Developing Spiritual Strength

02.suzy-favor-hamilton We've been looking in this sermon series at how we might better order our private world. We've looked first at motivation–being called vs. being driven, then at the use of time. Last week we explored how we might develop and renew our minds to think differently and think theologically. This week, we look at how we can develop spiritual strength–how we might train our spiritual lives for the marathon of life.

 The passage we focus on this morning is Paul's Letter to the Corinthians and knowing the background helps us here. Corinth, of course, was a cosmopolitan city in the ancient world, sitting on an Isthmus through which much of the commerce of the Roman empire passed. Corinth was also famous for holding the Isthmian Games–like the Olympics. Writing to the Corinthians, Paul used metaphors from the games to talk about how he had developed spiritual strength and endurance and to encourage them to do the same. Paul used this metaphor in several of his letters, including 2 Timothy, where Paul says that all those who run well, all those who “exercise self-control,” all those who “do not run aimlessly,” all those who discipline their bodies and become master of them — will be given the laurel wreath, the prize, the glory! Everyone has an opportunity to gain what Paul describes at the end of his life as a “crown of righteousness” (2 Timothy 4:8). It’s a crown, or a prize, that God will give him, he says, because he has “fought the good fight, … finished the race, … [and] kept the faith” (4:7).

 He also says that his is a prize that the Lord will give him not only, but “all who have longed for his appearing” (4:8) (emphasis added).

 To the Corinthians, he argues, however, that winning is going to take a lot more than “long[ing] for his appearing.”

 To be a winner, he says, you need to train and run with determination. “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training,” he notes (1 Corinthians 9:25, NIV).

You all have a chance to win, but not all of you will.

Oh, you’ll get to the Big Show, you’re already entered in the race. No question there. But will your life, your race, be about anything else?

Here, then, is Paul’s message: It matters how you live your life! It matters how you run the race! It matters how you prepare and train and conduct yourself.

You can’t just get to the event and congratulate yourself for showing up. The hard part is just beginning. In fact, the apostle points to four factors that can influence the race of our lives–four avenues toward building spiritual strength.

The first is self-control. “Athletes exercise self-control in all things” (9:25). A winner is someone who is able to control the self. She or he holds the reins and can think clearly when under stress or temptation.

If self-control is important in sports, it's even more important in our private world. The self does our bidding, and not vice versa. It’s an important concept: Peter mentions it in a list of virtues (2 Peter 1:5ff). Paul includes it in his list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians (5:23).

Someone with control of self is able to say “No” to the self. That person is able to eat one potato chip, is able to complete a task although tired and bored, is able to observe social, moral and ethical boundaries in the commerce of life, is able to delay or defer or even deny gratification. A person who has self-control is a person who is going to go a long way down the track.

Self-control also means being able to do the right thing at the right moment, when the pressure is on. When an athlete performs well at a critical moment, we call them a “clutch” player. Clutch players are able to slow the game down, think through their options, and calmly execute.

When I was growing up, my hero was Roberto Clemente, the hall of fame right fielder for the Pirates. Clemente was one of the best clutch players in baseball history, always giving the timely hit or making the impossible throw. I so wanted to be like him. I used to put on my Roberto Clemente batting helmet and pick up my bat with “21” on the knob and stand out in the back yard with the transistor radio on, imitating everything he did. I had the batting stance down! I wanted to be the one up to bat with two outs, a 3-2 count, bases loaded, bottom of the ninth, behind by a run and, like Roberto, make that key hit.

 But what was most interesting about Clemente was that his clutch performances extended off the field, too. He was a person who would do the right thing when it needed done, like ferrying supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua—which cost him his life in a plane crash. Clutch players, people who exercise self-control, do the right thing no matter what it costs.

 How does one achieve self-control? The first step in that is thinking outside of ourselves. Spiritually speaking, one of the best ways we can work out of a self-centered way of thinking is to engage in prayer.

Prayer turns our focus to God and opens us to listening to God. That's what prayer really is. Many people are uncomfortable with prayer because it seems a bit unnatural, but maybe even more because prayer forces us to admit where we're weak. Athletes try to turn their liabilities into strengths and that's what prayer does for us.

 I've never had much success with prayer as an "activity." You know, fold your hands, bow your head, close your eyes…that's just not where A church member once quoted to me an old African proverb that says, "If you really want to pray, move your feet." To me, that means prayer is more a way of life than an activity. I pray best when I'm walking or when I'm reading because I tend to access my spirituality through my mind. Others might find themselves feeling better by being in a quiet place or focusing on a list of people and concerns. Prayer is really about intentionally putting ourselves in the presence of God–however that works for each of us.

 I think we all need some instruction in how to pray. Jesus' disciples asked him to teach them how to do it, so we should, too. That's a whole sermon series in and of itself! I've read several books over the last few years that address the issue of prayer. If you're wrestling with how to pray, like I have, then I'd invite you to check one of these out (I'll list them on the blog) or give me a call and we'll work on it together. Or, better yet, find a friend or mentor who has a dynamic prayer life and pick their brain (and spirit) for awhile. There's no better teacher than a good role model!

 One of the other ways to achieve self-control, though, involves others. We all need accountability to someone else–people who we can trust and with whom we can share our struggles. I'm very fortunate to have a great spouse with whom I can be fully transparent, as well as a couple of great friends who I can always count on to hear my deepest thoughts and put them in perspective. Knowing that I'm accountable to them helps me keep my head about me when temptation or frustration rear their ugly heads.

A second aspect of building spiritual strength, according to Paul, is a sense of purpose. “So I do not run aimlessly” (9:26). Paul’s saying here that we’ve got to be in it to win it. Without purpose, you’re not going to get very far, or if you do go far, you’ll arrive and not know where you are.

Eighty-seven percent of Americans own running shoes but don’t run. Why? They may lack self-control, but more likely, they have no sense of purpose. They have intentions, but not purpose. There is no agenda, no plan, no vision, no strategy.

So the shoes sit there. Gather dust. We sit there. We gather rust. We lose. You can’t win a marathon by continually stuffing twinkies in your face.

It’s more than just showing up. Like I once heard it said, “Sitting in church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than sitting in a garage makes you a car.” You have to work at it!

Then, there’s the matter of efficiency, choosing your battles. “Nor do I box as though beating the air” (9:26). Boxer Muhammed Ali was a master of getting his opponents to wear themselves out by punching wildly or punching harmlessly. It was the so-called “Rope-a-Dope” strategy. Ali would get backed up into the ropes and let his opponents flail away. After they had done this for six or seven rounds, they tired, and Ali, relatively fresh, was more often than not able to deliver a knockout blow.

Christians in training are not about knockout blows, but they do understand the importance of conserving their energies for the things that really matter in life. They understand that one can get really, really tired of doing stupid stuff that doesn’t matter. Smart Christians invest their training and their efforts in things that build them up and make them stronger.

 Finally, there’s discipline. “I punish my body and enslave it” (9:27). Here, Paul notes the pain that can be involved for those who aspire to win. It’s not to promote a sort of muscular Christianity, but instead to note that being faithful to your faith, being true to the course you’ve chosen, sometimes is going to be very painful.

Discipline is hard. We'd much rather give in to those things that make us feel good but that aren't necessarily good for us. Discipline means we have to be willing to make hard decisions that cost us something. Positions may be taken that will invite confusion and misunderstanding. Decisions will be made that may incite reaction and dismay.

But in that pain you stay the course and you stay on the course.

And don’t think that the race is ever over. It’s not and it won’t be until the last day when Christ appears.

Theologically, what we’re talking about here is the Wesleyan idea of Christian perfection…a goal to work toward. Perfection in this sense means maturity, completeness, wholeness. John Wesley believed that this was the goal of the Christian life…not simply getting to heaven. We strive to be more Christ-like, to live in God’s grace, to grow deeper in our relationship with God. That’s a life-long pursuit. You never graduate from Sunday School, in other words…no certificate to signify that you’ve completed the course. It’s about daily training and growing toward the image of God.

Following Christ isn’t easy and the stakes are much higher. It takes training, it takes effort, it takes perseverance and commitment. Church rolls are filled with the names of people who have fallen by the wayside…lost their will, didn’t stay in spiritual shape, simply quit. If we’re going to follow Christ, we have to be prepared to do it for the long haul.

 Even Paul said that he did not consider himself to have finished the race (Philippians 3). So, let’s be careful to avoid celebrating too early with our tasks unfinished and our goals unmet.

 Just remember Olympic runner, Suzy Hamilton.

 On February 6, 1994, Hamilton competed in the Mobil Invitational track meet in Virginia. Here’s a description of what happened : “Runners needed to complete eight laps to win the mile. That concept eluded Hamilton, who sprinted past the competition at the end of lap seven, then stunned the crowd by doing a Deion Sanders-style victory jig. That every other runner was still doing Mach 3 as they burned by alerted Hamilton that something was wrong. But, by then, she was three time zones behind and didn’t even bother to rejoin the race.”

 You have to finish well, and run the whole distance.

 My prayer is that our church can be a place where people are training and getting energized to live lives worthy of Christ. That we don’t simply rest on our laurels, quit early, or burn out too fast. That we are not a church of “wanna-be” Christians, but diligent followers of Christ who are willing to pay a personal price in order to be Christ’s partners in changing the world.

 The immediate awards are few…the eternal ones significant.

My mom was the one who really taught me about spiritual strength. Mom was not a runner by any stretch of the imagination, but she was certainly in training her whole life. My earliest memories of my mom are of her studying her Bible at the kitchen table–a really big parallel Bible. I saw her praying often and knew that she prayed for our family and others. She never missed worship and made sure we were there, instilling in me a sense of the importance of being in God's presence. Even after she passed away, I still went to church every week because it had become a habit, a discipline.

 I think that one of the greatest ways we develop spiritual strength is by watching and imitating others who have it. For me it was my mom and, later, others who I've admired for their character, their devotion, and their faithfulness to God. Many people here use a personal trainer when it comes to their physical workouts, but the truth is that we need spiritual trainers as well.How would you evaluate your own spiritual strength? What kind of program of growth would be helpful to you?

How will you develop the disciplines necessary to really "go on to perfection?" These are the questions that can really help order our private worlds.


Kairos Moments

Camera 024 A couple of weeks ago, I invited members of the congregation to share with me some of the stories of their encounters with God in unexpected moments. Sandy Ice submitted the beautiful picture of a sunset, and Michelle Fariss sent me this story: 

Because my family has always spent a lot of time out in the woods, I have long ago made a habit of marveling at the beauty with which God has surrounded us.  And I also have come to realize that God speaks to me and presents me with many opportunities.  Sometimes it’s a quiet communing, but at other times (usually when I am focused on things “I” think are important) it is more of a rude awakening.  Let me tell you about one of the quiet times.

My job had become quiet stressful.  Hours were growing longer, demands were growing more unrealistic, and, as so often happens, I was becoming consumed with the issues.  After one particularly stressful day I came home late and it was getting dark and starting to snow.  Despite that, I realized that I should take the dog for a walk on the 4 mile trail near my rural home, as was our habit.  I bundled up and trudged the first two miles, my mind running over the problems that had consumed me all day.  Slowly I began to realize that it had become dark.  The wind had quit blowing and the snowflakes had become huge, drifting down slowly and beginning to cover me and the forest floor at my feet.  I stopped in awe, and then realized that it was silent, with no cars or other sounds to be heard.  I love the snow, but this was the most beautiful snowfall in which I have ever been (or maybe at that moment God just knew I needed something that pure and simple).  I sat down on a log, dumped all the problems of the day, and became awestruck at the beauty of the moment that had been given to me. 

When the ground had turned to white, I finally got up and made my way home.  The problems of the day had been replaced with a deep sense of peace and joy.  God helped me realize that we truly can cast our cares on Him and that he will provide what we need.  I truly needed that time of peace and stillness. 


P.S. – I left that job not too long after that!


Don’t Check Your Brain at the Door

Brain-Power We've been working through this series on "Ordering Your Private World" by talking about five major areas of the inner life. We've talked about our motivation–the difference between being called and being driven. Last week we talked about the use of time–how we can recapture time and look for those God-moments in the midst of the ordinary.

This week, we look at the third dimension of our private worlds–one that is often neglected. That's the realm of the mind. How we train our minds, how we think, is a key to ordering the inner life.

 I say that this part of our lives is often neglected because we live in a culture where mass media makes it quite possible for people to abdicate individual thought in favor of allowing some self-proclaimed "expert" to think for us.

 It used to be that people went to a political debate to hear ideas, like in the 1850s when Abraham Lincoln and Steven Douglass squared off over the issue of slavery and states rights. Interestingly, the format of those debates went something like this: one candidate spoke for 60 minutes, then the other spoke for 90, and then the first candidate was allowed a 30 minute rebuttal. Can you imagine? Today, in our sound bit culture, we wouldn’t sit still for it. Those debates are classic in their expression of ideas, with the ideas being central.

 Nowadays, candidates are more concerned about looking good and playing to their constituencies than expressing any independent thought. And, of course, after each debate there is a phalanx of pundits filling the screen to tell us what we should think about what took place. One side or the other is constantly setting up straw men and then knocking them down with hateful vitriol. Talk show hosts make their living by gathering legions of people who think like they do or, more precisely, who allow the person with the microphone to speak for them. Listen to some of this stuff and it's easy to believe that despite the fact that we have access to more information than at any time in our history, we have actually become dumber as a culture.

 We could chalk all that up to our cultural proclivity to choose style over substance, but I think there's something more at work here. It's quite possible that in our busyness as a nation, in our quest for productivity and success, in our desire to have and do more, we've actually abdicated real thinking in favor of convenience.

 It's not just politics or cultural issues where this happens. It happens in churches, too. You look back at the early centuries of Christianity and you see that many of the great thinkers and theologians were lay people. When the Church became institutionalized, though, it began to move toward professional clergy. In the Middle Ages, for example, most people couldn't read, thus the most powerful person in the village was the priest, who could essentially make the Bible say whatever he wanted. Widespread abuse of power and bad theology was the result.

 You'd think that the Protestant Reformation would have changed all that, but the reality is that when it comes to matters of theology, many people would rather simply be told what they should think and believe. We've seen the results of that taken to the extreme in places like Jonestown, Waco, and other places where strong charismatic leaders can manipulate seemingly intelligent people because those people became intellectually lazy and refused to question anything that was being said or done.

 When I went to seminary, I was pretty convinced that I had received all the knowledge about Christian faith that I was going to get. I had been thoroughly indoctrinated in a very conservative environment where the mantra was, "God said it, I believe it, that settles it." I remember one of my first classes, where I did a research paper on some theological issue. I quoted numerous sources, said all the right things. The prof pulled me aside. He said this: I'm giving you a good grade on this because you obviously did the work. But here's the thing–I really want to know what YOU think about this. All these guys you quoted have PhD's…I have one, too…but that doesn't mean they've earned the right to do your thinking for you. Based on the evidence, what do you think? You'll do a lot better asking questions than making pronouncements–in this class and when you get to the parish."

 That was a moment of clarity for me. No one had ever given me permission to really think about theological stuff–to question, to doubt, to wrestle. It changed my whole outlook. How faith and reason work together in our inner lives is one of the keys to ordering our private worlds.

 It's interesting to me that we live in a world where many people see faith and reason as being mutually exclusive. A number of bestselling books recently, like Dawkins' The God Delusion say that faith is irrational and only pure reason will save humanity. On the other hand, I hear fundamentalist religious leaders trumpeting faith while quelling people's capacity to reason. The truth is, however, that God gave humans the capacity for both faith and reason and one doesn't necessarily trump the other.

 Here's where someone like the apostle Paul fascinates me. Paul was a person of very deep faith but also one who was a prolific and expansive thinker. This passage from Romans 12 captures Paul's idea of the relationship of faith and reason. For Paul, real transformation comes not through blind faith but through "the renewing of [the] mind." In other words, Paul says, you can't be a Christian and think as the world thinks, nor can you be a Christian and neglect the intellect.

 Many Christians see the faith as being guided primarily by rules, doctrines, and regulations. While the Scriptures do provide boundaries for living, Paul would say that real transformation comes as the result of a searching mind that can "discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect." Remember that in the framework of Paul's Jewish worldview, the mind and the body weren't separate but a unified whole. We train our bodies for health and strength, thus Paul would say we also need to train our intellect in order to truly grow strong as God's people. You can't be mentally flabby and expect to grow as a Christian!

 John Wesley would have said the same thing. Wesley was a child of the Enlightenment, that time in history where the world was turning from superstition to learning and education. Wesley's understanding of how one grows in the knowledge and love of God involved the use of one's reason. In Wesley's understanding, Scripture was the primary source for the life of faith, but Scripture needed to be read through three important lenses: human experience, the tradition of interpretation and through human reason. In other words, you can't read the Bible or understand faith if you check your brains at the door! For Wesley, Christian faith was a marriage of head and heart.

 Back to Paul–how do we then "renew our minds?" Well, first we have to understand that it's a discipline. It's not something that happens by osmosis. Last week we talked about how we use our time, and training the mind requires time and effort–particularly for those over 40. Recent studies have shown that people in middle age often develop cognitive problems because they don't introduce any new thoughts or patterns in their lives. The brain can actually atrophy. Think of training your mind as a way to keep from losing it!

 In his book Ordering Your Private World, Gordon MacDonald gives some ideas for how we might be transformed and how we might "renew our minds" to grow. I just want to paraphrase a few of these ideas.

 We are transformed when we learn how to listen. Driven people have a hard time listening because they're always talking. I've always admired people who were good listeners, but the reality is that all of us can learn to listen. The first step to good listening? Learn to ask questions. How many times in a conversation do we not so much listen to the other person speaking but instead think of what we're going to say next? The people around us are a wellspring of knowledge. Children, older people, co-workers, others whom we take for granted have stories to share and experiences to process. What would happen if you intentionally took a day this week and began every conversation you had with someone with a question? And not, "How are you?" That's lame. But a real question. Take someone to lunch and ask them questions to let them talk about themselves. Listening is a discipline. I know it's one that I need to work on.

 But listening also involves being open to other people’s ideas as well. We have become so entrenched politically in this country that no one listens to the other side or to any voice that doesn’t tell us what we want to hear. Jesus rarely told people what they wanted to hear, and yet as Christians we celebrate him. I wonder if what would happen if we allowed ourselves to listen to all sides of a debate or listen to the stories of other who are different from us. To listen without dismissing, to hear without being angry, to dialogue about ideas rather than hurling epithets. Failure to listen is, in my opinion, what’s really hurting our country. As Edwin Friedman puts it, one of the real markers of madness is the inability to stay in relationship with those with whom we disagree. Can we learn to listen, can we take the time to understand, are we willing to hear something other than we expect?

 We are transformed when we learn to think theologically. One of my seminary professors once said that the primary role of the pastor is to be the resident theologian of the local community. He also said that we weren't to be the only theologians–that everyone has the capacity and, indeed, the need to think theologically. Problem is that many churches are set up to merely dispense information, fill in the blanks, make sure everyone knows a particular theological system. Just like we ask questions of others in order to be good listeners, we need to be able to ask questions of our faith, of the Bible, of our tradition in order to understand. A lot of people are intimidated by the Bible because it seems to come from a strange world, but my approach is to look at it like an exploration into a foreign country. You have to learn the language, know the geography, understand the people. Once you do that, you begin to feel right at home. That's why Bible study groups are so vitally important–we learn to think theologically when we get together with a group of people and hear their responses and wrestlings with the text. I get no greater joy than when I'm working with a class and people are beginning to see that world open up before them. If you're not intentionally learning to think theologically, it's very hard to grow spiritually.

We are transformed through reading. It's really interesting to me that while we push our kids to read in school, many adults have altogether stopped reading for themselves. We've become a sound bite culture, a visual culture, where speed trumps thought in the information age. Reading is a way of really digesting a new idea. I love books, of course, but I love reading from a wide variety of disciplines. I even like to read things I don't necessarily agree with. Every word I read expands my mind just a bit more. I love it when someone from the church recommends a book. I love reading the New York Times Book Review to see what's new. Reading, and particularly reading the scriptures, is (as the old commercial says) FUNDAMENTAL to our understanding of life and faith.

We are transformed through disciplined study. When we graduate from high school or college there's a sense that our days of studying and "homework" are over. Well, not if we want to be renewed in our minds. Setting aside time each day for disciplined study is a real key to learning and growth. Study actually burns new pathways in our brains and increases our capacity for thought. If you're married, make space and time for each other to give over to study…maybe even read a book or engage in a study together. I always give homework in my Bible study classes because learning isn't a one shot deal.

 We are transformed when we apply wisdom and knowledge in the service of others. The knowledge we gain from using our reason isn't for us alone. When we are transformed by the "renewing of [our] minds," we can in turn transform the world. Sharing knowledge, sharing ways of learning with others is important for our own retention. I think the old adage is true that if you are teaching someone you are really learning yourself. Someone out there needs the knowledge you have so that their own life can be transformed.

We are always trying to recruit Sunday School teachers, for example. A lot people say, "Well, I don't know enough about the Bible, etc." To me, there's no better way to learn the Scriptures than to teach them. I'm always looking for new ways to bring knowledge to my classes or to the congregation through my sermons. I always wind up learning more than the people I'm teaching! I challenge you to look for ways to share what you know and to learn what you don't. If you're a financial planner, for example, there are people out there in need of help with managing their finances. If you're in business, there are young people trying to learn a trade who could use your wisdom. The list goes on and on.

Here in Monument most of the people who come to church are highly educated, more so than the national average. The question is what we'll do with that education to transform the world. If we have the capacity to learn a business or a trade, we have the capacity to learn and be transformed by deeper spiritual truths.

I'm proud to serve a church in the Methodist tradition where "head and heart go hand in hand." We want to be a community of listeners, learners and teachers.

 We’re providing multiple opportunities for you to exercise your mind and be transformed. I want to challenge you to be a part of a class, read a book we’re recommending, be a Sunday School teacher, learn something new. May we all be transformed by the renewing of our minds!


Managing Time

Dali-clock If you’ve ever been to Washington, D.C. and ridden the Metro, you’ll know that the entrance to a Metro station is often a place where street performers hang out, playing an instrument or doing some kind of performance art for spare change. Usually, the quality of performance isn’t that great, though sometimes it’s ok. When we were in DC awhile back there was guy playing 5 gallon buckets like drums. He was quite good.

 If you watch the crowds of government workers and tourists walking by, though, you’ll notice that most people never give a street performer a second glance. People tend to be very focused, in their own little worlds. Maybe they drop in a few coins to be polite. One or two might actually stop and listen for a moment. Most people hurry by, though, seemingly pressed for time.

 But what would happen if one of the finest musicians in the world were playing at the Metro station? Would the quality and passion of the performance be enough to get people to stop and listen? This was the question posed by some writers at the Washington Post, who recently conducted an experiment at L’Enfant Plaza—one of the busiest Metro stations near where many government offices are located.

 The Post pitched the idea to violinist Joshua Bell—who is extremely well-known in classical music circles but not a household name or recognizable face to most people. According to the Post, “Three days before he appeared at the Metro station, Bell had filled the house at Boston's stately Symphony Hall, where merely pretty good seats went for $100. Two weeks later, at the Music Center at Strathmore, in North Bethesda, he would play to a standing-room-only audience so respectful of his artistry that they stifled their coughs until the silence between movements. But on that Friday in January, Joshua Bell was just another mendicant, competing for the attention of busy people on their way to work.”

 Dressed in non-descript jeans, a long-sleeved t-shirt, and a Washington Nationals cap, Bell stood by a trash can and began to play–on a Stradivari violin made in 1713, one of the most valuable instruments in the world—worth $3.5 million. Bell took the instrument and began to play Bach’s Chaconne with the passion and brilliance of one of the world’s best musicians on one of the world’s finest instruments. It was the kind of piece and the kind of performance that anyone, even those who aren’t fans of classical music, would recognize as brilliant. The Post wanted to know—would people take notice? Would they break their routine even for a moment to acknowledge beauty in the midst of the ordinary?

Here’s a video of what took place, shot from a hidden camera.




 Some of the passers-by were interviewed. Why didn’t they stop? The overwhelming answer? People just said they were busy, had other things on their mind, were pressed for time. Some who were on cellphones spoke louder as they passed Bell, to compete with that infernal racket. In their minds, people could not afford a moment–even for something beautiful.

 Maybe that’s because most of us in this culture have a very warped sense of time. We have somehow allowed ourselves to be mastered by time instead of mastering it for ourselves. We’re always on the clock, it seems. The number one response I hear from people these days is, “I don’t have time.”

 That’s an interesting statement. Think about it…each of us is allotted the same amount of hours in a day, each of us has the opportunity to determine what to do with those hours. Each of us has some fixed and discretionary time. We have access to hundreds of different devices to plan and manage time…yet we don’t seem to have any time. The truth is that it would be more accurate to say that we don’t effectively use the time we’ve been given. How many moments of beauty, wonder, and mystery have we missed in our lives because we’ve blown right by them in an effort to catch up with our time?

Taking control of time is the second dimension of ordering your private world. Last week we talked about motivation—the difference between being called and being driven. One of the keys to living a called life vs. a driven life is the ability to manage time according to purpose and priorities.

 Gordon MacDonald says that unmanaged time is the cause of much disorganization in our private worlds. When we fail to budget time, we find ourselves indebted to a wide variety of distractions. He lists some of these in his book:

 • Unmanaged time flows toward our weaknesses: We can find ourselves spending more and more time on things we don’t do well at the expense of excellence in our areas of giftedness. Personally, I find that if I don’t block out time for reading and studying, my time gets taken up by a lot of administrative details, leaving me pressed to do the best job I can in writing sermons, which is the part of the week that requires my best attention. If we don’t prioritize our time to work on our strengths, it hurts us and those we are to serve.

 • Unmanaged time is vulnerable to the tyranny of the urgent: If anyone and everyone has claim on your time in a given moment, you will always be susceptible to the demands of others. I had a supply sergeant in the Army who understood this. He had a sign on his desk that said, “Your lack of planning is not my emergency.” He refused to allow others to unnecessarily dominate his time. Without managing our time, particularly time for ourselves, we can become “a quivering mass of availability.” We’ll find ourselves always in output mode. 

 • Unmanaged time gets invested in things that gain public acclamation: This is real problem for driven people. We want to be recognized, want to be well-liked by others. Therefore, we have a hard time saying “No.” We can spend our time on things that aren’t necessarily important in favor of that which gives us a quick shot of self-esteem. When I was younger in ministry, I used to receive a lot of invitations to speak at conference youth events. I was the “expert” and people loved to hear me speak. I spent a lot of weekends at these events, but my performance in my regular ministry was less than optimal. I started to love being the center of attention more than doing what I was called to do. It wasn’t helpful to me or to my church. I had to learn to say, “No.”

 Most of us are victims of unmanaged time and wonder what “managed” time looks like. Here’s where Scripture helps us. In the Greek of the New Testament, for example, there were three words that could be used to describe time: eon (an age or epoch) chronos (chronology, clock time, linear time), and kairos (God’s timing or “divine” time). How these words are used really taught me a lot. We looked at these a few weeks ago, but it’s important to visit them again.

 Most of us are governed by chronos—the clock is both our friend and enemy. I like to be on time (as most of you know). In a sense that’s good. I want to be mindful of my own time and that of others, which is why we start worship promptly. Chronos time is what gets us up in the morning and orders our day. Think of chronos time as currency to be invested, budgeted, and spent wisely.

 Again, we all have the same amount of hours in a day. We can look at that in two ways: one way is to say that it’s not enough (the popular view). The other way is to look at those 24 hours as an investment that you plan for well in advance. I know for myself that if I’m managing my calendar well my stress level goes way down. If I block out time for working out, writing, spending time with my family, looking at each hour as valuable, then I’m not so subject to the tyranny of the urgent. Things do come up, but I can put them in context and make an informed choice about how I spent my time. Chronos can, indeed, be managed. We simply have to be willing to prioritize and do those things that are most important first.

 Think of time as an offering to God. Biblically speaking, we budget time like we budget money. A percentage of that time comes off the top and is dedicated to God. Then there is time we’re obligated to (like financial obligations) and time that is discretionary. A lot of people tell me that they don’t have time to do things with the church or to spend with God. They have the time, they just haven’t budgeted it according to a priority list.

Spending that chronos time wisely involves some serious self-knowledge. For example, each of us has times and periods of a day when we are more effective. I always write better first thing in the morning, for example. Thursday morning is my sermon writing time. I’ve blocked out that time because I know that’s when I’m at my best. Afternoons are better for meeting with people. Evenings I catch up on correspondence or just chill out if I don’t have a meeting. Even the seasons of the year affect us. I’m usually most energized in the fall and spring. The period between Christmas and Easter is always tough for me—it’s a down cycle and rhythm. I know that I will feel a little blue and down during that time, and knowing that I can plan for it in advance. I plan my most challenging sermon series for September and for April/May as that’s when I’m most on my game.

 There are hundreds of resources out there to get you connected in managing chronos time.

 The Bible tells us, though, that understanding kairos time is equally important. Chronos can keep us focused, but kairos is often where life is lived at its fullest.

Kairos is one of those Greek terms that doesn’t completely translate to English. The best way we can think of it is “opportunity.” Kairos time is that moment when the purposes of God and our purpose match—a holy moment, a “thin place” as the Celts used to say. Kairos time is always fully present—always in the moment. It’s an opportunity to see into the deeper things of life, an opportunity to suspend our manic movements and catch a glimpse of the beauty and wonder of God. You might think of kairos time as God’s time and God’s timing—a time of opportunity.

 Jesus was indeed the master of kairos time. Because Jesus was fully focused and aware of his purpose, he did not feel the tyranny of the urgent. He was always on the move, but always aware of God’s presence at any moment. When you read about his interactions with people, Jesus had an uncanny knack for always being fully present with people. He would not have been glancing at his watch, thinking ahead to the next thing or ruminating over the past. He saw opportunity everywhere and seized that opportunity strategically.

 The story in Luke 18 that we read earlier is a classic example. Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem, where he had an appointment with the religious leaders—one that would lead to his crucifixion. The disciples are on a timetable to get there. They have the schedule worked out and they are in a hurry. Passing through Jericho, the group happens by a blind beggar on the side of the road—an obvious distraction and a possible delay on the journey. The disciples hear the man crying out to Jesus, but they want him to be quiet. Being the self-appointed secretaries of the Savior, they don’t want Jesus to be distracted by this man.

 But the blind man would have none of it. He simply cried louder, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Now, surely in that crowd of people this man wasn’t the only one shouting. But Jesus, being fully present, recognized a kairos moment. Notice what verse 40 says, “Jesus stood still…” He stopped and listened—one man standing against a sea of others slipping by. He ordered the man to be brought to him and asked, “What can I do for you?”

 “Lord, let me see again,” said the beggar. “Receive your sight;” said Jesus, “your faith has saved you.” The man was healed and immediately joined the crowd following Jesus.

Jesus had a clear sense of purpose, but his purpose was larger than simply going to Jerusalem to face his destiny. His purpose was to be fully present, to heal, to teach, to be available. But Jesus also recognized that his time was limited and that he needed to spend it well. He would often retreat to the mountains for prayer, leaving the crowds behind. He was not swayed by popularity, not subject to the demands of others, but always aware of his purpose and of where he was at any given moment. Healing a blind man on the side of the road was a kairos moment…an opportunity to show God’s power and God’s love—a chance to make someone’s life beautiful again.

 How many times in a day do we blow by these opportunities? How many times do we miss the beauty around us, the opportunities we have to encounter God, because we’ve allowed our time to be taken up with other things? Jesus understood that when we order our chronos time, when we order our inner lives, we are much more able to hear God’s voice and respond to those kairos moments.

 So here’s an assignment for you. Go home this afternoon and look at your calendar for the week. What does your calendar say about your purpose, your priorities? Give it a good hard look. Have you planned your time well according to your strengths? Have you made time for yourself, for renewal? Have you invested time to spend with God? Have you given time to the service of God? Budget your chronos time well and track it for a month. See what that does for you. I’m going to guess that the more you take control of your time and intentionally plan it, the more at peace you’ll feel in your private world.

 But the second part of your assignment is this: be available for those kairos moments. Look for them. You never know where God is going to show up and be found playing a beautiful melody of grace. Now here’s what you do…when you experience that kairos moment, I invite you to take a minute and write about it. Send me an email with the story. I’d love to collect those and post them on my blog for others to see. The more we become aware of those kairos moments, I’m convinced, the more opportunity we have to really change the world around us.

 Want to have some fun with this? Next time somebody asks you what time it is, tell them: “It’s kairos time.” Be available to the kairos moments around you every day. God is always at work, and opportunities to encounter God’s work are always presenting themselves if we’re looking for them. Disciples of Jesus learn to manage their chronos and look for the kairos! 


Being Called vs. Being Driven

Explorer The story is told of a a nineteenth century explorer who had hired a group of African villagers to provide support for an expedition into an uncharted part of the continent. On the first three days of the trek, the expedition had achieved an unexpected rate of speed, which put them ahead of schedule. The explorer was very pleased.

 On day four, however, the explorer awoke in the morning to find that the African porters were not preparing to move out. In fact, they told him they were going to stay put. When asked why, they said they had been moving too fast—that it was time to let their souls catch up with their bodies. 

 It was time to let their souls catch up to their bodies.

 Have you ever felt like that? Like your soul, the inner essence of who you really are, is far behind the pace at which your body, the external self that you present to the world, is moving?

 I’m going to guess that the majority of you here this morning feel that way. I feel that way. In fact, I think our culture expects us to feel that way because that’s what it means to be an industrious, productive member of society.

 I mean, think about this. Someone asks you how you are and you feel obligated to say, “I’ve been very busy. Lots to do, you know. I’m getting a lot of results.” Pastors are notoriously busy, and when we get together we always compare how busy we are and how our busy our churches are. We’re not the only ones, of course. Everyone’s busy. Work keeps us busy, family keeps us busy. Our kids are busy running from one activity to the next and we’re busy making sure they get there. We’re busy, busy, busy.

 And we’re tired. I don’t know if it’s true, but it seems to me that one of the most frequently used words on Facebook is the word “tired.” We’re busy and we’re tired, and somehow that has become a badge of honor. If we’re anything else, then we must be slacking off.

 When was the last time, for example, that you called up a friend to ask what they were up to and they said, “Nothing”? We’re never up to nothing!

 And that’s our problem, says Gordon MacDonald, who wrote the book this sermon series is based on. Ordering Your Private World is a book that’s been around for a long time, and one that I have pulled off the shelf often in my own life…when I’m not too busy to remember.

 MacDonald’s thesis is essentially this: we live in two spheres, the public and private. Our public world is the place where we present our external selves (what we might call our bodies) as we want others to perceive us. Our private world is the place where our true selves (what we might call our souls) really live. When our public world and our private world are worlds apart, we can be stretched to the breaking point.

 What we need to do, says MacDonald, is to reorder our inner, private world so that our outer world follows. Our souls, in other words, shouldn’t just catch up to our bodies from time to time, but the inner life should determine how the outer life lives, and bring us to the point at which we are whole persons—body, mind, and soul.

 One person in history understood this better than any other, and that is Jesus—the one who was fully human and fully divine, the one whose inner and outer worlds were always consistent, and always purposeful. Over the next five weeks we’re going to be looking at some different stories about Jesus and how his private world was ordered as a means of helping us to begin ordering our own.

 The story that was read for us this morning—the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness—is one that illustrates the first aspect of our private world that needs attention: our motivation. If it’s true that crisis reveals our true selves, then this scene at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry reveals Jesus’ true self as one who is called, rather than one who is driven.

  Christ-in-the-wilderness-18981 The story begins with Jesus being “full of the Holy Spirit” after his baptism, and being led by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days. Now, right off the bat, there’s some significant symbolism here. Jesus is “led” into the wilderness for “forty” days, just as God led the Israelites into the wilderness for forty years. For Israelites, those forty years represented a time of preparation for entry into the promised land. For Jesus, those forty days represented a time of preparation for the journey and ministry he was about to undertake.

 The Judean wilderness is nothing like the Colorado wilderness. It’s picturesque, but only in the sense that its total barrenness is strangely beautiful. The wilderness is a desert, which is pretty much like the surface of the moon. There are no places to go, there is no food to eat, there’s nothing but rock and sand. Jesus is out there for forty days with nothing and with no one.

 I don’t know about you but I have a hard time with 40 minutes of silence let alone 40 days! Imagine forty days of nothing but prayer, nothing but solitude, nothing by miles and miles of desert, and nothing to eat. To us it sounds absolutely brutal—to Jesus, it was absolutely necessary.

 I find it interesting that Jesus didn’t start his public ministry until he was about thirty years old. That’s a late bloomer, even by our standards, but especially in those days when the life expectancy was about 35. You’d think that after thirty years, and after the amazing commissioning he receives from God at his baptism, he’d be ready to march straight to Jerusalem. Instead, he obediently goes into the desert for more preparation and prayer. When everything says “hurry up and get going,” Jesus intentionally slows down. Instead of talking incessantly to anyone who would listen about what he was going to accomplish, he goes out alone and in silence, talking and listening only to God. Instead of busily working to make sure he had all the logistics lined up, Jesus instead fully trusts God to supply his needs. It’s a completely counterintuitive way of understanding success than we’re used to, and it’s counterintuitive to us because we’re more likely to listen to Satan than God—we’re more likely to be driven, than called.

Notice how Satan, the tempter, shows up at precisely the most vulnerable moment, when Jesus is at the limits of his endurance. Jesus is “famished”—completely empty—and Satan comes with a series of three propositions, three temptations that are all about being driven by the outer life rather than the inner life.

 Gordon MacDonald writes that people who are focused only on the outer life are those that become “driven”—which is a word that we use in our culture to laud successful people. We see “driven” people as those who are good at getting things done, who have fame and fortune, and who seem somehow to be a cut above. Drivenness, however, is different than just doing one’s best—it’s about projecting oneself to the world in a way that is ultimately destructive.

 MacDonald offers seven characteristics of the driven person:

 1. Driven people are most often only gratified by accomplishments and symbols of achievement. Badges, titles, positions, status. The more stuff on the wall, the better the GPA, the more pages on the resume, the better the driven person feels—at least until they discover someone who has more.

 2. Driven people are caught up in the uncontrolled pursuit of expansion. Driven people aren’t satisfied with the status quo. In a sense, that’s not a bad thing. At the same time, growing a business or a church at all costs can leave lots of casualties in our wake. Driven people tend to like to build their own kingdoms at the expense of others.

 3. Driven people often have a limited regard for integrity. Speed and efficiency can lead to cutting corners. Driven people can easily justify making poor ethical choices in order to achieve their ends.

 4. Driven people are not likely to bother themselves with the honing of people skills. Driven people tend to use people as a means to an end, rather than seeing them as individuals worthy of attention and love.

 5. Driven people tend to be highly competitive. It’s not enough to compete. Driven people have to win, no matter what it takes to do so.

 6. Driven people often possess a volcanic force of anger. Driven people don’t take criticism well because it challenges their perfectionistic image of themselves. Criticism about something we have done gets translated into a value judgment on us as a person. Driven people tend to respond to an attack with overwhelming emotional firepower.

 7. Driven people are usually abnormally busy, are averse to play, and usually avoid spiritual worship. They are working all the time because their image of themselves depends on it.

 Do any of these sound familiar to you? I know they do to me. Throughout my life I have had to fight the tendency to be driven, and when I’m not paying attention to the inner life I can easily go back there.

 Notice that the three temptations that Satan offers to Jesus are, essentially, temptations to lead a driven life. Each of them begins with “If you are the Son of God…” which can also be translated more definitively, “Since you are the Son of God…” Satan is playing on Jesus’ title and wants Jesus to think about redefining it in terms of drivenness. After all, God’s son should certainly be able to take care of his own needs by turning a stone into bread. God’s son should want to have the glory and authority over all the kingdoms of the earth, especially if it means avoiding all that painful suffering that Satan and Jesus both knew were ahead. Why not be king now instead of later? And, surely, if Jesus wanted to impress the people with his power, why not jump off the high point of the Temple and land unscathed? They’d certainly worship him then. Satan is laying before Jesus a program that a driven person would jump at—the quick route to success, the glory of fame, the power that comes from being liked by people for what you can do for them. Jesus could be a very busy and successful Messiah, if he would only play the game.

 But Jesus doesn’t buy into that program. He has waited for thirty years and forty days and is not in a hurry. He’s not driven. He’s called.

 Called people, says Gordon MacDonald, are those who understand that the key to life is an ordered inner life and who understand their lives as being part of the larger purposes of God.

 1. Called people understand stewardship. When driven people lose things—especially status or the symbols of material success—it is a crisis. When a called person loses things, nothing really changes. In fact, the private world becomes stronger. Jesus goes into the desert with nothing, and yet sees that as gaining everything because he is one with God.

 2. Called people know exactly who they are. Jesus had come to the desert straight from his baptism, where God’s voice said, “You are my Son, the beloved. With you I am well-pleased.” He knew who he was. We know who we are, too, because Jesus himself has named us. We are children of God. We do not need to craft an identity, we already have one. We are beloved, no matter what we accomplish.

 Knowing who we are takes some deep reflection. We are never as good or as bad as we think people see us. Called people define themselves according to their relationship with God, valuing God’s love and grace-filled approval over any amount of applause.

 3. Called people possess an unwavering sense of purpose. Jesus understood that his mission was about bringing the kingdom of God to bear through his life, his teaching, his death, and his resurrection. He was able to challenge Satan with Scripture because he understood that Scripture’s story was reaching its climax in his own person. He was able to say no to that which was not his purpose. Called people do a lot more listening than talking…a lot more reflecting than pontificating. Called people choose their time and priorities according to their purpose.

 The ability to say “no” is one of the keys to a private world that is in order. We say “yes” to the things that accomplish God’s purposes, and “no” to the things that distract us. More on that next week.

 4. Called people practice unswerving commitment. Luke tells us that after Satan tempted Jesus three times, Satan “departed” from Jesus “until an opportune time.” This wouldn’t be the last temptation for Jesus to be driven. When was that “opportune time?”

 “If you are the King of the Jews, if you are the Son of God,” they shouted from the foot of the cross, “then save yourself” (23:32-43). Even at the end, the temptation was still there.

 How could Jesus have endured all that for us? Only by having a very ordered private world—one that led him to walk away from the crowds and go into the hills to pray, one that led him to focus on people in need as though they were the only ones present, one that ate with people who could not benefit his cause in any way, one that enabled him to wrap a towel around himself and wash the feet of his disciples like a servant.

 That’s the kind of private world I want to cultivate. How about you?

 How do we do it?

 First, I think we have to recognize and repent of the drivenness in our own lives. Again, we’re not saying we shouldn’t do our best, it’s just that we should be doing things for the right reason—to glorify God and work for his kingdom.

 Secondly, we need to create space for God, which means that we manage our time well and we work at taking Sabbath rest. We’ll talk about those things in this series, things that I want to work on myself.

 And third, and perhaps most importantly, we need to remember who we are. We are God’s beloved! We are not beloved because we are perfect. We are not beloved because we have lots of degrees on the wall or money in the bank. We are not beloved because we’re better than anyone else.

 We are beloved because we belong to Christ. We are beloved, so much so, that he took his mission all the way to the cross.

 He calls us to follow him, but we can’t do that until our souls catch up with our bodies. Amen.