Reflections on Discipleship – No longer my own

My job at the moment is developing discipleship in one Anglican diocese, so as you can imagine I do quite a bit of thinking about what discipleship is, what it means, and what it looks like. Here are some random thoughts, gleaned from my reflection on the Bible and current thinking …

This week, in Methodist churches everywhere, Christians will be using the start of the New Year to renew their covenant with God, a kind of spiritual new year’s resolution. A wonderfully powerful prayer will be used, and I’m glad that the compilers of the Anglican Common Worship texts were able to nick it and make it part of our corpus too. You can see the text of the prayer here, but I want to reflect on just one line:

I am no longer my own, but yours …

Right there you’ve got a pretty good definition of discipleship: a disciple is someone who is no longer their own master or mistress, who belongs to someone else, and who therefore has surrendered the rights to their own lives, and living them their own way. The prayer continues:

Put me to what you will,

rank me with whom you will …

Like slaves we have no rights of our own: we belong to a master who has full rights over us. Of course slavery is only a helpful metaphor if it is a redeemed one. We have not been stolen by a cruel trader who only wants to use us; he will not beat us up, mistreat us or overwork us to the point of death; we are not commodities to be bought and sold. But we have willingly surrendered our lives to the one whose yoke is well-fitting and whose burden is light, whose service is perfect freedom, and who employs us so that we can become all we have potential for within us. So slavery, yes, but not as we know it Jim. To this kind of ‘slavery’ disciples gladly submit, joyfully counting it the greatest privilege.

But there is another thought which comes out of this prayer. In fact it comes less out of the text of the prayer and more out of its use. The slavery picture again breaks down, because this covenant is one which needs renewing. I would guess that it was pretty rare to hear slaves revowing themselves to their masters once a year, as I suspect it is today to hear young girls trafficked for the sex trade pleading annual submission to their masters. The whole point is that once you’re in, you’re in. It’s getting out which is the issue, not deciding to stay in. But our heavenly master, whose service, we said, is perfect freedom, invites us to think about it and deliberately decide to stay. Our master does not captivate us against our wills: the door is always open, and has been ever since Jesus asked his disciples ‘You don’t want to leave too, do you?’ (John 6:67). Sadly many do take the long walk, so this time of year might be a good one to remind ourselves that only in Jesus are the words of eternal life to be found, and to commit ourselves to another year of following him, learning from him, and going in his name.

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