Ahead and Behind: Discipleship in Action

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"I love going home every few months," I said. "I love hearing advice from people who've attained wisdom through considerable experience, instead of from people who pretend to have gained a lifetime of it in only 20 years."

The man in the US Airways seat 9B squinted at me. He had only been telling me how difficult it was raising his two young daughters! But anonymous conversations with plane passengers sharpen my honesty, and this late-night flight from New York to my home in Ohio was no exception.

I may not have known why those words had come out of my mouth, but God was working in my heart that night. The sermon I heard in New York before that flight was about discipleship, as was the sermon I heard in Cincinnati the day after the flight. In Cincinnati, my pastor defined discipleship as a love of God that surpasses all other things and propels you into relationships with people “ahead and behind.” He explained that we should have someone ahead of us with wisdom and experience surpassing our own. Then as we gain this wisdom, we need to pass it on to someone behind us. I treasure the counsel of my peers, but I have been living with people my own age for nearly two years of my life. I crave counsel and wisdom from people who have struggled with man and God and became stronger for it– specifically people who were in the throes of this struggle before my life began.

I was at Starbucks the other day with my friend Sarah Hicks when I explained to her my thoughts on discipleship, and she surprised me by explaining her own mentor experience. “I had a mentor my senior year of high school,” she told me. “Having someone speak into my life who had walked with God for 40-plus years through some really difficult times kept me grounded. Seeing her passionate love and undying faith in God made me want to love God better.” The wisdom Sarah has gained from this relationship is admirable, and I respect Sarah for her choice to find someone to share that wisdom with. A mentor personally invested in her spiritual life, and she wants to give the same experience to a younger believer.

As important as mentorship is, it is just one part of discipleship. After all, discipleship is a word we use not to describe our relationship to other humans, but to describe our relationship with God. We seek out worthwhile relationships for the sake of knowing God. My New York pastor explained discipleship as an “incomparable love” of God so strong that it makes our love of anything else pale in comparison, even to the point of seeming like hatred (Luke 14:26). As students in a city that worships anything but God, we need all the wisdom we can get. It’s easy to think we have all the answers at this point in our lives, but we can’t gain wisdom without humility. Whether we are humbled before a mentor or not, we must be first and foremost humbled before God. Have someone ahead of you and someone behind you, and love God with a love so vibrant that anything finite or temporal seems black and white.

“If you seek [wisdom] like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures … Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you.” –Proverbs 2: 4, 9-11

OpinionAnna Wilhelm