Well, last week we began this new series – Healthy Habits – A Guide to the Spiritual Disciplines. And maybe that doesn’t immediately strike you as something very exciting – the word “discipline” rarely invokes thoughts of joy and happiness…. But one of the key things that we took away from last weeks’ message was that:
Just like how we tend to grow physically unhealthy and unfit if we don’t do anything to stay in shape – in the same way we tend to grow spiritually unhealthy and unfit if we don’t do anything to stay close to God. Having that sinful nature means that our natural tendency is to grow distant from God – rather than grow closer to Him.
And Jesus tells us that the key to living a full and abundant and fruitful life is to stay close to Him. He tells us in John 15:4
4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5
On our own, we can’t produce that fruit of the Spirit like we talked about last week. It’s not our effort to “be a good Christian” that does that. That’s the job of the Holy Spirit. He works in us to produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
But He only does that when we (the branches) stay connected to Jesus (the vine). And so these spiritual disciplines are the practices what we do so that we do remain in Him. These are the things that build up and strengthen our relationship with God, so that more and more the Holy Spirit can help us become more like Him.
And again, as I mentioned last week – this has nothing to do with our salvation. We aren’t saved because we do these things. These aren’t the things that bring us forgiveness and life. The Bible is very clear that we are saved only by putting our faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Romans 10:9-13 tells us…
If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. 11 As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” 12 Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. 13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:9-13
So none these other practices that we do – reading our Bible, fasting, going to church, giving our offerings, serving each other – none of these things determine whether we are saved or not. And God doesn’t love us any more when we do these things – and He doesn’t love us any less when we don’t. He just loves us!
When Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave three days later – He accomplished everything that was necessary for our salvation. He did it all. There is nothing left for us to do, but believe and accept it.
But now that we’ve done that – now that we’ve believed and accepted what Jesus did – our response to that salvation is to get to know this God who has saved us! I don’t know about you, I want to know more about who God is and what He’s like. And I find that, the more I learn who God is, the more I want to be like Him. I don’t want to live a life full of all this sin junk that is messing up my life. I want to live in the freedom and the joy and hope and peace that comes when I live like Jesus.
And so that’s why I want to remain in Him. That’s why I want to draw close to Him. I want to see that fruit in my life. And practicing these disciplines is what helps me do that. These are the healthy habits that I want to develop so that I stay close to and connected with my Heavenly Father – and through the Holy Spirit, I can become more like Him.
And I think that most of us would have that desire as well. So while we may not love the word ‘discipline’ – I think the benefits we receive because of it makes it all very much worth while. So let’s begin looking at the first of these spiritual disciplines.
Now I want to start with a bit of a disclaimer. The Bible never gives us an exhaustive, comprehensive list of all of the spiritual disciplines. So you’re not going to find a passage that lumps them all together. But you will find these disciplines mentioned and even commanded several times throughout the Scriptures. Most of the time though, they are talked about either one at a time or perhaps there will be two or three lumped together. Several practices naturally go hand-in-hand like prayer and fasting for example, and so sometimes those are talked about together. But for the most part, we just find these commands and examples scattered throughout the Bible.
As I read several different books and articles on all this, I found several different lists of the disciplines – some had as few as just 8 different ones – other lists had as many as almost 20 different disciplines. So there’s no hard and fast rule for what’s considered to be a spiritual discipline and what is not. The key criteria is “Does this help me abide in Christ? Does it help me know him and experience his presence?” That’s what we’re looking for here.
There are some very obvious disciplines that have been practiced by almost every follower of Jesus over the ages – things like studying the Word of God, prayer, and worship. Everybody knows about these things – Christians have been doing them for millenniums! But then there are some that are a little less common, but still very valuable – things like silence and solitude, fasting, or confession. These things – particularly in our day and age – seem a little more rare. Although as we go through some of these things, I think we’ll find that they shouldn’t be so rare.
So there is a whole variety of these tools that help us abide in Christ and that help us know and become like Him. And the one I want to start with is actually one of the less common ones.
If you ever take a theology class, one of the first things that you’ll probably learn is that God has revealed Himself to us in two kinds of ways. One of these ways is called General Revelation and the other way is called Special Revelation.
Special Revelation is where God has directly intervened in human history to reveal Himself in some way. And there are a few different ways he’s done that. There are several times in the Bible were God personally shows up and talks with people – God talking with Abraham is a good example. Moses and all of his conversations with God is another.
Special revelation also includes the times when God gives people dreams or visions. Joseph and Daniel both had dreams and visions from God. John recorded the entire book of Revelation after God showed him a vision of the things yet to come.
And on that note, the itself Bible is also considered to be a major part God’s special revelation. God miraculously guided the authors of all the different books of the Bible to write the message that He wanted them to write – while at the same time allowing them to use their own writing style and personality. We’ll probably talk more about that next week when we focus on God’s Word. But that’s certainly part of God’s special revelation.
And of course, the ultimate form of special revelation is Jesus Himself. To have God come and live with us and among us was a huge act of special revelation. When that little baby Jesus was born in a manger in Bethlehem, God was revealing Himself to us in a completely new and amazing way! So all those things are considered to be ‘special revelation’.
General Revelation is how God has revealed Himself (not by direct intervention), but simply by what we can see and observe in all of God’s creation.
I found a good definition of general revelation on the internet at gotquestions.com
General Revelation is… “the revelation of God to all people, at all times, and in all places that proves that God exists and that He is intelligent, powerful, and transcendent.”
~ S. Michael Houdmann – GotQuestions.org
If you’ve ever gazed up at the stars or watched a mother with her baby or just sat and watch the sunset even, it quickly becomes obvious that you can learn a lot about God simply by observing his Creation.
Paul even tells us that no one has an excuse for not knowing God because the evidence for God as seen in Creation is overwhelming. Paul writes in Romans 1:20…
For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. Romans 1:20
Creation makes God’s existence and his power obvious to us. The more we study God’s Creation, the more it reveals God’s intelligence, His power, and His transcendence. And that’s why I would suggest to you that perhaps one of the most simple practices of the spiritual disciplines is just observing and contemplating God’s Creation. We see so much of God in what He has made.
King David spent a whole pile of time out and about in God’s Creation and it would certainly seem to me that He probably spent a lot of hours just looking up into the stars at night while he was either watching his father’s sheep or camping out with his armies. And look what he writes in Psalm 19…
1 The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
The skies display his craftsmanship.
2 Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make him known.
3 They speak without a sound or word;
their voice is never heard.
4 Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
and their words to all the world.
I don’t know if you’ve spend a lot of time star-gazing, but I tell ya, when you look up and see all those twinkling lights and you imagine how huge those stars must be and how far away they are – and then, when you consider that God just created them all of out of nothing – I mean, WOW! That sure gives you fuller appreciation for who God is. If this was night time, I’d love to take us all outside and just look up into the stars for a while. But since we can’t do that, I’ve found a short little video that will help blow your mind next time you go star gazing…
Now this isn’t made from a Christian point of view or anything, but it sure gives us some amazing perspective on who our God is.
Doesn’t that blow your mind? Our God created all that! Psalm 33 tells us that…
6 The Lord merely spoke,
and the heavens were created.
He breathed the word,
and all the stars were born.
That’s amazing! We can’t even comprehend that kind of power! Isaiah 40 says…
25 “To whom will you compare me?
Who is my equal?” asks the Holy One.
26 Look up into the heavens.
Who created all the stars?
He brings them out like an army, one after another,
calling each by its name.
Because of his great power and incomparable strength,
not a single one is missing.
27 O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?
O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?
28 Have you never heard?
Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
29 He gives power to the weak
and strength to the powerless.
30 Even youths will become weak and tired,
and young men will fall in exhaustion.
31 But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40: 25-31
It is so incredible that the same God that created all those billions of massive stars – the same God that created all those billions of massive galaxies – that God loves you. That immeasurably powerful God who created all of that, loved you so much that He was willing to be born as a human baby (born in a manger!) and to die on a cross so that you could be with Him forever. That’s the most incredible thing that you will ever hear!
And of course, we’ve heard that message before. In fact, I preach that same message in different ways almost every Sunday. But I’m guessing that after we took some time to observe and contemplate God’s amazing Creation, suddenly, our understanding and appreciation of that message changed. I think we have a deeper understanding of how amazing it is that the Creator of the universe loves us! I think King David experienced that same thing. In Psalm 8, David writes:
3 When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
the moon and the stars you set in place—
4 what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?
I can’t speak for you, but I think that after looking into the night sky and considering the power and the wisdom of God, I’m a lot more inclined right now to submit to His authority. I’m a lot more inclined to trust Him in every area of my life. I’m a lot more inclined to do whatever it takes to honour Him with my life.
And that’s the point of this discipline. When we regularly take the time to observe and contemplate God’s Creation, it helps remind us of who this God is that we’re in relationship with. It deepens our understanding of Him. It increases our trust in Him.
Even Jesus, when He was teaching about the character of God, pointed people to look at God’s Creation to better understand who God is. I’ll give you an example. Matthew 6:25… Jesus is teaching here about trusting God in every area of life. He says in verse 25…
25 “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?
28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?
31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
Jesus is teaching us a fantastic truth about God and he directs our attention to nature to illustrate his point. Look at the lilies of the field – Look at the birds of the air – all of creation shows us glimpses of who God is and what He’s like. We just need to take the time and make the effort to take a look and consider the implications.
One of the professors at Dallas Theological Seminary said…
“Nature is God’s picture book for man, much like the picture books we give to children who are not yet able to read. The pictures tell the same story the Bible tells with words.” ~ Bob Deffinbaugh – Dallas Theological Seminary
And certainly we can’t replace the Bible with nature. I’m not suggesting that we can shelf the Bible and just go camping instead. Although there are many people who actually do that. But nature is not a replacement for the Word of God. There are many things that nature simply doesn’t reveal about God – and that’s why we have special revelation. But I think we’re wise to study both. God’s creation vividly illustrates God’s character in a way that words don’t.
So on a practical side of things, how do we make this practice of observing and contemplating God through His Creation – how do we make that a regular part of our lives?
Well, I think the answer to that is probably as varied as the people in this room. I don’t know that I can give you a specific way that’s going to work best for you. I can tell you what works well for me and I can certainly give you some suggestions of what you can try, but it probably comes down to a bit of trial and error on your part – trying different things to see what methods work great for you.
For example, if you’re a night owl, maybe instead of watching binge-watching that new netflix show, if the night is clear and somewhat warm, maybe you want to enjoy a hot chocolate out on the deck and just watch the stars for a few minutes. Maybe imagine the moment when God just said the word and all the stars appeared….
Or if you’re a morning person, perhaps you want to get up and go for a walk along the edge of town – listening to the birds or watching the sunrise. The quiet early mornings are great time to think about the God of peace. There’s that verse that says “Be still and know that I am God.” Early mornings are a great time to do that.
Or maybe on a lazy Sunday afternoon, you just want to go for a drive out in the country with your family. Go throw rocks in the river or even head out to Banff if you want! Marvel at the majesty of the mountains or be in awe at the power of the river when its threatening to over-flow it’s banks. Those are great pictures of God.
But of course, it doesn’t have to be that involved either. I bought my wife some flowers the other day, and as I was reading my Bible one morning, I just spent a minute or so just looking at these flowers. And for a few moments I just thought about the beauty that God has created in this world and the creativity He must have to come up with all the amazing variety that we see. And if God does that for flowers, how much more does he do that for people? And I had a whole little thought process that went along with that that just made me marvel at and appreciate God for who He is and what He’s done.
And that’s really the bottom line for whatever you do to apply this practice of observing and contemplating God through His Creation. Whether you’re looking at the stars, or just enjoying the smell of fresh muffins or listening to great music or watching some puppies play – in all of those things we can ask ourselves, what does this tell me about God? How does this remind me of the goodness and the greatness of God?
So if I were to give you some homework for this week – that question would be it. I would challenge you to, at some point in every day this week, to take a moment to observe something… anything in God’s creation and just ask the question “How does this remind me of the goodness and the greatness of God?”
And just that simple practice of looking to God’s Creation for reminders of God’s goodness and greatness will give us a clearer and deeper understanding of who God is and what He’s like.
I hope this week will be full of those reminders for all of us.