Sunday, July 25, 2010

Spiritual Disciplines: For All to See – Matthew 6:19-24 and Philippians 2:1-11

Today we are going to continue our series on the importance and purpose of Spiritual Disciplines. Last week we looked at the importance of adopting and implementing the disciplines of prayer, meditation, and study into our lives to enhance and strengthen our bond with the Triune God. Today we are going to look at the outward disciplines of simplicity, solitude, and submission, and how those can deepen our bond with God.

Submission: A Lost Art?
There is a story about sea captain and one particular, night time voyage he would never forget. He was traveling one night and the visibility was extremely low. The captain of the ship looked into the dark night and saw faint lights in the distance. Immediately he told his signalman to send a message" "Alter your course 10 degrees south." Promptly a return message was received: "Alter your course 10 degrees north."

The captain was angered; his command had been ignored. So he sent a second message: "Alter your course 10 degrees south--I am the captain!" Soon another message was received: "Alter your course 10 degrees north--I am seaman third class Jones." Immediately the captain sent a third message, knowing the fear it would evoke: "Alter your course 10 degrees south--I am a battleship." Then the reply came "Alter your course 10 degrees north--I am a lighthouse."

In the midst of our dark and foggy times, all sorts of voices are shouting orders into the night, telling us what to do, how to adjust our lives. So who do we listen to, how do we listen, how can we place ourselves in a position to hear? Remember last week we talked about how prayer is not only the way we communicate with God but it is the way God transforms us. It is the manner in which we are changed and God's will becomes our will and God's desires become our desires. That is the beginning of learning how to listen. That transformation is the first step, the inward step. Today we move to a few outward disciplines that we can incorporate into our lives to strengthen our ability to hear and listen when God speaks.

Keep It Simple!
One outward discipline that we can incorporate into our lives is the pursuit of simplicity. How many of you got stuff? I got stuff! When I worked for Best Buy...boy did I get stuff! Cds, DVDs, DVD players, software, stereos. I got it all. It became my pursuit in life. The more I had, the more I wanted. The new stuff that came out...I had to own. It was my drive. And you know what I was missing during my accumulation years? God. My faith had waned. When we lack God as our first priority, when we find God on the outside looking in, at that point “...we lack a divine Center, [and] our need for security has led us into an insane attachment to things.”1 We are looking to fill a void and we think material possessions will do the trick. Our master goes from the divine to the material and our first Scripture lesson warns us of the danger that will follow. Listen again, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:19-24, NRSV).

We cannot be for God, with our whole heart, and be for stuff too. And God knew this. Did you know there was an Old Testament legislation called the Year of Jubilee? It stated that every fifty years all land would revert back to its original owner, all Israelites slaves were to be set free, all debts canceled, and all land left fallow for a year. This was to aid in the redistribution of wealth and a benefit to this was that if you knew what you had was not yours forever, then it would not have power over you. This was one way God was at work trying to free us from possessions and help us listen only to our Creator.

Now, simplicity is not living without material possessions. The same way the pursuit of overindulgence is evil and should be renounced, “forced poverty is evil and should be renounced.”2 Simplicity is having a proper understanding of the role possessions play in our lives. When possessions have rule, then we have anxiety. Anxiety about how to keep them, how to protect them, and what in the world we would do without them. If we can release ourselves from this rule, then we find freedom. And this “freedom from anxiety is characterized by three inner attitudes. If what we have we receive as a gift, and if what we have is to be cared for by God, and if what we have is available to others, then we will possess freedom from anxiety. This is the inward reality of simplicity.”3 Let this guide what you buy. Let this show you the way to freedom. If you invest in sufficiency and avoid overindulgence, you will experience freedom from materialism. And where materialism is absent, God will be present. God will provide and protect that which you need, and will give you an abundance of it to share with others. Keep your possessions in perspective. Do not let them own you!

Can You Be Alone?
Another outward discipline is that of solitude. “Solitude is more a state of mind and heart than it is a place.”4 Christ often found rest in solitude and Scripture recounts for us numerous time where he pulled away to practice solitude. And it is in solitude that we can learn to listen, not only to others but to God. It is in this discipline that we learn how to say what needs to be said, when it needs to be said. We learn to speak when necessary and listen excessively. The practice of this discipline will allow us make our words more meaningful, have more of an impact. When we talk let it be because God has given us something to say. When we talk let it be because God is using us to show God's compassion to others. When we talk let it be because God is using us to usher in the Kingdom.

Are You Ready for a Higher Purpose?
One more outward discipline that we can practice is that of submission. Now over the years the idea of submitting to another has gotten a bad reputation. It has been compared to weakness, inability, inferiority. But I am here this morning to tell there is freedom in submission. Do you remember what Christ told His disciples? “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39 NIV). Christ believed in submission, Christ taught submission, Christ practiced submission. Christ came to this earth not to rule but to serve, not to demand but to share, not to dictate but to love. The idea of submission is to understand the value in other people, to understand that by supporting others we are making use of the gifts God gave them. We are seeking to find value in others and uplift their worth. Finding the good in others, finding ways to serve others, knowing that you do have to have all the answers will bring you a joy like no other. Submission is not weakness but strength.

Now with all of these practices, as well as the ones we covered last week, I have a word of caution for you. Do not let the adoption nor the practice of these disciplines become an idol. Do not get caught up in following the rules and lose sight of why you began participating in them in the first place. Do not let the practice of these replace your seeking to usher in the Kingdom of God. Use these as a tool to transformation, as a path to a deeper relationship with God, as a means for God to love you.

[1] Foster, Richard J. The Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. p80
[2] Ibid, p84.
[3] Ibid, p88.
[4] Ibid, p96.


  1. Ok Pastor Daryl....
    I wasn't in Church Sunday so I am thankful that you post your sermons. However, by about 10:00 this morning I had convinced myself that I not only needed but deserved a new 2010 Chevrolet Camaro. Then I read this......oh boy, (if you ever wonder if you are reaching anyone, trust me you are)....I know a new car is definitely a want and not a need for me and this really hit home. I might still get one some day but for now I will stick with what I have. Thank you for putting things in the perfect perspective!! :)

  2. Thank you for your comment Michelle! There have been several people tell me this week that they found themselves in the same position. This culture has made us believe that we need to own stuff and if we are not careful that stuff will eventually own us!

    Good job on listening to God and being faithful.