The other day I caught a scent while working in the office. It was a good smell. I kept thinking to myself, “Somebody smells nice today.” It wasn’t until everyone left for the day that I realized it was me! My wife had bought me a new deodorant, and the fragrance was unfamiliar to me. Has this ever happened to you? It feels like someone is hovering over your shoulder all day. I was emanating a delightful scent, and I didn’t even know it.
On a recent episode of the Rebuilders podcast, Dr. Terry Walling contrasted spiritual authority with positional authority. Many leaders think a title or position will help them maximize influence. This mindset says, “Once I’m in charge, then I can make a difference.” According to Jesus, the servant has a more significant influence in the Kingdom (Matthew 20:26). Walling described spiritual authority as having the fragrance of Christ without being aware of it. If we want to lead people to Jesus, we have to smell like Jesus.
At some point in all of our lives, an authority figure said, “Do as I say, not as I do.” I can’t think of a more frustrating statement. Hypocrites prescribe the medicine for everyone else but don’t take it themselves. Unfortunately, hypocrisy is one of the most common perceptions the world has towards Christians. You can be a part of eliminating this stereotype.
Many Christians “know the good they ought to do,” but they don’t do it. This tendency is perhaps even more true of Christian leaders. We become too busy for the simple practice of a daily quiet time to enjoy God’s presence. Pete Scazzero in The Emotionally Healthy Leader recalls a time where he was close to burnout. Ministry was going great on the outside, but he was wasting away on the inside. He writes, “When I first became a Christian, I fell in love with Jesus. I cherished time alone with him while reading the Bible and praying. Yet, almost immediately, the activity of my life (‘doing’ for Jesus) began to eclipse the contemplative dimension of my life (‘being’ with Jesus)…I was engaged in more activity for God than my being with God could sustain.”
Spend Time with God
Smelling like Jesus is a result of spending time with Jesus. At Mount Sinai, Moses was with God for forty days and forty nights. When he came down from the mountain, “Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God” (Exodus 34:29). Moses looked different from everyone else, but he didn’t realize it.
The Apostles had this same experience. They had spiritual authority from their time with Jesus even though they had no positional power in Jerusalem. The Jewish leaders noticed something different about Peter and John. Although they were ordinary untrained men, “They recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). People saw their time with Jesus over their training.
Mary understood the importance of being with Jesus when he visited her house in Bethany. While Martha spent her time and energy preparing the meal, Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. According to Jesus, “one thing is necessary,” and Mary was doing it (Luke 10:42). She simply spent time with her Lord.
Your daily quiet time may not always feel like a mountain top experience. Your face probably won’t glow afterward. Keep doing it anyway. It’s the slow and subtle rhythms of spiritual formation that make a difference in the long run. If you aren’t praying and reading the Bible consistently, this is the first place to start. Schedule a time and designate a place that you will meet with God every day. From there, you can add some of the other disciplines—Sabbath, silence, fasting, generosity, etc. For more reading on Spiritual Practices, I recommend Richard Foster’s modern classic Celebration of Discipline. Time with God changes us.
Discipleship is caught, not taught.
You will never make deep disciples with a shallow spiritual life. Even if you teach phenomenal lessons or preach perfect sermons, people will call your bluff. They can smell it. Disciple-making is very much like parenting; modeling is your best tool. If you want your kids to spend less screen time, put down your phone. If you want your kids to clean their room, do chores as a family. If you want your kids to develop a deep prayer life, pray at more than just mealtimes. Our children (and disciples) will do as we do, not as we say.
Jesus taught that “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). Disciples will not only become what their teacher teaches, they will become who their teacher is. Jesus spent most of his time during his three-year ministry with the twelve instead of the crowds. If we want to make mature disciples, we must take time to live life with people. Disciple-making happens in the context of a relational environment, and there is no shortcut to relationships.
The Apostle Paul understood this principle. He told the church in Corinth to “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 NIV). This command only had power because the church knew Paul. They saw his faith first-hand. If we want to develop people into deeply formed disciples of Christ, we’ve got to practice what we preach. Spend less time telling people what to do, and spend more time following Jesus together. The people closest to you will learn by the example you set more than anything else.
Cultivate a deep relationship with Jesus and invite people into it. Don’t just pray for requests; pray with that person on the spot. Talk with friends and family about what you are learning from God’s Word. Use questions you are wrestling with about faith as table topics. Confess struggles with a trusted friend and allow them to minister to you. The greatest gift we have to offer others is a spiritually deep and emotionally healthy version of ourselves.
Who is someone in your life that modeled discipleship? What is a lesson you learned from that person? Let me know in the comments below!