Pastor Craig Carter
How many of you have made a resolution to get in better physical condition this year? How many of you have already broken that resolution? How many of you have given up on the idea long ago and resigned yourself to being flabby and out of shape?
I must confess I probably haven’t been in this poor of physical shape since I was about six months old – when I could barely crawl…and I’m not far away from that now!
It’s not that I don’t believe it’s beneficial and it’s not that I don’t desire to be. The reason I’m not in very good physical condition right now is because I have not been exercising and I have been eating poorly.
When I came to Lynn Haven six years ago, I was regularly running 3-4 miles, 3-4 times a week. I’m now down to 3-4 dashes to the refrigerator each night. The absence of good exercise and dietary habits has caused me to fall short of my desired goal of being in shape.
During our Fall 2019 sermon series we explored how to become great in God’s eyes. We found that God uses great Christians to accomplish great things and thus bring great glory to His name.
Along the way, we observed that great Christians engage in some common practices. They think great thoughts, pray great prayers, dream great dreams, make great sacrifices, and take great risks, among other practices.
I hope that series convinced you that God desires each of us to live great Christian lives. And I’d hazard a guess that most, if not all, of us aspire to such greatness. However, many of us fall woefully short of the ideal.
What is true of our physical condition also applies to our spiritual development. We will never reach our goal and become great Christians unless we develop great habits because Great Christians develop great habits.
It’s what Paul is talking about in his first letter to his young friend, Timothy: “…Train yourself to be godly. “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it. This is why we work hard and continue to struggle, for our hope is in the living God, who is the Savior of all people and particularly of all believers. (1 Timothy 4:7b-10 NLT)
We must train ourselves and work hard to be godly. I like the way it’s stated by Eugene Peterson in his modern paraphrase: “Exercise daily in God — no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever. You can count on this. Take it to heart. This is why we’ve thrown ourselves into this venture so totally. We’re banking on the living God, Savior of all men and women, especially believers.” (The Message)
Can you identify with that image he calls “spiritual flabbiness”? The solution is to exercise daily in God by living a disciplined spiritual life. And like an athlete in training, we are to “throw ourselves totally into the venture.”
Great Christians don’t become great in God’s eyes by accident or wishful thinking. Great Christians develop great habits that enable them to reach the target of becoming like Christ.
What the great philosopher, Aristotle, once said of life in general applies to the spiritual realm: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.”
The person you and I will be in the future will be determined by the habits we practice today. Do we want to be fit or flabby? Healthy or sick? Great or merely good Christians?
What are the habits that lead to spiritual greatness? There are many of them – they are what are commonly referred to as the spiritual disciplines. A few of the most basic ones are: Give, Pray and Study. Think of it like a spiritual GPS system.
A GPS device is useful because it shows your current position in relation to where you want to be and then gives you a path to follow. In a similar way, great habits enable us to get to where we want to go – spiritual greatness. When put into practice on a regular, consistent basis they promote spiritual growth.
Let’s explore the three parts of the GPS system that will help us get to where we want to be spiritually:
Two types of giving are practiced by great Christians – we must give up and we must give out.
As Christians, there are some things we must give up. Jesus put it this way: “You cannot become my disciple without giving up everything…” (Luke 14:33 NLT).
We must be willing to sacrifice anything and everything in order to follow Christ. Think about the athlete who gives up leisure time to work out or a person with potential heart problems who gives up eating certain foods. I like what Woody Allen once said about this subject: “You can live to be 100 if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be 100.”
As Christians, what specifically do we need to give up? I’m personally not big on providing lists of “do’s” and “don’ts,” so I’ll simply share some guidance given to me by my friend and fellow pastor, Rurel Ausley.
While serving his first appointment in Silas, Ala., he went to visit a man at the man’s home. During the course of their conversation, the man asked, “Preacher, do you think it’s all right to be a Christian and still drink?” When Rurel replied, “Do you really want to know my opinion or are you trying to tell me that you drink?,” the man answered, “I guess I just want you to know that if you drop by here unannounced again, you may find me having a beer or a glass of whiskey.”
Inspired with divine wisdom, Rurel said, “That’s okay. But will you do me a favor? If or when God tells you to quit drinking, will you obey Him?”
The end of the story: The man got saved and poured his liquor down the drain. The testimony of that action caused the rest of his family to come to Christ too.
What do you and I need to give up? In general: when in doubt, get it out (of your life). More specifically: ask God and He’ll let you know what needs to go.
Before moving on, let me mention that there may be some good things that need to go. I have recently found myself on the nightly “sweet and salty” roller coaster (i.e. chips followed by ice cream followed by crackers followed by cookies…). I think we’d all agree that chips, ice cream, crackers, and cookies are very good … otherwise we wouldn’t be tempted to eat them, would we? But if I’m going to lose some weight and get into shape, I need to give them up – at least for a while, and definitely in the quantities I’ve been consuming them.
Sometimes before we can develop a great habit we have to give up a bad habit. But we may also have to give up a good habit to make room for a great one. Is there anything that is getting in the way of your relationship with the Lord and preventing you from becoming the person He wants you to be? It could be a hobby, recreational activity, TV watching, secular reading, social media, etc.
To pursue greatness in God’s eyes, there are some things we have to give up. There are also some things that we must give out. To be a Christian is to give, to be a great Christian is to give greatly. Here’s how Jesus once described it:
“Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full — pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.” (Luke 6:38 NLT)
In The Message translation, Jesus’s words are paraphrased this way: “Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back — given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.”
What we’re talking about here is Christian stewardship. God has given greatly to us, so we, in turn, are to give greatly to Him and others.
In particular, we are to share our time, our talents, and our treasures. When it comes to time, if we don’t schedule it, it won’t happen. When it comes to money, if we don’t budget it, it won’t be given.
Great Christians develop great habits when it comes to sharing. They put God first on their calendars so they can invest their time and energy in His Kingdom’s activities. They put God first in their checkbooks so they can support His work through their tithes and offerings.
If you’re not already doing so, resolve in 2020 to develop great habits in these areas. Don’t let other people’s agendas determine how you spend your time and energy. Don’t let advertisers determine what you contribute to the cause of Christ. Ask God and then be disciplined in the giving of your time, talents, and treasures.
Great Christians develop great habits when it comes to what they give up and what they give out.
As I’ve said many times before, Christianity is not so much a religion as it is a relationship. If a good relationship requires good communication, then a great relationship requires great communication.
Conversely, no communication implies no relationship. Consider how ridiculous it would be for me to say, “I’m good friends with Tiger Woods.” Yes, I may know all about him and his family, I may hang pictures of him on my walls, and I may even go to see him play golf; but that doesn’t mean I have a relationship with him. If I’ve never spent time with him or even spoken to him, I’m not his friend.
Many Christians know all about God – they talk about Him, they go visit His house, they read about Him – but they don’t actually know Him because they’ve never personally talked with Him. Of course, the way we do that is through prayer.
As I shared in the Becoming Great series, when I look around and observe folks who I consider to be great Christians, without exception, they are people of prayer. They put into practice Paul’s admonition to the Thessalonians: “Pray all the time.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17 The Message)
I don’t know about you, but for me, prayer is not an easy activity. It requires discipline, it takes effort, and it has to be formed by habit. It seems to me that the great Christians make prayer a priority by starting and ending their days in conversation with God.
In order to do that, some of us need to win the battle of “mind over mattress.” We must develop the habit of getting out of bed when the alarm goes off so we can spend some quality time with the Lord before our day begins.
Our goal as great Christians is to become like the Great One – God Himself. That requires us to spend time in His presence so we may learn from Him. Great Christians develop great prayer habits. If you’re new to this activity, start small – 5 minutes per day, then work up to 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or longer.
Achieving greatness in any field requires hard work and diligent study. Great pilots study flight manuals, great engineers study science books, great physicians study medical journals, great preachers study other people’s sermons.
Why should we think the Christian life would be any different? It’s why Paul told his young protégé, Timothy: “Study and be eager and do your utmost to present yourself to God approved, a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analyzing and accurately dividing [rightly handling and skillfully teaching] the Word of Truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15 Amplified Bible)
Great Christians develop great study habits. Of course, the primary object of our attention is God’s Word – the Bible. As United Methodist Christians, we believe the collection of sacred writings of the Old and New Testament contains all that is necessary for salvation and is authoritative in all matters of faith and practice. How familiar are you with it and what it teaches?
What are your Bible study habits like? Could they be called “great?” Good? Fair? Poor? Non-existent? You’ll never get to your intended destination unless you follow the map’s directions.
Here’s a final thought on the subject from J.D. Walt (former Dean of the Chapel at Asbury Theological Seminary and current director of their publishing arm, Seedbed). In his January 1st devotional, he suggests that the two most important words of the day are the first and last. Then he asks, “Who gets them in your typical day? He goes on to confess that Instagram is usually his first word and Netflix the last. For me, it’s checking email in the morning and falling asleep watching sports at night.
He contends there is nothing inherently evil about Instagram or Netflix. Instead, he says, “The problem is me and the misspent priority of my heart.” So, he has decided to shift his priority and give the Word of God the first and last word of each day. In conclusion, he writes, “Our lives consist not in the big decisions and banner events dotting our calendars but in the little things we consistently do day after day after day. We are what we do…every single day.” (Sound familiar?)
Further, he writes: “So I have now determined that my day will be framed, surrounded with, and enclosed by the Word of God. First Word. Last Word. God’s Word.” Then he quotes Isaiah 40:8, “The grass withers and the flowers fail, but the word of God endures forever.”
So maybe God’s Word needs to take center place in our lives. What do you think would happen if you and I, all of us at Lynn Haven United Methodist, gave Scripture the first and last words in the remaining days in 2020? I don’t know, but I’d sure like to find out!
If you need a starting point, consider joining us on our 12-week journey through Genesis which starts today, January 5. This plan provides five readings per week, January – March. Download the plan and sign up for our corresponding weekly email at mylhumc.net/grow-in-Christ.
You and I have at our disposal, a Spiritual GPS System that can guide us toward greatness because great Christians develop great habits in terms of giving, prayer, and study. In order for that to happen, some of us need to get rid of some misguided habits. The 16th Century Dutch theologian, Erasmus, described it this way: “A nail is driven out by another nail. Habit is overcome by habit.”
To assist you in this process I’m going to ask you to engage in a little exercise. Take a notecard or sheet of paper and write down the habit(s) you need to break and the habit(s) you need to develop. Place it somewhere where you will see it every day.
It’s commonly held that it takes about 21 days to develop a habit. So over the next three weeks, with God’s help, attempt to break a habit and develop another one. We’ll be praying for you along the way.