In the past few years, the terms “discipleship” and “missionary discipleship” have become familiar to those of us in ministry. But the concepts of discipleship and mission are not new and have been part of our Catholic faith for two thousand years. The word disciple comes from the Greek word mathetes, meaning “pupil or student of the master.” The Master is, of course, Jesus Christ. Discipleship is a relationship with Jesus, and like any relationship, it takes an investment of time and energy. Three keys or habits of discipleship can strengthen us as we seek to grow in friendship with Jesus Christ: denial, deliberation, and dedication. Let’s explore how these keys can help us unlock the door of a stronger faith.
Saying yes to God each day means saying no to those habits, beliefs, and practices that can pull us away or distract us from God. Denial of self so that we can carry the cross helps us to develop reliance on God and resilience for the journey ahead. Jesus reminds us that “if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). One way to practice denying ourselves is fasting—from words of anger, from food that does not nourish, and from practices or media that do not strengthen and uplift but seek to divide.
It is often easier to live haphazardly than to deliberately set goals for our spiritual lives. But intentionality is necessary for the disciple. Like all practices, growth in discipleship is the result of small, daily actions that help us conform ourselves even more to Christ. This is not happenstance, but rather, takes time and effort to plan and center our lives around our relationship with Christ. In the words of John the Baptist, “he must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). We must never forget that the message of Jesus is a counter-cultural message in focusing on serving others rather than ourselves.
We can be more deliberate about our faith by setting aside regular time to pray, listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, reading Scripture, and not being afraid to display faith in public. Grasp opportunities that naturally come to share faith, whether it is on an airplane or at the grocery store.
Being a friend and follower of Jesus involves daily dedication to living a virtuous and moral life, one day at a time, one step at a time. The call to holiness is often found in the small, unnoticed steps that we take to place God at the center of our lives. Dedication involves sacrificing our time and selves to give to others, so that the world can be transformed by the Holy Spirit. Researchers suggest that it takes approximately 66 days to form a new habit. So if we are learning to pray or trying to read the Scriptures more regularly and are struggling, we can’t give up! God is walking beside us in our journey and knows our shortcomings and weaknesses better than we do ourselves. Call on the Lord to increase our love and dedication to praise and honor him.
Each day is a new day in Christ. By starting with Jesus and these three keys to discipleship, we will find the encouragement and strength to keep going in our daily walk as disciples.
Read seven more keys of discipleship in Julianne’s series at Catechist’s Journey.