Discipleship and the Gift of Desperation
The Bible doesn’t tell us much about the original twelve disciples before Jesus called them. Their personal histories are vague, but there is one thing that we can say with confidence about all of the apostles: these men would not have made the radical decision to walk away from their everyday lives if everything had been working perfectly.
Their willingness to forsake family, career, and familiar ways of thinking in order to trust and follow Jesus indicates that these men had become dissatisfied with the status quo. Whether their friends knew it or not, these men were in crisis. Each of them had become so bored, so immobilized, so starved for air that when Jesus arrived with his high-commitment offer they leapt at the opportunity. To use the language of 12-step recovery, these men responded because they had been given the “gift of desperation.”
I learned the language of 12-step recovery after receiving the gift of desperation myself in 1998. Outwardly, my life seemed fine at the time. I had successfully transitioned from pastoral ministry to business and was now an active layman in a good church with a beautiful wife and three great kids. My reputation in the community was solid, but there was something about me that nobody knew, a secret that I had been guarding for years. It was my shame over that secret, in fact, that had driven me to quit the ministry a dozen years earlier.
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What had started during my adolescence as a fairly normal fascination with pornography had developed into a life-controlling obsession, and it had progressed to the point that I was now also patronizing strip clubs and paying prostitutes for sex. Lust had poisoned my intimate relationship with my wife, and fear of discovery had caused me to withdraw emotionally from everyone else. I hated what I was doing, and I hated myself for doing it. I had stopped a thousand times, but I could never stay stopped. Eventually my self-loathing turned to disgust, and disgust became despair.
My lowest point
It was there, at my lowest point, that I was finally ready for the call to discipleship. In a desperate attempt to save what was left of my marriage, I made my way to a 12-step meeting, where I heard a ragtag band of Jesus-followers talking about honesty and freedom and absolute surrender. My first instinct was to start an argument about theology, but they refused to engage in that debate.
They did not ask me to sign a statement of faith, but challenged me instead to throw myself into the arms of the God I claimed to believe in, to actually trust Him. Then, they invited me to join them on a well-traveled road to freedom. These men took turns coaching me in the spiritual disciplines of self-examination and confession, repentance, and restitution, never losing patience with me.
I had always understood my personal relationship with Christ to be a private one and I had spent decades begging God for a private solution to my private problem. As it turns out, I had been misinformed. The truth is that Jesus offers a personal relationship to every one of his disciples, but He has never offered anybody a private one.
He said “follow me”
He first said “Follow me” to two guys, not just one, and then quickly added ten more to them. He had them follow Him around together for a couple of years, teaching them that the most important thing is to love God and each other. Jesus promised always to be present in the group. “When two or three are gathered in my name,” he said, “I’m there.” I am a colossal failure as a solo disciple for the simple reason that Jesus doesn’t have any solo disciples. We can only follow Him together—that’s His design.
What this means for us today
Today, as the Enemy presses ever deeper and younger into the sexual mores of our culture, Christians and non-Christians alike are waking up to the emptiness of pornography and the degradation of depersonalized sex. Every day, more and more of our friends and neighbors are reaching a point of crisis and receiving the gift of desperation. There are opportunities for relational disciple making all around us, if we will only have the courage to initiate the conversation and the grace to carry it on.
by Nate Larkin
Nate is the founder of Samson Society, a group that provides a safe setting for men to be vulnerable and open with one another, confessing their weaknesses, while growing in honesty and accountability through the guidance of the Bible. Nate received his Masters in Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary. Nate and his wife, Allie, live in Franklin, Tennessee to be around their three kids.
Meet Nate at this year’s National Disciple Making Forum, where he and Regi Campbell will facilitate a track on “Men’s Discipleship”. They represent one of 14 tracks at the Forum this year. Register here.
Image Credit: Harman Abiwardani