INTRO.- ILL.- A patient said to a nurse, "Nurse, I’ve got a bad case of arthritis. There is also a buzzing in my ears. I have a sprained ankle. My thumb is out of joint, and I see spots before my eyes."
The nurse replied, "Wow! You must be awfully healthy to stand all that pain."
As we age we begin to experience more pain, but we certainly don’t want it! We wish and hope for some kind of remedy or relief.
ILL.- An elderly gentleman went to see a doctor for a checkup. On finishing the examination, the doctor said, "You’re as fit as a fiddle. You’ll live to be eighty."
The man said, "But I am eighty years old!" The doctor smiled and said, "SEE, WHAT DID I TELL YOU?!"
Most of us would like to live to be eighty, that is, if we could be healthy at that age.
ILL.- Doctor to patient: "Sorry, but right now you’re not in good enough shape to get in shape." That’s probably true for many people.
ILL.- A doctor said to his patient: "I want you to follow this diet, and in a couple of months, I want to see three-fourths of you back here for a checkup." DID YOU GET THAT?
I did some figuring and 3/4’s of me would be plum skinny!
ILL.- Mark Twain once said, "The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like and do what you’d rather not." In some ways, this is true.
ILL.- It is said that the percentage of American’s who own running shoes but don’t run is 87%. What does this mean? It may mean that we want to look athletic, but we don’t want to do anything about it.
When it comes to our health, most of us would like to improve. We’d like to lose weight, get fitter, feel better, have more energy, etc. There is no doubt about it. Americans need to shape up! Most Americans are overweight and out of shape. Americans, for the most part, are not healthy.
Can this change? Can we change? Can we get better? Healthier? Yes, better health is attainable for almost everyone. But it must be a change of the lifestyle, not this quick, overnight weight loss program that so many people are looking for. A change of lifestyle must take place for any person to become healthier.
The kind of lifestyle that brings good health is: more vegetables and less meat. More fruit and Less fat. More water and less soda. More walk and less talk. More walking and less driving. More stairs and less elevators. More exercise and less sitting. More work and less laziness. More energy and less tiredness.
It is attainable. Better health is attainable. But remember, it has to be a change of your lifestyle!
I Tim. 4:8 "For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come."
Better physical health is great, but better spiritual health is even better! Growing spiritually will help you here and now and will give you a home in heaven! You get the best of both worlds!
And better spiritual health is attainable. But again, it has to be a change of our lifestyle. Everyone can grow spiritually or in their relationship to Christ. We are encouraged and challenged to grow in Christ.
II Pet. 3:18 "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ..."
Peter is saying, "YOU do something to grow in your relationship to Christ."
Christian growth is not automatic. We don’t grow like flowers in the spring. It’s more like someone putting out a garden. There has to be planting, watering, cultivating, etc.
Christian growth comes when we water and cultivate our own lives. When we attend to Bible study, prayer, worship, and do Christian things. If these things are not present in our lives, there will be no growth!
Sometimes we get a bit aggravated with those who don’t seem to be growing in their relationship to Christ. Other church members, maybe even our leaders, or it could be our own family members.
ILL.- Thomas a’Kempis, the German scholar, said, "Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be."
Before we go preaching to others, we need to preach to ourselves. Before we insist on progress in others, we must insist on it in ourselves. I am painfully aware of this truth. I am here to preach to me more than to you!
PROP.- Let’s think about some steps to spiritual improvement.
1- Examination (examine your life)
2- Execution (execute your plans)
3- Exhuastion (exhaust your energy)
I. EXAMINATION (EXAMINE YOUR LIFE)
I Tim. 5:24-25 "The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not cannot be hidden."
Some things are obvious and some are not so obvious.
ILL.- I think it was 1993 and I was on my way back to Southern Illinois after visiting my mother in Webb City, MO. Springfield, MO, is only 70 miles from Webb City and Joplin. I pulled into Springfield to get some gas. After fueling my car, I got back in it and it wouldn’t start. It was as dead as a doornail.
Another man in the station helped me start my car with his jumper cables. I drove down the street and had my battery checked. She was dead. She had a dead cell and there was nothing that could be done to revive her. IT WAS OBVIOUS. I NEEDED A NEW BATTERY.
ILL.- Not long ago my car kept spitting antifreeze on the driveway and sometimes, quite a bit. It was obvious that I was losing it somehow, but it was not obvious where it was coming from. Not until I removed the plastic overflow container and saw a crack in the underneath side.
Some things are obvious and some are not so obvious. Some times our spiritual condition is obvious. Some times it is not.
ILL.- In Luke chapter 15 we have the parable of the prodigal son who wasted his money in wild living. He ended up in the hog lot eating with the pigs. HIS SPIRITUAL CONDITION WAS OBVIOUS. He was a mess.
ILL.- A few pages later in Luke chapter 19 we have the story of Zacchaeus, the wealthy tax collector. Who knows? He might have been a very nice guy, but the indication is that he had been a covetous man and a selfish man. His spiritual condition was probably not so obvious to people or perhaps, even to himself.
What is your spiritual condition? You may know or you may not know. Many times we are blind to our own condition.
ILL.- For the most part, I want to believe that I have a heart for people. I care about people. I love people, but my son Shane tells me that I don’t listen to him, which means to him that I don’t have much compassion.
Of course, we all know that we can act one way with family and another way with other people. Discerning where we are spiritually is not always easy to do.
I may think I’m quite spiritual, but someone else may see me as just a windy preacher!
II Cor. 13:5 "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves."
ILL.- In the old days when a car engine had a knock in it we used to put a stick to the engine where we thought the noise was coming from and the other end of the stick to our ear. Often, we could determine where the noise was coming from and have a pretty good idea what was causing it. These days, you can take your car to a diagnostic center where they can hook it up to a computer/analyzer and tell you what is wrong with it.
But how can we discern our spiritual nature, our spiritual condition? We can listen to sermons or Bible studies or we can go to the great analyzer Himself and check out His owner’s manual.
II Tim. 3:16 "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness."
Brothers and sisters, never stop discerning. Never stop analyzing. Never stop examining your own life. Spiritual progress can never be made without examination.
ILL.- Every Monday morning I listen to my Sunday sermon. I do it to scrutinize myself...to listen for mistakes...to know how I sound to you. Why? BECAUSE I WANT TO IMPROVE. I WANT TO DO THE BEST I CAN FOR THE LORD AND FOR YOU! And sometimes I am very disappointed with myself. But improvement won’t come unless I continue to examine myself. And more important than examining my sermons is the examination of my life.
II. EXECUTION (EXECUTE YOUR PLANS)
ILL.- British sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein was once visited in his studio by the eminent author and fellow Briton, George Bernard Shaw. The visitor noticed a huge block of stone standing in one corner and asked what it was for. "I don’t know yet. I’m still making plans." Shaw was astounded. "You mean you plan your work. Why, I change my mind several times a day!" "That’s all very well with a four-ounce manuscript," replied the sculptor, "but not with a four-ton block."
Obviously, some things require more planning than others.
Job 42:1-2 "Then Job replied to the Lord: ‘I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.’"
Gen. 1:1 "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
God had a plan. He wanted to create something beautiful. He created heaven and earth and He created you and me. Something beautiful. Yes, we are. Yes, His creation is beautiful.
How long did it take for God to plan creation? I have no idea.
Is. 55:8-9 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."
I do know this, however. When God planned for creation He didn’t stand around with his thumbs in his pockets. He said, "Let there be light and there was light." He executed His plans. He went to work. He created. He invented. He brought things into existence out of nothing.
People who make progress in life plan for it. God had a plan and He executed His plan.
ILL.- Wilma Rudolph was the 20th of 22 children. She was born prematurely on June 23, 1940 in St. Bethlehem, Tenn. She weighed 4 1/2 pounds. The bulk of her childhood was spent in bed. She suffered from double pneumonia, scarlet fever and later she contracted polio. After losing the use of her left leg, she was fitted with metal leg braces when she was 6.
At the age of 9, she removed the metal leg brace and began to walk without it. By the age of 13 she had developed a rhythmic walk, which doctors said was something of a miracle. That same year she decided she wanted to become a runner. She entered a race and came in last place.
For the next few years every race she entered, she came in last. Everyone told her to quit, but she kept on running. One day she actually won a race. And then another and another and another. Eventually this little girl, who was told she would never walk again, went on to win three Olympic gold medals in track.
At the 1960 Rome Olympics, Wilma Rudolph became "the fastest woman in the world" and the first American woman to win three gold medals in one Olympics. She won the 100- and 200-meter races and anchored the U.S. team to victory in the 4 x 100-meter relay, breaking records along the way.
Wilma Rudolph died of brain cancer at age 54 on Nov. 12, 1994 in Nashville. Her extraordinary calm and grace are what people remember most about her. Bill Mulliken, a 1960 Olympics teammate, said of Wilma Rudolph: "She was beautiful, she was nice, and she was the best."
Wilma Rudolph once said, "My mother taught me very early to believe I could achieve any accomplishment I wanted to. The first was to walk without braces."
Brothers and sisters, I believe that Wilma Rudolph was a woman with a plan! She made progress in life because she had a plan and she executed that plan!
Ps. 20:4 "May he give you the desires of your heart and make all your plans succeed."
Prov. 16:3 "Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed."
There can be little or no progress made in life unless we plan for it. And if the Lord is included in our plans no telling what can happen!
What are your plans in life? What are your plans for spiritual growth? Do you want to know more of the Word? Do you want to become a teacher some day? Do you want to become a leader in the church? Do you want to become a soul winner, leading people to Christ? Do you want to become a lover of people?
Without a plan we will make little or no progress. If we don’t plan our work and work our plans, we won’t get very far.
III. EXHAUSTION (EXHAUST YOUR ENERGY)
ILL.- Leonard Ravenhill tells about a group of tourists visiting a picturesque village who walked by an old man sitting beside a fence. In a rather patronizing way, one tourist asked, "Were any great men born in this village?" The old man replied, "Nope, only babies."
No one is born great. Some people are born into wealthy families which may give them a good start. Like John F. Kennedy, for example. But no person is born great. They may be born with some good genes, but abilities and talents have to be worked at before any kind of greatness ever comes. And this includes people like Michael Jordan and other great athletes.
It takes work, hard work for people to get anywhere in life. It takes never-ending work.
ILL.- Our work hours are nothing to the birds. It is said that some birds work in the summer nineteen hours a day, clearing the crops of insects.
The thrush gets up at 2:30 every morning. He rolls up his sleeves and goes to work at once, and he never stops till 9:30 at night. Nineteen hours. During that time he feeds his voracious young two hundred and six times.
The blackbird starts work at the same time as the thrush, but he lays off earlier. His whistle blows around 7:30 in the evening, and during his seventeen-hour day he sets about one hundred meals before his kiddies.
Brothers and sisters, what can we conclude from this? Could it be that hard work is "for the birds"?! Hard work is "for the birds" to some people, meaning they don’t want any part of it.
But most of us have learned that we don’t get very far in life at anything we do unless we work hard. This holds true for work, play, and our relationship to God. In order to make progress in life in anything we must learn to work hard. This may also mean to work longer hours.
ILL.- According to John Silling, a Purdue University entomologist, the ant is an exemplary worker. He said, "Basically the ant’s entire life, which can range up to seven years, is spent working."
Prov. 6:6-8 "Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest."
Hard work pays off. Working longer hours pays off. Working to exhaustion can be good for us. Especially, in the spiritual realm.
ILL.- Someone said, "We work at our play. And play at our worship." We have a tendency to work at hard at everything except our worship or our relationship to God. But spiritual growth will not come unless we work hard at it, work longer at it, and work to the end of our lives.
ILL.- Norman Vincent Peale wrote one time: "While waiting to see Herbert Hoover, I asked his secretary how the chief was. ‘Well,’ she answered, ‘he’s in there working hard. He works about seven or eight hours a day.’ ‘But he’s eighty-five,’ I protested. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘but he doesn’t know that.’"
ILL.- When Pablo Casals reached 95, a young reporter threw him a question: "Mr. Casals, you are 95 and the greatest cellist who ever lived. Why do you still practice six hours a day?" And Mr. Casals answered, "Because I think I’m making progress."
Some people give up far too soon on work. Especially, when it comes to working for the Lord.
Ps. 37:25 "I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread."
It pays to grow old serving the Lord. God blesses His serving people even in their old age. Growing old doesn’t mean that we have to "grow cold" in our work for the Lord.
II Tim. 4:7 "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."
Paul fought the good fight of the faith to the end of his life. He kept running the race all his life. Some people quit the faith race far too soon.
In order to make spiritual progress we must continue to exhaust ourselves in living for Christ.
Rev. 2:10 KJV Jesus said, "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." We need to live out the faith all the days of our lives.
ILL.- R. E. Olds, Ransom E. Olds lived from 1864 to 1950. He made the Oldsmobile and the Reo cars. About 1902 he announced a new model which he called his Farewell Car. He implied that this automobile was the ultimate, that after it, nobody could ever bring improvement to the motorcar.
How wrong he was! There is always more work to be done. There is always room for improvement!
ILL.- I stepped our scales last week and I weighed 168 lbs. That’s more than I have weighed in years. I’m out of shape and overweight! And then I stepped on God’s spiritual scales and discovered I was still overweight and out of shape!
No matter where we are in life, there is always room for improvement. Please, please don’t become complacent or indifferent and say, "I’m ok. The world’s ok. Everything is fine. No need to change a thing."
We all need to improve in certain ways and the most important improvement we can make is spiritual improvement.
"But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."