Why discipleship is the cure for spiritual delirium

What does the word 'delirious' mean to you? Like me, you may remember the band Delirious?, led by a guy called Martin Smith. They rocked Christian culture between 1997 and 2009. I went to a Delirious? gig in 2003, and at that point it felt like the coolest thing I'd ever done with my life. A lot of people use the word to mean an inflated sense of happiness. You know, 'I'm so happy about the football! I'm delirious!' So maybe being delirious is a good thing to you.

But I'm afraid that within the medical world, being delirious is most definitely a bad thing. Delirium (the state of being delirious) is an old-fashioned medical term for what we now call 'acute confusional state'. When you're delirious, or in this acute confusional state, you forget who you are, where you are, what time it is – even what you're doing in that place. People get this way when they are profoundly unwell in hospital; it's very common among the elderly when they're admitted. My fear is that, like those elderly patients, at times, many of us have become a bit delirious as Christians.

Elderly people can get delirious when they're admitted to hospital.Pixabay

I once walked into an elderly patient's room and he turned, looked me in the eye and remarked, 'We're in a marmalade factory.' There was no hint of humour on his face.

I stopped, slightly taken aback, and asked him, 'If we're in a marmalade factory, who am I?'

He replied matter-of-factly, 'You're a marmalade factory worker; you make the marmalade around here.'

I've been accused of many things in my life, but never before had I been called a marmalade factory worker. The thing is, there was a grain of truth in what he said: he'd just had marmalade on toast for breakfast! In the same way, I think many of us have forgotten what it means to be a disciple of Christ. We may have a few scattered grains of truth rooted deep in our memories, but we seem to have missed the bigger picture. We've got a bit confused, and somehow lost our way.

'Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,' said Jesus in his final instructions to the Church in Matthew 28:19–20.

For many of us, 'being a Christian' is about putting our faith in Jesus, being baptized in the Holy Spirit, loving God and loving our neighbour as ourselves. And there is far more than a grain of truth in each of these things. But Jesus is pretty clear in his last words to the Church that our mission statement is to make disciples. We need to make disciples. And yet, in our state of delirium, many of us seem to have forgotten those words.

Mike Breen, in his book Building a Discipling Culture, makes the point that, as a Church, we can often understand Jesus' statement to mean: 'Go and get everyone you can to join your church.' Although obviously there is quite a big dollop of marmalade-truth in that, Jesus' call to action also addresses those people who are already in our churches. Just because I regularly attend services doesn't make me a disciple. But sometimes we focus so much on that first aspect of filling the pews that we neglect the second aspect of Jesus' command. The danger is, if we neglect the second part, then we grow people with faith in Christ but we do not grow disciples.

Discipleship rarely happens by accident. It almost always takes a conscious effort. A friend recently told me a story about a young man from an unchurched background who came to faith while at their church. Having committed his life to Christ, this young man became an active member of the church community, making friends and generally getting involved. He slowly began to serve with the church worship team.

One evening, about a year after giving his life to Christ, the worship team were discussing their personal prayer lives and the importance of having regular devotional times. At the end of the worship session, my friend told me how this young man came up to him and asked him, 'What's a devotional time? I've never heard of that before.' It seemed that despite getting very involved with this church, over the space of a year no-one had explained to him what it meant to seek God in his personal time, let alone emphasized the importance of it. As I listened to my friend's story, all I could do was sympathize. It's pretty hard to stumble into a routine of devotional time or a process of discipleship if no-one has ever shown you how to do it.

The above extract is has been adapted from Freddie Pimm's book, 'The Selfish Gospel – Be transformed by giving it all' (IVP). Purchase the book online or in store today.