"What is the cost of being a disciple of Jesus?"
I had posed the question to a small group that had met weekly for several months. It was one part rhetorical, another part practical: I wanted to know myself what difficulties might be faced along the way. The answers came slowly, and we all knew they were pretty weak; not necessarily untrue, but simply not complete. "We shouldn't cuss anymore," one man answered hesitantly. "I don't know, I guess we shouldn't get drunk, right?" replied another, who seemed a little embarrassed and looked around for reassurance. That was it; that was about as good as we could do. Something was missing in our understanding of discipleship, and we all knew it.
Perusing the internet for resources, I stumbled upon the website of a ministry called The Voice of the Martyrs. Over the next few weeks, we studied areas of persecution around the globe, prayed for various Christians in prison, and collected blankets to send to persecuted brothers and sisters in Sudan. Our understanding of discipleship to Jesus grew by leaps and bounds. And, in an interesting turn of events, it would be only a matter of months before the Lord led my wife and me to begin working for VOM.
During our three years at the ministry, we met hundreds of believers passionate about the reality of persecution, who desired to help Christians who had lost liberties, family members, homes, and, in some cases, even their own lives due to their devotion to the Lord. With VOM staff, I traveled to Colombia and met widows of pastors whose husbands had been kidnapped or murdered because they wouldn't stop preaching the gospel. These brave women often carried on their husbands' ministry, and learned to hold onto faith and hope in the midst of a violent culture. They became heroes to me. In war-torn South Sudan, only miles from the front lines of a civil war, we handed out blankets to brothers and sisters who had few material possessions, but shined in their communities with the joy of knowing the Lord and fought for His truth to become known in their country.
In his well-known book The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote of the high cost of being an apprentice to Jesus, about the invitation to take up our crosses to follow Him. Those crosses may and certainly do entail remaining pure in a corrupt world, but they also mean for many of us that we hold onto the Truth (and let Him hold onto us) regardless of what is taken from us.
Throughout my time at VOM, this reality hit me several times. But I learned, too, and perhaps in a way more profound still, that there is also cost of non-discipleship to Jesus – emptiness, meaninglessness, disconnection from all that we were made for. This is a higher cost still. When measured next to the offer of life we are given in the gospel, life deep and true and full, the cost of discipleship is rather small indeed. This is the real "secret of being content" (Philippians 4:12) that allows persecuted believers to hold onto faith in the midst of trials, that allows all of us – we are with them, united in faith with them and they with us – to remain steadfast and firm when confronted with the burden of cross-carrying.
We get life, pure and simple. We get to learn from the Master. We get our hearts healed and freed that we may walk in the "path of life" (Psalm 16:11). We get restored back into community and unity with God. The real question, then, isn't what's the cost of discipleship? but what's the cost of non-discipleship? It's a cost too high for any of us to afford, one that Jesus already took upon His back, thank God. Persecuted believers seem to know this well, and it is a good discipline for us all to learn.
Brian Fidler worked at The Voice of the Martyrs from 2002-2005. Today he is a Licensed Professional Counselor working in Joplin, MO. He's been married to DeAnn for 10 years, and last year the couple welcomed daughter Isabella to their family.