Summary: the topic of spiritual disciplines doesn't excite many people. Yet if you've ever been worn out, ready to quit, they might just be for you.
“Connected: Playing by the Rules”
Is. 30:15-22; Daniel 6:1-16; Matt. 11:28-30
If I had told you last Sunday that this morning we would focus on spiritual disciplines, I doubt I would have seen many of you doing cartwheels or standing and applauding. The concept just doesn’t have great appeal nor does it set our spines to tingling with excitement. In fact, the topic can sound downright boring. Yet have you ever been tired, worn out, ready to give up, in need of rest? Then some words about spiritual disciplines might just be the right prescription for you.
So let me begin with some EXPERIENCES OF DISCIPLINE. Putting flesh on the concept helps us understand it better. First, I want to share my PERSONAL ILLUSTRATION. When you and the Consistory graciously offered me a Sabbatical earlier this year, I immediately knew that one of my goals was to take some steps back towards renewal and refreshment. I wanted to re-establish a structure to my life that would, regardless of my circumstances or situations, allow the Holy Spirit to flow into and through me. This was, in fact, a major goal for the month of April. During that time I wanted to establish what is called A RULE OF LIFE. In the words of Peter Scazzero, “It is a call to order our entire life in such a way that the love of Christ comes before all else…The word rule comes from the Greek for 'trellis.' A trellis is a tool that enables a grapevine to get off the ground and grow upward, becoming more fruitful and productive. In the same way, a Rule of Life is a trellis that helps us abide in Christ and become more fruitful spiritually. A Rule of life, very simply, is an intentional, conscious plan to keep God at the center of everything we do...The starting point and foundation of any Rule is a desire to be with God and to love him.” (1)
So during the month of April I worked at setting up a routine of disciplines and actions that would serve as my trellis. It was then that Is. 30:15 captured me: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” In returning to God and resting in Jesus one finds wholeness; that enables a quiet confidence and trust that produces greater strength to walk through the circumstances and situations of life. It is in returning, rest, quietness, and trust that we can affirm our stability in life – in the words of the Heidelberg Catechism (Q&A 28), “We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing will separate us from his love. All creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they can neither move nor be moved.”
When my Sabbatical ended, I was refreshed and rested, and ready to return to the challenges and activities of ministry. I was confident that my newly built trellis would continue to support my ongoing growth. Little did I know then all the changes that would occur in staffing and programming during these last few months. Little did I know then what personal and family circumstances and situations would call for my attention. Little did I know then that many of my ambitious post-Sabbatical plans would be put on hold because of all these circumstances and situations. Little did I know how hard it would be to keep the trellis in place – and I confess that my rules and structures have at times been shaky. But I affirm today that the trellis works. “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.”
I’m not alone. I share just two of many BIBLICAL ILLUSTRATIONS. We just read from DANIEL. Daniel’s Rule of Life included daily times of prayer to God. The Babylonians knew this was the source of his integrity, wisdom, and power; they also knew the only way to bring him down was to stop him from praying. So they tricked the king into passing an edict making such prayer illegal, punishable by death in the lions’ den. When the edict was passed, Daniel did what he always did – he prayed. He followed his Rule of Life. It led him straight into the lions’ den where God shut the mouths of the lions and preserved his life. As someone has said, the lions couldn’t eat Daniel because he was all backbone! “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.”
JESUS also lived by a Rule of Life. He often went apart to rest and pray. It was so evident that this was the source of His power and strength that the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. As Bruce and Kathy Epperly state, “(Jesus) invited them to move from anxiety about many things to experiencing peace in all things by following the one God in the many adventures of life. To harried followers then and now, Jesus suggested an alternative way of life, grounded in trusting God's presence and seeking God's realm in every situation.” (2) “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” It might just be the prescription for you.