May 15, 2023

By Bill Mowry

Have you ever had a picture lodge in your mind that you can’t stop thinking about? No matter where you are or what you’re doing, this picture creeps into your consciousness. Here’s my latest re-occuring picture.

In his book The Contemplative Pastor, author Eugene Peterson describes a scene from Moby Dick of a whaleboat dashing after its prey. You can feel the men straining at the oars to attack the behemoth.

“In this boat, however, there is one man who does nothing. He doesn’t hold an oar, he doesn’t perspire, he doesn’t shout. He is languid in the crash and the cursing. This man is the harpooner, quiet and poised, waiting. And then this sentence: ‘To ensure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooners of this world must start to their feet out of idleness, and not out of toil.”The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson

If the harpooner is exhausted, having succumbed to the busyness of the chase, he will not be ready or accurate when it’s time to throw the javelin. What can I learn from Moby Dick? I must stop my frantic rowing life and take time to pause and think. This pause enables me to be poised and ready when the God-moments arrive. 

Peterson’s image captured my attention. I went on-line, purchased a Currier & Ives whale hunting print, matted and framed it, and hung the picture on the wall next to my desk. It reminds me to slow down and think so I’m ready for those God-moments. If I’m busy rowing then I don’t have time to think. This is Moby Dick disciplemaking.

Disciplemaking is a thoughtful enterprise. Pastor and author John Piper writes that “knowing and thinking exist for the sake of love — for the sake of building people up in the faith.” We pay attention to and think about those things that we love. If we love people we will think about people.

My dictionary defines thinking as using the mind to form connected ideas and opinions about someone or something. Thinking is often described as “musing,” a word derived from the Old French to “ponder” or “loiter.” To ponder something is to consider it carefully; loitering is delaying an activity with what appears to be idle stops and pauses. 

Thinking, then, is the activity of the mind that slows down to explore, analyze, critique, create, and correlate. Thinking is something that I stop to do; it demands “loitering” — idlily stopping to pause and think. Thinking marks us as God’s image-bearers.

“God made man in his own image, and one of the noblest features of the divine likeness in man is his capacity to think,” writes author John Stott. Thinking is so important to our Lord that the renewal of our minds is a mark of the new-birth (Eph. 4:23; Romans 12:2). Loving God is as much an act of the mind as it is of the Spirit (Matt. 22:37). Disciples are thinkers; disciplemaking is a thoughtful enterprise.

Thoughtful disciplemaking is not an exercise in Einsteinium physics; it doesn’t require an elevated IQ or advanced degrees. It can be done by anyone anywhere. Giftedness is not required for thoughtful disciplemaking. What is required are three simple disciplines. 

#1. Attention. Thoughtful disciplemaking requires attention. Like the harpooner in Moby Dick, I must discipline myself to focus on one thing at a time. As I sit at my desk writing this blog post, I struggle to pay attention to this topic. My mind wanders off to read my latest email, choose a record to listen to, or think about my dinner date with Peggy. Thinking requires my attention.

Attentive disciplemaking is caring disciplemaking. Because I care, I take time to think about people. I picture them at work, in their home or with their family, thinking about how they pursue God. This is something more than marching people through the next assignment in a discipleship curriculum. I pay attention to think about people because I care for them.

#2Asking. Thoughtful disciplemaking asks questions. As a beginning disciplemaker I seldom thought about asking questions. My goal was to check off the next step in the growth sequence. The program, not curiosity, drove my disciplemaking. I’m learning to be curious about people and ask questions like the following:

  • Who shaped their lives growing up?
  • How do they feel about God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit?
  • What do they believe about the Christian faith and how is this belief changing?
  • What could be the next step to help them grow?
  • Are there some hindrances or obstacles stopping their growth?
  • What are their life dreams?
  • How are these dreams being shaped by kingdom values?

Because I care, I pay attention. When I pay attention, I stop to ask questions. When I ask questions, I pause to muse, to loiter, to think. I’m practicing thoughtful disciplemaking.

#3. Acting. Thoughtful disciplemaking turns ideas into action. Lately I’ve been thinking about jealousy in my life. I find myself in an internal competition with other leaders wanting their advantages, recognition, and accomplishments. My loitering, pondering, and musing about my condition led me to a simple conclusion — I’m not content!

The Holy Spirit now has my attention. What action is He prodding me to take? One simple step was memorizing Matthew 20:15 (the conclusion to the parable of the day laborers). When I’m envious, I question the grace of God. “Surely I am free to do what I want with my own money?” asserts the owner (God). “Why be jealous because I am kind?” (NJB) is his challenge to me.

If success comes from the Lord then my jealousy questions His generosity. Thinking led me to a simple action — memorizing a verse — that points the way for changed character. Thoughtful disciplemaking requires action.

I’m looking again at my Currier & Ives print. The men are frantically rowing while the harpooner quietly stands, poised to strike. It’s hard for me to stop rowing — to not schedule one more appointment, to not fastidiously review my “to-do” list, to not reply to one more text or email. The standing man in the boat reminds me that disciplemaking must be thoughtful — full of thought. Chasing Moby Dick is a parable for thoughtful disciplemaking.


  1. Uche okeke

    HI Friends I would love to connect with any Nav close to BC. I am new and reside in Cranbrook BC


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