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  • there has been a mystery that has puzzled me for many years
  • this mystery is one that has confronted thousands through the Christians
  • and it is this:
  • you take two people sitting on the same pew
  • you take them to the same church to hear the same sermon week after week
  • you even make sure they use the same Bible version and have the proper soil and lighting conditions
  • and one grows to be a spiritual giant, and the other one turns out to be a spiritual dwarf
  • have you ever wondered why?
  • this has been especially troubling to me as a pastor, because I have come to realize that my sermons are unlikely to make anyone a holier person
  • that’s a humbling thing for a pastor to realize
  • if it were enough to listen to great preaching, with the number of great preachers on the radio and all the preaching available to us, we would have been holy long ago
  • attendance at church doesn’t do it
  • I think it’s necessary, but there are many people who have attended church for many years who haven’t grown an inch spiritually
  • I’ve put some thought into this over the years and I’ve reached somewhat of a conclusion
  • I think I’ve discovered what is missing in many people’s lives
  • it’s the difference between those who grow and those who don’t
  • to illustrate what this missing ingredient is, let me illustrate
  • a young person has a desire to be an excellent baseball player
  • they decide one way to do this is to watch what excellent baseball players do
  • there are no excellent baseball players around, so eventually he settles for the Blue Jays
  • and so he goes to the SkyDome and watches what these professional players do
  • they hold the bat a certain way, they slide into bases
  • and he observes all the traits of these professional baseball players and says, “I’m going to be just like them”
  • the next day, he goes on the baseball field
  • he’s bought the same shoes these athletes wear
  • he holds the bat the same way that the professionals do
  • he wears the batting helmet the same way
  • he even slides into first base the same way the pros do
  • but he’s a flop
  • why?
  • why does he not succeed in performing like a baseball star?
  • here’s the answer:
  • because if all he does is to try to be like a professional during the game, the won’t succeed no matter how talented he is
  • you see, the professional athlete didn’t achieve his excellence by trying to behave a certain way during the game
  • instead, he has chosen an overall life of preparation of the mind and body, pouring all his energies into total preparation, to provide a foundation for the body’s automatic responses and strength for his conscious efforts during the game
  • in other words, it’s what the athlete did privately before entering the field on a regular basis that made the difference
  • it’s the daily regimen of specified disciplines of body and mind that prepare him to be a great athlete
  • similarly, many Christians leave the pew on Sundays thinking, “This week I’m going to be a Christian all-star”
  • but they don’t realize that a spiritually mature Christian just doesn’t go out and obey God’s commandments automatically
  • there has been a daily regimen of spiritual disciplines in private, that nobody else has seen, that allows them to lead victorious and Spirit-filled Christian lives
  • this morning I want to talk about these disciplines
  • to help you get a grip on your devotional life
  • they’re the missing ingredient that turn spiritual midgets into spiritual giants
  • but one word of warning
  • many people try quick fixes
  • they reflect on the burning bush experience of Moses, Isaiah’s vision in the Temple, or the confrontation that Paul had on the road to Damascus
  • they say, “If I could only have had an experience like any of those, I’d be spiritually fixed for life”
  • the fact is that the average person – like you and me – is not going to have a great biblical confrontation
  • and even if we did, it would be like feasting at an all-you-can-eat buffet, and thinking “I’ll never go hungry again”
  • there are no short-cuts or quick fixes
  • there is nothing short of the regular, consistent practice of spiritual disciplines that will make a difference in your life
  • Dallas Willard has written an excellent book called the Spirit of the Disciplines that lists about 15 spiritual disciplines that are essential for a growing believer
  • now I was going to cover all 15 this morning until I realized that some of you might have other things planned for today
  • but I want to cover some key ones
  • Bible study, prayer, and solitude
  • there are others I could cover such as fasting, service, fellowship, and confession
  • if you want to study more on all 15, I recommend that you pick up a copy of Willard’s book or some other excellent ones I have
  • let me re-emphasize that these are not quick fixes or techniques
  • they are absolutely necessary for your growth as a believer
  • let’s highlight a few very quickly, and then spend a bit more time on one that we don’t hear a lot about
  • THE FIRST DISCIPLINE I WANT TO TALK ABOUT THIS MORNING IS BIBLE STUDY
  • imagine for a moment that someone you love is no longer with you
  • perhaps they have moved away, or passed on, but there is no way that you can contact them any longer
  • one day, you’re flipping through some papers and you find a letter that had been delivered to you years ago, but had never been opened
  • imagine the joy as you for the first time, unseal that letter, and read the expressions of love from a long-lost friend.
  • in my hand I have a document far more priceless than a letter
  • everything we know about Christianity has been revealed to us by God
  • containing 66 books and written over a period of thousands of years by various authors, we call this the very Word of God, God’s message written directly for us
  • a daily study of the Word of God using an accurate and readable translation is absolutely essential
  • “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” (2 Tim 3:16 NIV)
  • “so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:17 NIV)
  • when Jesus was tempted by Satan at the beginning of the ministry, to every temptation Jesus was able to say, “It is written”
  • The Bible is the Word of life, the bread, the meat we need to live the Christian life
  • “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,” (1 Pet 2:2 NIV)
  • “now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Pet 2:3 NIV)
  • but we are admonished in another Scripture:
  • “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food. Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb 5:12-14 NIV)
  • “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Tim 2:15 NIV)
  • many people come home on Sundays, put the book aside, and only pick it up the next Sunday when they return to church
  • but we are to crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation
  • return to this taproot of truth
  • lean on it
  • start today
  • it will hold you up and keep you strong
  • when it comes to a final authority in life, the Bible measures up
  • many Christians have no Biblical source books like a good commentary on their shelves
  • they don’t realize that an investment of $50 or $100 for a good reference set of Biblical tools will serve them well over their entire lifetime
  • David Watson was a prominent Christian in Britain
  • he came down with a case of terminal cancer that eventually took his life
  • a few days before doctors operated on this cancer, this is what he wrote:
    • As I spent time chewing over the endless assurances and promises to be found in the Bible, so my faith in the living God grew stronger and held me safe in his hands. God’s word to us, especially his word spoken by his Spirit through the Bible, is the very ingredient that feeds our faith. If we feed our souls regularly on God’s word, several times each day, we should become robust spiritually just as we feed on ordinary food several times each day, and become robust physically. Nothing is more important than hearing and obeying the word of God.
  • THE SECOND DISCIPLINE WE’LL COVER TODAY IS PRAYER
  • prayer is conversing, communicating with God
  • when we pray, we talk to God, aloud or within our thoughts
  • prayer often goes along with other disciplines such as study, meditation, worship, and often solitude and fasting as well
  • communication is key to any relationship
  • and our relationship with God is no different
  • you could preach for years about prayer, but let me simplify prayer by calling it a visit with God
  • what do you do when you visit with someone?
  • you communicate, you casually open your life to them
  • when we visit with God, we do the same, along with praising Him and adoring Him
  • not long ago, I had failed to communicate enough with Charlene
  • and it was taking its toll on our relationship
  • we had a date scheduled, and let me tell you, it was hard to go out on that date
  • we hadn’t entered into soul intimacy in such a long time it was a bit intimidating
  • but as we spent time on that date, conversation and thoughts flowed naturally, there was openness and communication
  • it was great!
  • and I left thinking, what was to fear about this?
  • why didn’t we do this long ago?
  • it’s the same with prayer
  • in seminary they used to have days of prayer twice a year
  • the first time I said, “Who can spend a whole day in prayer?”
  • but I quickly found out what a profitable time it was, and I said, “Why didn’t I do this sooner? Why don’t I do it more often?”
  • now for those of us who don’t have enough time for prayer
  • the great reformer Martin Luther said, “I have so much to do today, I’ll need to spend another hour on my knees”
  • Bill Hybels has written a book with a great title: “Too busy not to pray
  • prayer is essential to living an effective, spirit-filled life
  • many have found the practice of journaling helpful in slowing down their minds enough to pray
  • as they write their prayers, they write nothing profound or that anyone else would want to read, but the process of writing slows down their mind from 6000 RPM to 1000 or 2000
  • and then they’re quiet enough to commune with God
  • others suggest ACTS as an acronym for how to pray
  • the A stands for Adoration, C for Confession, T for thanksgiving, and S for supplication or asking God
  • however you do it, just jump in and pray!
  • it’s better to pray poorly than not to pray at all
  • it’s essential for your life
  • AND I WANT TO CLOSE WITH THE DISCIPLINE OF SOLITUDE
  • by solitude I mean time alone with God
  • in our current age, there is seldom a time in which we experience silence and solitude
  • and yet these are essential to our spiritual lives
  • when we’re in the car, the radio is on
  • when we’re at home, the television is on
  • when people are away, many of us feel lonely and empty
  • Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote:
  • “Unfortunately the world today does not seem to understand, in either man or woman, the need to be alone. Anything else will be accepted as a better excuse. If one sets time aside for a shopping expedition, that time is accepted as inviolable; but if one says, “I cannot come because that is my hour to be alone,” one is considered rude, egotistical, or strange”
  • a Christian man had a bad case of insomnia
  • every night at 2 a.m. he would be wide awake
  • after some time, he decided he would go to a therapist, who happened to be Jewish
  • and he told the therapist that he had some trouble, because he couldn’t sleep, do you have any suggestions?
  • the Jewish therapist said, “Don’t you read your Bible?”
  • the man replied, “Of course I do”
  • the therapist responded, “Don’t you remember the story of Eli and Samuel in the Old Testament?”
  • that story, of course, is found in 1 Samuel 3
  • in the middle of the night, the little boy Samuel heard his name called
  • he thought it way Eli the priest, but it turned out on the fourth time that God was calling out to Samuel
  • and so the therapist said, “Maybe God is waking you up to speak to you. Next time at when you wake up at 2, get up, and go sit in a quiet place, and listen to God speaking”
  • and so he did
  • that very night, at 2 o’clock, he was wide awake
  • he went out to his living room and sat and listened to God
  • at first he didn’t hear anything
  • but at about four o’clock he began to hear God speaking to his soul
  • near the end, he was ready to go back to sleep, and he said, “God, can’t you speak to me during the day?”
  • and what he heard back in his soul from God is, “During the day, you’re much to busy to listen to me”
  • still to this day, he gets up every night at 2 and spends 2 hours with God before he goes back to sleep, and wakes up refreshed the next morning
  • Jesus, of all people, needed solitude, and he created this solitude for himself
  • Mark 1:35 – After a late evening of healing people, Jesus got up early to pray, even when everyone was looking for him.
  • Luke 6:12-13 – Jesus, a master of discerning the hearts of people, spent the whole night in prayer before choosing his disciples.
  • Matthew 14:13, 23-25 – After Jesus heard that John the Baptist was killed, he prayed until 3:00 a.m.. This after a day that included the sad news about John, a trip across the lake, ministry to the sick and needy in a massive crowd, and the feeding of the five thousand.
  • also: Beginning of Jesus’ ministry (40 days in desert), night of his arrest, Paul’s three years in Arabia (Galatians 1:16-18)
  • if Jesus needed solitude, surely we do!
  • there are places in Toronto that will give you a quiet room to meditate for a day, to get in touch with God
  • an man named Arthur Gordon tells of a time in his life when he began to feel that everything was stale and flat
  • finally, he decided to get help from his medical doctor
  • there was nothing wrong physically, but his doctor asked him if he would be able to follow his instructions for one day
  • Gordon replied that he would
  • listen to what the doctor said
  • the doctor told him to spend the following day in a place where we was happiest as a child
  • he could take food, but he was not allowed to talk to anyone or to read or write or listen to the radio
  • he then wrote out four prescriptions and told him to open one at nine, twelve, three, and six o’clock
  • “Are you serious?” Gordon asked him
  • “You won’t think I’m joking when you get my bill!” was the reply
  • the next morning, Gordon went to the beach
  • as he opened the first prescription, he read, “Listen carefully”
  • he though the doctor was insane
  • how could he listen for three hours?
  • but he had agreed to follow the doctor’s orders, so he listened
  • he heard the usual sounds of the sea and the birds
  • after a while, he began to hear other sounds that weren’t so obvious at first
  • as he listened, he began to think of lessons the sea had taught him as a child – patience, respect
  • he began to listen to the sounds – and the silence – and to feel a growing peace
  • well, noon came, so he opened the second slip of paper and read, “Try reaching back”
  • “Reach back to what?” he asked
  • perhaps to childhood, perhaps to memories of happy times
  • he thought about his past, about the many moments of joy
  • he tried to remember them with exactness
  • and in remembering, he found a growing warmth inside
  • at three o’clock, he opened the third piece of paper
  • up until now, the prescriptions had been easy to take
  • but this one was different: it said, “Examine your motives”
  • at first he was defensive, thinking that the doctor was maligning him
  • he thought about what he wanted – success, recognition, and security, and he justified them all in his mind
  • but then the thought occurred to him that these motives weren’t good enough, and perhaps therein was the answer to his stagnant situation
  • he considered his motives deeply
  • he thought about past happiness
  • and at last, the answer came to him
  • “In a flash of certainty,” he wrote, “I saw that if one’s motives are wrong, nothing can be right. It makes no difference whether you are a mailman, a hairdresser, an insurance salesman, a housewife – whatever. As long as you feel you are serving others, you do the job well. When you are concerned only with helping yourself, you do it less well – a law as inexorable as gravity”
  • six o’clock finally came, and the last prescription didn’t take long to fill
  • it said, “Write your worries on the sand”
  • he knelt and wrote several words with a piece of broken shell; then he turned and walked away
  • he didn’t look back; he knew the tide would come in
  • one man writes, “The greatest battles of life are fought out daily in the silent chambers of the soul”
  • (Proverbs 4:23) Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.