(Here’s the link to the Sermon Video)
We’ve been working long and hard to be able to get to the practical aspects of the Four Core Christian Disciplines: Prayer, Bible Study, Church Attendance and Serving Others – and we’re close, but we’re not there yet.
Don’t Be An Ephesian
I agree that we need to talk about the “how-tos”, but as I said last week God convicted me that it’s important that we not begin with the practical side but by preparing our hearts. If you remember, I likened it to the qualifying lap of a car race – the warming of the tires which makes us stick to the road and not spin off when the race starts. The last thing I want you to do is begin working through these disciplines without an understanding of why you are doing them and who they are focused on. You’ll spin out in your faith and hit a wall by doing them for yourself and miss out on why you’re really supposed to be doing them.
You could fall into the same mistake as the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2:2-4 – which is a very big deal. Jesus looks at these busy, busy believers who were doing all sorts of good things in and for their church and says,
“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”
His solution was the same one I gave you before – verse 5:
“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”
Do you hear what Jesus says to busy, religious people? Repent from your sin and get right before God. Then, get back to the basics of the faith (what I call the Four Core Christian Disciplines). Get your heart right, pray though Psalm 51, mean it with your entire being, and then start doing “the works” you need to do.
Repentance → Commitment
We read Psalm 51 last week and ended in verses 11-12 which say:
“Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”
Now look at the next word:
Do you see it there again? Repentance first, and then commit to obedience. David’s heart is broken before God and he desires to restore the relationship he once had with God. He wants to be a “man after God’s own heart” again and so spends a good deal of the psalm dealing with repentance, but doesn’t end there!
“Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you. Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior, and [then] my tongue will sing of your righteousness. Open my lips, Lord, and [then] my mouth will declare your praise.”
David, over and over, says, “God, I’m a sinner and I need you to forgive me, restore me and fill me with Your presence – and then out of that strength I will obey you.” We talked about this last week from Ezekiel 36. Remember verse 27?
“I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” God does the work and then causes us to move forward in obedience.
Think of the words of Isaiah 64:6 which talks about a group of people (the Israelites) who were once obedient and then fell into sin and disobedience. He says:
“We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.”
In Isaiah 57:12-13 the prophet says this:
“I will declare your righteousness and your deeds, but they will not profit you. When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you!”
There is no point in doing any of these good, religous things if you have not repented of your sin first.
And as if to drive that point home, David takes a moment out of the psalm to remind himself about the very heart of God when it comes to repentance. He says in verses 16-17:
“For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
Notice that in verse 13 David says, “I will repent and then I will teach and share the gospel.” and in verse 14-15, “I will repent and then I will sing worship songs.” Our relationship with God is not primarily built upon our obedience to what He says – that is important, but that comes later. Our relationship with God is primarily built upon our understanding of our total depravity in sin, our desperate need for a Saviour, and our ultimate need for grace and deliverance through the blood of Jesus. It is not about our acts of worship, church attendance, how much time we spend in prayer, how many committees we are on, how many people we have shared the gospel with, how many verses we have memorized, or any other religious thing – it is about having a “broken and contrite heart” before God. But what does that mean?
Listen to the Amplified Bible’s version of verse 17:
“My sacrifice [the sacrifice acceptable] to God is a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart [broken down with sorrow for sin and humbly and thoroughly penitent], such, O God, You will not despise.”
The Good News translation says it this way:
“My sacrifice is a humble spirit, O God; you will not reject a humble and repentant heart.”
I really like the way Eugene Peterson puts verses 16-17 in the Message Bible:
“Going through the motions doesn’t please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you. I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.”
We start at Repentance, then go to Commitment. We commit our lives to Jesus and to His Service forever. We switch allegiances from the Kingdom of Darkness (which serves self and Satan), pick up our sword, put on our armour and begin fighting for the Kingdom of God (which serves Jesus Christ our Lord).
Once we have repented, the rest of our lives will be spent drawing our strength and joy from Jesus. We give everything up to follow Him.
I said this a couple weeks ago – “If I am to love and follow Jesus, I must know Him.”
How do we get to know Him? The Four Core Christian Disciplines! These are a matter of life and death – spiritual life and spiritual death. If your heart is attuned to Christ and you are practicing these disciplines, you will grow in maturity and in love for Him and others. If you begin in repentance and then neglect these disciplines, you will grow distant in your relationship with Him and you will find your love growing cold, your spirit growing weak, your heart hardening, temptation more difficult to flee, and sin more attractive.
Two Sides of Commitment
I believe this is why scripture balances out the motives behind our commitment. Forgiveness of sin and eternity with Jesus is a wonderful incentive to repent and believe, but God gives us even more reasons why we need to practice these Four Core Christian Disciplines. They are so critically important that God gives us every reason we could possibly need for why we must practice them. In scripture we read both “Incentives” and the “Commands” for the Four Christian Disciplines. God gives us positive, feel-good reasons for doing them… and then commands us to do them even when we don’t feel like it.
I want to talk about this before we get into the practical side of things. Again, this is tied to our motives, the preparation of our heart, and the attitude from which we approach our relationship with Jesus before we ever get down on our knees, open our bibles, get in the car to go to church, or serve someone. I hope you can follow along with my logic here:
Consider Prayer. Jesus sometimes uses enticing, encouraging language to give us a desire to pray to Him – the soft-sell for why we should pray.
- “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9-13)
- “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)
- “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)
- “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” (Jeremiah 33:3)
- “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
It’s like for all the Core Disciplines.
There are wonderful fruits given to those who will practice Bible Study.
- “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105)
- “I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11)
- “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” (Revelation 1:3)
- “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
There are promises for those who will be faithful in Church Attendance:
- “…where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20)
- “…confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)
- “…in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12:5)
- “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32)
There are promises for those who are faithful in Service:
- “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)
- “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.” (Proverbs 11:25)
- “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.” (Proverbs 19:17)
- “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
- “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38)
These are all wonderful promises from God that when we are obedient to the Four Core Christian Disciplines that we will see amazing fruit in our lives. If we listen to our Lord Jesus Christ, and give control of our lives to the Holy Spirit, then good things will happen! We will see miracles, our needs will be met, we will have heavenly rewards, we will see forgiveness and healing, we will know the great and hidden things of God, we will live in peace and dignity. Hearing the Word will bring blessing and training in righteousness. When we are together with other believers, God promises to be here in a special way, the support we gain from others will bring us healing, we have a place to belong. Those are wonderful promises and are what some people need in order to get on board with these disciplines. They need to know it’s going to work, that He will hear, that Jesus will act, that our obedience to Him and communication with Him is the way that we are going to see His power in our lives. They need to hear that God will make changes in our world when they are obedient to Him. And that’s ok! We all need to hear the enticements, the soft-sell, and grab on to those promises.
Other times the incentives don’t seem like enough. We need to be commanded to obey. Consider these commandment verses on Prayer in contrast to the ones we read before:
- “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
- “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)
- “…praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints…” (Ephesians 6:18)
- “And [Jesus] told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” (Luke 18:1)
Sometimes we need to hear those kinds of verses that simply tell us that we must pray, we should never stop, we are commanded to, we are implored to (Paul uses the word “urge” in 1 Timothy 2:1). Sometimes that’s the only reason that we pray – because we must. It is then that our resolve is tested, our relationship with Jesus becomes real, and our faith is strengthened.
Listen to these Commands for Bible Study:
- “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21)
- “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
- “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.” (1 Timothy 4:16)
- “I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.” (Psalm 119:15-16)
There are times the only reason we come to the bible is because of our commitment to do so, and our willingness to follow our Lord. It’s not about wanting to – it’s about obedience.
And for Church Attendance:
- “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
There are seasons where we just don’t want to go to church, we don’t want to sing, we don’t want to hear another sermon, we don’t want to be around people. It is during these times that the commands of scripture compel us to go – for our own good.
And to Serve:
- “And whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:44-45)
- “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace…” (1 Peter 4:10)
- “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)
- “…Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” (Luke 6:27-31)
There are times when we absolutely need to be commanded to do these things, because otherwise we simply won’t.
Sometimes, when things are going well, we don’t feel desperation for God and we don’t feel like we need to tap into the resources Jesus has for us. We don’t need Him because we’ve got it under control! We have enough money, we have a decent marriage, we are enjoying our work, our kids are happy, we are healthy. It’s easy to get complacent in our prayer lives when things are positive and happy.
On the other hand we sometimes don’t feel like praying, reading scripture, going to church, or serving others because things are not going well. God isn’t doing the things we expect (and want) Him to do. It can be easy to give up when we don’t see results: when we are not seeing the fruit, the good things, the rewards, the healing… when we are still confused and in the dark, when we have no peace. It is then that we need to have a different reason to pray.
There are times when God will bring us through a time of refinement, a time where we are going through the fires that are meant to purify us. There are times where we go through a “dark night of the soul”, where we walk “through the valley of the shadow of death”. At those times it is very normal to think He has abandoned us and to then start turning to other sources of strength – ourselves, our words, our anger, our reputations, our money, seeking salvation from other people, distraction from substances or entertainment. It is human for us to have a crisis of faith and want to stop praying when we are hurt.
I believe that’s why God has these commands – because we need them. We want all of our obedience to bring immediate blessing. We want it to work like our jobs – we put in 40 hours, at the end of the week we get 40 hours pay. But God doesn’t work like that.
We want Him to say, “If you are obedient, then I’ll immediately bring blessing.” But at times (more often than we wish) God plays the long-game where the blessings come later… sometimes much later. During those times it’s hard to grab onto the promises because they are hard to hear. It doesn’t matter how many times you read, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (Jn 15:17) because you’ve been abiding, and asking, and it’s not being “done”… at least not done the time and way you want it. You don’t want to hear the words of Romans 8:28 any more, (“…and we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…”) because you’re just not seeing any “good”.
It is during those times when the commands of scripture are what we need to grab onto. It is during the times of peace and rest, and of darkness and doubt, that we really build endurance, obedience, and when our relationship with Jesus can really grow.
Do don’t give up. Don’t quit. Listen to the promises of God and the commands of God and participate in the Four Core Christian Disciplines deliberately and passionately. Remember to begin with repentance, get your heart right with God, and then, for whatever reason is working for you that day – whether it’s because you are leaning on the promises of God, or simply because you are commanded to – practice those disciplines and see what God will do.