WWJD, Part 2: Excerpt from “In His Steps,” on True Discipleship

There’s not much else I can add to these two well-stated calls to authentic discipleship.  I’ll only emphasize the importance of personal touch in Jesus’ ministry, something that many Christians tend to avoid.  We like our ease and our comfort too much.  If we serve “the untouchables” at all, it’s often by proxy. 

God, please forgive me for my selfishness and my apathy.  Give me the courage to be the disciple you called me to be.  Help me to look outward always with compassion in my heart, healing in my hands, and gospel hope in my mouth.

Now hear from pastor Charles M. Sheldon:

Give Me a Taste of Rice

Nyoman Darsane, “Give Me a Taste of Rice,” 2004. Acrylic on canvas, 32.5 x 29 in.

“The depth of winter found Chicago presenting, as every great city of the world presents to the eyes of Christendom, the marked contrast between riches and poverty, between refinement, luxury, ease, and ignorance, depravity, destitution and the bitter struggle for bread.  It was a hard winter but a gay winter.  Never had there been such a succession of parties, receptions, balls, dinners, banquets, fetes, gayeties.  Never had the opera and the theatre been so crowded with fashionable audiences.  Never had there been such a lavish display of jewels and fine dresses and equipages.  And on the other hand, never had the deep want and suffering been so cruel, so sharp, so murderous.  Never had the winds blown so chilling over the lake and through the thin shells of tenements in the neighborhood of the Settlement.  Never had the pressure for food and fuel and clothes been so urgently thrust up against the people of the city in their most importunate and ghastly form.  Night after night the Bishop and Dr. Bruce with their helpers went out and helped save men and women and children from the torture of physical privation.  Vast quantities of food and clothing and large sums of money were donated by the churches, the charitable societies, the civic authorities and the benevolent associations.  But the personal touch of the Christian disciple was very hard to secure for personal work.  Where was the discipleship that was obeying the Master’s command to go itself to the suffering and give itself with its gift in order to make the gift of value in time to come?  The Bishop found his heart sink within him as he faced this fact more than any other.  Men would give money who would not think of giving themselves.  And the money they gave did not represent any real sacrifice because they did not miss it.  They gave what was the easiest to give, what hurt them the least.  Where did the sacrifice come in?  Was this following Jesus?  Was this going with Him all the way?  He had been to members of his own aristocratic, splendidly wealthy congregations, and was appalled to find how few men and women of that luxurious class in the churches would really suffer any genuine inconvenience for the sake of suffering humanity.  Is charity the giving of worn-out garments?  Is it a ten dollar bill given to a paid visitor or secretary of some benevolent organization in the church?  Shall the man never go and give his gift himself?  Shall the woman never deny herself her reception or her party or her musicale, and go and actually touch, herself, the foul, sinful sore of diseased humanity as it festers in the great metropolis?  Shall charity be conveniently and easily done through some organization?  Is it possible to organize the affections so that love shall work disagreeable things by proxy?”—from chapter 28, In His Steps by Charles M. Sheldon

Jesus washing the disciples' feet

Jyoti Sahi, “Jesus washes the feet of Peter.” Oil on canvas. From the “Gospel of John” series.

Jesus heals the blind man

Walter Habdank, “Healing of the Blind Man” (Blindenheilung, Neufassung), 1979.

“What would be the result if all the church members of this city tried to do as Jesus would do?  It is not possible to say in detail what the effect would be.  But it is easy to say, and it is true, that, instantly, the human problem would begin to find an adequate answer. . . .

Samaritan woman at the well

Yu Jiade, “The Woman of Samaria,” 2001. Chinese ink and wash on handmade paper.

“It is the personal element that Christian discipleship needs to emphasize.  ‘The gift without the giver is bare.’  The Christianity that attempts to suffer by proxy is not the Christianity of Christ.  Each individual Christian business man, citizen, needs to follow in His steps along the path of personal sacrifice to Him.  There is not a different path to-day from that of Jesus’ own times.  It is the same path. The call of this dying century and of the new one soon to be, is a call for a new discipleship, a new following of Jesus, more like the early, simple, apostolic Christianity, when the disciples left all and literally followed the Master.  Nothing but a discipleship of this kind can face the destructive selfishness of the age, with any hope of overcoming it.  There is a great quantity of nominal Christianity to-day.  There is need of more of the real kind.  We need revival of the Christianity of Christ.  We have, unconsciously, lazily, selfishly, formally, grown into a discipleship that Jesus himself would not acknowledge.  He would say to many of us when we cry, ‘Lord, Lord,’ ‘I never knew you.’  Are we ready to take up the cross?  Is it possible for this church to sing with exact truth,

‘Jesus I my cross have taken,
All to leave and follow Thee.’

“If we can sing that truly, then we may claim discipleship.  But if our definition of being a Christian is simply to enjoy the privileges of worship, be generous at no expense to ourselves, have a good, easy time surrounded by pleasant friends and by comfortable things, live respectably and at the same time avoid the world’s great stress of sin and trouble because it is too much pain to bear it—if this is our definition of Christianity, surely we are a long way from following the steps of Him who trod the way with groans and tears and sobs of anguish for a lost humanity; who sweat, as it were, great drops of blood, who cried out on the up-reared cross, ‘My God! My God! why hast thou forsaken me!’

“Are we ready to make and live a new discipleship?  Are we ready to reconsider our definition of a Christian?  What is it to be a Christian?  It is to imitate Jesus.  It is to do as He would do.  It is to walk in His steps.”—Rev. Henry Maxwell, concluding sermon, from chapter 31, In His Steps by Charles M. Sheldon

Take up your cross and follow me

Anthony Falbo, “Follow Me,” 2007. Oil on canvas, 38 x 49 in.

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