In this introductory sermon to a new series on spiritual practices, Greg lays the foundation for why we embrace such practices by identifying narratives that undermine our adopting them, and proposing a biblical narrative that will naturally and organically compel us to make them part of our lives.
This sermon introduces a new series on spiritual disciplines, laying a foundation by casting a vision of the Kingdom story we’re to live in that motivates us to engage in such practices. Greg illustrates the importance of spiritual practices through his experience of physical exercise. He loved the feeling that he had when his body was being pushed to the limit. To train for races, he would get up early several times per week to run ten miles. Then he would spend six hours on Saturday running 30-40 miles.
To do this, Greg lived in a narrative where it made sense to train like this. We all live in a story we tell ourselves, a mental narrative that interprets and makes sense of our world. This story assigns values to some things and not to others. Greg’s narrative placed a high value on the experience of endorphins from running, of competing, and feeling proud of his finish-time.
Greg’s physical training was a form of discipline. All disciplines presuppose a narrative that give us a reason to say “no” to a desire for the sake of a greater desire. Whether you are willing to say “no” to an immediate want depends entirely on how badly you want a delayed but greater want. If you try to be disciplined without a story that shapes why you should be disciplined, you will only have a “rule without any fuel.” You have a task that you are supposed to do without any motivation to do it.
Many today try to do spiritual disciplines within a narrative that does not actually align with how God works in us. The story we inherit is one that is antithetical to spiritual practices because it’s a consumeristic story of entitlement. It is a secular narrative where we tell ourselves “I get to have things my way, and I get to have them now.” Everything is about instant gratification.
Spiritual disciplines depend upon learning to live in the right narrative and freeing yourself from these secular stories. This is driven home by Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
The story we are called to live in and be transformed by is the entire story of the Gospels. Greg concludes the sermon by highlighting one aspect of this story found in 1 John 3:1-3:
“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”
By God’s love, we are children of God. We are heirs of the story of God raising up a people throughout whom he works to establish his reign on Earth, going back to the ancient Israelites and continuing up to the present church.
John states that all who have this hope in him purify themselves, as he is pure. We are already children of God, but we are not yet fully manifesting this identity. It’s not immediate. It’s something that we are working toward in the future. Our thoughts, heart, actions and character don’t fully align with this truth. John says that if we have this vision then we will move in this direction, even though it is delayed.
Spiritual practices are ways we cooperate with God to move us in the direction of total Christ-likeness. They help us to become the Jesus-looking radiant children of God. The more concretely you envision this, the more power it has to motivate you to invest in spiritual practices.
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