“I’m really grateful to be discipling you.”
Maybe you’ve said or heard that before, but to me, it sounds almost bizarre.
There are plenty of good reasons to disciple someone: compassion for a brother or sister who needs a mentor, zeal for the Lord to be exalted in His child’s life, or the hope of raising up a new leader (to name just a few).
There are also some bad reasons to disciple someone: a desire to be seen as wise and virtuous, a passion for a particular “hobby horse” of secondary importance, or even a sense of mere obligation unaccompanied by joy.
But what role does gratitude play in discipling, if any?
Around Thanksgiving a couple of years ago, I was struck by the role of gratitude in Paul’s ministry to the Colossians.
The apostle and his disciple Timothy wrote, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints” (Col 1:3-4 CSB).
Here they were, working hard to encourage the Colossians’ discipleship, and they begin by expressing their gratitude—gratitude to God that the Colossians’ were already bearing the fruit of discipleship!
Their “faith in Christ Jesus” and their “love… for all the saints” was the result of the Lord’s work in them, and so he was due thanks.
Gratitude is a root of discipling. A godly motivation to disciple others is your gratitude for God’s work for, in, and through them.
Consider this: The last time you got lunch with a fellow believer, did you stop to thank God ahead of time for how He has been working in him or her? Last time you taught a kids’ Sunday School class, did you praise the Lord for bringing those children within earshot of the Gospel?
Or have you been hesitant to disciple at all? It can be daunting, especially for those with more reserved personalities or busy schedules. Gratitude for God’s work in His people can compel us to undertake the joyous burden of discipling.
Gratitude is a root of discipling, but Paul and Timothy’s prayers don’t end there. They go on to write, “[W]e haven’t stopped praying for you. We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will… giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light” (Col 1:9, 12).
Gratitude is a fruit of discipling. The goal of discipling others is their increased gratitude for God’s work.
All manner of leadership books will tell us that we need a vision for our lives and ministries that will never run out. The praiseworthiness of God promises eternal return on investment – it can’t be depleted or cease to give us joy unspeakable.
How can we have that kind of discipling ministry? Not with metrics focused on our own efforts or some kind of manufactured conformity in those whom we disciple. The discipling Paul and Timothy were after is the discipling dependent on God for “wisdom and spiritual understanding” (9), worthy conduct, good works, and growing knowledge (10), strength, endurance, patience, and joy (11).
Discipling that is rooted in gratitude for God’s work in the disciple will result in gratitude from the disciple. This can only be discipling rooted in a joyful acknowledgement of God’s saving accomplishment: “He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. In him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14).
Want a rush of joy in the work of God? Find out where God’s Spirit is already working in your church family and go join in.
You may have nothing else in common, but you will forever have one mutual Friend—and He makes for inexhaustible conversation. After all, He is “the image of the invisible God,” by whom the Father has “reconcile[d] everything to Himself!” (Col 1:15, 20).
Has the Lord providentially placed you in proximity to a fellow believer? Is He stirring someone up by His Spirit to learn and grow? Don’t forget to start with and aim toward gratitude!
Grateful discipling is Gospel discipling, because it makes disciples whose Founder and Finisher are God Himself.