside
  • tries to get our appetites and will to override our deepest values
  • strikes where we’re the most vulnerable

As a result, John offers five steps to stay in the flow when temptation knocks on your door.

1.  Ask for help.  Isolation makes temptation most powerful.  Therefore, John believes, the most common “way out” of temptation involves talking about it with another person.

2.  Ask, Where will this lead?  When living in the flow of the Spirit, it actually requires more mental gymnastics to walk down the wrong path than the right one.  You must silence God’s divine voice with you.  In turn, that keeps you in a state of spiritual and mental vagueness.  God never leads you to manage a desire sinfully.

3.  Remind yourself of your deepest values.  Simply trying to repress a desire wears you out.  John defines real freedom as the internal freedom from appetite enslavement.

4.  Monitor your soul satisfaction.  When we live with a dissatisfied soul, sin begins to look tempting.  God blesses you not through fulfilling every one of your desires, but freeing you from them.  Therefore, through Jesus, love, life, and connection are yours for the asking.

5.  Don’t stay down!  In conclusion, Pastor Ortberg offers a little picture of grace.  God’s glad you’re here.  Consequently, He’s not neutral about your existence.  As a result, never allow your feelings to discourage you.

Today’s question: Do you experience real freedom or internal freedom?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Sin – the deadliest force”