At the end of his Gospel, St. Matthew tells us that after he rose from the dead, Jesus gathered his disciples together and told them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18-19). After three exciting and challenging years of following Jesus and learning from him, they were finally ready to go out and build the Church.
From that moment on, down to the present day, Jesus has been calling people to himself so he can teach them, transform them, and send them out in the footsteps of his first disciples. Just as he told Peter, John, and Mary Magdalene, so he tells each of us, “Go and make disciples. Go and build my Church. Some key characteristics we all need in order to answer this call are having a heart like Jesus’ heart; preparing ourselves for the call; and seizing every opportunity that presents itself.
Having the Heart of Jesus. On more than one occasion, Jesus told us that his Father is our Father (John 20:17), and that we are all children of God (11:51). In reality, God looks upon every human being as his beloved child. He loves every one of us, and he wants all of us to enjoy loving, intimate fellowship with him.
Imagine a husband and wife who have seven children. They love all their children deeply and want every one of them to be happy, successful, and secure. If only five of them do well, there is a way that the parents’ joy is incomplete. Even if six do well and one falls short, the parents’ joy will still be somewhat incomplete. They will be completely happy only when all seven of their children are doing well.
Most of us tend to see things from the limited perspective of our own lives. We suffer when someone close to us suffers, and we rejoice when someone close to us does well. But God sees everyone. He rejoices over every success, breakthrough, and healing. Likewise, he suffers over every wounded heart, over every broken relationship, and over every lost soul.
If we want to have a heart like Jesus and see things as he sees them, then we have to accept the basic premise that God loves every human being. We also have to accept the premise that God wants every human being to know his love and to embrace his eternal plan of salvation through Jesus. These two basic premises must be the primary motivations behind our desire to go out and make disciples for him.
How do we develop this heart of love and compassion? Every day in prayer, ask God to show you how much he loves every person. Ask him to show you how to love people in the same way that he loves you. Every morning, ask Jesus to show you how to love others as he did when he laid down his life for us. Every night, ask the Holy Spirit to give you the desire to love God’s people in accord with Paul’s most famous description:
Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
This can sound very idealistic, but St. Paul knew—and we all know—that we are but a “poor reflection” of Christ (1 Corinthians 13:12). God knows that none of us is perfect. And yet he still calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves because he knows that the only way to discipleship is the path of love. And so, while we fall short, we also can take comfort in the fact that God wants to continually transform us and give us the heart of Jesus.
Be Transformed by the Renewal of Your Mind. Part of our being formed into disciples is linked to our prayer. It’s in prayer that we ask Jesus to give us his heart of love and to broaden our perspective. It’s in prayer that we begin to see the world as God sees it—as needy and lost without him. And, it’s in prayer that we begin to suffer, not only over the pain our loved ones experience, but also over the tragedies, the injustices, the anxieties, and the crises of faith that afflict so many people.
This process of transformation is linked not only to our having the heart of Jesus in prayer, but also to our personal growth. To put it simply, God wants to transform us as we cooperate with his Spirit in the challenge of renewing our minds (Romans 12:2).
For example, if we want to be God’s disciples, we need to fight against the temptation to place ourselves above others. Walking the road of discipleship requires that we leave behind our old patterns of self-centeredness. As we walk this road, it’s good to know that the Holy Spirit is with us. He can teach us how to appreciate and rejoice in the good gifts God has given us without falling prey to pride and arrogance or lording ourselves over other people.
If we want to become disciples, we also have to try to deal with resentments and hurts from our past by taking on an attitude of mercy. Throughout his ministry, Jesus encouraged his followers to forgive as God has forgiven them. Again, this is a process that takes place over time. We may be a poor reflection of Jesus, but through prayer and practice—through hard work and cooperation with the Holy Spirit—we can come to know the joy of forgiving our enemies and those who have hurt us.
Conquering self-centeredness and growing in forgiveness are just two aspects of discipleship. In fact, the Spirit wants to form and shape every area of our lives. He wants to deal with our weaknesses, and even more importantly, he wants to build up our strengths. Discipleship means more than just putting off the ways of sin. It also means putting on the character of Christ: peace, patience, kindness, wisdom, humility, and generosity.
As a practical exercise, try to list the most prevalent areas of sin that bind you up and separate you from God. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you his power to overcome them. Then, ask the Spirit to help you put on and develop the virtues of Christ that you already have so that you can be an even brighter light to the world.
Seizing Opportunities. Jesus tells us that the harvest is bountiful but the workers are few. In other words, he is calling us to do the work of making disciples. Jesus is calling us to go into the world and seize every opportunity that presents itself to us. But he also wants us to know that he will open the hearts of people and he will pour out grace upon them as we do the harvesting.
Some opportunities will simply come our way out of nowhere. If you are a peaceful person, a calm and smiling light, then people will naturally seek you out. When this happens, you have to be ready. You have to be able to explain simply and clearly that it’s Jesus who has made you peaceful, and that this peace is available to everyone who believes in him.
Other opportunities will require more effort on your part. For instance, God may be leading you to serve in a Bible study in your parish or at a retirement home in your town. He may be leading you to coach a youth group, to lobby for an end to abortion, or to serve on a social or civic committee. Whatever he is calling you to do, your witness of consistency, generosity, and service can open doors and touch hearts. Even something as simple as a kind word can lead people to Jesus.
Being a disciple means that we sow seeds wherever we go. But it also may mean doing some tilling, cultivating, fertilizing, or weeding. Every situation is different, but we do know that Jesus will act like the sun, shining on our work and making it grow and bear fruit—perhaps even thirty or sixty or ninetyfold.
Jesus promised his disciples that the harvest will always be bountiful. He also promised that he would be with them, even “to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). In our day, many believe that a time of renewal is on the horizon, an era when God will pour out a powerful grace of conversion upon the world and a time of refreshing upon his Church. Let’s all pray together that many disciples will be raised up so that the harvest of this renewal can be gathered into the kingdom. Let’s all take up Jesus’ challenge to go and make disciples of all the world.