This was a devotion I did for the Care Fresno retreat in Fall 2018.
I was asked to do a devotional on “what it means to be a disciple of Christ.” For today, we are going to try to answer two main questions:
1 . Where do we find our value?
2. Where do we find our community?
Then we are going to talk for a bit about prayer. I will give you an activity that I use in prayer.
The passages today are Romans 1:1, Jeremiah 29:7, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, and Isaiah 55:8-11.
To help us explore these questions, we are going to use an extended metaphor of something you all know and love: roaches. The roaches are going to stand for the things that keep us back or the things that hold us down.
Well, here we go.
So day one, here you are. You walk into your new apartment complex and you are excited to start your journey reaching a new community. Everything is fine and dandy and God has a great big plan for your lives, and you’ll find joy and discover new things and make great relationships, and one day go to heaven and everything will be good and you will get through every trial just fine. Because God is on your side, and with Him all things are possible. You believe this as well.
The disciples, when they first followed Jesus, left their nets and followed him. I wonder about all of the emotions they must have been feeling at the time; the rush, the excitement, the passion that caused them to leave everything that they knew to follow the one true God. A rabbi of all people called them to follow him. These people probably would have never thought a rabbi would ever walk up to them, working their lower class professions.
On the first day of moving into the apartment, you notice something — something a little off. You see a roach crawling across the floor. Most likely you shrug and assume this is just one roach and probably isn’t a theme in this apartment. The roach will probably go away and it won’t be too big a deal. And so the world is still good and God is still watching and guiding your every step. Everything is going to go great.
A few days later, you notice something else. You notice that there are now more roaches than there were on the first day. It is starting to become a problem. And so you work with your team to come up with a plan to kill these roaches. Maybe you get the raid and spray the roaches, maybe you set up traps, maybe you put out bait to poison them, and maybe you lay tape across the floor so they’ll get stuck on the tape and die, and so forth. The plans are pretty good, you think. The next day proves to you that they are, because you find that all of the roaches are dead. You learned teamwork and you used your gifts to destroy the roaches and God is good.
Something happens after another few days. You notice that there are even more roaches than before. You are a bit frustrated because you just dealt with this problem and dealing with it took time and money and resources and emotion and all that – it costs you something. But you had a good plan before and that plan should work again, so you decide to try to kill the roaches again. Maybe this time you call someone to help you do it. And it works this time. You feel pretty good and praise God for it, and you can conquer the world. Go you.
The cycle repeats again, and this time you grow a little weary. Then it happens again, and you start to lose faith in the plan. And it happens again, and you start coming up with new plans. And it happens again, and again, and at some point in the chain, over time, you grow numb to the roaches. When this happens you start to care less and less about this problem that is going on. You don’t try as hard and you don’t put in as much effort and you don’t use as much time or resources or money or anything, and eventually one day…
And the roaches start crawling all over you.
So we come to our first question: Where do we find our value?
It is easy to find our value in things such as how we look, how much money we make, our talents, the amount of friends we have, or just in material things in general. Maybe we move past that and start to find our value in things like our success, or our intelligence, or our ability to work together. In this case, it can be how good the plan is, or how many resources you have, or how many roaches you kill and so forth. In our organization, it can be placed in how many kids we are reaching, how well the program is running, how many lives are changed, how many relationships we are forming , in how well our plans are being cared out, etc.
The story shows that these things that we find value in can, and quite possibly will, fall away from us. As the roaches continue to crawl out of hiding, we see the things that gave us life starting to come apart.
For me, I reached a low a little over a year ago (since I wrote this, it has been close to three years now) where a lot of stuff happened - my team of four turned into of a team of one (just me), the after school program had no structure, and the kids weren’t showing very many signs of improvement - and I was lying on the top floor of the program room after another hard day of program. I asked God,
“Do you want me to do this?”
“Yep,” he answered, pretty clearly.
“Ok,” I said. And I continued on.
In that time, Jesus taught me to find value in Him instead of the things that aren’t him. It took me losing to realize where I was placing this value. In Christ, we are created in his image, with worth. We are loved, cared for, and sought after. And what he cares more about than whether our plans succeed or not, is that we are walking in step with Him. That, regardless of what goes on out there, we are who we are in any situation and we do the work the Lord has given us to do. Who we are is found in Christ.
Our passage for this is Romans 1:1
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God” (ESV).
Here Paul, at the beginning of his letter, states that he knows his value and that is found in Christ Jesus.
I grew up with a very individualistic mindset. I needed to do stuff myself and nobody was going to do it for me. A few critical events helped reinforce this idea in my mind - one was during a football game my senior year of high school. There was a play where I hurt my knee and I fell down. I blacked out for a few seconds; It wasn’t long enough for them to notice, or else I would have gotten pulled out of the game. I looked to the sidelines and remembered that I didn’t have any backups because we had already had about ten players injured. As the pain shot through my leg and my head throbbed and vision blurred, this voice in my head played out:
“Eric, nobody is going to help you. You have to suck it up and do it yourself.”
When I hit that low, laying on the top floor of the program room, the same voice sounded out:
“Eric, nobody is going to help you. You have to do it yourself.”
“Okay,” I responded both times. And both times I did it.
But God was teaching me how untrue that statement truly was.
Now back to our story.
You are lying there, defeated, the roaches crawling all over you. Then, someone walks up to you:
“Hey… Hey wake up,” they say, waving their hand in your face, making motions to get your attention.
“What?” you respond as you open your eyes again. The lights are a little blurry and you kind of forget where you are and who you are and where you have come from.
“Hey dude, these roaches are a problem,” they say.
“No, no they aren’t, it’s fine,” you respond, having grown desensitized to this problem that consumes you.
“No, like, this is a problem. We have to deal with this. Come on, we need to get rid of these roaches,” they say.
And so you get up and let them do their thing to try to solve the problem. You don’t really think they can actually fix it, but you go along with it. To you, the roaches aren’t as big a problem as they think it is, and trying to kill them seems like a wasted effort. You’ve wasted a lot on trying to fix this and have failed, so why would they have the answer?
And somewhere along this road, as you look and see their passion, as you follow them around in their plans to destroy roaches, you remember who you once were. That, at the beginning of this journey, you were passionate too and you saw this problem that you wanted to fix and you put all this effort out to fix the problem.
For me, it took one of my bosses coming down to the program and working with me on a new plan. There were many conversations and we spent more money and started going to look for more people. Some stuff worked, some didn’t, but the process was good. I realized that when I first moved into this community I had this deep desire to make healthy relationships, help these kids with their problems, lead people to Christ, better this community, and build leaders — but somewhere along the way I lost that. It first took one of my bosses coming to tell me what was going on and then it took people coming in later to help support me. I started to regain who I once was.
So where do we find our community?
There are a few things that can happen when you start to build a relationship with someone. They could blow you off completely in the beginning, they can blow you off somewhere down the road, or they can blow you off and then try to make things work again. In one way or another, people are going to hurt you. The more people that hurt you, the harder it becomes to desire to build relationships. When people hurt us, we can choose to move away or we can choose to forgive. If we choose to forgive and they respond, we can start to build lasting relationships that thrive.
It is easy to move into a place and think that you have everything to give. To some extent this is true, we are called to give. But if we are only giving the gifts that God has given us and never receiving the gifts God has given others, then we are missing the type of community that God wants us to have. We need to allow the people around us to give back to us.
It is good to have a fellowship in the church. It is good to have a fellowship with people outside of the church. If we don’t have both of those, we are missing something.
Jeremiah 29:7 states,
“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (ESV).
We “seek,” we “pray,” and we “find [our] welfare” “in its welfare,”
When we develop relationships with others, we create a deeper connection. In this connection, when something happens to them it also affects us in some way. If something bad happens to them, we hurt. And with some of the people we work with, we are guaranteed to get hurt because bad things do happen. But when something good happens to them, we find joy. I think this is what the passage is saying, to develop such a strong connection with the people around you that you will find your joy when they find theirs. And so our second question is answered.
It is easy to forget to pray when we are killing roaches. It is easier to forget to listen. I know I talk to God a lot, but God wants me to listen more— like, He has some good stuff to say. Because we are working with our hands and using our brains, we don’t consider that these things need prayer. But, over time, we realize that our hands and our minds don’t do all that much and it is really God doing the work.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 states:
“Pray without ceasing” (ESV).
There is debate as to the translation of the word “ceasing.” Some will say that it doesn’t really mean “without ceasing” and that it means to pray consistently/continuously, but it really means “pray without ceasing.” That is as simple as, when we wake up in the morning, saying,
“Hey God, what do you have for me today?”
And when we are driving to school saying,
“Hey, what about this,” or “I really wish this would happen,” or “thanks for doing this,” or “I pray for this person,” and so on.
And when we are sitting in class, because you’re not paying attention anyways (well some of you might be, you’re good students), taking the time to pray in class.
I have this sort of ritual that I do. At the end of the day, I take the time to go through the day to pray for each interaction that I’ve had and to pray for each person that I’ve interacted with. I carried that over from my personal life to the after school program. After the program, I would take the time to pray for each kid that was there and for their actions, good or bad, and that has helped me to continue moving forward.
When we pray for specific things, in line with God’s will, those things can happen. So like, I can pray to become a pimp daddy, but that isn’t in line with God’s will. Lord willing, God can make me a pimp daddy, but it isn’t what he wants.
I did another exercise where I reflected on the things I had prayed for over the past few years. God answered every one of them in some way. It was almost never the way I thought they would be answered and it almost always took longer than I thought. One of the pastors who had taught me had a saying,
“God is rarely early, but never late.”
Logically this doesn’t actually hold up, because God always does things in His time, but for us it works.
God can use us when we are in line with His will. God can use us when we are out of line with His will. God can choose to use us or choose to use someone else, but that shouldn’t ever change who we are in Christ. God is the true unchanging one.
And so we come to our last passage, Isaiah 55:8-11:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
My apartment still has roaches. Nothing that we have done has succeeded in killing all of them. For a season, this may seem depressing.
I am reminded of this scene from one of my favorite movies, Short Term 12, at the end. These people run a group home, and as they are chatting and telling stories this kid runs out of the home and the alarm goes off. This kid has been doing this the whole movie. The people drop what they are doing and chase after the kid. It is in slow motion and all dramatic and stuff. The idea is that, even though this kid is still dealing with the same problem, the people are always there to help. Even though the roaches may still crawl all over our lives, we are always there to help kill them.
In life, there will always be another problem, another broken relationship, another kid that is going through something hard. If we find our value in who we are in Christ, growing with our communities, praying and observing all of the things God has for us, listening, continuing to seek out the welfare of those around us, then we can continue walking.
In Christ, God has given me so much. I don’t know why I ever doubt him.
In community, I have so much, people who care for me, who invest in me, who share with me their life, their wisdom, their past, and their dreams.
In prayer, God has shown me so much, so much more than can ever be put into words.
You can be the person to wake someone up to the roaches in their life. For me it was Jesus first, then friends came later.
Jesus was always with me, just like He is always with us.
Continue to ask those questions:
Where do we find our value?
Where do we find our community?
And continue to pray, remembering that the Lord’s will shall be accomplished.
So, that’s a little bit of how to be a disciple.