Deep, intimate relationships create strong disciples who make strong disciples
In this time, when many may feel isolated, disconnected, and lonely, we pray that God will show us how to build deep, intimate relationships with the people he has placed in our lives. In times like this, people may find themselves susceptible to temptation. How can we be strong disciples who make strong disciples? What is life-on-life discipleship and what does it look like?
I began my Japan missions journey in singleness, so I have been seeking God’s heart for the lonely. As I’ve been on my own journey with him, I’ve discovered that all I need is found in him. My passion is in the area of purity, which can be defined as learning how God can meet all our needs according to his ways. With the needs that may be found in a single woman’s heart—to be found lovely, to be cared for, loved, and cherished—there is a temptation to meet those needs your own way. When I asked Jesus to be Lord over even this part of my life, I was saying that I trusted his way and timing, and that when I felt a lack, I would trust him to fill that need. Each time I turned to him, he has met me unmistakably.
Deep desires of the heart are difficult to talk about, but meaningful relationships are built through sharing vulnerable things in your heart with one another. Vulnerability is key to building deep relationships—and scary! This is risky. You may get hurt. But wise, mutual vulnerability with those God brings into your life is so worth it. It’s the difference between developing deep relationships or not. Most often, the profound conversations I’ve had in Japan began by me going deep first, and then the other responding in kind. Someone needs to start! Humans yearn for deep connection! We often feel alone in our struggle, even though many of us struggle with similar things.
The other day, a friend came to my home for the first time. It felt distinctly different from meeting at our usual restaurant. I felt a bit self-conscious over the imperfections of my home, but I pushed past it. It was an analogy of vulnerability: “Here is my life, my home. My home isn’t perfect, nor perfectly clean, but come in. Let’s get to know one another. Let’s walk this life together.” In many cultures, and certainly in Japan, it’s a common desire to invite someone in only when everything looks perfect, to present yourself as perfectly put together. But this is where we can learn the most from one another and grow the most. If you invite someone into your home—into your life—you can’t hide. That friendship can be like a light in your life. The home is where friendship becomes like family.
We cannot shy away from discipling and mentoring one another even in the tough topics. This requires an invitation into one another’s life. We cannot expect someone to open up about the vulnerable topics if we don’t also open our lives to them.
I am so thankful for the women God has placed in my life to fill this role. These women stand with me in my singleness as I seek God with all my heart. They’ve stood with me in prayer when I felt weak or discouraged. When my thinking was not in line with truth, they have challenged me. We need one another! Single women need sisters. Single men need brothers. We need family.
Discipleship requires walking in the light. Sharing something embarrassing or shameful goes against the human inclination. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7 NIV).
Life-on-life discipleship is friendship discipleship—the opening up of lives to one another. I imagine Jesus had this type of relationship with his disciples, and they with one another. It would have been regular and consistent, throughout the ups and downs of life. When we are in this kind of close relationship it is hard not to be challenged and it is hard to hide our imperfections. Life-on-life discipleship includes meeting/communicating regularly outside of formalized meetings, nurturing mutual vulnerability, sharpening one another, and bearing one another’s burdens. It involves allowing the relationship to permeate all parts of life, so that it would not be possible for the person to be living a double life. It looks like intensifying the discipleship but simplifying the settings in which it can happen.
This life-on-life discipleship is beautiful when it’s mutual, so no one is outside of a life-giving, sharpening relationship. Confession is best in the context of relationship. Life-on-life discipleship is deeper than accountability. It requires walking together with one another, not just a one-off conversation.
Jesus called all of his disciples to make disciples. In order to do that, we must know Jesus as that First Relationship. As a person who grew up in a Christian home, I missed out on this for years. I knew Jesus was important, but I relied on the community that surrounded me; I didn’t realize I was only relating to God with another person in the middle. When no one was there, I felt utterly alone because I had not yet connected directly to his love for me. In his wonderful wisdom, he used difficult circumstances to teach me that he is always there and is sufficient for that First Relationship in my life. Singleness is a time where a believer can really come to know the sufficiency of God for them. Many women after marriage have to learn that their husbands cannot fulfill all their needs. Singleness is a time to learn this.
Once the love of God was firmly established in my heart—only developed through growing in my relationship with him—I was able to be strong in the Lord (Eph. 6:10). That is when I was able to disciple others while continuing to be discipled myself.
Christ-centered community looks like deep relational connectivity first and foremost with Jesus and secondly with others. May one’s community, even their Christian community, not take the place of or be an obstacle to going deep in their relationship with God, but to be what God intended. May we, as the church, know how to stand with and walk with one another in the beautiful way God designed for the body.
Deep relationships are built through consistency, vulnerability, and positive connection. My co-labourers and I are praying into how to model this in Japan—regular and deep connectivity through things like Discovery Bible (a discipleship tool which enables people to read the Bible and discover what God is speaking through his Word) and sharing hearts with one another, and also eating and doing fun things together. This can be initiated by anyone among their own groups of friends. The ultimate goal in this is for singles to grow as healthy and whole disciples of Jesus, and in turn make disciples.
- Do you feel that you are part of life-on-life discipleship relationships? Who is God showing you to go deeper with?
- If you are married, pray about a single or young person you want to connect with (on a regular basis, in a mutually deep way). The home is where the lonely are placed in your family (Ps. 68:6). And just as you would be a blessing to them, you can be blessed by their friendship!
- If you are single, ask God to reveal someone in your life to “invite to your home”—to go deeper in friendship.
- If you feel like you are surviving rather than thriving as a missionary in Japan, please don’t wait until it becomes too heavy a burden to bear alone. Your heart is more important than your ministry. We at Onfire have developed bilingual Bible plans that are designed to do with a friend and connect vulnerably with one another.
- 33 Minute Warrior—for men (English: https://www.bible.com/reading-plans/21955-33-day-mens-challenge; Japanese: https://www.bible.com/ja/reading-plans/22026-an-ng-no-ian-chiyarenzi), and
- 55 Day PureHeart Challenge—for women (English: https://onfire.jp/en/courses/55-day-pureheart-challenge; Japanese: https://onfire.jp/courses/55-day-pureheart-challenge).