Just like we need to discipline ourselves to stay in good shape by physical exercise, we need to exercise ourselves spiritually to be in good spiritual shape. This sermon lists what we need to do to be spiritually fit and encourages us to have the discipline in our lives to do it.
[Paul Moody] From the pages of history, there is a story from the 1800’s that has been preserved with very few details. And, honestly, when I first heard about it, it was something that struck my interest and my curiosity. Again, I said there are very few details involved in this story, but what is recorded, to me, is quite interesting. Captain Kane of the British Royal Navy, along with his crew which sailed from England, went missing when their ship was struck by a typhoon in the Pacific Ocean. Again, this is the early 1800’s. When Kane and his men failed to return home as planned, most back in England thought that they would never be seen alive again. The fact is, for them, they were in for a very significant struggle. But eight long months after their harrowing ordeal, Kane and his crew sailed a broken and battered ship into London harbor. According to the eyewitness account of the onlookers, the ship consisted of very little more than a few planks lashed together and a tattered half sail. But Captain Kane had lived and he had gotten his crew home.
Now to me, when I think about stories and read true accounts such as this one, I like to wonder and I think about what was it about those people’s character? What was it about their mentality that allowed them to hang on to hope? Hang on to hope, and hang on to survival and to do what they needed to do to push to make it home again.
Now there are obvious character traits such as fortitude, courage and determination. I think we could all identify those. But there’s one more trait I think is equally important to consider as well. And that’s discipline. Discipline is an important character trait. The question I have for us today is are you and I, brethren, disciplined people? Are we disciplined people?
There are many aspects of our physical lives that require that we exercise discipline. If you have to get up in the morning for work or school, you set the alarm. And it takes discipline not to sit there and hit the snooze button for an hour. If you are going to the store to go shopping, you need to exercise financial discipline. It is far too easy to spend money you don’t have on things that you don’t need. So again, we need to exercise discipline in that aspect. Keeping our attitudes in check and not breaking out into destructive behavior and destructive attitudes – that requires discipline. If you really want to get in shape – if you really want to get fit – a good exercise regimen requires discipline as well.
Now not only is discipline an essential part of our physical lives – there are many things that walk through during this life physically that require discipline – but it’s also an essential part and an essential element to the structure of our spiritual life as well. We need to be spiritually disciplined people.
As Christians, there are actually spiritual disciplines that we’re expected to exercise in our Christian lives. Now in case you are wondering what a spiritual discipline is, it’s a deliberate action we take in order to strengthen our relationship with God and in order to draw closer to Jesus Christ and become a more Christ-like individual.
Let’s go to 1 Timothy, the 4th chapter, to begin with this afternoon, and begin to explore this concept of spiritual disciplines – 1 Timothy, chapter 4, and we’re going to begin in verse 7. Here the apostle Paul writing to Timothy, a young minister, and he is giving him some instruction on how to conduct his ministry and things he should be aware of and watch out for. In verse 7 of 1 Timothy 4, he says:
1 Timothy 4:7 – But reject profane and old wives’ fables…. he says, “Timothy, don’t even take those into consideration. Don’t even dwell on those. There is nothing profitable in those.” But reject profane and old wives’ fables and exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having a promise of the life that now is and the life that is to come.
So what Paul told Timothy is, “Timothy, you need to be exercising yourself toward godliness. You need to be carrying yourself in a way, and conducting yourself in a way, that is profitable. You need to be doing those things in your life that are productive and fruitful and useful toward building yourself to godliness.”
This afternoon, what I would like to do is cover an overview of four spiritual disciplines that are essential to our Christian lives. We’re going to talk about four disciplines that will help us be exercised toward godliness. And, if we have time at the end, I will throw in a bonus one for our consideration as well. The title of my message today is Exercising Our Spiritual Discipline. This is something that is important for us to be doing on a regular basis.
Brethren, specifically as we are leaving the fall holy day season, and we are going through these long months heading toward spring and the spring holy day season, we have this gap, and it’s a good time for us to stop and reflect and focus ourselves on these disciplines that God would have us to conduct.
The first discipline we are going to jump into this afternoon…. And what I am going to do is cover these from a little more of a Bible study/topical type format, so we’ll have a few more scriptures we’ll be turning to today, but I think we need to get a good overview of these disciplines. The first one I will be jumping into – to start with – is prayer. Prayer. Prayer is obviously a vital element to our Christian experience. Prayer is essentially communication – a communication from us to God. It is communication that flows in one direction. What I mean by that is, when we get down on our knees and we pray to God, He doesn’t thunder back a response to us in quite the same manner as we are praying to him. Rather, God in turn answers us in other ways, which we will see shortly. Prayer is communication from us to God.
So why is it that we pray? What are some of the important aspects of prayer? What are the benefits of prayer to our spiritual life? When we pray, do we pray just for ourselves and out of our personal interest, or is there something more to the principle of prayer? We’re going to answer some of these as we walk through the topic of prayer.
Brethren, prayer is important because, through prayer, we strengthen our relationship with God. We strengthen our relationship with God. After all, He’s our Father and we can say, “Why do we even need to go before God and pray? Why do we need to get on our knees, because God’s all powerful, He’s all knowing, and He’s all seeing? Can’t He just see what’s going on in our lives and know what we need, and automatically respond without our even coming before Him in prayer?” Well the fact is, again, God is our Father, and He wants to hear from us. He wants to hear from us personally. He wants to hear what’s going on in our lives. He wants us to communicate to Him in our own words. He wants to hear about our triumphs, and our struggles, and our hopes, and our opportunities. And God wants to be able to address with us our needs and desires, but He wants us to come before Him in a personal and private relationship – in an intimate relationship – and make these things known to Him through prayer. 1 Peter, chapter 3, and verse 12, tells us:
1 Peter 3:12 – The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are open to their prayers. So, God is watching us, and He is listening to His people, and He wants to hear from them directly.
In Matthew, chapter 7, Jesus Christ addressed the importance of asking God for those things that we have need of. And He also addressed God’s desire, then, to turn and respond to us. So, it is an important passage that should be encouraging to us, because it shows not only that we should come before God in prayer and that He desires us to do so, but that also, He has the love for us that He desires to turn and respond to our prayers and our needs. So, let’s go to Matthew, the 7th chapter, and take a look at the words of Jesus Christ – Matthew, chapter 7, and we’re going to begin in verse 7. Here Christ begins by saying:
Matthew 7:7-11 – Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be open to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks, it will be opened. What man is there among you, who if his son asks for bread, will he give him a stone? You know, as a parent, you just wouldn’t do that. If your son says, “Dad, I’m hungry,” you are not going to just say, “Here son, eat this rock, it is good for you.” No, you’re going to do everything you can to provide for him and to fulfill those needs that he has. That’s the way that God responds to us as well. Verse 10: For if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you, then, being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him?
So, we need to be willing, first of all, to come before God to ask – be willing to seek, and to knock, and to inquire of those things of God – and we need to know that when we come to God, He is desirous to lend us a hand. He desires to respond to us as children of God. Again, God is very loving and very merciful, and as His children, He wants us to come to Him in a very personal and intimate way.
Now when we do come before God in prayer it’s important that we never feel like our needs aren’t important – that they’re beyond what God wants to hear. We can’t ever feel like somehow God won’t care, or He won’t understand what it is that we’re going through, or that somehow God just can’t simply relate to us. We can never get into this mentality that, for some reason, I can’t come before God with this prayer – this issue – that I have. God doesn’t want us to be hindered in that way. The reality is that God can, and He does, relate to us. He relates with us on a very personal and intimate level. His relation to us is enhanced through the understanding and experiences of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Let’s go to Hebrews, the 4th chapter, and we’re going to begin in verse 14.
Hebrews 4:14-15 – Seeing then that we have a great and high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the son of God, let us hold fast our confession for we so not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.
So Jesus Christ is our High Priest, sitting at the right hand of God, and He is the one who makes intercession for us. He knows and He understands what it is we’re going through. The scripture says: Jesus Christ was tempted in all points just as we are. Now that doesn’t mean that He was pulled to the point where He almost sinned. It doesn’t mean that Jesus Christ walked up to that line and didn’t quite cross over into sin, but He was pulled into temptation. That isn’t what it means at all. It simply means that the temptations of the flesh where always there. They were always available. They were always before Him, if He chose to partake of them. But He didn’t. Jesus Christ resisted and He set the example by which we must live our lives as well. So, we do have that High Priest, that is sitting on the right hand of God, who is making intercession for us, who is intimately aware in many ways of what we go through. Verse 16 – it says:
V-16 – Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in the time of need. So, God wants us to come before Him boldly. He wants us to be comfortable in expressing ourselves to Him. He wants us to be comfortable in the relationship that we have with Him – that we can come into His presence and pour those things out to Him in personal and intimate prayer.
Now, just as there are important aspects we need to consider in prayer, there are also important aspects of don’ts that we need to remember before we come to God in prayer. So, there are do’s and there are don’ts. So here are a couple of don’ts for prayer. Let’s go to Matthew, the 6th chapter – Matthew, chapter 6, and verse 5. Jesus Christ says to the disciples:
Matthew 6:5 – And when you pray you shall not be like the hypocrites. They love to pray. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you that they have their reward – to be seen by men and have the accolades of men, and have someone come up and say, “Wow! That’s a righteous guy! Look at the prayer he’s giving. He’s calling to God and he is lengthy.” God says, “That’s your reward – the recognition of men.” Verse 6: But you, when you pray, go into your room, and you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore, do not be like them for your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. Then Christ walks through, what we call here, the model prayer. So, when we come before God in prayer, He wants us to come before Him in sincerity and in truth. Praying to be seen by men and praying in repetition doesn’t impress God. It is not what He is interested in. Our prayers are personal. Our prayers are personal and intimate sharing with God and we need to keep them that way. Now there are prayers that we give publicly. We have the opening prayer before service. We have prayers together before meals, before Bible studies and for various circumstances, but there are certain prayers that are personal and intimate, as part of our relationship that we are building with God. So, like those that would stand on the street corners and pray to God where everyone would hear them, that’s not an intimate relationship. That’s just for show. Christ says: go into the room, shut the door, and pray to the Father, who is in the secret place, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
Additionally, when we come before God in prayer, we have to make sure we’re coming before Him with the right and proper motivation. Again, there are certain ways we come befoe God in humility and sincerity, and there are others that we can come to God – maybe, to gain advantage for ourselves, or to come before God in an overly selfish manner. We need to avoid those things. James, chapter 4, and verse 3, explains that:
James 4:3 – You ask, and you do not receive because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your own pleasure. So, again, there can be right motivations and wrong motivations behind prayer. We need to be sure that, when we are coming before God, that we’re are asking out of a right and proper attitude and not out of some sort of selfish ambition.
Next, we could ask the question, “How often do we pray?” How often should we pray? I’ll reference to you 1 Thessalonians 5, verses 17 through 18. And I’ll quote it for you. It says to:
1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 – Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God, in Christ Jesus, for you. Now praying without ceasing doesn’t mean we pray one long never-ending prayer without coming up for breath. It doesn’t mean that we pray one prayer after another, all day long, every day – day after day. What praying without ceasing means is, that we do make prayer a regular part of our routine, and we don’t cease from that habit. We need to make prayer a frequent occurrence in our lives. We should make prayer a daily occurrence, at a minimum, I would say. The example in the model prayer that Christ gave, He asked God to give us this day our daily bread. So, I would think that that would be an indication of daily prayer, at a minimum. Now, somebody can’t stand here and tell each person how much you should pray and how often each person should pray, but the indication that we have from scripture is that we should pray deeply, and we should pray often. If I recall correctly, Daniel – I believe it was – prayed three times per day. And David as well, in the Psalms, talks about coming before God morning, noon and night. And so, praying without ceasing is not just one long run-on prayer. But it is habitual prayer - prayer that we are in a routine of bringing to God and we don’t cease from that habit.
Now, sometimes the question comes up what should we pray about? In the sermonette, we heard a good indication of a use of prayer. A prayer can be used to give thanksgiving to God. That is a very important and very appropriate use of prayer. The model prayer, in Matthew 6 – you can go through were Jesus Christ laid out specific points that we can incorporate and should incorporate into the basis of our prayers. Also, the Psalms are a wonderful resource for exploring prayer. King David used prayer in a very heartfelt and passionate way. David was a very passionate person, obviously, from the example we have of his life, and he proclaimed praises and thanksgiving to God through prayer – again, what we heard in the sermonette today. He also used prayer to seek such things as protection and deliverance from his enemies. David used prayer for the purpose of healing. He used prayer for the purpose of repentance, and coming before God, and seeking His forgiveness – seeking for God’s mercy to be poured out in his life. These are all important aspects of prayer. They are examples that we can take and incorporate into our personal prayer life. I suggest, if you read through the Psalms, or reading really anywhere in the Bible, to keep your eye out for circumstances of prayer and see what these people prayed about, and how they prayed, and how God responded to those prayers. And I think it will be an education for us about those types of things we can build into our daily prayer. Again though, we shouldn’t just model it after someone else because it is a personal thing. We come before God on a personal level. So, we need to, of course, incorporate our personal needs and our desires, but there are certain things that, I think, are across the board for all of us that should be incorporated into prayer – in the things we come before God – for His intervention in our lives.
Finally, when we approach God in prayer, it shouldn’t be for the sole purpose of seeking something for self. You know, we can fill our entire prayer – in coming before God – and saying, “Please bless me with a job, with a pay raise, with a car and a place to live.” These things are important considerations to work into our prayers, but sometimes prayer can become very selfish, very inward focused and self-motivated. Prayer should have an outward focus as well. We should consider one another in prayer before God. We had prayer requests today during the announcements. We should incorporate those into our prayer before God. There are many of us who sit in our congregations – many among us – who have physical afflictions. They have emotional trials and traumas they are going through. There are some with financial hardships that they’re going through – a whole aspect of things we can be praying about. Those are things that we should be willing to share with one another, if we are close with one another – in a personal relationship with one another. Those things are things that we should be willing to bring before God on behalf of one another as well.
Let’s go forward to James, the 5th chapter – James, chapter 5, and we’ll look at verse 13 through 18. James, chapter 5, verse 13 – it says:
James 5:13–18 – Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. So first of all, we have the responsibility of the person who is suffering to offer up prayers to God, even on their own behalf. So, it’s not a selfish thing in that way, and we are instructed: if anyone among you is suffering, let him pray. He goes on to say: Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing songs. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. This is where we get the principle and the practice of the anointing by the elders. Verse 15: And the prayer of faith will save the sick and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Verse 16 says: Confess your trespasses to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective fervent prayer of the righteous man avails much.
So again, James is saying we should pray for one another. And it’s important. Now it may be hard to understand exactly what it means to confess your trespasses to one another. That is shared on a more personal – a little more of an intimate – level. One example could be: “For 30 years – back before I was called and came into the church – for 30 years I smoked. So now I am dealing with lung cancer,” or “I’m dealing with asthma or emphysema or some other issue related to that.” You can share that with someone and say, “Would you please pray for me? I am dealing with the consequences of this and need God to intervene and to heal.” There are different things we can share with one another. And when we do, not only does God see the evidence of love in our lives as brethren when we come before Him in prayer, but we see the evidence of love among each other as well when we share these things each one another, and when we’re willing to come before God on behalf of one another. So, prayer that’s outward focused – that is contributing to our fellow brethren – actually helps contribute to the strength and unity of the body. Now brethren, when I pray for you, again, the principle of “I pray for you and you pray for me” draws us close together, because we’re intimately involved on a deep and personal way with one another. That is a positive aspect of prayer before God. So, the first spiritual discipline on our list today is prayer.
The second spiritual discipline I would like to take a look at is Bible study. Bible study. Remember, as I said earlier, prayer is one way of communication from us to God. One of the primary ways that God communicates His will and His desires back to us is through His written word. The only way we are going to know those things, and the only way we’re going to come to know and develop that personal relationship with God, and to come to know His will, is if we study His word. Let’s go to 2 Timothy, the 3rd chapter – 2 Timothy, chapter 3, and we’ll begin in verse 14 – the apostle Paul writing to Timothy – and he says:
2 Timothy 3:14-17 – You must continue in the things that you learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the holy scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. Now this is interesting, because when we look at this, we think about the holy scriptures as the entirety of what we have contained in the Bible. At the time of Paul and Timothy, what they had as the holy scriptures and the written word were what we would call the Old Testament. Those are, in fact, what Paul was saying would make you wise for salvation – so how much more the full record that we have before us now. How much more of a deeper understanding and a conviction we should have through the study of that word? Verse 16: All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete and thoroughly equipped for every good work.
So, the word of God is essential to our growth. It’s essential to the way we would structure and we would live our lives. Now, back here, in verse 16, where it says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God,” the phrase by inspiration of God comes from the word theopneustos. It is a Greek word made up of two words – theo which means God and pneustos, which means breathed or breathed out. Paul actually used this Greek word specifically to show that all scripture is not the interpretation of a man. It’s not the opinion of a man, but rather the very word of God. Scripture, in its entirety, is God-breathed and God’s spoken words. And again, in verse 16, as he said, “it is profitable for doctrine,” which is established teaching. Doctrine is what was taught to us through the written and the spoken word of God the Father and Jesus Christ. It’s what Jesus Christ taught the apostles. It’s what was preserved and taught by the apostles. And it’s what we now take and use as the core instruction and the core teachings that we have in the church today. That’s doctrine. It also says it is “profitable for reproof,” which is convicting someone of the error of their ways, and showing them where to turn, and pointing them in the proper direction. The word of God is also “profitable for correction,” which simply means to change from wrong to right. That’s what correction is. When we study the word of God, we should be self-correcting. It is not that somebody else should necessarily always read the word of God, and come to you and say, “You know what? The word says this, and you are doing that, and you need to change.” We should be self-correcting in the face of the word of God. We should be able to read the scripture and say, “Well that’s interesting. It says this here, but I’m doing that.” Suddenly, if we have God’s Holy Spirit leading us and we are a mature Christian, we should be able to recognize these things that we then need to correct in our lives. And finally, it is profitable for “instruction in righteousness,” which means God’s word teaches us to be more like God the Father and Jesus Christ. It teaches us to take on their nature and to take on their very way of thinking. It’s important when we study the word of God, that we keep these principles in mind.
What is interesting is what it boils down to, is that God’s word is revelatory. God’s word is revelatory. It reveals to us the things of God. God’s word reveals to us how God wants us to structure and to live our lives. It reveals to us the will and nature of God. It reveals to us the plan of God – the plan of salvation. And it reveals to us God’s purpose that He has for us in our lives. God’s word reveals to us answers to our prayers – answers to the problems and struggles we face. Quoting Psalm 119, verse 105, David says:
Psalm 119:105 – Your words are a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Has anyone ever been out on a trail and it has gotten dark? Pitch dark – so black you can’t see your hand in front of your face? I have experienced that. I was out on a trail one time and the flashlight went dead. Fortunately, I had a spare set of batteries with me, but honestly, for a few seconds on the trail, it is kind of scary. You can’t see a thing. You are in the woods and there is no light. The moon hasn’t come up yet. The fact is, it’s not only an uncomfortable feeling, it’s a dangerous situation to be in. The reality is, you don’t know what’s out there. You can try heading down the trail, and you might trip and stumble, hit your head on a rock. You might fall into a hole or break your leg. You might get turned around and get lost and wouldn’t find your way out necessarily. Roaming around without a light illuminating the path before us is actually a dangerous position to be in. In those cases, you want a flashlight. You want to be able to illuminate the path and see where you are going, and to get your bearings and see what lies ahead, and see what obstacles you want to avoid. David said God’s word is like that light. Again, it illuminates our path. When we study God’s word and we internalize it, it illuminates the path of life for us. It shows us where to place our feet. It shows us how to proceed in a manner that is right and proper before God. It keeps us from, you know, in the dark, running down a side trail that leads us to destruction.
Part of the illuminating light that we get from the word of God is given to us through the context of example. So we need to study the word of God to pull examples that show us how we should be living our lives. Through His word, God gives us both good examples and bad examples – so we can say, “Oh, I’d better do that. God blessed the person for doing that. That person was considered righteous.” Or, we can look at other examples and say, “I need to stay away from that. God obviously doesn’t approve of that behavior.” These examples, both good and bad, show us how we can best serve God.
Let’s go to 1 Corinthians, the 10th chapter – 1 Corinthians, chapter 10, and beginning in verse 1. Paul is going to be talking about examples. 1 Corinthians, chapter 10, and verse 1 – Paul says:
1 Corinthians 10:1 – Moreover brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. So he’s starting off here, saying, “I am writing this because I want you to be aware. I don’t want you to be unaware.” And by extension, if we are going to be aware, we have to study the word as well. It says: I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them and that Rock was Christ. Verse 5: But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. Now these things became our examples. These things were their examples. And by extension, if we read them, and we study them, they become our examples. Now these things became our examples to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. Do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” Nor let us commit sexual immorality as some of them did and in one day 23,000 fell. Nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them tempted and were destroyed by serpents, nor complain, as some of them complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Verse 11: Now all these things happened to them as examples. Examples for who? Examples for the Corinthians only? They’re for our example as well. All these things happened to them as examples and were written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore, let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.
So again, Paul said these examples were written for our admonition. So we better take notice – better take heed to what is written here so we don’t repeat the same mistakes they did. History has a way of repeating itself. People have a way of not knowing history, and not learning history, and then history has a way of repeating itself in their lives. But, if we study the word of God – the history of God’s people – the history of the word of God and what He instructs His people to live by. So, if we study it, and we internalize it, and we commit it to our hearts and minds, then we take those examples, and they have an impact on us in the way that we live our lives today.
Now the examples we find in the word of God do a number of things for us. This is why we should consider Bible study as a very, very important spiritual element. Examples in the word of God instruct us. They warn us. They encourage us. They give us hope. You could probably, if you sat down and think about it, could come up with a lot more categories than even that of what the word of God does for us. Romans, chapter 15, reflects the concept of gaining hope through scripture. Let’s take a look over there really quick – Romans, chapter 15, and we’re going to begin in verse 4.
Romans 15:4 – Whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
So, when we study into the scriptures we learn. They are written for our learning and our example. We learn about the plan of God. When we study the scriptures, we learn that God used people down through time – people who are not all that unlike you and me. He has used them for His purpose – for the purpose of carrying out His plan. And so, through that education – the fact that God has used them and He’s using us as well – that should give us hope. That should give us encouragement – when we gain that hope and understanding when we study those examples in the word of God.
Brethren, Bible study needs to be part of our regular spiritual routine. That is the way God communicates back to us. And just like prayer, we can never become slack. We can never cease from the habit of Bible study.
In our house, we actually have a tradition with the kids, where at bedtime…. Tabitha is younger, so we tuck her into bed earlier, and so we all gather into Tabitha’s room and we read the Bible. We’re in the process of reading through the Bible together as a family. I think we are somewhere around Deuteronomy 27 – in that range. So, what we do is, we all pile in there, and we open the Bible, and read one to two chapters in Deuteronomy as we’re going through. Then we turn forward and we read a chapter or two in Psalms. So, we are working our way through Psalms, and then we start back at the beginning and we work our way through Psalms again, as we’re walking through the Bible. That is simply something that we’ve chosen to do as a family that helps us and kind of keeps us on track together to do regular Bible study. It is important that we do these things and we’re in a habit of doing it on a regular basis.
Our final scripture on the point of Bible study – 1 Peter, chapter 2, and beginning in verse 1:
1 Peter 2:1 – Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy and all evil speaking, as newborn babes desire the pure milk of the word that you may grow thereby – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.
We are supposed to yearn after the word of God like a newborn babe desires the milk of his mother. For me, that kind of strikes close to home, because I remember when Tabitha was born. Darla had to have a C-section and so she was back in recovery. Tabitha was back in the nursery and was about 15 minutes old at that time. And I had the opportunity to pick her up and hold her. At 15 minutes old, her head was turned to the side, as I was holding her, and she opened her mouth, and she was looking for the milk of her mother. It was built in. It was…I don’t know if I want to say instinctual, but God has created that into babes – to desire the milk of their mother – just like we should desire the milk of the word. The process of reasoning for a young child isn’t there, but they just know that “I need that to survive.” I remember thinking how incredible it was, that at 15 minutes old, instinctually Tabitha was looking for that. Well, the same thing is true for us. We have God’s Holy Spirit dwelling in us and working with us. Should we not be desirous of the milk of the word, which are God’s words? Shouldn’t we be desirous of the understanding, and the growth, and the encouragement that we can take from these things? We should be desirous for it, knowing that it is what sustains us. It’s what gives us life spiritually. Again, we need to desire the milk of the word in such a way. Our spiritual growth and our spiritual improvement as a Christian before God are dependent on the study of His word. So, let’s study it and let’s internalize it in our lives.
The third spiritual principle to look at is fasting. Fasting. As we are all aware of, to fast means to abstain from food and drink. Honestly if you are like me, it is not the easiest of the disciplines to exercise. In fact, honestly, I have a little trouble with it on occasion. When we fast, we afflict our souls, and in a very short period of time we become hungry and we become thirsty. Our knees get a little wobbly, and our minds get a little rummy, and, for me, a migraine sets in, and our body just begins to crave nourishment. That’s what happens when we fast.
Honestly, the most familiar day of fasting to us is the Day of Atonement, because that’s the day the Bible commands us to fast. We are commanded to fast on that day, but that doesn’t mean that is the only day that we are to fast. In fact, quite the opposite. The Bible shows that regular fasting is expected of the people of God. It should be a regular discipline that we exercise on a regular basis. And if we do, we will come to understand and to see the benefits that come through fasting. Let’s go to Matthew, the 9th chapter – Matthew, chapter 9, and verse 14. We see this concept of fasting and how it would be expected of the disciples of Jesus Christ.
Matthew 9:14 – Then the disciples of John came to Him – meaning Jesus Christ – saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them and then they will fast.
I thought of explaining this in my own words, but honestly, the Forerunner Commentary, I thought, states it very well. So, I’d like to quote to you from the Forerunner Commentary – it’s comments on Matthew, chapter 9. It says: “The bridegroom’s friends would not think of fasting while he was with them. For them it was a time of festivities and rejoicing. Mourning was not appropriate. When the bridegroom left them, the festivities would end and the proper time for fasting and sorrow would begin. While Christ, the bridegroom, was with His disciples, it was a time for joy. In addition, since Jesus was with them, they had no need to draw closer to Him through fasting. After Jesus died, the disciples fasted when appropriate.” So the point is, once Christ was gone, His disciples would fast regularly. The would make fasting a part of their regular spiritual routine. By extension today, you and I are disciples of Jesus Christ and fasting must be part of the regular routine for us as well.
In Matthew, chapter 6, Jesus Christ gave His disciples instructions on how to fast. So let’s go to Matthew 6, and in looking at that, we can see that clearly He expected that they would fast. Matthew, chapter 6, and let’s go to verse 16.
Matthew 6:16 – Moreover, when you fast do not be like the hypocrites with a sad countenance, so they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly I say to you they have their reward – again, it is the praises of men. Verse 17: But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
Fasting should be a personal experience between us and God – again, very much like our personal prayers. We don’t need to advertise it to the whole world for the glory and recognition of men. Everybody doesn’t need to know that we’re fasting. The only recognition that truly matters is the recognition of God. When we fast, it is a good idea to actually pick a time when we truly have time to devote to prayer and Bible study, and thinking on the things of God when we fast. It can be difficult to fast and go to work and carry out your regular daily routine. We all need to find where it is that we can fit fasting into our lives. Sometimes we simply just have to stop, and say, “I need to make this a fast day.” But fasting, really, if we’re going to get the best benefit from it, we should do it when we can get some quiet time to spend in prayer with God and study His word. Fasting draws us closer to God so we need to be in a position to put our full and direct focus on fasting.
As physical beings, fasting is meant to be a humbling experience. We fast for humility. I can tell you it works. Because the fact is, when you are feeling miserable, when you’ve had all the strength taken out of you, and you’re weak and struggling, fasting has a way of removing pride. It has a way of humbling us before God.
What is interesting is, to be honest with you, for a number of years, I had trouble fasting on any day but Day of Atonement. The Day of Atonement was the only day of the year where I would fast. That is honest. For a number of years, that was the case, because, honestly, on the Day of Atonement, it would be such a rough go. I’d have a migraine. Half the time I would be visiting the porcelain man and just struggling, really, on the Day of Atonement fasting. So I really had kind of an opposition to taking the time and fasting in that way. Well, a number of years ago, once I decided I needed to change this – “I need to alter my fasting routine” – and I fasted on a day that wasn’t the Day of Atonement, it was the best fast I’d ever had in my life. I finished up and said, “Hey, I feel great.” Darla was fasting with me and she said, “Ugghhh.” She usually does pretty good on Atonement. The fact is, that honestly, for me, fasting on any other day but Atonement has worked out pretty well. It is on the Day of Atonement that I struggle the most with fasting. So, I just throw that out there. Don’t let it stop you. And it wasn’t appropriate to let me be stopped by that either.
When we submit ourselves to God, He gives us what we need. It doesn’t mean the affliction isn’t there. I would also point out that the physical difficulties and problems that people do have, you do have to use wisdom, you have to use proper discernment and understanding. Know what your limits are – if you can, in fact, fast, and to what degree you can fast. God does indeed honor those things. Before I got to rambling, I think my point was fasting gives us humility. In Psalms 35, verse 13, King David said:
Psalms 35:13 – I humbled myself with fasting. So, fasting, again, is a means that brings us into a position of humility before God.
Let’s go to Ezra, the 8th chapter, and see another quick fasting example. Ezra, chapter 8 – Ezra following Chronicles – Ezra 8, and verse 21. I’m not going to try to go into the details of the context necessarily. I just want to draw out this scripture on principle. But in Ezra 8:21, it says:
Ezra 8:21 – Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions.
So, again, we fast in order to humble ourselves before God. As we are humbled, that puts us in a position to draw closer to God. We can see that principle as we jump forward now to James, the 4th chapter. James, chapter 4, and verse 6 – again, drawing close to God through humility. James, chapter 4, and let’s begin in verse 6:
James 4:6-8 – But He gives more grace. Therefore, He says, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Therefore, submit to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, oh you sinners and purify your hearts, oh you double minded.
God resists the proud. The fact is, pride is something that is a stumbling block. It’s a barrier of separation in our relationship with God. His word says that God resists the proud. So brethren, when we come before God, we need to come before Him in humility, because pride is something that just doesn’t work in that relationship. Humility, on the other hand, does work. God doesn’t resist the humble. It says, “He gives grace to the humble.” He desires to have a relationship with the humble. He says, “You humble yourself, you draw close to Me, and I will draw close to you in response.” As a result of that close relationship then, we can begin to see, and to understand, and to gain the mind of God – the mind and the will and the purpose He has for us in our lives.
Now in our spiritual lives, we can use fasting for a number of purposes. We can fast to seek God’s will and God’s guidance on a particular issue. Fasting for strength to overcome a personal struggle is also a good use for fasting. We can also fast to beseech God’s mercy in the lives of ourselves and others. Fasting brings us closer, again, in a relationship with God, and sometimes we need that extra push that comes through fasting in order to align ourselves in humility with the thinking and that relationship with God.
Now, a key to remember about fasting is, that we can never approach fasting with the attitude of trying to push God into a corner. We should never approach fasting with the attitude of trying to force God into doing something for us. We need to be fasting, if we’re going to do it about a specific issue, we need to make sure we’re not getting into the business of dictating to God. Fasting is to seek God’s will. It’s not to try and impose our will on God. We fast to seek God’s will, not to impose our will on Him.
So again, fasting is a very important spiritual discipline and should be in our spiritual tool belt, so to speak. We shouldn’t neglect and we shouldn’t fail to utilize the important principle of fasting.
Spiritual principle number four is meditation. So far, we have prayer, Bible study, fasting, and now meditation. Meditation is something that can be a bit of unknown to us. Oftentimes, if you watch television or you watch movies, meditation has a little bit of a mysterious flare to it. It’s hard to know what exactly is going on, and oftentimes might involve some kind of humming or chanting to align oneself with a deeper inner self or some higher plane of existence or understanding.
One of the most widely practiced forms of meditation in our society today is transcendental meditation. Now transcendental meditation originates from customs of ancient Hindu religious practices. But again, it’s gaining more and more ground and it’s widely practiced, even in this country. Transcendental meditation is a form of meditation that claims to allow the mind to settle inward beyond thought – to experience the source of thought itself, to go further and further inward, and it’s to achieve a state which is referred to as pure awareness.
When we talk about meditation from the word of God, this isn’t what it’s talking about. The fact is, God’s word speaks of meditation in a very different way. The kind of meditation that Christians are instructed to engage in involves deep and personal thought into the words and principles of God. It’s not some sort of trance or some sort out-of-body experience, but something we engage in where we deeply think about – deeply consider, and mull over and meditate – on the words and the principles of God.
When we engage in prayer, Bible study and fasting, we are well on the way to engaging our mind on the things of God. So meditation, then, takes and focuses us in a little bit higher, or a deeper, level and a deeper understanding of the words of God. We need to meditate on the principles of God for the purpose of understanding and the purpose of growth. When we meditate on the particular words of God, we think about it intently. We try to understand why it is these words were even spoken to begin with. We try to understand how it related to the people in the Bible at the time it was given. How does it relate to us in our lives today? When we meditate, we focus on how do we take these principles and apply them in our daily lives? Again, meditation, just like the other principles, get used on a very personal basis.
Now an example for that could be that, if we meditate on the laws of God, we could ask, “Why did God establish them?” We can ask, “How do God’s laws apply to me? What is the benefit going to be in my life, if I live according to the laws of God? How can I go through my daily life – in my daily routine – and implement the words and the way of God? These are things we should take time to study and think about and really meditate deeply on.
When we meditate, we should have some quiet time away from distractions – maybe unplug the phone, and go into a back room where you’re not disturbed. There are other times we can meditate throughout the day as well, but, again, it’s taking the time to actually stop our regular routine and simply do it. Just stop and take the time to think about the things of God.
I had a unique opportunity this week for a little bit of meditation. I was out on the job and one of my customers had some gutters they wanted cleaned out. My wife is laughing at me. He had some gutters on his shop he wanted cleaned out, and one side of his shop roof is about 25 feet off the ground. So I looked at that and I said, “Okay, my ladder can reach that” – because the other side of the roof. the pitch came down to about 35 feet. So, I put the ladder on the low end, and climbed up that side, and checked the gutters out, and they looked good. The only way to check the gutters on the other side is to go up over the roof and down the other side. And as I am heading up for the peak, a big gust of wind comes – this was on Tuesday – we had a wind storm in Spokane. So a big gust of wind comes, and I am worried about getting blown off the roof, but a bigger worry was a huge crash that I heard behind me. I turned around to see that the top of my ladder was no longer peaking over the edge of the roof. My customer was gone at work and I was a little too high to jump, to say the least. So, I finished my job. I checked the gutters and I’m standing there thinking, “Now what am I going to do?” It is about eight hours before my customer gets home from work. I don’t have any help with me, which I heard about later. Fortunately, I had my phone in my pocket, because usually I leave it in the truck when I am working, so that saved me. I had my phone. I called Darla and she was willing to come rescue me. And I had time for meditation. I sat down on the roof and, honestly, I was thinking about this sermon. I was thinking specifically about meditation. So, I thought well I guess this is meditation. I was going over some of the scriptures in my head, and about then, the wind started blowing again, and it started raining, and it started sleeting, and started worrying about sliding off the roof. So I sat down and the water was running down my pants. I think a wiser man would have sat up closer to the peak before the river starts flowing down the roof. Anyway, my wife was very kind, and after she went to the salon, and hit the expresso stand, she came and bailed me out.
We need to stop and we need to have quiet time to come before God and just really pray and study. Meditation can be a combination of prayer, study, think about these things – pray about them some more, and study some more, and think about these things. It is really an important part of the cycle of our spiritual discipline.
In the book of Philippians, the apostle Paul gives us an outline for the type of things we should meditate on. It is a good starting place for us. Let’s go to Philippians, chapter 4, and verse 8 – here the apostle Paul says:
Philippians 4:8 – Finally brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just; whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue, or anything praiseworthy, meditate on these things. So Paul says, “If you are going to meditate, think on those things that are profitable for you.” Think on those things that build you up, and strengthen you, and give you more of the mind of God. Think on those things that are encouraging – again, that just simply build us up.
Meditation can be a positive thing or a negative thing. You can get into the habit easily – and we need to resist this habit – you can get into the habit of meditating on the negative. It can affect very much our outlook and impact the way our thought processes work. For example, if you get up in the morning, and you think, “Ah, today is going to be a miserable day at work,” and you spend the morning getting ready, thinking how miserable the day is going to be, and get in the car and you drive to work, thinking how miserable the day is going to be, you get to work, and punch in the clock, and think, “This is going to be a miserable day,” the reality is, it is probably going to be a miserable day at work. In many ways, our focus and our attitude affect the outcome of our day. So, we need to meditate on things that are positive, that are encouraging, that strengthen and build us up to godliness. So Paul said, “Meditate on these things.”
You probably recognize this as our focus scripture from a few weeks back. And honestly, the point of the focus scripture program is to help us meditate on things and think on things during the week that are helpful, and productive, and grounded in the truth of how we live our lives. Let’s go to Psalms, chapter 1 – King David wrote about meditation.
Psalms 1:1 – Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of the sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is on the law of God and in His law, he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth fruit in his season and his leaf shall not wither and whatever he does he shall prosper.
So, when we meditate on the law of God, we’re going to internalize it. And when we internalize it, it means, then, we’re going to turn and live it. When we live it, God’s blessings will be poured out upon us. It is a cause and effect. King David is a prime example of someone who loved the written word of God and who meditated on it, and dedicated himself to learning and meditation in that way. Let’s go forward to Psalms, the 119th chapter – Psalms 119, and begin in verse 11 – King David said:
Psalms 119:11 – Your word I have hidden in my heart that I may not sin against you. Here King David is saying, “I have looked at your word, taken it and internalized it” – and it probably did include memorizing it – but he is saying, “I have taken Your word, and meditated on it, and internalized it, and it’s become part of my being, and who I am, and how I live, and how I conduct my life.” Jumping forward to verse 14:
V-14-16 – I rejoice in the way of your testimonies, as much as all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and contemplate your ways. I will delight myself in your statutes. I will not forget your word. David is saying, “I love Your ways. I meditate on Your ways and I keep Your ways all the day.” Come forward now to verse 97 – still in Psalms 119, verse 97:
V-97-98 – Oh how love I Your law! It is my meditation all the day. You, through Your commandments, have made me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers for Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients because I have kept your precepts. David is saying, “God, I’ve meditated on Your ways, I’ve meditated on Your words, and I have more understanding. I have more wisdom.” That’s what God is offering to us as well. He is offering us the opportunity to grow in knowledge, and wisdom, and understanding in His truth and His way of life. As David said, that comes through the meditation and study of the ways of God and the word of God.
After the death of Moses, Joshua was given the responsibility of leading the children of Israel into the Promised Land, and to give him every advantage possible, God gave him some very specific instructions as well. Let’s go back to Joshua, the 1st chapter – Joshua, chapter 1, and verse 7 – God speaking to Joshua.
Joshua 1:7 – Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do all the law which Moses, My servant, commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, and you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may observe to do all according to what is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous and you will have good success. So, to Joshua God is saying, “Remember My words. Talk about them. Meditate on them. Internalize them. Make them a part of your being. If you do that, then it is going to go well with you, and I’ll be with you and bless you.” Those are instructions that we would do well to heed as well.
So, meditation, brethren, is an important aspect and important spiritual discipline that we must maintain.
Those are the traditional four spiritual disciplines – prayer, Bible study, fasting and meditation. There is one more I would like to throw out just very briefly. You can do more study on it on your own, if you like. I have heard this discussed, and would agree, it is very beneficial and can be considered a spiritual discipline as well – and that is fellowship.
Fellowship is an important discipline for us, because the church God has established has not been a bunch of individuals out doing their own thing. God has established a body that is bound together by the power His Holy Spirit. As that body, we have to learn to function together in unity and learn to function together in harmony. Fellowship is essential to building that unity. We need to take opportunity to come together whenever possible – at Sabbath services and at each other’s homes afterwards. We need to come together in Bible studies. We need to come together at potlucks. Just simply having each other together – in your home or at socials – whatever way we can find to do these things. It’s important that we have fellowship. It’s important to build those bonds between one another. Because God put each person in the body as it pleases Him. And yet, He put us together in a body so that we would be interdependent on one another. He gives us gifts and strengths to individuals, not for the benefit of just themselves, but for the benefit of all. God puts us together and we need to learn to grow together. We need to learn to come together and draw strength from one another in fellowship. Just one scripture on this – Hebrews, the 10th chapter – Hebrews, chapter 10, and verse 24. The author of Hebrews encourages us in verse 24. He says
Hebrews 10:24 – Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who has promised is faithful. Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much more as you see the day approaching. If we’re going to stir each other up to love and good works, we need to come together. We need to interact. We need to build a relationship together, so that we can be a benefit to one another. People don’t generally take well to a complete stranger coming up, and trying to stir them up into something that might be corrective or something that might cause you to be disadvantaged in some way. The fact is, we need to build a relationship between one another, and then, when we have a relationship of strength, we can come to one another and build each other up in strength, offer support for one another, and even, if necessary, correction for one another.
So fellowship, in the word of God, is an important principle and it should be important in our Christian life as well. Again, it strengthens and encourages us, and it binds us together as a family.
In conclusion brethren, engaging ourselves in the principles we talked about today strengthens our relationship with God. Our spiritual disciplines also help us become more like our elder brother Jesus Christ and to develop that mind that we are supposed to have growing and developing in us. We can’t afford to be neglecting even one of our spiritual principles. The fact is, they go hand in hand. We can’t have one and two or two and three. We need to have them all. We need to have prayer, Bible study, fasting, meditation, fellowship – and that’s just for starters. That is where the basis for our relationship with God and our relationship with one another needs to begin. As we go forward through this winter and we look forward to the spring holy days, it’s a time when Satan tries to batter people about. It’s a time when spiritual storms are on the horizon and we can’t afford to be sunk. We can’t afford to be blown off course. We can’t afford to be destroyed by our adversary, Satan the devil. We need to come together. We need to exercise the spiritual principles of God. We need to be strong when we sail into that spiritual harbor of the spring holy day season. So brethren, let’s work at becoming spiritually fit. Let’s be using the spiritual disciplines God has given us, and let’s exercise ourselves unto godliness.