Summary: Part 4 in series The Company We Keep, this message makes the case for why spiritual formation is critical and discusses the difference between training to obey Jesus and trying to obey Jesus.
The Case for Spiritual Formation
The Company We Keep, prt. 4
Wildwind Community Church
May 23, 2009
John Ortberg asks us to consider what it would be like to be doing what we do every night – sitting on the couch eating Twinkies and potato chips – when suddenly the phone rings. You answer it and, to your surprise, it is the US Olympic Committee. You have been chosen to compete in the marathon for the US Olympic team. Yes you! Twinkie eating, potato-chip munching, TV-watching you, going to the Olympics! Oh, you are so excited. You’re going to the Olympics. Millions of people will be watching. You can’t wait to tell your friends.
But wait. You can’t just show up to the Olympics and run a marathon. You’ve never run a marathon before, you don’t know the first thing about it. How goofy, what were you thinking? First thing the next morning you head off to the library and check out a stack of books on marathon running. You read about famous runners, marathon or otherwise. You memorize the life story of Steve Prefontaine. You change your name to Steve Prefontaine (or Stephanie). You buy every t-shirt you can find with one of his quotes on it, then you have a bunch more custom-made. You change your email signature to an inspirational quote by Bruce Jenner. And of course, since you’re a TV kind of person, you rent Chariots of Fire and watch it a hundred times. You subscribe to Runner’s World. You start hanging out with Cindy Perkins, following her to the store and buying the same shoes she wears. You start saying stuff like “Be the change you want to see in the world,” and “Man imposes his own limitations, don’t set any.” You memorize Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” You are pumping yourself up. Never has there been a US Olympic runner who was more pumped up and enthusiastic than you. Never has anyone been so determined to win. You are working as hard as you possibly can to make this dream a reality. You’ve left no stone unturned. With one small exception. As you stand there on the day of the race with the other runners you notice that their bodies look like cucumbers – firm and lean – and yours looks – well, kind of like a Twinkie – kinda squishy and soft. For a second you wonder if maybe instead of doing all that reading you should have gone out and tried to run a little bit. But you put it out of your mind. You say, “Sure, I haven’t actually done any running, but I want it more. I have the drive. I’m in it to win it. I’m ready to be the change and to not set any limitations. I can do all things through Christ.” And the more you repeat this, the more excited you get. Suddenly the gun goes off. It’s race time. You and all the other runners take off. I’ll let you take it from there because I think you know how this ends.
What’s wrong with this story? What’s wrong is thinking that if you learn a lot about marathon running, you could just show up and run a marathon by trying really hard. When that gun goes off, all the education, all the information, all the inspiration on the planet is not going to amount to anything beyond about 50 yards if you have failed to include dedication to the kinds of activities that will enable you to run this race. See, you might have followed Cindy to the store, but you failed to follow her to the gym. It is not in the store, but rather in the gym, that you become the kind of person who is capable of running marathons. Inspiration and education, in fact, are only valuable when they are used in conjunction with practices known to actually make it possible for you to run. The error was in choosing trying over training. Trying won’t get you very many things that matter much. Steady training, however, will surely get you where you need to go.
Most of us live the Christian life by trying rather than by training. We read Christian books and magazines. We buy “Christian” shirts and listen to Christian music. We listen to sermons, given by people we think might be successful in this area and we hope some of that rubs off on us. We even read the Bible, but we read it the same way we read other books – for information. But without engaging in the practices that will make us into the kind of people who can actually love our enemies, actually pray for those who persecute us, actually live free from worry, actually release bitterness toward others, etc., the Bible reading has about the same effect as the running magazines. Again, the information is valuable only if we are engaging in the training that will enable us to do what we need to do.