The disciple whisperer

There are “horse whisperers” who have a knack for settling and training skittish horses. There are dog whisperers who can do the same with our canine friends. And I swear that some elementary school teachers are kid whisperers.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a “disciple whisperer” for anxious followers of Jesus?

Well, there is. Sort of.

Jesus has just promised his fretful followers that if they continue to love and obey him after he’s gone, he and the Father will come and make their home with them (John 14:23). But that doesn’t mean that it’s entirely up to them to figure out everything about their life of discipleship, for as he tells them, “The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you” (vs. 26, CEB).

I give my students a lot of information over the course of an academic quarter. They’re expected to study and learn. And when exam time comes, they have to show from memory what they’ve learned, without looking at their notes or books, without consulting anyone else. If someone sat next to them, whispering reminders of what I said in my lectures, I’d consider it cheating.

It’s different, though, when I train people as family life educators. There is still some lecturing and listening involved, as part of the foundation. But here, the students learn by watching demonstrations, then imitating what they see. As they do, I often talk them through it. And some of them have told me that later, when they were teaching workshops and felt a little stuck, they would hear my voice in their heads: Remember what I told you before? Do it this way.

The life of discipleship may be more like the second example than the first. We have a disciple whisperer, someone both to teach us and to help us remember what we’ve already been taught by word and example.

It’s the Companion, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth (cf. vs. 17).

Jesus promised earlier that he and the Father would make their home with the disciples; this promise, about the ministry of the Holy Spirit, seems to be a continuation of the earlier one, a way in which the abiding presence of the Father and Son would be known. The entire passage is strongly trinitarian: here, the Spirit is sent by the Father in the name of the Son; later, Jesus will speak of being the one to send the Spirit himself (16:7).

And notice that whatever is said of the Spirit’s work can also be said of Jesus: both the Spirit and Jesus himself are referred to as our advocate (1 John 2:1); the Spirit is the Spirit of Truth (14:17; 16:13) and Jesus is himself the truth (14:6); the Spirit teaches what Jesus taught, not speaking on his own (16:13), just as Jesus didn’t speak on his own (14:10, 24). Indeed, the apostle Paul, for his own part, is willing to speak explicitly of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Jesus (Phil. 1:19).

The Christian life, therefore, is less like a final examination than an interactive training seminar. Yes, we must listen, study, and learn. But we’re not left to our faulty memories and imperfect understandings. The Father, Son, and Spirit all abide with us. We are being empowered both to learn and to put what we learn into practice.

I don’t know about you, but I find that comforting to know.