Icebreaker: Why do sportspeople do a lot of training? Is the level of training important for the end result? Do you think that someone who trains a lot has more chance of winning, than someone who does not train so much?
Text: 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
One of my favourite sporting competitions in the world is the World Cup in Football. I think that the way people from different nations, languages and cultures come together to play the same sport, is great. I am particularly fond of the pre-competition, when the teams are all focused on their training. They train and train tirelessly, over and over again, in order to be ready to give 100% of excellence when it is needed.
It is the same in our Christian life! It doesn’t just happen ‘automatically’ that we grow and reach our full potential; the truth is that we need to train our spiritual muscles, and we need to do that over and over again in order to learn how to discern God’s will, how to know His presence and how to listen to His voice. As it is with sportspeople, it’s a training that we need to be committed to, even when we aren’t feeling like it. This training in the Christian life can be called the “Spiritual disciplines”, and that is what we’re going to talk about today:
Prayer is a relationship and not an activity! It is grounded in a friendship with, and a delight in, God that grows when we speak and listen to Him. It is the development of a relationship that is real and which makes a difference in our lives. We need to avoid the tiredness, the restlessness and all the distractions that keep us away from this relationship, so that we can focus on talking to God. Everywhere, and at any time, we can talk to God, and choosing a time of day when we are awake and alert can really help us to concentrate and be centred on Him.
What changes could you make today to create more space in your life to talk to God? Can you lay aside 10 minutes (or an extra 10 minutes) in your day, to spend in prayer?
Dan Allender writes that “Fasting from any nourishment, activity, involvement, or pursuit—for any season—sets the stage for God to appear. Fasting is not a tool to pry wisdom out of God’s hands or to force needed insight about a decision. Fasting is not a tool for gaining discipline or developing piety (whatever that might be). Instead, fasting is the act of ridding ourselves of our fullness to attune our senses to the mysteries that swirl in and around us.”
‘Setting the stage for God’, I love that. Don’t you want Him to play the leading role in your story? Fasting creates the place for that. Historically, when God’s people have turned to him through fasting, He breaks in and brings radical change. Fasting is therefore never about trying to force God to bend to our will, but about presenting ourselves to God in a way that is open to what He is doing.
- Moses’s forty-day fast resulted in the revelation of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28).
- Hannah fasted, and God released a prophet who changed the destiny of a nation (1 Samuel 1:7–20).
- Esther called for a fast, and her people were delivered, and their enemies overcome (Esther 4:16; 7:3–9:16).
- Jesus fasted for forty days in the wilderness and overcame the temptations that held humanity in bondage (Luke 4:1–13).
- Paul prayed for God to remove the ‘thorn in his flesh’, and after praying He heard and understood that God’s grace was enough for Him. This is to have a heart aligned with God even when I hear what I don’t want to hear. (2 Corinthians 12.1-6).
Maybe we have tried every other type of solution. Maybe we will only be released from “this kind of struggle” through prayer and fasting (like Jesus said, in Mark 9: 28-29, about deliverance of the boy from the demons that were stealing his life).
What changes can you make to add at least some time of fasting every week?
Rest must resist exhaustion.
Many people move into a season of their lives where they pursue success in terms of both recognition and financial reward; but to really achieve this, people have to put in an extraordinary effort. The hours required, the energy expended, and the demands placed on the body and heart can be so intense, that the inner life begins to wither. “It will just be for a year or two,” the narrative says, but the kind of cultural formation and spiritual deformation that can take place in that amount of time is staggering. Values are distorted, vision blurred, idols established, identity shifted, and relationships strained. This way of living shifts out of being ‘for a season’, and, because ambition demands it, becomes a lie that turns into a lifestyle.
A first step to understanding rest is learning to resist the ‘tyranny of doing’.
I love the phrase from Jon Tyson “Our souls are rarely restored through entertainment. Restoration comes through rest. Relaxation, though good, will not do a deep enough work.” We need to learn to rest, and to rest in God, and entertainment will not bring that. We need true rest in God’s presence, not another night of food and Netflix in excess. God instituted this rest right back in Genesis, when He rested on the 7th day of creation – we need to rediscover that rest in our lives.
What can you do this week to see change? How will you move beyond fruitless ‘doing’ into a powerful encounter? Something has to snap us out of it. As C. S. Lewis put it, “You and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness.”
4) Confession and accountability
There is always a sin that needs to be confessed. As believers we might not sin outwardly as much, but inwardly we sin daily. We should make a practice of confessing our sins daily.
A Christian doesn’t just repent one time and stop. No, we have to continually repent and grow in repentance. When we confess our sins, it allows us to truly appreciate Christ and see our desperate need for Him. When there is no confession, that can easily be an open door for backsliding because we can begin to think that we are getting away with sin.
A way out of this pattern is to be accountable to a Christian friend (or pastor, mentor or colleague)! I learned a long time ago that those who do not confess temptation will confess sin. Walk in discipleship and truth with someone. What changes could you make this week to introduce more accountability into your life?
Are you willing to make some changes in order to know more of God and His will for your life? So let’s pray.
Next week we will explore more spiritual disciplines that will help us to grow in our understanding of who God is and who we are in God.