Is There Joy in Discipleship?


As a father of three boys, I still remember watching my sons learn to walk.

The process was basically the same for each of them. They would crawl to the nearest piece of furniture (or leg of a grown-up), clamp on, and pull themselves into an upright position. After steadying their portly frame, they would release the safety clamps, and the toddling would begin. 

Our chubby little guys would thrust a bare foot out and slap it onto the linoleum, which would set off a ripple effect of a thousand corrective moves to restore balance. But once forward momentum was established, they would raise their shoulders almost to their ears and pull their fists in tightly to their chest, forming a kind of chicken wing on each side. (I can only assume this aided concentration). They would tilt their head back as if struggling against a strong headwind.

Then . . . slap went the second foot.

With each step, the cheers of engaged onlookers would grow louder. And the near-toothless grin of these beginners assured us that toddling is quite exhilarating.

We knew that someday our sons would likely be able to hike up mountains and that toddling would become, well, rather pedestrian. But during the toddling phase, we couldn’t help but celebrate these first steps—even if they were baby steps.

Learning to walk with Jesus is like that. We start out a little shaky, but there’s an undeniable joy that comes with taking those first steps—for both the spiritual toddlers and the grown-ups who get to watch.

This is how Christ meant it to be. During an intimate conversation with his disciples in an upper room, Jesus said, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). What is this key to joy Jesus is referring to? The previous verse tells us. “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love” (v. 10). This invitation to a loving, obedient relationship with Jesus is shorthand for discipleship.

It shouldn’t surprise us, then, to find joy every time we take a next step in our walk with Christ or we help someone else do the same. It begins with that initial faith step into Christ’s kingdom. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field” (Matt. 13:44). That joy is renewed when we take next steps by learning to commune with Christ in prayer. “Ask and you will receive,” he says, “and your joy will be complete” (John 16:24). And, as those first disciples discovered, there’s joy in stepping up to the realization that he’s empowered us to be his witnesses to a lost world. When Jesus commissioned them and ascended into heaven, these disciples “worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Luke 24:52).

Is there joy in discipleship? Only the best kind of joy. Jesus describes it as his joy, great joy, complete joy, sell-all-you-have-to-get-it joy.

When was the last time you experienced that joy?