A sermon I gave yesterday at Agape Chinese Baptist Church.
New Year’s resolutions
A New Year feels like a fresh start. We have a whole year ahead of us, not yet spoilt by mistakes or our old ways of doing things. Of course, Chinese New Year isn’t until February 7th, so you have a little longer to make up New Year’s resolutions.
Making New Year’s resolutions is part of our thinking that a New Year is a new start. New Year’s Resolutions are commonly about changing bad habits. Unfortunately, New Year’s resolutions are famous for not lasting the whole year. We make a resolution to exercise every day from now on. And maybe we do okay for a couple of weeks while we’re not at work. But then life gets on top of us and we decide it won’t hurt to not exercise just tonight. The next day it’s the same, and suddenly your resolution is no good.
It’s also common to make resolutions about our Christian life. Perhaps we make a resolution to pray every day or to read the Bible every day. I know only a few people who manage to keep such a resolution. I struggle constantly.
The real purpose of such a resolution is the desire to grow spiritually. Spiritual growth is a difficult but wonderful thing. It’s the process of becoming more like Christ. It happens as we grow in our understanding and experience of God and begin to reflect Christ’s love more and more in the way we live.
God has been convicting me about spiritual growth lately and that’s why I want to talk to you about it this morning. I speak as a beginner, not an expert. I want to share the things I’m learning about spiritual growth in the hope that they can help you too. Maybe together we can know God in a deeper and better way in the year to come.
Activities that open us to God and his work are called ‘spiritual disciplines’. Spiritual disciplines help us replace old destructive habits of thought with new life-giving habits. I am going to talk about three spiritual disciplines to do with the Scriptures. They are meditating on Scripture, memorising Scripture and studying Scripture. These three different ways of reading the Bible help open us to God. They enable us to hear his Word. Continue reading
At lunch time today I got to this line from Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline:
David’s desire for God broke the self-indulgent chains of sleep: ‘Early will I seek Thee’ (Ps 63:1). (p. 44)
While reading a book, when I agree with something already, I tend to tick it. If it challenges what I think, but it might be true, I put an asterix next to it. This line was a definite asterix.
I need sleep. I feel dreadful if I miss out on even an hour of sleep: an emptiness will pervade my brain for the next day to come. My whole mood lowers.
Yet I never seem to be able to get much done at all, and so I’ve been thinking that if I slept less, I could get more done.
I have occasional determinations to get up at 6 a.m. every day. Sometimes to pray, but just as often, to get in an hour’s writing.
Surely God wants us to get a good amount of sleep? I feel great when I’ve slept well – replenished. I remember Robert Banks talking about a theology of sleep, perhaps in the Tyranny of Time, but I can’t remember what he said.
Is sleep ‘self-indulgent chains’? I’m sure it can be, especially if you’re sleeping in late every day. But I get up at seven. Is that self-indulgent? I sleep an hour longer a day than a lot of people (eight hours). I guess that makes for four lost years of life if I live to eighty.
Maybe my body could adjust to less sleep. I could get up at five, and do an hour’s writing and an hour’s prayer. I don’t like my chances though.
I’ll start with six or six-thirty. I know something needs to change. I’m determined to hold onto the insights I get from Foster’s book this time. I’m determined to let God change my life.
(And yes, I was about to write ‘I’m determined to change my life’, and if I was writing on my other blog, I probably would have. But this is a theological blog, and I feel a certain pressure to be theologically correct.)
James McClendon’s work is so important, and I feel ignorant for only having read some of it years ago summarily. I think his idea of a ‘baptist vision’ is good for Anabaptists, as it puts us in touch with our brothers and sisters in similar traditions like the Baptists (capital B!) and the Churches of Christ.
Recently, I got a great email from James Airey who wrote the baptist vision blog with his wife Lindsay. Like the defunct Perth Anabaptist Fellowship, they were trying to live out (Ana)baptist theology in a house church context. They’ve written a series of discussions for small groups or house churches to use which introduce the baptist vision and ask what it might mean in people’s lives, including this great paragraph:
The best setting to read the Bible is in a small community that interprets and performs the story together in its own specific context of kingdom work, witness and worship. These diverse communities each believe that the risen Jesus is present with them [see Matthew 1:23; 18:20; 28:18-20]. This is the vital ‘link,’ what McClendon calls ‘this is that’—the Christ we know in worship is the very same Christ that lived, died and rose in the Story that we read in Scripture. Our community today is linked with this same Jesus and the original band of disciples back then! We find ourselves in a continuing narrative of an active living Lord who guides, convicts and comforts our community as we read together and make practical decisions for our unique life [this is called ‘discernment’…more on this key component of community later].
I hope people around the world can pick up these thirteen meeting plans and use them as a template for being one such small community.
Starting with meditation has always been a stumbling block for me reading Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. It’s a toss up between that and fasting for what’s more difficult for me. I guess these are two that require a lot of discipline.
The reason I find meditation so hard is that I don’t like silence much. My thoughts race; I can’t sit still and listen to God.
Which is exactly why I need to.
For Richard Foster,
Christian meditation, very simply, is the ability to hear God’s voice and obey his word. (21)
The meditation chapter takes us through the reasons for meditating and the way to meditate.
Some forms of meditation:
1. Meditating on scripture. This seems like a good way to do it, taking a verse of scripture and ruminating on it. You just have to choose a good verse. The genealogies maybe not so good. He suggests ‘my peace I give to you’.
2. Palms up, palms down. You give over the things that are burdening you to God with your palms down, and then you hold your palms up to receive things from God.
3. Meditating on current events – hmmm, I’m not really ready to try this. I feel too overwhelmed by the world at the moment.
Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline is one of the most important books I’ve read. I keep going back to it, and each time it changes my life.
Its subtitle is instructive : ’the path to spiritual growth’. I completely agree. The spiritual disciplines are the way to grow in Christian faith, to know God more intimately. They are such a key part of discipleship, the bridge between theological knowledge and Christian life.
I’m going to try to write about each of the disciplines here to help me understand them better.