guest blog: the discipline of love

Rachel Turner is a mum and children’s worker and recently published her second book, Parenting Children for a life of purpose which we recommended on this blog. She’s a good friend to the Sanctuary’s co-founders and so Liz recently caught up with her for another conversation about issues close to all of our hearts.

This guest blog is a write-up of some of our conversation, which took a fresh but familiar vein to many of our previous discussions – how can we move beyond seeking to do loving actions or learning lists of issues we should care about to a place where we are living out lives of love that cannot help but be active for God and others – whatever person or need they come across? Prepare to be inspired and challenged whatever your age…

Parenting children for a life of purpose - low res

How do we grow disciples who truly live lives of love? And is there any difference in approach between adults and children?

When Jesus was talking about the commandments he set up a higher demand on what obeying the law meant – it wasn’t just about physical obedience anymore. It wasn’t just actual murder that counted as murder now – he said an angry thought against someone was counted as murder too.

What our bodies do is important – yes – but what happens in our heart and minds is crucial. Out of the heart the mouth speaks and the New Testament is as concerned with disciplining the tongue – and the thoughts that fuel it – as it is with “actions”.

The reality is actions alone are actually quite hard to discipline. We have to discipline who we are.

If we try to disciple actions we make it very difficult – we are always chasing what we are doing with punishments and consequences.

The best way to disciple ourselves – and each other – is to pursue the heart-state behind those actions… so the right actions naturally follow. Then the actions become an outflow of what we’ve been cultivating instead.

With children we are particularly prone to trying to control their behaviour instead of discipling their hearts. What’s the result? Children who have learnt to be good at performing religion instead of live out an authentic relationship with God.

There shouldn’t be any real difference in how we view the principles of discipleship in children and adults, but many of us think they are. We look at adult and child instead of accessibility to “Christianese” – a new believer and a 5 year old are both learning and experiencing something new. People are people.

In fact, I think we cheat adults by our stereotype of what they expect and want in discipleship.

In terms of method, Jesus discipled adults the way we currently disciple youth and children – he majored on them having experiences, set them up to do stuff, and although there was some teaching, there was more sitting round the fire talking… his approach really feels more like youth work rather than formal preaching.

So adult or child – how do you disciple someone’s heart?

I think people want their hearts to change. Christians want to live out of this place but find it difficult. So sometimes, we need to help each other by balancing assessing their behaviour with looking at their heart attitude.

What’s going on in your heart is as important as what you’re doing.

We all understand this in the context of marriage… especially where people are making mistakes. When you’re trying to fix a relationship it’s a lot to do with what’s going on inside you. Your heart is the root of what’s happening in your actions.

We need a shift in the church. We need to raise the culture of what’s happening in your mind and emotions. Not just asking what you’re going to do but how you feel and think as you’re doing it.

I think people want this but aren’t being resourced, and aren’t sure of how to do it.

We need to be raising the culture of heart-discussion. People need to talk about the process more. But we need to remind people that cultivating a heart of love really matters.

So getting down to the real nitty-gritty application of this for what the Sanctuary is centrally concerned with… how does this type of discipleship change the way we seek to live  out lives of intercession, mission and justice ?

When we cultivate our heart, we achieve greater change because it is less boundaried than our actions. If we’re raising disciples who are really trying to walk Jesus’ love, we should see that bleed into everything.

Disciples who stop for the one as they walk along naturally rather than trying to love a homeless man…

In fact as you progress round the cycle again and again and go deeper in your heart-discipleship, you’ll start to get surprised that sometimes you don’t even have to make the choices anymore. Because you’re simply being more like Jesus instead of trying to follow what he did.

That’s what I really want to see – a generation living like this. Then we would truly see what God wants to do in the world – what happens when God sparks huge number of people to love. What would happen if the world really raised up with a deep compassion to pray for North Korea? We can’t picture what it would like because we haven’t seen it much before  – a whole bunch of Jesus’ in the world. What if everybody stopped for the one?

The more our hearts are truly turned towards his heart – and the more of us that are living like that – the more we’ll see an almost effortless revolution. Not because we’re no longer doing what is right. But because what is right stops being a sacrificial choice we are trying to remember to make and starts becoming the way we consistently think and act.

Can you give us an example from your own life of how something like this has changed for you?

Yes! Fairtrade would be one.

I have known about it – and known it’s right for years – and tried to make an effort to “do the right thing”. But then I watched that film clip the Sanctuary sent me and I became so much more aware of it – from the heart.

Aligning my actions with my heart rather than the other way round has been so much more effective. Now it’s no longer a question of a moral thing. It’s just what my heart wants to do.

Part of it is because I believe it makes some difference, but more of it is really about a choice in my heart – it’s who I choose to be. And that changes everything.

That’s effective discipleship.

I wonder sometimes whether we can over-educate and numb people’s hearts? Fairtrade is socially cool for many children… and they know all about it in their head. But is it really connected with their hearts?

That clip you mentioned has changed a lot of our hearts but I don’t think any of us would want children to watch it. How do we balance what emotions and realities it’s age-appropriate to expose them to with all this?

What makes children frightened is feeling powerless. We can very safely tell them that people hurt people and we need to protect those people. Because this is about giving them power.

We can say, this is happening and it’s horrible. Can you imagine being in that situation? Let’s live our lives trying to do as much as we can to stop other people from having to. Let’s use our lives to try to make as many people safe as possible – making sacrifices to help because we want to, not just because we should do. Then we’re showing them how powerful their power is.

The goal is to have the heart of Jesus who balanced everything – he stopped for the one woman at the well and he came to save the whole world for all eternity.

Loving God and loving people shouldn’t be about topics – we shouldn’t be people who care about sexual abuse or trafficking or poverty… we should be a people who are passionate about God and people. Who react to what’s ion front of them today and whose lives of love are a bit “all over the place” rather than narrowed down just to one area or calling.

We should be doing and seeing what the Father’s doing and responding to what he’s asking us in each situation.

Instead, we’re often creating tick boxes of what we should do. But we are called to more. We are called to act justly and walk humbly – to be us with the heart of Jesus and do the things he asks us to do. Sometimes of course you have to say no to doing some things, we can’t all do everything. But we should never be saying no to praying and cheering on those of us who are called to take that particular expression of love to the next level.

So you can say no to the time that’s required in some areas, but never the heart.

Some people underestimate the power of this “generic” calling on the heart. When Jesus said to love God and love others, it wasn’t just a nice phrase. This is the most effective thing for changing the world.

Most Christians spend a lot of time asking “Who am I?”, “What am I supposed to be?”They’re very preoccupied with their “calling”.

But loving God and others from the heart is the highest calling – and the most powerful… Of course, he’ll give us specific tasks and we’ll be able to look back at the end of our lives and see some patterns in how we’ve partnered with. But Jesus’ words here are not a foundational idea that you then apply specifically. We need to impress that upon children, new believers and old believers…

The heart-attitude of love is the call… Who you are can be more transformational than what you do.

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