Our lives are often very busy. Most of us fill our time up, which means we often feel tired more often than we should. Recent surveys show that most American adults feel tired three or more days a week, with only one in seven reporting that they wake up every day feeling fresh and rested. Being tired, even if only a few times a week, can contribute to a lack of vision and desire, and makes it easier to let certain values lag. One of those—the one I’m most concerned about—is how much we invest in our own discipleship.
You hear me speak regularly about the call to discipleship that each one of us receives. God made each of us uniquely and wonderfully, and Christ calls us to follow him into the world in love and service. That call to discipleship is not just a feeling or something we can pick up and put down at our convenience. That call to discipleship is meant to challenge and transform us each and every day. The commitment to discipleship is how we are made to grow.
This fall, we will be focusing on a specific kind of growth. We are part of a church that is committed to spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a world that desperately needs to hear it. Jesus came to call disciples into a new way of being, and on behalf of the Spirit, those disciples called more disciples who called more disciples, who called you. You are part of the amazing work begun in Christ, and this year, we have the opportunity to seize our purpose in an incredibly tangible way.
When I think of seizing the moment, I’m reminded of one of my favorite movies: Dead Poets Society. In that movie, Robin Williams plays John Keating, a new English professor at an elite boarding school from which he himself graduated. Tasked with teaching the young men about great literature, Keating approaches his lessons with a creativity that begins to challenge the status quo.
In one of my favorite scenes in the movie, he marches the boys out of the classroom and down the hall where they stop near a glass case filled with old trophies and pictures of students from years past. The pictures have yellowed and faded with time. Keating then says, “I’d like you to step forward over here and peruse some of the faces of the past. You’ve walked past them many times, but I don’t think you’ve really looked at them. They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts, full of hormones just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they are destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because you see, gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen. Do you hear it?” And then with a low, whispery voice, Keating says, “Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
We can often see our lives as individual, standing alone from the community around us. Yet we are all part of a larger whole, and we are all made to be connected to one another. I often describe discipleship as a relay race. We have been passed the baton of discipleship by those who came before us, and now we are carrying the baton to those who will come after us.
Much like the scene from Dead Poets Society, we are faced with a great opportunity. We have been given one life to live. If left to our own human failings, we cannot make from our lives, individually, even one iota of what we are capable of making when we live and create together with intentionality. Discipleship may begin with a personal choice, but discipleship is brought to fruition in a community of faith rooted in Christ.
The commitment to discipleship takes energy to prepare for the moments that matter most. When we commit to listening faithfully to God’s voice and preparing to seize the great moments when they come, we can make a significant difference in the world. This idea is articulated in a big way in the Book of Nehemiah.
Nehemiah was part of the Jewish group exiled to Babylon that had been taken in by Persia, and he served in the court of the Persian king, Artaxerxes. Nehemiah served as King Artaxerxes’s cupbearer but yearned to go back to Jerusalem. As the Book of Nehemiah opens, he hears of the plight of Jews who remained during the exile and of the ruin of Jerusalem, and he weeps. He immediately begins to pray. He praises God, confesses his own sin and the sins of the people, and then acknowledges his trust in God’s will, asking that God strengthen him to use every opportunity to be as faithful as possible.
As the story goes on, Nehemiah is in the king’s court and his sadness is noticed by the king. Artaxerxes asks what’s troubling Nehemiah, and although Nehemiah is afraid, he seizes the opportunity to speak truthfully to the king. Nehemiah says, “Long live the king! And why shouldn’t I be depressed when the city, the city where all my family is buried, is in ruins and the city gates have been reduced to cinders?” Then King Artaxerxes asks a simple question, “So what do you want?” Praying under his breath to God, Nehemiah said, “If it pleases the king, and if the king thinks well of me, send me to Judah, to the city where my family is buried, so that I can rebuild it.”* Much to his surprise, King Artaxerxes not only permits him to go rebuild Jerusalem, but extends his direct help in making his return possible.
This incredible story shows how our preparation connects with great opportunities to change the world for the better. Nehemiah was grounded in prayer and had prepared his heart and mind to seize whatever faithful opportunity came his way. In our own way, we are called to prepare our hearts and minds to seize the faithful opportunities God presents to us, and to seize them together.
In the same way, God is inviting us to build our future so we can spread God’s love in the future beyond our wildest dreams.
This fall, Saint Michael is taking another big step in the direction of becoming the church God calls us to be. There will be many opportunities coming our way, opportunities to build the future God hopes for us. I encourage you to join me in prayer, study, and service, so that whenever we have the opportunity to give ourselves to the work of God in the world, we will be ready, willing, and able. The future is bright, and as I always like to say with great faith, the best is yet to come!
*Nehemiah 2:2–5, The Message.
**This article was written by the Rev. Dr. Christopher D. Girata and was featured in the 2023 Fall Archangel.