Have you ever encountered a Christian who thought they had some special insight on scriptures? Perhaps they believed their church was the only one with this unique knowledge. Or maybe they thought they were smarter than other pastors, and they found some new truth everyone else was missing. I once had a Christian tell me they were “more saved” because they kept the Mosaic Law. To be fair, I think they realized what they said after they spoke the words, but their attitude didn’t change.
Remember, Paul talked about legalistic Christians saying they were the weaker Christians. Those who are legalistic often think they are the strong ones and have a special insight and better understanding than anyone else. But the reality is just the opposite. The Church is under Grace, not the legalism of the Mosaic Law. All believers have freedom in Christ.
The Apostle Paul spent a lot of time talking about the dangers of casuistry. In Romans 14:1-4 Paul wrote first regarding food sacrificed to idols:
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
Paul is referring to the fact that idols are nothing, so if an animal is sacrificed to an idol it does not contaminate the meat. Meat that had been sacrificed to idols was generally much cheaper than meat that had not been first offered in sacrifice. Paul is saying since idols are nothing, why not get cheaper meat? However, we are not to judge or “despise” the person who does not do the same things we do. John R. W. Stott wrote The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World.. He talks about this argument Paul is discussing in Romans. He writes, “It is inappropriate to reject somebody whom God has welcomed, it is at least as inappropriate to interfere in the relationship between a master and his oiketes, his household slave. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? (4a). In ordinary life such behavior would be regarded as outrageous and would be deeply resented” (94. 361).
In Romans 14:5-9, Paul goes on to specifically talk about holy days. He writes:
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
John Stott explains the meaning of Paul’s words regarding holy days and refers to those who are weak and those who are strong saying, “He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord (6a). He does it, that is, ‘in honor of the Lord’ (RSV, JB), with the intention of pleasing and honoring him. And the same is true of the one who regards every day alike” (362). Finally, Stott says, because he is our Lord, we must live for him. Because He is also the Lord of our fellow Christians, we must respect their relationship to him and mind our own business. For he died and rose to be Lord” (362).
The Apostle Paul again addresses legalism in the book of 1 Corinthians. He once more talks about food saying in 1 Corinthians 8:1-3, “Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” This passage by Paul points out how knowledge can make us puffed up, or proud. On the other hand, Paul tells us that love brings edification. He is not saying that knowledge in itself is bad, but knowledge alone is not enough. Paul is saying in all such matters, whether it be eating, drinking, or keeping or not keeping a specific holy day, we must have love to be an adjunct to our knowledge. We must contemplate not only what is allowed in our freedom as Christians, but also what would be paramount for other believers.
Gordon D. Fee wrote a commentary called The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Fee inscribed Paul’s intentions when he wrote 1 Corinthians 8. He penned:
Once one’s theology is properly in hand, it is especially tempting to use it as a club on others. And in this case, it happens from the theological right as well as from the left. This does not mean that knowledge is either irrelevant or unimportant, but it does mean that it cannot serve as the primary basis of Christian behavior. In Christian ethics ‘knowledge’ must always lead to love. One should always beware of those teachers or systems that entice one by special ‘revelation’ or ‘deeper insights.’ Such appeals are invariably to one’s pride, not to one’s becoming a more truly loving Christian. While it is true that ‘insight’ often leads to ‘freedom,’ it is also true that it often results finally in the demand for ‘freedom’ in the form of ‘rights.’ This is what happened at Corinth. In the Christian faith ‘knowledge’ or ‘insight’ is never an end in itself; it is only a means to a greater end, the building up of others. (1987, 369)
Contrary to what some who are legalistic might think, Paul says the one with freedom is stronger than the one who is legalistic. A person who is legalistic often thinks they are more knowledgeable and thus are stronger, but Paul clearly says the legalistic Christian is the “weaker brother.” Paul calls out the fallacy of their philosophy. Vigilance must be taken that one does not take the New Testament sabbath and make it into something it was never meant to be – a legalistic tool to club our Christian brothers and sisters with. God meant it as a gift, not a burden. Keeping a regular Sabbath was never meant to be something for Christians to brag about.
Pastors are extremely busy. There is a constant demand for their time and resources. Unfortunately, the first thing to go is often taking a sabbath day off. There is so much to do, and all of it seems good and worthwhile. After all the Bible tells us to give our all for ministry, “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:16 KJV) It can be very tempting to think “God cannot do this work without me.” The truth Is God is wiser than all the pastors in the world combined. When a pastor takes a regular day for the sabbath they step out on faith that God will continue working even when they are not. This is what it looks like to acknowledge that God is in control.
A pastor or Christian leader begins telling God that they are wiser than He is when they get into a mindset that they are indispensable. They start to think no one else can fill in for them. Isaiah 5:21 gives the reminder, “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!” Pride was the sin that caused Satan to think he could put his throne above God’s, which got him thrown out of Heaven. He appealed to the pride of Adam and Eve tempting them in the Garden of Eden. He conveyed the impression that they could become “like God” by simply eating the fruit God had forbidden them to eat. Pride and arrogance may seem harmless, but can be devastating to a minister. Jesus tells a parable in Luke 18:9-14: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
One may think this parable is just for those legalistic pastors who think they are wiser than anyone else and it does not apply to them. But it becomes apparent reading the gospels, that even the disciples had issues with pride and arrogance. They were caught having an argument over who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus told the disciples the one who is humble as a little child is the greatest. If even the Apostles had to wrestle with pride and arrogance, no one should be tempted to think they are exempt. There is another Old Testament example of the consequences of relying on one’s own ability instead of on God. King David was a mighty warrior and was blessed by the Lord. He had a loyal army that could fight. However, King David decided to number his people to determine how much power he actually had. This displeased the Lord. 1 Chronicles 21:1 records this saying, “Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.” David may have been considering a military draft and wanted to know how many people he could conscribe into military service. The point is, David had no reason to know these numbers if he fully trusted the Lord. God assured King David He would fight for Israel. By numbering the people, David was showing his own doubt and distrust of the Lord. He was taking pride in and trusting in his own abilities. Pride can be summarized as an arrogant attitude of self-sufficiency. This definition of pride can be demonstrated in habitually omitting a sabbath. By skipping out on taking a Sabbath we are promoting our own self-importance. Following a regular rhythm of observing a sabbath puts trust back on God and that He will help accomplish what needs to be done in six days instead of seven. Sabbath keeping takes away self-exaltation and the philosophy that God needs a particular individual to accomplish his purposes and cannot use anyone else. The challenge for you is to step out on faith that God will cause things to come together in six days, and take the seventh as a day of rest, worship, and recreation. Realize that God doesn’t need us to accomplish His will. He chooses to use us, but He wants to have fellowship with us. He has a rest available for us, and we can spend time in spiritual formation. As a pastor or Christian leader, there are those who look up to you, and will want to do what you do. If you never take a break, they will not either. If they see you take a day off once a week, for rest, worship, and recreation, they will follow in your example.
Do you feel overworked, and too busy? I was recently reminded how our society used to have one parent stay home to raise kids while the other parent held down a job. Today that is a rare luxury. People sacrifice time with family to work harder and longer. Individuals push themselves to work more, to have their children involved in more activities, and to have more things. Sometimes people will continue to push until they get sick or just can’t go on anymore.
Psalm 23 is the Psalm of the Good Shepherd. It describes some of the methods the good shepherd takes care of, and nurtures his sheep. Psalm 23:1-3 describes it this way:
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.”
The Good Shepherd of our souls, just like the good shepherd caring for their sheep will not only lead and tend to the sheep, but he will “make” the sheep lie down in green pastures. The sheep will desire to keep wandering instead of resting in the green pasture. The shepherd compels the sheep to stop and relax in the green pastures. The Good Shepherd of our Souls observes Christians pushing themselves to the limit. The Good Shepherd, as described in Psalm 23, will make them stop and take a rest if they determine not to stop.
Psalm 119:65, 67 says, “You have dealt well with your servant, O Lord, according to your word.” “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word.”
Mrs. Charles Cowman wrote two very popular daily devotionals in the 1920s. She and her husband were missionaries around the turn of the 20th century in the Orient, going to Japan and Korea. She writes in the introduction to her first devotional, “Streams in the Desert” about the source of writing this book. She writes, “It was our privilege to spend a number of years in the mission fields of the Orient-Japan and Korea, but the trying climate and overstrain of heavy work caused my dear husband’s health to fail, and we were compelled to return to the homeland where for six years a battle was waged between life and death.”
There is a particular devotion from Lottie Cowman’s book, Streams in the Desert, that really speaks to these times when God “makes us lie down in green pastures.” This devotion is titled “Into a Desert Place Apart.” This daily devotion from 1925 is so eloquent I want to include the whole thing here. It reads:
“There is no music in a rest, but there is the making of music in it.” In our whole life-melody the music is broken off here and there by “rests,” and we foolishly think we have come to the end of the tune. God sends a time of forced leisure, sickness, disappointed plans, frustrated efforts, and makes a sudden pause in the choral hymn of our lives; and we lament that our voices must be silent, and our part missing in the music which ever goes up to the ear of the Creator. How does the musician read the “rest”? See him beat the time with unvarying count, and catch up the next note true and steady as if no breaking place had come between.
Not without design does God write the music of our lives. Be it ours to learn the tune, and not be dismayed at the “rests.” They are not to be slurred over, not to be omitted, not to destroy the melody, not to change the keynote. If we look up, God Himself will beat the time for us. With the eye on Him, we shall strike the next note full and clear. If we sadly say to ourselves, “There is no music in a rest,” let us not forget “There is the making of music in it.” Making of music is often a slow and painful process in this life. How patiently God works to teach us! How long He waits for us to learn the lesson!
I once heard a legend about the Apostle John. The legend tells how John the Beloved says that John had a pet partridge. He loved caring for this little bird, feeding it, pampering, and playing with it. One day a hunter happened by the Apostle John’s home and saw the aged Saint with the bird. He was amazed. He stopped and asked John about why this man with so many ministry gifts, would waste so much time caring for this partridge. The Apostle asked the hunter if he always kept his wooden bow strung and bent, ready to be shot at any time. The hunter explained “No” because if he kept the wooden bow bent all the time, it would eventually become warped and useless as a bow. John told the hunter, “You unbend your bow to prevent it from becoming useless, so why should I not unbend my mind for the same reason?” The point is we must have rest, or we will become useless just like a wooden bow that is never unbent will become warped and unusable.
Lord, help us to unbend our bow. We are wayward like sheep, every lusting to wander, and ever looking for something more when you can satisfy us. You know what is best for us. Cause us to lay down and take our rest. Help us to be satisfied with you and with what you offer. Help us to follow you and hear your voice. In Jesus’ name.
Do you feel like you are always in a rush? Maybe you are like a lot of people who if you ask them how they are will say, “I’m fine, but really busy!” It seems to be a product of the world we live in.
The constant urgency of hurry will cause us to be continually stressed out. This same urgency of hurry will cause us to harm the very ones we are supposed to love and care for, and we will find ourselves constantly giving up our sabbath. This is clearly not God’s intention for us. The Bible says in Philippians 4:5-9 “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” It is hard to show gentleness to everyone when we are stressed by the urgency of hurry to accomplish more than what we are capable of.
The constant stress of being in a hurry leads to anxiety. Hurry sickness can creep up on us when we think about how much we need to accomplish and try to multi-task to the point that we forget important things that need to be done. Being in a hurry all the time can lead us to try to take shortcuts and compromise.
The Gospels tell the story of how Jesus went into the wilderness to fast and pray. He had an incredible mission to accomplish for God, and only three years to accomplish it. Yet he started that mission in a long prayer retreat. This happened right after he was baptized, and his earthly ministry began. He spent forty days alone with God in prayer and fasting. Towards the end of the forty days, the devil showed up to tempt Jesus. Is not that like the devil tempting us when we are tired and hungry? Satan offered shortcuts to accomplish the things Jesus needed to do. Remember, he only had three years to change the world. If Jesus suffered from the urgency of hurry he may have been tempted by these supposed shortcuts, but in every instance, he said no to temptation referring to the scriptures each time.
We often skip eating when we are urgently hurrying to accomplish a task. When our hunger starts screaming at us, we may look to junk food or fast food to appease our hunger. This kind of food is designed to make us crave more of it when we eat it. It is full of excess sugar, salt, and carbs. Satan told Jesus to take a shortcut and simply turn a bread loaf-shaped rock into real bread and eat and appease that hunger so he could get on with his mission. Jesus refused telling Satan in Matthew 4:4, “But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Next, Satan took Jesus to the top of the Temple in Jerusalem. Satan suggested he should throw himself off the temple in the sight of everyone because the angels would save him. In that way, people would immediately see he is the promised Messiah, and they will serve him. This would be much faster and easier than spending time trying to convince them of its merits. Jesus did not fall for this temptation to cut corners. Matthew 4:7 records, “Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Finally, Satan offered to give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if he would simply bow down and worship at his feet. He would forfeit his rule in exchange for a simple act of worship. At this point, Jesus was done. He would not take a shortcut because of the urgency of hurry. Matthew 4:10, “Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”
We must fiercely resist the constant urgency of hurry. American society pushes us to do more, do it faster, and work harder. There is always more to accomplish. Someone once used an analogy of a plane in flight. They expressed how a plane must expend an enormous amount of energy to get airborne. But it only takes a comparatively small amount of energy to keep it airborne once in the air. They went on with their analogy saying we are like airplanes. It takes a lot of energy to get us off the ground, but once in the air, we can coast. This analogy has some truth; however, it fails because we constantly push ourselves to go higher and higher. We never reach that point of rest. Jesus is the great example we must follow. We must pause from our work to spend time with God, with our family and friends. We need to trust God that He is working even when we are not. If we wait to take a Sabbath after all the work is completed, we will never take a Sabbath because the work is unending. I challenge you to step out on faith and start taking a regular Sabbath day each week, whether Sunday or another day. Try it for one month and see how God blesses you.
Have you ever participated in a play? I was a drama major in high school and was in several plays at my church over the years. My first roles were very small, with just one short line. It put me on the stage for only a minute or two, but it felt like being part of something big.
Eventually, bigger parts came along. My part in, “Our Town” started the play out with a long, five minutes or more speech.
My drama teacher endured so much stress because of me. He would tell us to memorize certain parts of the play before rehearsal. Without fail, I would show up for rehearsal with a script in my hand, trying to memorize my part last minute. I would try to hide my script because I didn’t have all my lines memorized, but he always caught me.
When memorizing a play, you not only have to remember your lines, but also the lines of those you interact with on stage, and all of your cues for coming and going.
Our Drama teacher had this habit. He would introduce the play, then he would disappear. He would hide in his office with the door locked until after the play was over. We had to rely on ourselves and each other for cues, missed lines, or failed props. He would never be there to bail us out if we were unprepared.
I hated memorizing lines but loved getting up and acting, and being part of a production. Memorizing is hard work, but I found I could memorize lines, I just didn’t like to. One interesting thing that happens when memorizing large amounts of information is the more you memorize the easier it becomes.
We live in a very noisy world. When I was in high school trying to memorize a script, it helped to get by myself, with no distractions. Soft music would drown out other noises. Even today, the world is so busy and loud. Have you ever turned on a TV or a radio just for noise? People don’t tend to like it when things are too quiet.
Carl Jung was an early Christian counselor. He is considered one of the fathers of early psychology. He talked about how we can so easily become distracted by life, and being too busy. Clear back in 1922, Jung said, “Busyness is not just FROM the Devil, it IS the Devil” You may not completely agree with that statement, but you can see his point. It is easy to get so busy that you don’t slow down and make time for your spiritual side. The spiritual discipline of silence and contemplative prayer has been practiced since the early church by early church fathers, and certain denominations. This practice has been lost to most of the churches today. The idea is to pray, and then be silent for a period of time to see what God would have you know. If you have never done this, it is simple. It involves taking time to quiet our minds, and simply ask God one thing, “Lord, what would you like me to know today?” After praying that simple prayer, quiet your mind and listen.
A couple of weeks ago, during a time of being silent, The Lord spoke so clearly to me God wants us as a church (New Hope Church, where I pastor) to begin memorizing scripture. Specifically, I heard the scripture Psalm 119:11, “Your word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”
God may not always speak to you during your times of silence, or contemplative prayer time. When he does, it is powerful. However, if he doesn’t speak, we have God’s word, the Bible, which contains God’s love letter to us. He constantly is available to speak to us through his word.
One of the spiritual disciplines leading to spiritual formation is taking in the Word of God. This is not just Bible reading, because there are multiple ways of taking in the Bible. We can read, we can come to church and hear, we can sing scriptural songs, we can journal scripture, we can memorize, and we can meditate on God’s Word.
In the Old Testament, many scriptures were sung. As a matter of fact, the book of Psalms would have been considered a songbook. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to remember a song that we like? If we put music to the words of scripture, we can easily memorize verses from the Bible.
Psalm 1 gives a great example of taking in the Word of God.
Psalm 1 (ESV) “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”
Psalm 1 has a clear message about what it means to live a righteous life. The very first word of this Psalm is “Blessed.” This word can be translated from the Hebrew as “Oh, how very happy.” So when you see this word blessed in Psalm 1, think “Oh how very happy”. So we would read, “Oh how very happy is the person who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night”
The Bible clearly lays out how to live a happy life. First don’t run around with troublemakers, and rabble-rousers who stir up trouble. Don’t make your best friends people who are going to drag you down. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” This doesn’t mean we don’t have friends and acquaintances in the world. We can’t win them to Christ if we don’t associate at all. But we should not spend all our time, or be best friends with those who will corrupt us from Christ.
There is an old saying, sin will always take you farther than you want to go. This Psalm talks about three steps that happen when you fall into the wrong crowd.
First, the man mentioned walks in the counsel of the ungodly – when you hang around with sinners and they become your best friends, their advice will often lead you astray.
Second, he stands in the way of sinners. In other words, he becomes part of the in-crowd with his group of sinner friends. He does what they want to do, and goes where they want to go, and they accept him as part of their crowd.
Third, he sits in the seat of the scornful – what do you think of when you think of scornful people? The scornful here are referring to people who no longer even believe in God. They not only deny the existence of God, but they are antagonistic toward God and have a hatred for him. This is the progression of a person who chooses the world over God – who chooses ungodly friends as their best friends.
Psalm 1 tells us, oh how very happy is the person who does not choose to go down that path, but rather delights in God and his Word.
The next thing we see in Psalm 1 is an example of what we are to do, “but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”
2 Timothy 2:15 puts this in another way. The King James version puts it this way, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
Unfortunately, there are those that think you can get saved, and then live like the devil. After all, we are under Grace. It’s true, we are under the Grace of God. He does forgive us when we go to him and ask. But Galatians 5:13 tells us, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
Psalm 1 mentions the word meditation. The world often steals the things of God and tries to corrupt them. Think about how God used the rainbow as a symbol to Noah that he would never destroy the world again. How does the world use God’s rainbow today? LGBT has hijacked this symbol. The same is true of meditation. Often when we hear the word meditation, we automatically think of Buddhists, Yoga, Eastern religions, or some weird new-age thing. They take the word meditate, which appears around 40 times in our Bible, and they corrupt what it means to meditate. To these different religions, meditation is something you do to bring peace to yourself. You are supposed to clear your mind, and open yourself up – to what? I don’t think it is something of God…. Often you chant a mantra meant to connect you with the universe. After you are done, whatever problems you have are still there, but you are supposed to have found inner peace.
As human beings, we all meditate. We think deeply about different things. The Bible says we should meditate on the things of God and on the scriptures. This will not only bring us real peace but according to Psalm 1, we will be blessed for doing it.
When we meditate on scripture, we are thinking about a verse, a passage, or perhaps a story from the Bible.
It’s kind of like a cup of hot water and a tea bag. Imagine a cup of hot water is your mind and your spirit. This tea bag represents the Word of God. When you attend church and hear the Word, or you do a quick reading of some scripture, it is like dunking this tea bag one time in the Hot water. Some of the tea begins to fuse with the hot water. Over time, the water will get the tea into it, but it does take a while. When we memorize scripture, it’s like dunking the tea bag several times. It gets more tea into the water with each dunk. But if you are like me, if I’m going to drink tea, I want a strong cup of tea. I don’t like weak tea. If you want a strong tea, after you dunk the bag a few times, you want to drop the bag into the water and let it steep. In our example, this happens when you meditate on scripture. The best way to meditate on scripture is first to read a passage. When the Lord leads you to something meaningful or to something that he wants you to know, memorize this verse or verses. After you memorize scripture, you can then go over it, and meditate on it. Think about what that scripture is speaking to you. What is it that drew you to this passage?
The first time you read a passage it may not speak much to you. When you go back to it, you may see something more. When you memorize and begin to meditate on it, you see more and more. It’s kind of like the story of Elijah. Elijah declared it was not going to rain until God told him otherwise, and it didn’t rain for three years. Then God told Elijah the rain was coming. Elijah told his servant to go look out at the sky. The servant returned and said he didn’t see anything. He sent him back seven times. The last time, he saw a cloud about the size of a man’s fist. Elijah said we had better get out of here because the rain is coming. The next thing he saw the small cloud was turning into a dark sky full of clouds, then the rain came. It was a downpour, or what we used to call a “gully washer.” It’s the same when we meditate on the Word. The more we meditate on it the more we will see.
So what does Psalm 1 say happens to the person who meditates and takes delight in the scriptures? “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”
I recently heard someone talking about prayer. They said there is no such thing as answered prayer because God doesn’t answer prayers. If something happened you prayed for, it’s all just a coincidence. Well, if that’s the case, I sure have a lot more coincidences when I pray than when I don’t pray.
It’s the same as studying and meditating on scripture. For the Psalmist he found that everything he did prospered when he delighted in and meditated on God’s Word. The same goes for us as well. God will bless us, and we will find the Lord blessing our efforts as we read, memorize, and meditate on his word. Do you want everything you do to prosper? Meditate on the Word of God.
The Psalmist says the righteous person will be like a tree planted by the water. This is a metaphor or a word picture. A tree has deep roots. It’s not like a tumbleweed that goes any direction the wind blows. A tree is stable, and able to withstand the storms of life that come against it.
The second thing we know about a tree is it takes time to grow. A huge oak tree doesn’t just spring up overnight. It takes time for its roots to go deep down into the ground, and for its trunk, branches, and leaves to grow tall, strong, and mature. As Christians, we also grow and mature in the Word and in the Lord.
One other thing to see in this passage is that this tree is planted by the waters. It didn’t just spring up. In Hebrew, it is even more clear that this tree was transplanted. So the idea is this tree was taken from a desert place, where life was hard, and the growth of the tree would be stunted. It was transplanted to a rich soil with plenty of water where the tree can grow and reach its full potential.
The final part of Psalm 1 says “The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”
Chaff refers to the coating that is on wheat. The wheat has an old husk and may have stems mixed in with the wheat, and dirt and dust. A farmer would take his harvest of wheat, and on a windy day, he would take the wheat and throw it in the air. Every time he threw the wheat into the air, the wind would blow the chaff off the wheat. Chaff was worthless. You can’t eat it. Any chaff left over would be gathered and burned. Psalm 1 refers to the wicked as chaff that will be separated from the wheat, gathered, and burned. That’s a scary thought if you are not a Christian today.
The world will always try to lead us away from God. The world will say Christians have no fun, come with us, and have fun. The Bible tells us the difference between right and wrong. The world tells us there is no right and wrong. If it feels good, then it must be right. The reality is real happiness is found in serving the Lord. In the end, those who choose to follow God and accept Jesus Christ as their savior will spend eternity in Heaven, while those who reject Christ will be like worthless chaff.
As you meditate on and take in the Word of God, you will find yourself growing through spiritual formation into the image of Christ.
Have you ever known a believer who just seemed to glow with the love of Christ? These people seem to be full of joy. When you look in their eyes, sometimes it can feel like you are looking in the eyes of Christ. These Christians seem to have just spent time in the presence of God. There is a particular friend of mine who always seems to glow like this. Her name is Barbara. Her primary ministry is in Africa.
Barbara is a good friend of mine. She is a missionary. She speaks 15 languages fluently. She goes to Africa for a month or more at a time several times a year. She and her husband planted churches many years ago and started schools there. The work is deep in the Bush Country, so the only way to access the people is to walk or ride something called a Boda-Boda, or we would call it a motorcycle. Unfortunately, her husband died about 15 years ago. Did I mention Barbara is 85 years old? The people she serves and loves cannot pronounce Barbara, so they call her “Momma-B” or Grandmother.
There are some people who bring joy just by being in their presence. Momma-B as I lovingly call her, is one of these kinds of people. She calls me her pastor. When she is home from the mission field, I try to see her about once a week to pray with her. This woman loves to pray. She once told me she averages about 7 hours a day in prayer. She tells me I am an encouragement to her, but the reality is, she encourages me.
Most recently, I spoke with Momma-B, and she talked about a recent trip to Africa. A few years ago, she stumbled upon a tribe where there were no Christians. They were a violent group, but God gave her love for them. Over several years, many of them have come to Christ. She started a school and several churches. They now go out as missionaries to other surrounding tribes and see many come to Christ. On her recent trip, it rained hard every day for weeks. They couldn’t get into the bush because the rain had washed out bridges, and the mud was so thick they couldn’t take the Boda-Boda. She was stuck in a hotel for over two weeks. She prayed asking God why she couldn’t get to her mission. A couple of government people showed up at the hotel looking for her. She thought she was in trouble. She met with these two gentlemen for three days straight, as they grilled her on what she had done to the tribe. It seems the government had been having trouble with this violent tribe for years. They had tried to appease them, but nothing worked. Now not only was the tribe peaceful, but they were helping other tribes. When they inquired of the tribe, they told them to talk to Momma-B. Barbara explained that she had brought them the Gospel, and God had changed the people’s hearts.
Over the course of three days, the two government representatives, both came to Christ. They said they wanted what Momma-B had. That kind of Joy in the Lord is contagious. The Bible says that his face glowed when Moses spent time with God. Psalm 34:5 (NIV) says, “Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.” When we spend time with God, he changes us. He transforms us. When we genuinely love the Lord, non-Christians will be able to sense there is a difference in us.
“Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.”
There is an old poem I ran across written by Pauline Prosser-Thompson called “Marked for His Own.” I would like to share this with you. I would invite you to meditate on this bit of prose. It says:
Matthew 16:13-18 says, “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is? ”And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Let me set this up a little bit for you. Caesarea Philippi was kind of a beautiful, lush greenbelt. It was a well-traveled area. It was about 25 miles from the Sea of Galilee, and it had one of the biggest natural springs that fed the Jordan River. It was near Mt. Hermon, which was a religious hotbed for idol worship. Where this conversation took place near a huge cave called the Cave of Pan, it was also known to the Greeks as the Gates of Hades, or Hell because they believed they could access Hell through this cave.
Jesus told Peter you are the little rock, and on this big rock, Jesus, He was going to establish his church. This is the first time in the New Testament where the term church is used. Then Jesus says something very interesting. He says, “the Gates of Hell” will not prevail against it. Jesus said the Gates of Hell will not prevail against the church. No matter what is coming up against you today, Jesus said the very Gates of Hell will not prevail against us. I hope you can get ahold of this promise today. There is power in the name of Jesus. You may have big challenges coming against you, but our God is so much bigger.
The Mission of New Hope Church is: “Ordinary people becoming extraordinary through encountering God.” We encounter God when we are saved, but for many Christians that is the last time they have an encounter with God. That should not be. Being a Christian is not just about having all our sins forgiven and getting to go to Heaven when we die. That’s a good thing, but we can have a relationship with God now – not just after we die.
Dr. Bruce Demarest defines spiritual formation in his book Satisfy Your Soul: Restoring the Heart of Christian Spirituality. He writes:
Spiritual formation is an ancient ministry of the church, concerned with the “forming” or “reshaping” of a believer’s character and action into the likeness of Christ. The goals of this practice are such things as godliness, holiness, compassion, faithfulness, and obedience.
Isaiah 6:1-8, “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
Isaiah lived about 700 years before the time of Christ. He is sharing a story of something that happened to him. He begins by telling us when this all happened. It was the year that King Uzziah died. King Uzziah was a good and righteous king in the Kingdom of Judah. He took the throne at 16 and reigned over Israel for some 52 years. Being a righteous king, it was a time of relative peace and prosperity in Judah. I can imagine there may have been a sense of dread throughout the Kingdom as they didn’t know what kind of king they would have next. Would he be a king that followed in Uzziah’s footsteps, and ruled as a godly king, or one that would bring God’s wrath upon the land? It’s kind of like when we have a presidential election. At least for us, we only must survive 4 years if we get a really bad president, or sometimes 8. Can you imagine having a horrible president for 50 years?
King Uzziah’s death was significant, and people would have remembered the date of his passing.
So here we see Isaiah as he is in the Jewish Temple. He is there worshipping when all of a sudden the glory of God filled the Temple. This was not something common, and I’m sure it was totally unexpected for Isaiah. He didn’t show up at the Temple expecting God to physically appear to him. His senses were probably overwhelmed. Here he was seeing God, and he knew from scripture that to see the face of God meant certain death.
I remember back when I was just a kid. I wasn’t raised in a Christian home so I’m not sure where I picked it up, but I can remember visiting churches a handful of times. Usually, I was invited by a friend. But I can remember thinking “This is a holy place because this is God’s house.” I knew that I shouldn’t run, or be loud and obnoxious in God’s house. It was a place for reverence. Even as a teenager, when I became a Christian, I can remember having a reverence for God’s house. Today, I know that God can hear our prayers anywhere we are, but there is something special about being in a chapel or a church. These are just buildings, I know, but they are places where we go to feel closer to God. In my mind I imagine Isaiah being the same way, holding the Temple as a special place where you went to meet God.
We think of this story as Isaiah showing up all by himself in the Temple, and God appearing to him. But the Temple was always a busy place. There were priests there all the time. People were constantly moving in and out, making offerings. When God appeared, I’m sure this was a time when everything around Isaiah grew quiet, and the scenes around him all faded away. He was completely focused on God.
Isaiah goes on to describe how the train of God’s robe filled the Temple. Other translations say the glory of God filled the Temple. So the train of his robe is symbolic of God’s glory. Imagine the glory, brightness, and holiness of God so thick you can feel it. Not only that, but the place also began to fill with smoke and the very foundations of the threshold were shaking by the voices calling out.
Imagine showing up at your church expecting a nice service. The worship pastor begins leading everyone in worship. Suddenly, as you are singing and worshipping God, everyone and everything around you fades away. It’s just you worshipping God. The room becomes bright, you can feel the presence of God like you have never felt it before, and the room begins shaking and filling with smoke. Then you hear a voice calling you by name, and you know it’s God speaking to you. You are overwhelmed! That is what Isaiah is experiencing.
Isaiah describes Seraphim who were worshipping the Lord. He describes them in verses 2 and 3 saying, “Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
There is another passage in Revelation 4:8 that describes these seraphim. “And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”
Revelation 4 describes what happens when the Apostle John is told, “Come up here and I will show you the things to come” and he is caught up into Heaven, where he describes the throne of God and the things he saw in Heaven.
The word Holy appears in the Bible 637 times. However, there are only two places in the Bible where it is repeated 3 times like this, holy, holy, holy. Those two locations are in Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4.
The word, holy in Hebrew is Ka-dosh. Ka-dosh literally means cut-off. In other words, it means separated, cut off for special use, or set apart. Anytime in the bible where you see something repeated three times it is for emphasis. So to say ka-dosh, ka-dosh, ka-dosh, is a strong emphasis on how holy God is.
We really have drifted from seeing God as holy today. So many Christians like to look at some of God’s other characteristics, his compassion, his mercy, and his love. Some people refer to Him as Daddy. I’ve never been comfortable with such terminology for God. We should not take the person of God lightly. God is not the “Big guy” or “The man upstairs.” He is holy, holy, holy.
When Isaiah sees the Lord he feels like he is going to die. It’s as if Isaiah is saying, “There is no hope for me, I’m doomed!”
Isaiah was face to face, in the flesh, with God Almighty. He didn’t run up to him and say, “Daddy.” Isaiah thought he was going to be struck dead.
Let’s take a closer look at the Seraphim and what they show us about going deeper, and having an encounter with God. Let’s see how the seraphim relate to spiritual formation.
Isaiah 6:2 describes the Seraphim this way. “Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.”
In other places in the Bible, the word Seraphim is translated as fiery serpents. So at the least, these are fiery servants of God. I like how Spurgeon described these Seraphim. He said, “Seraphims are burning ones, consumers, burning and shining lights, who wait upon God, who is light of life.”
So these are powerful, servants of God, and great examples to us.
Let’s ‘quickly look at four things concerning seraphim. The Bible illuminates the following: concerning seraphim.
Two wings over the face represents reverence.
Two wings over feet represent humility.
Two wings to fly represent action.
To serve an Almighty God you have to have all three, reverence, humility, and then action.
The Seraphim had one set of wings that covered their faces representing reverence.
Even though these were fiery angelic beings shining light and bringing judgment, in the presence of Almighty God they covered their faces in reverence. Just as in ancient courts, everyone bowed in reverence to the king and didn’t show their faces, even these mighty Seraphim hid their faces from God. It would show disrespect to look in the eyes of a king, and even more so to look into the eyes of the mighty king of kings.
When we come into the presence of God in prayer, we come humbly with reverence. We need to get to where we are no longer focusing on ourselves. Both Isaiah and John the Apostle, in the presence of God, forgot all about their own self-importance. One of our goals as disciples of Jesus Christ is to lead others to that kind of deeper experience with God. Yes, we want to see them get saved, but then we want to help them to build a relationship in the here and now.
2. The Seraphim had one set of wings covering their feet representing humility.
When I think of this, my mind pictures a kind of Moses moment, where he approached the burning bush. He found God, and he took his shoes off because he was standing on holy ground. Even today in many Eastern countries’ feet are dirty and considered unclean. Raising your foot to someone, or hurling a shoe at them is a curse. It can be very offensive in some cultures to cross your legs because you are showing the bottom of your foot, especially if you are pointing the sole of your foot toward someone.
These Seraphim served the Lord humbly. As mighty as they are they are humble in God’s presence.
Let me just say, arrogance has no place in the pulpit. There are far too many pastors and ministers who are prideful and arrogant. They forget that it was God who gave them the ability to learn, to lead, and to speak well enough to gather a following. James 4:10 says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”
In reviewing many of the big named ministers that have fallen, pretty much every one of them suffered from this arrogance in the pulpit.
If this applies to the pastor in the pulpit, it also applies to every one of us. We are to come to God humbly. He gives us the very breath we breathe, and how easy would it be for him to take away our breath? Seek the Lord with a humble heart.
3. The Seraphim had two wings to fly with representing action.
After being in the presence of God in prayer we need to be ready to take action for the Lord.
In preparing for this message, I was looking at some old commentaries from the 18th and 19th centuries. (I love old dusty books. Ha, ha.) They said that the wings of the Seraphim showed they are swift to be about the work of the Lord, but they also emphasized this was the Lord’s work, not their work.
Alan Fadling, in his book “An Unhurried Life,” tells a parable. He tells about a king who had two loyal servants. One of the servants, who feared that they would not be pleasing to their master would rise early in the morning. They would work hard all day, often until late in the evening. They were accomplishing things that they believed the king wanted to be done. They didn’t want to bother the king with questions about what work he wanted to be done. They instead hurried from project to project, there was so much that needed to be done, it seemed like there were never enough hours in the day to get everything done. There were so many people to help, and so many projects to complete for the king.
The other servant was also very eager to please his master the king. They too would rise early. But they would get up and go to the king, spend time with him, and ask him what he wanted done each day. They would then set about working on and accomplishing the tasks that the king wanted them to do.
The busy servant often got a lot accomplished before the inquiring servant even started for the day, but which of the two was really doing what the king wanted to be done and was truly pleasing him?
Fadling goes on to say, “Genuine productivity is not about getting as much done for God as we can manage. It is doing the good work God actually has for us in a given day.” We are not just servants, but beloved sons and daughters of the King. God wants to spend time with us, and He wants to give us direction in our lives and what He wants us to do, and accomplish.
To serve an Almighty God you must have all three. Reverence, humility, and being swift to serve the Lord.
I find it interesting that we can break this into three distinct pieces. Being reverent and humble before God, and quick to serve Him. We can break our spiritual walk into the same 3 pieces, though we typically give a lot more weight to doing than we do to praying and waiting on God. We are anxious to get going and moving. Prayer is hard work, and we would rather do something than pray.
When we go to God in prayer, we should never be irreverent, or flippant. We go to God humbly, and with reverence. Yes, he is our father, and we should go boldly into the throne room. But just as you should show your earthly father respect and humility, we, even more, should show reverence and humility to our Heavenly Father.
When Isaiah saw God in all his glory, he said that he was a man of unclean lips and that he couldn’t stand in His presence. An angel took a hot coal from the altar and touched his lips with it. When we approach God in prayer, we need to start by confessing any sin to him. We humbly ask God for his forgiveness, then ask our petitions. We can spend time in worshipping him, and then take some moments of silence for the Holy Spirit to speak to us.
We have been talking about adding silence to our prayers. Just as we have been practicing, this is just taking some time to be quiet, to still our minds, and ask God, “What would you have me know today” Or, “God please speak to me.” Or “God what do you have for me today?” This is allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to you. We are not looking for an audible voice, but often when we do this, we may clearly hear something in our Spirit.
May the Lord bless you and keep you, may the Lord make his face shine upon you and give you peace. May he protect you from the attacks of the enemy, from any virus or sickness, and show you favor. May he cause even your enemies to be at peace with you, and may you be aggressively chased by blessings this week.
Hey all, you won’t believe this, but I got a letter a year ago inviting me to participate in a special iron man triathlon next week. There is a big sports drink company that is sponsoring me, and they are giving me a big contract even if I don’t win. All I must do is finish the race. I have been getting ready for this all year. I have been reading books on triathlons, I have bought a bunch of T-shirts with inspirational statements like this one, and I have watched every triathlon I could find on television. I think I know about as much about triathlons as I can possibly know.
The triathlon I’m invited to has three parts. There is a 2.5-mile rough water swim in the ocean, a 112-mile bicycle race, and a little over 26-mile run. That sounds pretty grueling, but I believe God is going to help me through it. I have had a year to pray about it.
I got magazine subscriptions for Running Magazine, Cross Training, and Bicycle Racing. Oh, and I read a book on how to swim in the ocean.
Let’s see, for the swimming part, I got a new bathing suit a while back. For some reason, it seems to have shrunk in my drawer, it’s a little bit tight, but that should just make me go faster through the water. I’m not a great swimmer, so I picked up some water wings and swimming noodles.
For the bicycle event, I read all about how to ride a racing bike. I even went out and bought a special bike to ride when I get there. That cost me a lot, so I’m sure it will work great when I ride it. I have my water bottle, and my glasses turn into sunglasses, so that saved me some money. And I have a cool set of racing shorts and a shirt as they told me I should get.
For the marathon part, I shopped around and found the best running shoes. I have a headband to keep the sweat out of my eyes.
It took me a year to read and get the equipment I need for the iron man, but I think I am all ready! I can’t wait to try everything out.
I have been listening to inspirational messages, and I am now completely confident. After all, the Bible says I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Isn’t that great?
Oh, I found this guy on Facebook to follow who does Iron Man triathlons. I am trying to follow his diet. But he eats 18 eggs for breakfast, along with toast, sausage, and a gallon of milk. I keep trying, but I can’t finish all of that. He says he averages about 1600 calories per meal. I have a hard time eating that much, so I have been eating a lot of Twinkies, cupcakes, and potato chips to help make up the calories I need to keep up with him.
The race is Monday. They are going to fly me to Hawaii today after church. I’m all packed. I don’t think I have forgotten a thing. It should be a piece of cake. Don’t you think?…
What’s wrong with my story? I mean I studied everything I could find about the Iron Man Triathlon, and I have all the right equipment like everybody else. But what’s going to happen to me if I just show up for this Triathlon, even though I had a year to prepare, without ever doing any physical preparation? I’m going to go about 50 feet before I get myself totally in trouble and someone is going to have to rescue me.
I can know all about the Iron Man Triathlon. I can dress like the athletes, carry the same water bottle, and even eat the same food, but it won’t make a difference when the starting gun is fired.
Most people try to live a Christian life rather than train to live a Christian life. We buy Christian shirts, we read Christian books, and listen to Christian music and sermons. We hang out with other Christians that do the same things. We even read the Bible, but we read it the way we read other books, just for information.
I don’t know about you, but I want something more. I want a relationship with the Lord. If we are to have this kind of deeper relationship, we must engage in spiritual formation. This is what will lead us to the point where we can love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. We can forgive those who have hurt us and release the bitterness and pain that grows deep inside. We can have the kind of relationship with Jesus that will transform us.
Reading the Bible is good. There is absolutely nothing wrong with reading the Bible. Simply reading the Bible will go a long way toward changing us as it gets inside of us. But if we only read for information, and we are not transformed, it is like me preparing for an Iron Man Triathlon without ever physically doing anything to prepare. The information contained in the Bible can change our lives, but only if we apply it.
Christians, figuratively, show up for the Iron Man without ever training. They may read, and know a lot about the Iron Man, they may have read a book about swimming, biking, and running, but reading and studying only go so far. If you or I showed up at the Iron Man competition without any training, we wouldn’t ever make it to the finish line, not even close. And then, we pile guilt on ourselves because we were not able to do it. We can’t live a Christian life with just willpower. We need the Holy Spirit in our lives to change us, to empower us, to help us.
We all live busy lives. Things get chaotic. We watch TV till bedtime, eating Twinkies, cupcakes, and potato chips. Then when the crisis comes, or we face a trial or a temptation and give in to the temptation to sin, we can’t understand why.
Trying to live life as a Christian without spiritual formation is like competing in an Iron Man competition without training for it. The things Jesus calls us to do take training in spiritual disciplines. Unfortunately, most churches no longer teach this. Many churches want to preach an easy Gospel that doesn’t require anything of us. They get people saved, and then teach them that their life should be great from then on.
You know, looking at the life of the Apostle Paul. If the prosperity preachers are right, and our life is blessed beyond measure, we will be wealthy, healthy, and wise, then the Apostle Paul must have been a failure as a Christian.
Jesus said we should count the cost of following him. It costs us something. There are spiritual disciplines that will change us.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
Some of us in this room were athletes when we were younger. Maybe some on Facebook still are. An athlete knows they must deny themselves Twinkies, cupcakes, and potato chips. They must exercise and train hard to accomplish their goals.
This goes against what society tells us today. Our society is suspicious of anyone or anything that denies itself pleasure. Our society worships feeling good. Not the kind of feeling good that comes from working hard or training for an iron man competition, but the feeling good from eating junk food, and every pleasure of the flesh.
Whether we are aware of it or not, we are all in a spiritual race. Paul tells us in this passage that we should run our race in such a way as to get the prize. So how do we do that?
The Bible says in Colossians 3:1-4, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
So what does all that mean? Spiritual Formation is a process. We cooperate with the Holy Spirit who transforms us into the likeness of Jesus Christ. I remember once helping someone through a huge crisis. They were going through one of the toughest times of their lives, as they had suddenly lost a loved one to death. They paid me the highest compliment I have ever had. They told me later when they looked me in the eyes, they saw Jesus. That should be our goal, that when people look at us, they see Jesus.
Paul makes the contrast between how the world operates and how the Christian should live in the Spirit. Let’s look at this:
Galatians 5:19-25 (Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”
Now, everyone is being formed spiritually. Whether you are a Christian, or not, you are being spiritually formed. There are influences in your life that are making you look like the world, or look like Jesus Christ. When you become a Christian, you are instantly changed into a new creature. The Holy Spirit goes to work changing and sanctifying you. We can choose to passively allow God to transform us, and he will over time. Or we can get involved in the spiritual transformation and seek to become more like Jesus and we can see a dramatic change. It’s not about willpower, but rather it is practicing spiritual disciplines that will change us.
But it doesn’t do any good to just learn about spiritual formation, without beginning to practice spiritual disciplines. Some of the things I am teaching you may seem foreign to you. Some of the things may come from different denominations than you are used to. There may be some things that have come to be known as rituals. But everything I am going to teach you is Biblical.
We live in a loud, noisy world. Most of the time, there is so much noise, it is hard to hear the still small voice of God. In Quaker churches, they have times of silence as part of their worship service. They still themselves before God and listen.
There is a passage in 1 Kings 19 that describes this. “And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him”
Sometimes when we are worshipping God we may want to raise our hands and be loud. The Bible talks about us having a great deal of emotion when we worship the Lord. The Bible says that at one time, King David danced mightily before the Lord as he worshipped him.
Raising hands to God in worship can be found as far back as the book of Exodus. You may remember Israel was fighting against an army from Amalek. Moses raised his hands in worship to God, and the Israelites would start pushing the army of Amalek back. When he got tired and dropped his arms, the army of Amalek would push the Israelites back. So, Joshua and Caleb, had Moses sit on a big rock, and they held up his hands. The Israelites were able to defeat the enemy army of Amalek.
There are many passages in the Psalms that talk about raising our hands to the Lord. One of them is Psalm 28:2, “Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary.”
Nehemiah 8:6a says, “And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands.”
1 Kings 8:54, “Now as Solomon finished offering all this prayer and plea to the Lord, he arose from before the altar of the Lord, where he had knelt with hands outstretched toward heaven.”
There are probably 100 different verses that talk about raising your hands in worship to the Lord.
Now I know what some of you are thinking, “But Pastor, those are all Old Testament scriptures.”
Let’s look at just a couple from the New Testament:
Luke 24:50 says, “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them.”
1 Timothy 2:8, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling;”
I remember when I first went to a church where a lot of people raised their hands while we were worshipping. I thought it was strange, and uncomfortable to watch. Then, abruptly the pastor stepped out stopping the worship. He opened the Bible and showed us some of these passages about raising holy hands to the Lord. I had read the Bible through a couple of times by then, and I honestly didn’t remember ever seeing these verses, but there they were. I had been taught that raising your hands was just too emotional, but God commanded it in the Old Testament, Jesus practiced it with the disciples, and Paul said he wanted everyone to do it in the New Testament. That is hard to argue with.
I want to encourage you to consider raising your hands in surrender to God as you worship him. That is what you are doing. You are surrendering to the will of God when you do it. It may feel awkward at first like everyone is watching you. But they should not be watching you, they should be worshipping the Lord themselves, so don’t worry about what other people think.
I want to invite you to give up your own will today. Surrender to the Lord today and allow him to move in you however he wants.
Are you experiencing a flagrant conflict with your conscience? We can feel so close to Jesus on Sunday morning, but then Monday morning comes. We turn on the news, and suddenly feel depressed. There seems to be a continual battle to draw closer to the Lord. Sometimes I feel so dry and thirsty for God. It feels like my prayers stop at the ceiling. The constant noise and distractions from the world labor to pull me away from the Lord.
Do you Feel Like you Belong in the Valley of Dry Bones?
There is an interesting story in the book of Ezekiel 37. Ezekiel the prophet had a vision that almost seems like one of our modern zombie movies. The Lord shows Ezekiel a valley of dry human bones. Perhaps there had been a fierce battle, and no one bothered to bury the dead bodies. God ask’s Ezekiel if all of these skeletons could live again. He proceeds to breathe on the bones, and flesh and blood come on the bones, and the army of people live again. This prophetic word had to do with the Nation of Israel. But it can be applied to our spiritual lives as well. God can bring new life to our spiritual walk with the Lord.
Have you ever experienced the presence of the Lord while walking in the woods? Just being in nature can reset our natural rhythm. God spoke to my spirit on a recent prayer walk in the American River Canyon. There was a great natural resting place on a big boulder overlooking the American River. It was also a great place to admire God’s handiwork and to pray a simple prayer. I paused from my walk and asked the question, “God, what are you stirring up in me?”
The Lord gently spoke to me about my need to rest, and to take a break from my busy-ness. Working in ministry can be precarious. It is easy to slip into a mind set that things have to be done, they have to be done now, and I am the only one who can do them. Sometimes we need to just breath and realize everything will not fall apart if I were suddenly removed from the process. The work will carry on.
Our driven society expects us to work more and sleep less. We are told we can rest after we accomplish certain goals. I once heard someone say “It takes a lot of work to get an airplane off the ground, but once it is in the air it takes little work to keep it there. You can rest after your plane is in the air.”
Alan Fadling, in his book “An Unhurried Life,” tells a parable. He tells about a king who had two loyal servants. One of the servants, who feared that they would not be pleasing to their master would rise up early in the morning. They would work hard all day, often until late in the evening. They were accomplishing things that they believed the king wanted done. They didn’t want to bother the king with questions about what work he wanted done. Instead they hurried from project to project. There was so much needing to be done, and there was never enough time. There were so many people to help, and so many projects to complete for the king.
The other servant was also very eager to please his master the king. They too would rise-up early. But they would get up and go spend time with the king, and ask him what he wanted done each day. They would then set about accomplishing the tasks the king wanted them to do.
The busy servant often got a lot accomplished before the inquiring servant even started for the day, but which of the two was really doing what the king wanted done and truly pleasing him?
God desires to have fellowship with us. Sometimes we get so busy doing things for God that we forget to spend time with God. Time spent with the Lord in spiritual formation will change us. When we take the time for regular devotions, and doing those things that will grow our spiritual life.
The book of Exodus tells about the Children of Israel enslaved in Egypt. Eventually God sent Moses to set them free. Have you ever thought about what made these people slaves? Of course the Egyptians overpowered them and forced them to work. But the Egyptians didn’t see the Children of Israel as people. They saw them as merely tools. They were forced to work 7 days a week. They never got a day off, never got a vacation.
When we work 7 days a week without taking a break, we make ourselves slaves. And when you work 7 days a week without a day off, you are forcing your spouse and your family to work 7 days a week and be slaves and tools as well.
Spiritual formation is about getting back to what is important to God. It is not just making sure we got proper rest and take at least one day off a week, although that is a part of it. Spiritual formation involves allowing the Holy Spirit to change our hearts. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 3:18 (ESV), “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit wants to transform us. Our part is to spend time in devotions, in service, and allowing him to change us.
It’s your turn to chime in. I would love to have your opinion on the difference between Spiritual Formation and Sanctification. We know that these two theological terms are related, and some scholars actually use the terms interchangeably. We know that the two terms are not at odds with each other. Although they are related, and have similar goals, do they have different uses or intentions?
Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts, or comment on someone else’s comment. I would love to see a lively but civil discussion about this subject. I know there are different opinions, so chime in and be counted.