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The Practice of No

• Greg Boyd

In this installment of our Formed series, Greg Boyd explores the importance of the Practice of No in the life of Christian discipleship. The story of Elijah and his experience with God on Mount Horeb are the foundation of this sermon as Greg examines how God lives in the quiet in the midst of a world that keeps getting louder and more sensational. The discipline of simplicity is an important tool to learn how to keep our gaze focused on Jesus rather than constantly looking for more.

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The focus of this week in our Formed series is the story of the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 19. Prior to exploring this story Greg reminded us that spiritual formation is the continual movement of being formed in the image of Christ and that often this forming is about getting rid of something that is not consistent with the truth of who we are in Christ. The analogy of the sculptor Michaelangelo was specifically relevant as he believed that the sculpture was stuck in the block and his job was simply to remove what didn’t belong. This removal of what doesn’t belong is the process of the practices of No. Subsequent sermons will deal with the practices of Yes, but the focus of this sermon will be on those practices of No as we are formed in the image of Christ.

Greg told the story of running away from home after a severe beating. He had a specific place in the woods he would run to in order to be along. He recalled a specific time when he found this secret place and fell asleep in the midst of his weeping. He awoke to the sound of the wind blowing through the pine needles and heard the sound of his name in that moment. He experienced the presence of God in that lonely moment and it brought him incredible peace.

Greg’s story as a little boy in the woods was our invitation into the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. Elijah has just come off an incredible experience of God’s power in 1 Kings 18, but has quickly transitioned to feeling alone, negative and conveys symptoms of depression. We enter the story in 1 Kings 19 as Elijah is, most likely, having a vision in the midst of a cave at Mount Horeb. Elijah sees the mighty wind, earthquake and fire and realizes that God is not in those more sensational experiences. God shows up in the “dak” and “demama” (Hebrew for “gentle or soft” and “breeze or blowing”). God is revealed after all the religious hoopla is done. This is in stark contrast to Elijah’s recent experience on Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18 and acts as a reminder to Elijah that God can show up in the sensational experiences, but that he lives in the quiet and gentle breeze.

Greg notes that twice in this passage (1 Kings 19:9 and 13) God asks Elijah the same questions, “what are you doing here, Elijah?”. God is aware that true transformation happens as we sit in the quiet with God and let him speak our own name to us. God needs to continually remind Elijah that while God is capable of the fireworks and the wow factor, he doesn’t live in those moments. Elijah had to learn how to really encounter God in the quiet and not in the hoopla.

Elijah’s experience on Mount Horeb and Greg’s experience as a boy alone in the woods remind us that true life with God is not found in the sensational and wow factor of religious pizzazz. We often have a predisposition from the Garden of Eden to seek out the sensational rather than simply walking with God in the garden. This can play itself out in our pursuits for more profound spiritual experiences, a better job, more money, more respect, new sexual encounters and often is a result of our immense fear of boredom. Most of our life with God ends up looking like trying to hear the sound of whisper during a rock concert.

The practices of No are all about freeing us from the whirlwind and noise in order to be able to listen and walk with God (for more specifics on these practices and disciplines, look into Dallas Willard’s book, Spirit of the Disciplines). One example of these practices of No is simplicity. Simplicity is about learning to be content with less (Philippians 4:12). This practice is a direct affront to the basis of advertisements that remind us that we never have enough and are always lacking. The practice of simplicity is based in the truth that the most important question in life is, “does Jesus want me to have it?”. We are called to live in simplicity so we have margin to serve others and experience the gentle breeze of God. We are called to say no to the constant gazing at more and to fix our eyes on Jesus who can provide all we need as we listen and let him speak our name to us

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Topics: Disciplines, Presence of God, Simplicity

Sermon Series: Formed

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Focus Scripture:

  • 1 Kings 19:9-13

    At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.

    Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

    He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

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3 thoughts on “The Practice of No

  1. Kathy Stemm says:

    Really sad to not be able to watch your sermons anymore! I am not a techy, just a mom & grandma, who watches on her phone (I live in a trailer on a farm). I always just clicked “watch on the blog” but now, when I do, nothing happens! Well, bless you many times over for the beautiful msgs and thank you for being true followers of Jesus & his teachings. I am happy to know that there are others, like me, who believe His msg of Love….. Thanks! Kathy

    1. Joanna Hallstrom says:

      Hey Kathy, This is sad! Thanks for letting us know. I will email you directly with some questions that will hopefully help us figure this out. In the mean time check out the sermon downloads tab on the right hand side of each sermon page. You can can download an audio or video file to your phone besides watching the sermon on the blog.

  2. Peter says:

    This week’s message, like those of the previous week’s provides some interesting insights.

    When God created Adam and Eve in His image and placed them in the Garden of Eden, they were in a situation of perfect harmony both with themselves, God and creation….everything was ‘very good’.

    The ‘Law’ for them to continue in this state was not to eat from the ‘Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil’. This later led to the temptation by Satan to eat of the fruit of the forbidden tree. As one commentator has remarked that temptation occurs where there is innocence…where there is guilt Satan has already won.

    This in one sense was a ‘no’ situation for the primal couple but through disobedience led to death. Put simply, real or abundant life only exists in God then any situation outside God is death. Adam and Eve then became dislocated in their relationship with God, creation and, of course, between themselves…..and also within their own bodies as ‘individuals’. The complexity (rather than simplicity) of this self ‘lifestyle’ is really beyond comprehension. The whole creation was only made to function (‘very good’) for people created in His image through obedience in love to God (as true sons of God)…operating outside this means that you can only be in conflict with yourself, each other, creation and God.

    In one sense, the giving of the Law and the sacrificial system to the Israelites was a means for them to return to obedience to God….and a simplicity of lifestyle. The further aspects of this and Jesus, was discussed briefly in my previous post. However, Paul’s instruction to the Galations highlights both the issues of the old lifestyle together with that of the new (Gal 5:16-25),

    “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
    If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. “

    When Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit and tempted by Satan, His situation was little different to Adam and Eve in Eden. Rather than give into the temptations, they were all rebutted…..He walked by the Spirit and refused the desires of the flesh that Satan was tempting Him with. Interestingly, Satan’s temptations started with food but when this and the second temptation failed, it would appear the best Satan could offer were the kingdoms of this world, provided Jesus would bow down and worship him. However, in another sense this was the goal of Jesus to put the kingdoms of the world under His feet (control) and hand them to His Father.

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