Simplicity – Merriam Webster defines the term as “the quality or state of being simple or plain and not complicated or difficult.” It’s fair to say that everything is better when it’s simple. When we have clarity and a well-defined path, we tend to be less frustrated and confused. For example, when you buy a new desk from Ikea and it comes in a box with one thousand pieces – you pray that the directions are clear and the desk is easy to assemble. On the other hand, no one likes something that is overly complicated or ambiguous. Perhaps that’s why Americans dread visiting the local DMV. The lines are too long, there are 20 clerk windows but only three are open at any given time, and they always ask for paperwork that you didn’t bring. The joyful expectation of having a new desk or getting your license can quickly disappear when the process is overly complicated. You get the point: Simple is good. Complicated is bad.
Like a bad set of instructions or poorly managed DMV office, sometimes those of us who want to follow Jesus make discipleship more complicated than it needs to be, which can lead to unnecessary frustration and confusion.
When contemplating how to grow in my faith, I used to ask myself questions like, “Should I read another Christian book? Or volunteer more in church? What if I start praying longer or increase my daily Bible reading, maybe that would do the trick?” Sometimes my ideas were a hit, but other times I missed the mark. A friend would ask me for advice on how to grow in his own spiritual journey, and again I would start suggesting random activities and spiritual practices. The reason my ideas were hit and miss was because I was shooting in the dark. My view of discipleship lacked clarity and direction. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to read a Christian book or pray more; but my reason for engaging or suggesting such practices was not clear. I just figured that these are things Christians ought to do. Like trying to find the correct line at the DMV – I had a vague sense that I was doing the right thing and in the right place, but I wasn’t certain.
You may not be able to change your experience at the DMV, or guarantee that assembling your new desk will be a pleasant experience, but pursuing Jesus does not have to be complicated (Thank God!). It can be as simple as hear and obey. Jesus said it himself in response to a woman’s praise.
27 As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” 28 He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it”(Luke 11:27-28).
I don’t think Jesus can make discipleship any more straightforward than this. If you want to experience spiritual growth – if you want to be blessed – hear the word of God and obey it.
Jesus’ command to hear and obey God’s word provides us with clear direction and a user-friendly manual for spiritual growth. Our reference is God’s word, and our response is obedience. In other words, everything we do should be motivated by an imperative or principle that we derive from scripture.
To give you an example, I currently have the desire to grow in my understanding of the Sabbath. Why? Because I’ve noticed that there are several commands in scripture that tell us to “remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” As I’ve meditated on these commands, God has shown me that I’m not very good at remembering the Sabbath. Even when I do set aside a 24-hour period of time to rest, I’m always tempted to use that time for work related tasks or other activities that sap my energy. As a result, I often find myself exhausted and running on empty. Out of a desire to obey what I’ve “heard,” I’m being more intentional to honor the Sabbath every week. I’ve heard God’s word. Now I’m trying to obey it.
There are several benefits to seeing discipleship this way. First, it’s easy to understand. I was never good at math, but hear + obey = discipleship is one calculation I can comprehend. Second, it encourages us to read, hear and reflect on God’s word. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the concept of hear and obey reminds us that knowing scripture is only half of the equation (Obedience is important too, you know!). So if you’re wondering what you can do to nurture your relationship with Jesus, try this: Hear God’s word and put it into practice. Can you grow spiritually through other means? Of course you can. But if you really want to simplify the process, start by getting into God’s word. Get the instruction manual, read it, and do what it says.
I appreciate clear, step-by-step directions (especially when I’m putting together, say, a desk from Ikea). Now, in case you’re like me, I’ve provided a guide that will help you hear and obey God’s word in your personal time with God. This guide has been adapted from the popular Discovery bible study method.
Step 1: Choose a passage from the Old or New Testament.
Step 2: Hear.
- Read the passage slowly up to three times, spend 5-10 minutes summarizing the passage in your own words, and then answer the questions below.
- What does this passage teach me about God and His character?
- What does this passage teach me about people and their response to God?
Step 3: Obey.
- What did I learn from this passage, and why is this important to me?
- How can I apply what I’ve learned in the next few days?
- Who can I share my insights with in the next few days?
Discipleship doesn’t have to be like taking a trip to the DMV or putting together an impossible piece of furniture. It can be as simple as hear and obey. Give it a try and let me know what you think!