The Radically Normal Christian:
Part VI: Enjoying God
October 23, 2011
* 148 (Eccl), 135 (Fasting), 061 (Alone...)
* Skim “Sacred Pathways”
SCRIPTURE READING: PS. 95:1-7a (Peter T.)
Q What is the most MEMORABLE SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE you have ever had? It may not even have been a “Christian” experience.
Were you TOUCHED and HEALED by God’s love in a time of worship?
Were you reading the BIBLE and struck by a LIFE-CHANGING truth?
Were you out in NATURE and overwhelmed by SOMETHING?
Was it SERVING others?
* For me it was when I was 17 and on a missions trip in CANADA.
This may have happened in NATURE, but that was just the MEDIUM – it was joy in God. It is this sort of SPIRITUAL JOY that we are going to focus on this morning.
LAST WEEK I started by talking about happiness and joy, and I contrasted the normal American way of approaching happiness and the radical Christian way:
* It is normal to PURSUE INSTANT GRATIFICATION at the expense of LONG-TERM happiness and ETERNAL JOY.
* It is radical to abandon earthly pleasures for the sake of eternal joy.
But as we look at the ENTIRE SCOPE of what the Bible says about joy and happiness, and about finding joy in both earthly and spiritual things, NEITHER of these views are BIBLICAL.
Instead, I want us to be radically normal: to see all HAPPINESS as a REFLECTION of GOD, and thus to ENJOY the HAPPINESS of this earth even as SEEKING GOD as our highest joy.
Last week, I focused on EARTHLY JOY: How to seek long-term happiness over instant gratification and how to see earthly joy as a reflection of God and a foretaste of joy in heaven.
* THIS WEEK it’s SPIRITUAL JOY, seeking God as our highest joy.
But for most of us, that is a tall order.
Q A lot of us EXERCISE – do you enjoy it? Do you enjoy getting suited up? Having your muscles ache and fighting to continue?
I don’t, but I love the RESULTS. I love feeling better, and more alert. Ultimately I exercise because I want to, though not necessarily when I step on the treadmill.
But we tend to trade our LESSER DESIRES for our GREATER DESIRES – when I get to the gym, my LESSER desire is to go to HOT TUB and call that a work out, my GREATER desire is to be HEALTHY.
* It basically goes back to the INSTANT GRATIFICATION thing.
If you are a CHRISTIAN, you know that you “SHOULD” do the things that bring ETERNAL JOY: PRAY, read your BIBLE, go to CHURCH, fast, and things like that. But you have all sorts of excuses why you don’t do that:
* I don’t have the TIME.
* It is hard to FOCUS.
* I don’t KNOW how.
But if you really WANTED to, none of those things would be a problem. Just think of the last time you were in a CRISIS and you desperately need God’s intervention – suddenly time, focus, and know-how weren’t an issue!
* So what I need to do is not so much show you HOW to do those things as much as show you that you WANT to do them.
I need to show you that it is WORTH it to give up SOME EARTHLY JOYS for the sake of greater spiritual joy. It’s “INSTANT gratification” vs. “DELAYED gratification.”
* SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE is the ultimate DELAYED gratification.
JOY TEACHES JOY
* I was very INTENTIONAL in talking about EARTHLY JOY FIRST and spiritual joy second.
I needed to start with what we UNDERSTAND and move to what we DON’T UNDERSTAND. All of us can understand being happy. We know that we like it and we want to be happy.
Most of us don’t really “FEEL” that GOD is our highest joy, but if we ACCEPT that EARTHLY JOYS is a REFLECTION of God, then we can trust that pursuing spiritual joy will make us truly happy.
So here is how you can want to seek God as your highest joy and adopt the spiritual disciplines that will get you there: Think about the JOYS you KNOW, and TRUST that seeking the source will bring even more joy.
* Think about your happiest, most satisfied times.
Basically, I am saying TRUST ME, or more so, TRUST GOD – if God is the source of joy, a GOOD FATHER who delights in caring for us, maybe we can trust that the less fun stuff leads to long-term joy.
At the same time, I don’t want to give the IMPRESSION that you WON’T ENJOY it along the way. You begin to DEVELOP an APPETITE for spiritual disciplines, but it doesn’t start that way, which is also a lot like exercising.
I have now gotten to the point that I kind of enjoy running. Weird, I know. But I am actually bummed that writing this book and working two jobs is costing me the luxury of jogging.
* I have decided that when I finish my book, I will REWARD myself with a HALF-MARATHON.
In the same way, as you SEEK GOD and PRACTICE spiritual discipline, you will find yourself ENJOYING it MORE and MORE. And in fact many people go to an UNBALANCED EXTREME.
* Like an extreme WEIGHT LIFTER...
I know many CHRISTIANS who seek one SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE after another like a DRUG.
And not only does seeking God bring REAL JOY, it allows us to ENJOY EARTHLY joys more. The story of ECCLESIASTES is that of a man who has every earthly joy.
Every earthly joy we could hope for, and more or less done morally: WEALTH, POSSESSIONS, ACHIEVEMENTS, LEARNING, RELATIONSHIPS, great FOOD and drinks. Yet at the end:
Ecclesiastes 2:11 11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.
These things CANNOT SATISFY us alone, they weren’t meant to. In fact nothing on earth can satisfy us, because we were made for eternity.
But God intended us to ENJOY our TIME here as BEST we can and that happens when we both enjoy earthly things and seek spiritual things.
* It kind of like EXERCISING and EATING HEALTHY most of the time allows us to properly ENJOY REST and TREATS.
We have to PRACTICE and TRAIN ourselves to WANT God. We need to develop other appetites. We do that through what have been historically called “the SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES.”
There are many different ones, but I want to focus on six that I think are the most valuable place to begin: Solitude, prayer, worship, fasting, Bible reading, and church participation.
Think of me as your PERSONAL TRAINER – here are some spiritual exercise I want you to practice. They will make you healthier, help you enjoy God more, and to lose weight (not really).
1. Solitude & Silence
As Americans we live with such a constant BARRAGE of NOISE there is no place in our mind for God. It takes INTENTIONAL EFFORT to slow down, be alone, turn off the phone, quiet the chatter in our head, and just be.
Psalm 46:10 10 “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
As you read the entire passage, it is not just about being quiet, but about not striving, resting and waiting in God him.
* PRACTICING SILENCE and solitude teaches you to SLOW DOWN and enjoy God.
Here is how to practice this: Find 10 MINUTES A DAY to be alone and quiet with God. Still your mind. Don’t bring a prayer list. Simple prayers like “God, I love you” or “Help me” are best.
I’ve preached on prayer many times and I want to keep this short, so I will summarize it: Prayer has two basic components: 1) CONVERSATION with God, and 2) ASKING for him to act.
* Practicing PRAYER builds RELATIONSHIP and DEPENDENCE on God.
Here is how to practice this: Spend 10 MINUTES a day prayer. Have a prayer list and split your time TALKING to God about your thoughts and concerns and PRAYING for NEEDS.
Worship can be defined in many ways – OBEDIENCE is worship, brining GLORY to his name is worship. But I want to focus in on one aspect: Worship is how we EXPERIENCE God.
* For MANY you, this is the MOST OBVIOUS way to seek God, but for others, like myself, worship time just isn’t’ meaningful.
For years I struggled with not fitting in because I got bored during worship. Then I found an excellent book called “Sacred Pathways“ that talks about how each of us experience God differently. As I describe these, see which RESONATES with you:
a. MUSIC: Song and raising hands seem to bring God close.
b. NATURE: You feel God outdoors.
c. MYSTIC: Tying everything back to God.
d. ART and BEAUTY: Immediately makes you think of him.
e. SERVING: When you serve others you feel you’re serving God.
f. THINKING: New insights about God bring awe and wonder.
g. RITUAL: Communion or other rituals are alive, not dead to you.
Q Take a moment to think about that; which ones fit you? For me it is Nature and Thinking.
* PRACTICING WORSHIP helps you EXPERIENCE and ENJOY God on an EMOTIONAL level, and prepares you for HEAVEN.
Here is how to practice this: First DETERMINE which “PATHWAY” is yours. Then set a time aside THIS WEEK, outside of church, to worship God in your OWN STYLE.
This has got to be the most IGNORED SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE in modern America, but it used to be one of the most important ones. Jesus himself assumed we would fast:
Matthew 9:14-15 Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.
This is one I had to learn about by DOING. Simply STUDYING it is USELESS! I did an entire sermon on this subject. Here are three keys things I learned about fasting:
a. Fasting FOCUS our PRAYERS because it COST us something.
b. Fasting helps you CONTROL your BODY in every area.
c. Fasting reminds you that you can NEVER BE SATISFIED here.
Here is how to practice this: Fast from AFTER DINNER one day up to dinner the next. And consider observing LENT with us next year (begins March 9th).
5. Bible Reading
I remember reading a STUDY that said the BEST PREDICTOR of your ability to resist TEMPTATION is not going to church or praying, it is reading the Bible FOUR or MORE times a week.
Psalm 119:9-12 9 How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. 10 I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. 11 I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. 12 Praise be to you, O LORD; teach me your decrees.
There is something crucial about READING, CONSIDERING, and FILLING yourself with GOD’S WORDS that changes you.
Not only does it help you UNDERSTAND GOD and who he is, but it also helps you UNDERSTAND YOURSELF, and the CAUSE and EFFECTS of life. As Andrew said, it is like an X-RAY as Andrew said.
* PRACTICING BIBLE reading gives you a FOUNDATION for know and LOVING God and LIVING this life.
Here is how to practice this: Find 10 MINUTES a day prayer (eg: Reading Bible at Stbx). I suggest one PSALM and a handful of PROVERBS. Use a good STUDY BIBLE to help you understand.
6. Church Participation
Church as a part of life has DECLINED SIGNIFICANTLY in past decades. I think my NEXT BOOK might be something like “Church Isn’t Optional.”
Church has always been and will always be a CORE PART of the Christian life. I so solidly believe that it is NOT an OBLIGATION, it is a PRIVILEGE.
* I’m intentional about saying “PARTICIPATION” not ATTENDANCE.
Hebrews 10:24-25 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-- and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
* Practicing church participation creates a place the PUSHED you to GROW (like going to a GYM!) and helps keep you on TRACK.
Here is how to practice this: Attend church EVERY SUNDAY, not just when convenient and be a PART – SERVE, GIVE, BELONG.
ARE YOU DOING ENOUGH?
There you go, six spiritual disciplines to help you get what you want – JOY. To help you find your DEEPEST HAPPINESS in the source of happiness.
Q So how do we know if we are doing these things enough?
If FASTING once in a while is good, than fasting a lot must be better. If praying for 10 minutes every day is good, then praying for 4 hours must be better...
* Beware that GAME; that is what has sent so many Christians into a STOIC FAITH.
That sounds good, until lined up against how SCRIPTURE expresses itself. EG: FASTING is GOOD, but so is FEASTING and celebration. Fasting is mentioned 40X in the Bible, feasting 140.
Q So how do we know if we are doing ENOUGH?
I can’t and won’t give you an IDEAL AMOUNT. Those suggestions are for the purpose of getting you STARTED, not create LEGALISM.
* In my life, I have found that the closest we can come to balance is a health ebb and flow.
PLAYING ON AN UNEVEN FIELD
When I talked about GENEROSITY and how to know if you are giving enough, I said that we should look at it like a FOOTBALL FIELD, with goalposts on either side that we stay between.
It is the same with SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES: On one side of the field is enjoying the JOYS of THIS LIFE as a reflection of God, and on the other is SEEKING GOD as our HIGHEST JOY.
We will spend our life going BACK and FORTH between these posts. Sometimes we will spend too much time on earthly joys and find ourselves DISTRACTED from eternity, time to have focus more on seeking God.
* A better analogy would be a football field on a STEEP HILL; GRAVITY pulls us towards the “earthly joys” side of the field.
One of the points of the SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES is having these HABITS pulling you towards “joy in God” while your humanity pull you towards earthly joys.
* So when you find yourself becoming LESS INTERESTED in GOD, you may need to EMPHASIZE the spiritual disciplines for a season.
There is a NATURAL cycle of ENJOY/ABSTAIN/ENJOY. Have times of fasting, Scripture, prayer, and worship. Then have times of feasting, playing, and friendships. Go back and forth.
To that end, I want to give you some CHALLENGES, again, not to create a legalism, but to give you a CHANCE to EXPERIENCE new things. Look through the six challenges on back and CHOOSE TWO that you are not currently doing.
* Now commit to doing them for 6 WEEKS, to the end of November.
Think and pray about that during our time of WORSHIP. I would encourage you to MARK them down, and then place the communication card in the basket. I will then EMAIL you a REMINDER each week.
* Give it a shot. What do you have to lose? But what do you have to gain? Happiness.
* PPT: Please text Marilyn; service is almost over: 421-5543
Q & A