What Dunkirk reminded me about discipleship

Last Friday, I took my son to the movies for his birthday. We both have been wanting to see Dunkirk for some time. I love history. He loves action. I thought it was a perfect fit for both of us. Let me say that the movie far exceeded my expectations. Dunkirk is a movie about the British army’s evacuation from mainland Europe to escape the Nazi’s in 1940. Over 300,000 soldiers were stranded and had little chance of rescue. The movie weaves together three main threads of narrative as it follows a group of stranded soldiers on the beach of Dunkirk, a older man and his son who take a small boat across the channel to help save soldiers, and a couple of fighter pilots hoping to do what they can to protect the boats and soldiers who are trying to get home.

Christopher Nolan, the director of Dunkirk, does a masterful job of intertwining the composite narratives of the characters into a message about heroism. I believe that He is attempting to share a message that being a hero in difficult times looks different for every person. Bravery and honor is nuanced and multi-faceted in the messiness of life and is not as monolithic as most narratives and media portray. As Sage and I discussed this movie afterwards and what we liked and didn’t like about it, I believe there’s some incredible insights for us when it comes to discipleship and following Jesus in our world today.

The characters of Dunkirk reflect the journey that different people make with Jesus. Discipleship, just as heroism, is just as nuanced and unique. Jesus doesn’t ask all of us to do the same thing. He doesn’t give us the same gifts. We all receive a similar call, “Follow me!” from our Savior, but the where, how, and what of following looks like is different for each of us. Here are the characters of Dunkirk, and maybe you can identify with one of them:

Farrier – Farrier, played by Tom Hardy, is the classic example of a hero. He’s a British ace fighter pilot that takes on the bombers and fighters of the German Luftwaffe. There’s a moment in the movie when getting low on fuel, he can go back home, but chooses instead to risk it all and in the end makes sacrifice after sacrifice to save as many as possible. Some of us have received this call from Jesus. Leave home. Risk it all. Serve and sacrifice, even if it means capture. Retreat and surrender is not an option. You pour it all out for the sake to see as many saved as possible. Jesus is asking you to make the ultimate sacrifice, and you move forward by faith. Discipleship is risk and adventure…and loss, but it’s worth it all.

Mr. Dawson – Mr. Dawson is just a normal citizen of England, who takes his son and another young man out in his personal boat to go pick up soldiers who are stranded in Dunkirk. When King George sent the call out for citizens to help, he took the call seriously. He doesn’t have the flashiest boat and isn’t a strong soldier, but he slowly and steadily points his boat towards the danger and faithfully goes into the storm. There are multiple times when he is implored to turn back or abandon others, but he never listens to the outside voices telling him what to do. Some of us have received this call from Jesus. No one will really notice what you’ve done, except your family and the One who sees everything. Your life isn’t flashy or that adventurous, but you’ve heard the call. You move forward faithfully everyday and help those around you as best as you can and touch the lives where God gives you the opportunity. While you serve faithfully, you model for your children what following Jesus looks like in the most ordinary way. Discipleship is faithfulness and slow progress, but it’s worth it all.

Commander Bolton – Commander Bolton is the British military leader who is calling the shots on the beaches of Dunkirk. He knows that the enemy is closing in on the 300,000 plus men of the British army and that there’s only so much time before they are overtaken. He brings a presence of strength and calm in the midst of trouble. At the end of the movie, he’s given the chance to leave, but decides to stay until the French escape as well. Some of us have received this call from Jesus. You’re the only Christian in your workplace. Your might be only Christ-follower in your family. You feel the influences and darkness of sin and the world closing in around you, but you stand firm in your faith. You aren’t retreating. You won’t move to a safer place, because someone needs to be salt and light in a place that is in need of hope. Discipleship is standing firm, even if you’re all alone, but it’s worth it all.

Tommy – Tommy is a simple and plain British soldier. He spends the entire movie trying to survive and get home. There are no acts of heroism, only survival. The one act of “selflessness” he does in the story is really self-serving. He dodges bullets, torpedoes, and fire for a week, and finally makes it home safely. Some of us have chosen this way. You hear the call of our Lord and Savior to stand firm, move forward, live on purpose, but all you can do is survive. Life has been hard, and you been through enough battles already. You need rest from the attacks. You long for home, not the house and street you live on, but your place with Jesus.
Discipleship feels like a failure, but you’re not alone. Jesus is still there. He’s still worth it all.

You see, Jesus loves the Farrier’s in his family, as much as He loves the Tommy’s. No matter who you identify with in the story of Dunkirk, or what journey you’ve taken in your discipleship journey, God’s love for His children is rooted in the finished work of Jesus Christ. The Spirit is there to encourage and equip in your faithfulness, as well as comfort and challenge in your retreat. Maybe, we need to remember that it’s possible to look like all of these 4 individuals in one day depending on our circumstances and our choices. One lesson we must embrace is that God is calling us to follow Him as much today as the first day of our discipleship journey. Are you listening? Are you submitting? Are you following? May God give us the grace to sustain us no matter how we feel or what He’s calling us to do today. He is worth it all!

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