Summary: This sermon is an overview of the Spiritual Disciplines and why we need them in our life
The Disciplines of Connecting to God
James Bryan Smith tells the story of Craig, a zoo architect, who took part in a course focusing on becoming like Christ through the practice of spiritual disciplines and began to notice some real changes in the way he behaved toward others. One day, he and business partner were flying back to the US from a business trip in Germany, when they got stuck in Atlanta. They were told that their flight would be delayed and 1 hour became 2 and 2 became 4 until it was announced all the flights had been cancelled. The anger level of the concourse rose precipitously. All of the passengers got in long lines to rebook their flights. Craig and his business partner watched as every person ahead of them spoke harshly to the woman behind the counter. When Craig got up to the counter, he said, “I’m not going to be mean to you.” She said softly, “Thank you.” He was rebooked on a flight the next day and after his business partner said, “Craig, I’ve known you for a long time. A year ago, you would have been enraged by what we went through today and you would have lit into that woman.” Craig said, “You know, you’re right. But I’ve changed. I am a person in whom Christ dwells and I live in the kingdom of a God who loves me and is caring for me. I’m frustrated but I’m still at peace. We’ll get home tomorrow.” His friend said in amazement, “I’m not sure what you’ve been eating or drinking but you’ve really changed.” And James Bryan Smith writes, “It was what Craig had been doing and thinking for the last year that brought about the change…. You can call these activities “spiritual disciplines but I prefer to call them soul training exercises….Athletes understand the necessity of training. They run and lift weights and practice over and over so they can perform naturally, easily and with strength in competition….when we engage in spiritual disciplines as soul training exercises, we are doing so to change how we live.” And it changes who we are.
In this series, we’re talking about “Connecting with God.” The Christian faith isn’t so much about what you believe as it is a personal relationship. The Proverbs writer puts it this way: Iron sharpens iron.” Who you spend time with changes who you are and how you live. Methodism is not so much about what you believe but how you practice the faith. John Wesley identified 5 practices for growing in our faith. He called them Means of Grace. He didn’t invent them. In fact, these are practices were handed down from both Judaism and the early church. But he considered them to be gifts from God because they help us connect to Jesus and grow our relationship to him, transform us into His likeness and be obedient to God. They enable us to make ourselves regularly available to God and to the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
John Wesley defined the means of grace as “outward signs, words or actions ordained by God,…to be….channels whereby He (God) might convey to men…grace.” He believed practicing the Means of Grace was essential to connecting to God, following Jesus and fulfilling the Great Commandment to “the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all of your strength … You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31). But here’s the catch. Unless you regularly practice the Means of Grace, you limit God in your life. God cannot give you what you do not put yourself in a position to receive. It’s kind of like a lamp in your living room that never gets plugged in. It may look good and you can turn the switch but there’s no power. You cannot take the next step in the faith journey without God’s grace empowering you.
Now some Christians may do one or two Means of Grace but not all five and the result is they receive some grace and some power but not all that’s available to them. The great saints of the faith who have made an incredible kingdom impact throughout the centuries were able to do so because they practiced all of the means of grace. There’s nothing strange or mystical about these but there is something very powerful: God will transform you so that you are increasingly living in His power, a power that is not your own and you will increasingly find yourself able to accomplish the kinds of things that only God’s power is able to accomplish. It will simply feel natural – like a part of you. Because when God is working in you and you are working in his power, you don’t have to make an effort to obey him – you’ll just find yourself doing it. In other words, it’s not just a part of who you are but it becomes who you are.