The Paradox of two Personalities
I would like to focus this morning on one verse
23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Last week we saw Jesus calling Peter the Rock on which He would build his Church.
This week we see the opposite.
Peter the Rock has now become now become a Stumbling Stone
As I was preparing I wondered how is this possible and I recalled some words of St Paul in Romans 7:19:
For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing.
As a Christian I find myself almost split in two personalities.
I want to do the will of God yet I find myself not doing it.
One thing I like about the Bible is the honesty we find in it.
I can identify with Peter the Great apostle.
On the one hand he wants to genuinely follow Jesus and on the other hand his human nature lets him down.
When the cock crowed twice – Peter’s human nature had won. He had denied his Master before the serving girl of the High Priest and twice further.
Yet in early part of Acts, the godly Peter comes out as he fearlessly preaches the Gospel in front of the High Priest and the Sanhedrin
Keith Green, the late husband of Melody Green who wrote the hymn: “There is a Redeemer” once said this:
“Going to Church no more makes you a Christian than going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger”
What makes you a Christian is the desire to FOLLOW Jesus.
So what exactly does following Christ entail?
There are a number of things but I would like just to look at two
1. Putting the things of God ahead of our desires and
Let’s look at the first
1. Putting the things of God ahead of our own personal desires
Sounds good doesn’t it – but what exactly does that mean?
There is certainly something of self-denial there.
Being a Christian is not easy, because we adopt standards that are not this world’s standards.
Story: There was a vicar two years ago who hit the national press when he advocated that if people are poor they should steal from the supermarkets.
But that is not following Christ because it breaks the 8th commandment:
“Thou shallt not steal” (Ex 20:15)
It can cost us to follow Christ and to do what is right.
The second action I believe following Christ entails is prayer. Because prayer is talking with God.
And the Christian faith is all about RELATIONSHIPS
Jesus prayed a lot.
We read in Mark how Jesus prays in a Solitary Place
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Mark 1:35
Prayer requires a lot of commitment
There are two types of prayer that I think we can get a handle on.
The first is simple prayer and the second is prayer of the ordinary
1. Simple Prayer
Strange title – what is simple prayer.
Dom Chapman summed it up well when he said: “Pray as you can, not as you can’t”
Many people think you can’t pray until you have the right MOTIVATION and SERIOUS and IMPORTANT THINGS to trouble God about.
But simple prayer is childlike prayer
We all come to God with mixed motives
As Richard Foster puts it
“The Truth of the matter is, we all come to prayer with a tangled mass of motives – altruistic and selfish, merciful and hateful, loving and bitter. Frankly this side of eternity we will never unravel the good from the bad…”
For me that was a real eye opener – because God loves us because we are his children. He knows our motives – we can’t kid him – and all he wants us to do is to come to him!!
Simple prayer is talking to God as we might our best friend
Foster gives good advice:
Don’t give up praying because you are struggling with evil, anger hurt etc. Rather pray while you are struggling with evil.
Simple prayer can also be self-centred prayer – a conversation of the heart.
Foster writes this:
In the beginning we are indeed the subject and centre of our prayers. But in God’s time and in God’s way a “Copernican revolution takes place. Slowly, almost imperceptibly there is a shift in our centre of gravity. We pass from thinking of God as part of our life to the realisation that we are part of his life.”
2. Praying the Ordinary
The other type of prayer that I can really appreciate is what Richard Foster calls the prayer of the Ordinary
Richard Foster writes this:
Many of us live in a kind of inner apartheid.
We segregate out a small corner of pious activities and then make no spiritual sense out of the rest of our lives.
We become so accustomed to this way of living that we fail to see the contradiction in it.
The scandal of Christianity in our day is the heresy of a 5% spirituality.
We overcome this modern heresy by Praying the Ordinary.
Story: I would like to tell you a similar story of an old beautiful Christian lady, Mary who Maddy and I went to visit when we were living in Leven (1998/1999).
The Vicar, Martyn Dunning had asked us to visit Mary because she was housebound and unable to come to church.
She had one son who did not visit her. However, her ex- daughter in law (for her son had got divorced) did come over regularly and some friends from Church too.
We started having a Bible Study together and she picked the book of Isaiah!
We also learnt her story – how she was suffering from arthritis and a weak heart.
Her husband Larry had died a good number of years earlier
But she did not moan – rather she was such an encouragement to us.
She would tell us she was in pain if you asked how she was - but she didn’t dwell on it
And slowly she went downhill – and died just after we had left the village, Martyn rang us up to tell us that Mary had gone to be with her Lord.
She lived an ordinary life and died an ordinary death.
She accepted her deterioration with grace and gentleness – and still had a concern for those in the old people’s home - Abbeyfield House who did not know the Lord.
The point is that God dwells in the daily things and the ordinary and not just in the spectacular and heroic.
God is with us while we are cooking, hoovering (excuse the misuse of the trademark), washing up – emptying the dustbin
Foster says this:
“If we cannot find God in the routines of home and shop, then we will not find him at all. Ours is a symphonic piety in which all activities of work and play and sex and sleep are holy habitats”
Most of Jesus’ life was tied up with the ordinary – growing from childhood to manhood in the Carpenter’s shop – and the Gospel really only record the last 3 years of his life – his ministry years.
In praying the Ordinary – my vocation is part of my Prayer of the Ordinary
The secret is learning to pray in our work.
We cook to the glory of God, we wash up to the glory of God – and in the example Foster uses you dig ditches to the glory of God
Metropolitan Anthony Bloom once said: A prayer makes sense only if it is lived”
We also pray the ordinary when we engage in the “Prayer of Action” as Jean-Nicholas Grou – a French Jesuit Priest and Author who lived from 1731-1803 - calls it.
Grou said:” Every action performed in the sight of God because it is the Will of God and in the manner God wills is a prayer and indeed a better prayer than could be made in words at such times.”
It is easy to be involved in Church but not committed to being a disciple of Christ.
It is easy to believe in Christ intellectually and give him an hour of your time on Sunday but that is not enough.
Jesus calls each one of us to follow him 24/7.
He doesn’t want us just to be “involved in Church” – he wants disciples “committed to follow him”
What is the difference you might ask.
Let me give you an analogy (which I am sure you have all heard before).
In a good cooked English breakfast, bacon and egg
the hen is involved but
the pig is committed .
Following Christ – being a disciple of Christ should impinge on the way you live
We live in a post Christian culture. Choosing to lead a Christian life is not easy. It runs contrary to our culture.
Jesus recognised this when he said in Mt. 7:13
13"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Most, if not all, of us here today are Christians and so, in some way or another we have chosen to follow the Christian way of life.
So I would like to ask the question:
If you decide this morning to heed Jesus words and follow him, what level will your commitment be?
We have three choices in our level of commitment - so far as the will of God in our lives is concerned.
1. We can decide to put His will foremost in our lives some of the time
2. We can decide to put his will foremost in our lives most of the time
3. We can decide to put his will foremost in our lives all of the time.
So let us bow our heads and pray
Lord Jesus, you call everyone of us to follow you – and yet we know that the interests of self will get in the way.
Send your Holy Spirit among each one of us to stir us up in our complacency and make us truly your disciples.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord Amen