Dallas: About at this point in studies of this kind, there comes creeping a feeling—I didn’t know it was going to be this complex—didn’t know it was going to be this difficult. We need to just say a brief word about that because it can be troublesome. And the brief word is just simply this—
that everything that we have to learn looks terribly complex when we are beginning to learn about it—beginning to look at it. [00:41]
If you were to sit down and let a physiologist tell you all of the muscles you must move to walk, you might decide you didn’t want to even try. And if you, for example have nerve damage and you have to learn to move muscles to make an arm move, which you had never used before, it’s tremendously challenging and threatening even. So, I do want to just address that point and say that I think if you will not—if you will just not worry too much about the complexity of it.
A little child of course doesn’t know about all the muscles but probably wouldn’t be intimidated by it anyway. They would just get up and hit the road and when we decide that we will be followers of Jesus—we have decided to follow Jesus and no turning back, that’s what we do. We just go down the road and as time goes by, what looks terribly complex and difficult becomes the easiest possible way to live. [1:47]
So, just that word of exhortation about what I have experienced becomes a feeling for groups that are thinking about these things for the first time.
See, we have bad habits. We’ve been trained to go to church and get inspired and go home and do nothing and go back to church and get inspired again. And that’s one of the uses to which churches are put which is not altogether good because we get to thinking that that’s our life and so we have a bad habit and we have to break the habit and there is a little pain there. [2:24]
Now, this morning we are continuing with the individual disciplines and we will be continuing to work on those through tomorrow. I don’t believe there is any possible way I can cover the eight disciplines that I have listed on your sheet in any kind of detail. What I am doing is selecting the ones which seem to me perhaps most important for us to look at.
I do want to finish up the Disciplines of Abstinence this morning before turning the corner and going to the absolutely necessary Disciplines of Engagement and lets start out this morning with reading of a couple of scriptures to keep our minds on the right track.
Look with me at Galatians 6 for just a moment—Galatians, the 6th chapter. In Galatians 6, we have the familiar verse beginning in verse 7, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Now, you want to think about that because the way you mock God is by supposing that you will not reap what you sow. And we have to be very careful and understand that God has laws by which He works with us. [3:42]
Grace itself works according to laws and it’s a sad thing that grace has come to mean arbitrariness, unlawfulness, disorderliness even, utter irrational gift and miracle and transformation with no order in it and Paul here is reminding us that what we sow, what we give to, we will reap from.
“ . . . he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.” (Galatians 6:8) The person who lives in sin simply knows only the flesh, expects things only from the flesh—focuses entirely upon the flesh—and all they get back is what the flesh can give; namely, corruption.
The person who sows to the spirit, very naturally reaps from the spirit. In other words, if you invest yourself in the spiritual Kingdom of God, that spiritual Kingdom of God will come back abundantly to you. And many people who say, “Well I don’t know anything about the Kingdom of God. I’ve never experienced it.” Well, the question is—what did you give to it? What did you sow to it? [5:11]
Now, what I want to say to you very simply is that the disciplines for the spiritual life are concrete ways of sowing to the spirit. They are not the only ways but they are concrete ways of sowing to the spirit. See, it’s so often been said that the church is in the business of giving answers to questions, which no one understands. So, you have to ask yourself the question and the appropriate question here is—how do I sow to the spirit? How do you do that?
And of course, we could say in general, the way we do that is to hope in it, to look to it, to count on it, but again, how do you do that? How do you do that? The problem of the starting point is the one, which pastoral care and teaching has to address constantly. The thing that is uppermost in the minds of the earnest, serious church member is how do I do it? How do I do it? And the general answer is—follow Jesus. And the next question is—how do I do THAT? And the answer is, you be with Him. And then the question is—how do I do THAT? And blessed is the pastor who knows how to answer that question. [Laughter] [6:33]
I will tell you that I believe I can answer on the basis, not only of my own experience but of the experience of many, many Christians today and through the ages. The way you BE with Christ is by practicing what HE practiced, and this comes down to the disciplines for the spiritual life.
Now, He didn’t practice all of them in the way we would practice them but the idea is there and the very definite and constant practice especially of solitude, of fasting when it was appropriate, of prayer, of service, of study; these were parts of His life. And the way we arrange our affairs to be with Christ is by engaging in the practices, which we are calling the disciplines for the spiritual life. [7:26]
Let me just tie that briefly with Romans 8 for a moment and then we will turn to the particular disciplines with which we start today—Romans 8. This now—we have moved from Romans 7 in the process of experience here and perhaps if you can take some of that white out that you can buy in the stationary store, you should just “white out” chapter 8, the heading there so you won’t be slowed down and you will just go right on from verse 25 into verse 1 of chapter 8.
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Again, the question is—how do you walk after the Spirit? Sowing to the Spirit? Walking after the Spirit? How do you do it? And the answer that I am going to give you is of course very much the same—to walk after the spirit is to engage in these disciplines which are provided by the nature of God and the nature of man as the meeting place—the meeting place—between man and God. The law of the Spirit of life—if you follow it, if you walk after it—sets you free from the law of sin and death which is present in your members. [8:44]
Notice verse 5—“ . . . they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh;”—the person who is walking after the flesh is the person who thinks only of what flesh is and what flesh can do.
Now, remember, I am not against flesh. Flesh is a good thing. God made it. It’s wonderful like all of His creation, but to be obsessed with it, to know only it, to expect only from it is to put oneself in a position where you cannot interact with the spirit. It doesn’t matter if you are a pastor or a teacher or whoever you may be—if you put yourself in a position where the only thing you count upon is the flesh, you will simply live in the domain of death and corruption because that’s all there is in the domain of flesh.
“ . . . they that are after the Spirit [do mind] the things of the Spirit.” (Romans 8:5) You have to mind the things of the Spirit. You put your mind upon them. “I have set the Lord always before me,” David says in the Psalm. (Psalm 16:8) We mind the things of the spirit by meeting the spirit in the disciplines for the spiritual life. That’s where we meet Christ.
That’s where we learn to deal with His Holy Spirit and then we find that
“ . . . to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Romans 8:6) because when we are spiritually minded we meet the Spirit and we take on that life which we talked about in our first sessions that God intended us for. To be spiritually minded is life and because it is life, it is peace. [10:37]
You see peace comes at the point where you are beyond fear and you are beyond impotence. All that is important is taken care of. Peace is not the same thing as inactivity by any means but it is an activity in which there is perfect peace, perfect joy, perfect confidence because you know that you are fully in the hands of God and you know that by experience. You know it by experience, not by doctrine.
Doctrine cannot bring you peace alone. Doctrine has to be translated into experience and just knowing wonderful things about the Kingdom of God will not bring you peace. It’s when you come to interact with it in such a way that you can rely on it that you get peace. Flying an airplane to driving in automobiles or any of the many things we do that are extremely dangerous and could kill us at any moment—we can have peace in the midst of that if we can rely upon the elements which make up those activities. [11:48]
When my grandfather got his first Model T, he took my grandmother riding and got up to 15 miles and hour and she said, “Stop this thing or I am going to jump out” [Laughter] because she had never had an experience like that, you see; and the first time you have an experience like that, it’s very threatening but after awhile of course, you want to go faster and that’s the nature of what experience does to bring us peace.
Now, let’s go back to finish up our Disciplines of Abstinence this morning. We understand that our body is the condition of our personal participation in the rule of God and then we seek definite ways in which we can use our body to put us in a position to receive the grace of God in His Kingdom. [12:47]
I’ve come now to what I call the discipline of secrecy—the discipline of secrecy—and here again, this is not a very suitable word but I can explain to you what I mean and I think you will see why it is absolutely necessary for us.
In the discipline of secrecy, we purposively abstain. Remember, these are all Disciplines of Abstention. In the discipline of secrecy, we purposively abstain from allowing our good deeds and qualities to be known. We purposively abstain from allowing our good deeds and qualities to be known.
This is a very necessary discipline and you will find when you try this, that your tongue really is a powerful thing. You will find that it has got ways of letting people know that you wouldn’t dream of. It’s just so subtle—so powerful and that’s why, here again we see how the disciplines work to together. You can’t take any one or any two or any three of these disciplines and succeed. They are mutually supportive so in order to practice the discipline of secrecy, you will have to practice the discipline of silence. [14:10]
And it may be, if God is wiling and gracious to you, you will finally get to where you don’t have to keep your mouth shut in order to keep from using your tongue to promote yourself. We may even, in some cases take steps to prevent them from being known—our good deeds and qualities if that does not of course require deceit. But sometimes it will be a good thing if not only will we abstain from announcing our good deeds and qualities but we will also take some measures to conceal the good that we are doing. [14:49]
Very often, our services tempt us badly here because we are called upon to testify or give an account of the work that we’ve been doing and this is a great temptation some times to announce ourselves and promote ourselves and let people know incidentally that we are doing quite well with the Lord, thank you just the same and that’s a great temptation.
And sometimes we would do better not to say anything. Testifying by lips is not the only way of testifying and sometimes, just to remind you what we try to tell people reveals something that we are not trying to tell them but we tell them without trying, you see. And we have to be very careful in handling this matter. We want to give praise to God but there are subtle ways of giving praise to God, which are ways of giving praise to ourselves. It’s very important to deal with this. [15:53]
Now, I have listed the seven deadly sins up here and I am going to come to those in a moment in a little summary but pride and envy are terribly destructive forces and we must not feed them in any way. We must draw FROM them any means of support and encouragement and to tell you the truth, sometimes our testimonies feed them. You have to be very careful with it and we have to train ourselves actually to be able to give praise to God without giving praise to ourselves.
And sometimes we need to sense our motivations and simply turn the subject to something else when we are asked to testify. I hope you will not misunderstand me about that but I think it’s a very important matter for us to attend to—this matter of testifying and witnessing and giving glory to God. [16:51]
Now, when we do this, we tame—we tame or lose the inclination to seek justification—self-justification or fame or even attention before men. We need love so badly don’t we? And the first act of love is attention. The first act of love is attention and so we want attention. What you love, you attend to.
You remember when you fell in love with some one you just couldn’t take your eyes off of them. They couldn’t take their eyes off of you. You often see two young people just sitting and looking in one another’s eyes. It’s a wonderful thing. Attention—a beautiful thing—it’s one of the things which God has given us—it’s one of those times in life that God has given us and we should enjoy it and praise God for it and use it as is right.
Attention is a wonderful thing but you see, our hunger to be loved, if it is not met in God may drive us to seek attention in wrong and harmful ways.
A child that is not loved may do terrible things to get attention and a minister or a teacher who is not loved may do terrible things to get attention. We need attention and we must lose this driving urge to have it by announcing our good deeds. In the practice of secrecy, we experience our continuing relationship with God in independence from the opinions of others. [18:42]
Psalms 31:20—“Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy presence from the pride of man: thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues.” The secret place with God is a place in which we stand beyond the tongues of men and sometimes it’s our own tongue that we need to hide from and there is nothing more important in stabilizing our walk of faith than the practice of the discipline of secrecy to such an extent that we are free—free from the need for attention and fame and reputation and appreciation. [19:35]
Sometimes, people wonder what happen to Elijah. How could this man who was so powerful—up there on the mountain calling down fire. Well, I don’t know what happened to him between that mountain and the place where Ahab and Jezebel were reigning but I have a feeling about what happened to him. I think he got into great gouts of appreciation and appreciation from himself and from others. And he hadn’t been around the town very long until he had had so much appreciation that he’d forgotten about God all together and so when Jezebel shook her finger at him, he ran because by that time, the only thing he could think about was him, you see.
And if that’s all you’ve got to think about, dear friends, you’ve got the mind of the flesh because you’ve cut yourself off from God with your mind. And then when the crisis comes, there is nothing to do but run because you know you can’t do anything about it. See? This man on the one hand called down fire from Heaven, wiped out the prophets of Baal and then a little woman says, “I’m going to kill you.” See? “I’m going to kill you. I’m going to have your head.” And he just split, I’m telling you. [Laughter] An old Texas preacher I used to know said “he ran so fast, you could play marbles on his coattail.” [Laughter] [21:10]
And the difference here is the difference of where Elijah’s mind was and I’m sure from what I know about human nature that what tripped him up was his success and the appreciation he got for it and you can become addicted to appreciation. The practice of the discipline of secrecy can cut the root of pride and head off what comes after pride; namely, envy by simply teaching us to get our appreciation from God.
I want to read again from Thomas a Kempis. He hath “great tranquility of heart” that saideth nothing by “praisings and blamings.” He whose conscious is clean, he will soon be content and pleased.
“Thou are not the holier though thou be praised though (nor) the more vile though thou be blamed and dispraised. What thou art, that thou art; that God knoweth thee to be and (that) thou canst be said to be no greater . . . For a man ever to do well and think little of himself is token of a meek soul. For a man not to wish to be comforted by any creature is a token of great purity and inward trust. He that seeketh no outward witness for himself, it appeareth openly that he hath committed himself wholly to God.”
One of the great manifestations and fallacies of unbelief is the thought that our spiritual acts and virtues need to be advertised. Indeed it is possible to think that it is possible for them to be hid at all is a mistake. They cannot be hid. They simply cannot be hid. Those who need to know will know and secrecy rightly practiced enables us to place our public relations department entirely in the hands of God who did not in the first pace light our candle to put it under a bushel but to be the light of the world. The frantic efforts of religious personages and groups to advertise and certify themselves is of itself a stunning revelation of their lack of substance and faith. The gospel stories impress us with how hard it was for Jesus and His friends to avoid crowds. [23:38]
Quite candidly, if it is possible for our faith and works to be hidden: perhaps that only shows that it should be. We might more profitably direct our efforts toward cultivation of a faith that is impossible to hide.
In Philippians 2, we have this passage which has troubled people sometimes, I think because their mind is rather far from it perhaps as it is formed in the religious atmosphere around them. Notice these words—Philippians 2:2, uh, 2:3—“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind, let each esteem other better than themselves—let each esteem other better than themselves.” [24:40]
Now, you will not be able to do that unless you are an adept at being secret about your good qualities. “Look not every man on his own interests (things) but every man also on the interest (things) of others;” (Philippians 2:4) and then comes the great passage, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God . . . “ (Philippians 2:5-6)—and then it goes on to explain how the combination of humility and exultation is the essence of our Savior’s life.
Jesus often taught about these things and in Luke, the 14th chapter, He is invited in to a dinner and He puts forth a little parable because He notices when He goes to the dinner that everyone is trying to get the best seats. You know that’s the way we are so taken up in status that you can hardly have the dinner without having seats, which are better than others—strange thing. [25:51]
And Jesus says, when thou art bidden to come to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room or the highest place lest the more honorable man than thou be bidden of him; and he that bade thee come and say, ‘Give this man your seat.’ How terribly shameful and you begin with shame to take the lowest seat. When you are bidden, go and sit in the lowest seat and then when he that bade the cometh, he will say, ‘what are ye doing sitting down there, friend? Come on up here at the better seat. Then thou shalt have worship with in the presence of them that sat at meat with thee. (Luke 14: 8-10) (Paraphrased by Dallas)
Jesus had a sense of humor. He had a sense of humor and you have to understand that when you read it, “For whosoever . . . “—then the serious teaching, “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” (Luke 14:11) And we need to have that verse in our mind as we share with one another and as we are concerned about the work of God, we need to always remember this principle. If we exalt ourselves, we will be abased. Many people are abased and there is a simple reason. They are exalting themselves.
Will you remember that as a law of life and one of the main ways we exalt ourselves is through more or less blatantly, more or less subtlety, letting our goods be known—our good qualities and our good deeds—and it’s a very poisonous thing. That’s why the discipline of secrecy is so extremely important for us. [27:33]
Look finally with me at 1 Peter, the last chapter and here is some language which was fairly common in the early church because it’s repeated almost word for word in James 4:6, but listen to these words from 1 Peter 5:5—“Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another . . . ”
There is no one-way submission in the New Testament. That just tempts me to go off on a big log discourse but I just want to say that. There is no one- way submission in the New Testament. “ . . . Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you.” (1 Peter 5:5-7) [28:31]
May I just tell you—and this anticipates a little of what I will say in my last lectures with you—God is looking for people to exalt. God is looking for people to exalt but he can’t find many of them because he can’t find many of them who are humble enough to be exalted. And consequently instead of exalting them, he has to spend a lot of his time resisting them because if He didn’t resist them, they would exalt themselves to such an extent that they would destroy themselves. That’s why He resists them, by the way. [29:12]
When you are in a context with others, let me give you just this practical advice. When you are in a context with others, pray that they will be more effective than you are. Pray that they will be more blessed than you are and you will deal pride and envy such a blow that you will begin to experience the exultation of God in your work and your person.
Very simple device—that’s what Paul means when he says, let each esteem the other better than himself (Philippians 2:3; paraphrased) and that we should look not at our own interests but at the interests of others. Pray that others will be greater than you. Pray earnestly and seriously that they will be greater than you. That doesn’t mean that you can’t pray that you will do well. [30:10]
That’s not the point. We are dealing with a comparison and to say that someone else is greater than me or more blessed than me is not to say that God has not blessed me greatly. Certainly as not a counsel to say, “Oh I am nothing, nothing and God isn’t . . .”—no, no, no. God wants you to be something. He wants you to be something so big that you can’t stand to know it right now.
Let me move on to the discipline of sacrifice. Let me not—I just want to tell you what a blessing there is when you begin to see those prayers answered. When you begin to see others blessed more than you and you are able to identify with that blessing because you have prayed for it. Listen, I’ll tell you, you don’t know what fellowship and love is until you get to that level—the ability to rejoice in the glory and the greatness that someone has given to someone else. [31:25]
The discipline of sacrifice—in the discipline of sacrifice, we abstain. We abstain from the possession or enjoyment of what is needed by us—what is needed by us—not as in frugality of what is really superfluous anyway, you see. Frugality deals with what is really superfluous anyway.
Now, we are talking about need, dear friends. Thus Abraham was prepared to sacrifice Isaac and that was a sacrifice. He needed Isaac; it was through Isaac that the promises of God were to be fulfilled and Abraham wasn’t expecting any more children. [32:20]
Now, this is abandonment to God—abandonment—this is turning it loose. Everything we are holding on to, we turn loose. According to the story of—or the interpretation that is given in Hebrews 11:19—Abraham was actually—he really had given up Isaac as dead. His hope was not that he would be bailed out at the last moment. He was counting on God to raise Isaac from the dead to fulfill the promise lineage through him. This is stepping into the darkened abyss in the faith and hope that God will bear us up. [33:18]
The poor widow in Luke 21:2-4 gave more to God in her two pennies than did the rich men writing out their large tax deductible checks around her. For she in “her penury,” Jesus said, “hath cast in all the (her) living that she had.” See, that’s sacrifice. She abandoned herself to God’s care as she gave sacrificially. It isn’t the magnitude of what is given; it is the abandonment to God’s hands in the face of need and we can begin with small things and in all of these disciplines by the way, we have to begin with small things.
We take care of the bear first and then the lion and then we look at Goliath. There is an order in these things. We take care of the small things; and how sweet, how utterly nourishing to faith it is. How nourishing to faith are the tokens of God’s care in response to sacrifice. That cautious faith that never saws off the limb on which it is sitting never learns that unattached limbs find strange ways of not falling. [34:52]
Once while in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, my wife and I decided to give away what was left after paying the bills at the first of the month, telling no one and to simply—I mean, there was a real need. It wasn’t that we just wanted to try this out as a trick [Laughter] to see what would happen. There was a real need and of course, we had to go the rest of the month too. We had to eat and how odd it was that in that month, we found a $20 bill pinned to the steering wheel of our car. Hamburger was $.39 a pound then and we lived like a king until the next payday and we had the provisions of a king, you see. That’s nothing big. It’s nothing big but it was a small sacrifice and God met us and we learned something very important about that, you see. [36:07]
Sacrifice as a discipline is absolutely indispensible to help our faith rise to where it ought to be and until we have come to the place of sacrifice and have seen the hand of God, we will never have that assurance about the reality of His Kingdom that we need to nourish our life and to provide from within us that river of living water to a starving world. [36:40]
Now, I want to just make a few comments in making a transition to the Disciplines of Engagement. I think, first I would like to give you a statement by a man by the name of J. J. Surin because we need to think about the significance of these Disciplines of Abstinence. The Disciplines of Abstinence are designed to get us free from things which are filling our lives with clutter and Jean-Joseph Surin was asked why when so many people—why is it when so many people undertake to serve God, directly and fully, there are so few who are saintly? And he replied, “The chief reason is they give too big a place in life to indifferent things.” They give too big a place in life to things, which don’t matter.
The disciplines for the spiritual life on the side of abstinence are ways of clearing out our closets and garages and all of the other parts of our life, our self—clearing them out so that something of value can inhabit them. [38:06]
And if you just look at these disciplines, you will begin to see, I think how they affect the list on the other side of the seven deadly sins. Now, this not complete; remember, we have to now add the Disciplines of Engagement and the Disciplines of Abstention are just half f the story. But you can begin to see, I think if you will just take these and think about how they affect these—how they undercut the hole that these have—and I’d like to suggest that as an exercise for you if you have time today, is to just spend some time thinking about how these undercut these. [38:50]
In some cases, it’s fairly obvious. For example, fasting in relation to gluttony: chastity in relation to lechery but for example, you may want to think about how fasting and silence affect wrath and meditate on that. For example, wrath is often associated with impatience and you need to think about the roots of impatience. What is it that makes us impatient? Well, it has something to do with pride probably, various kinds of anxiety and concern. You might want to think about how sacrifice and fasting, maybe secrecy would affect impatience, and the wrath that comes from impatience.
Of course, lots of wrath doesn’t come from impatience. Wrath comes from other things. So, may I just commend that to you and ask you to think about that some and also with the idea that now when we add the positive disciplines—the Disciplines of Engagement—we will begin to see, I think an even stronger connection with this list of seven deadly sins, as they have been called. [40:15}
And I was very interested to hear the list that Jim gave us the other night from—was it from John Cassian? I think there are eight on that list, as I recall. It’s interesting to see the similarities and differences and this in fact is not just something that some individual thought up one time and thought, “Isn’t that nice? We have the seven deadly sins.” Now, this is a very deep development. I mean, it comes out of centuries of thought as to how we should deal with those things in ourselves that are destructive and constitute sin, not if I can put it this way, sin not as a wrong, but sin as a wrung—a little play on words which may help you because you see, what is wrong with us is that we are wrung inside—we are twisted—we’ve been wrung inside—twisted—not hooked up right. All the wires—the wires go from wrong places and the channels get crossed and we are wrung. [41:26]
Wrung is the sense in which Paul often speaks of sin, when he speaks of the sin in my members or when he speaks of sin was in the world, he’s talking about “the wrung” which is in the world and “the wrung” which is in my members. My members are all hooked up wrong—twisted, distorted—and that’s why I missed the mark.
You often hear sin described in lectures and teaching and I’m sure in sermons as “missing the mark.” Well, why do you miss the mark? You miss the mark because your bow is crooked or your arrow is wrong or you can’t see straight. Your muscles aren’t coordinated. That’s the deeper sense of sin and that’s what has to be corrected. And when we talk about these things, we are not talking about sin as wrong; we are talking about sin as wrung. OK? [42:22]
So, let me give you that as a topic of meditation and thought for today—how the disciplines will affect these major areas of sin.
Now, it is absolutely necessary that the Disciplines of Abstinence be counter balanced and supplemented in the overall economy of the human soul by the Disciplines of Engagement and I give you here the verse, Mark 2:11 where Jesus said to the man who was let down by four into His presence as He taught. He said, “Arise, take up thy bed . . .” and walk. That’s an interesting story because you see, that’s one of those cases where the faith that lead to the healing was in the people who stood around and who brought him. [43:22]
Faith is a wonderful thing and it ought to cure forever that individualism which Jim has so eloquently deplored upon a number of occasions to understand that faith is a kind of presence that may be more or less in the one who is needing, in the minster or the people who are around—the fellowship who are around. Jesus Himself certainly did not lack faith but when He went to His own hometown, He could not do many mighty deeds because of the unbelief of the people. [43:56]
And in this case, in the case of the man borne by four, it says, “. and when He (Jesus) saw their faith . . .” (Mark 2:5) Now, it takes a lot of faith to go to your neighbor’s house and tear his roof off and let someone down through it. Don’t you think? [Laughter] And you can imagine yourself doing that? You go tear the roof off your neighbor’s house and let some poor fellow through it so he can get in there. Of course, roofs were not what they are now but still it’s kind of a disturbing kind of thing.
And so, it took faith and when Jesus saw their faith, He began to minister. But now you see, it came down finally to the point to where it had to be this man’s faith. The Disciplines of Engagement require that we exercise our faith in undertaking positive actions. Moses’ staff did not turn into a serpent until he threw it down and it did not turn back into a stick until he took it by the tail. Faith without works is dead and that doesn’t tell us that we ought to do wonderful works to prove we have faith—that is a statement about the organic connection between faith and works. [45:16]
Works not only express faith, they are faith. Works are faith and they increase faith. They increase our faith and God will not take us very far until we respond. We have to respond and it is our engagement that brings forth more faith in us and brings forth the power of God to bring events to the place where in looking at them, we will have more faith because we have seen God act but God does not do it all at once and so we have to—we have to throw down our staff.
We have to take the serpent by the tail and I guess in that case, I would find it harder to throw it down than pick it up, as I genuinely do not like snakes. I am sure that God loves them and that He has some purpose for them [Laughter] and I’m glad He does but I suspect it’s because He feels very comfortable around them and I don’t. [46:27]
But it’s absolutely necessary that we engage with the things that frighten us even and very often, especially in ministry, when we begin to work in the power of the Kingdom of God, we are brought up against things which are totally beyond us and we don’t know what we should do.
And when you get into the work of real ministry and to go back to some things I said in earlier lectures where we are imparting life, where we are sending what is in our bodies to another person; that’s scary business. That’s scary business and so we need a little faith to engage ourselves and the Disciplines of Engagement now are really things which we can move into gradually and allow our faith to grow as we sense the spiritual substance of our lives also growing. [47:24]
Life as earlier described does not derive its power of growth and development from withdrawal but by engagement. You remember, I said that lie is the power to reach beyond and to appropriate what is beyond ones self in order to grow and expand and to carry out that cycle of life, which is natural to us and I illustrated it with a seed. You can illustrate it with an egg. Egg hatches out and a little chicken begins to run around and it’s just a process of appropriation and growth because the chicken gets out by pecking at the egg and as soon as it gets out, it starts pecking for food and it appropriates what’s around and it grows. So, it is not by withdrawal but by engagement.
Abstinence makes way for engagement. If the place in our blood cells, which is to carry oxygen, is occupied by carbon monoxide, we die or languish for lack of oxygen. If the place in our souls, which is to be indwelt by God, and His service is occupied by food, sex, society—we die or languish for lack of God and a right relationship to His creatures. [48:41]
A proper abstinence breaks the hold of improper engagements, so that the soul can be properly engaged in by God—in and by God. Abstinence and engagement are the “out breathing” and the “in breathing”—the systole and diastole of our spiritual lives. They are two sides of one coin and I’ve separated them for purposes of discussion but again, I want to emphasis the unity of the disciplines is a simple unity of the whole individual life where these have been adapted by experimentation and growth so that we are fully open to our life in the Kingdom of God. [49:26]
I think we better break here because I am coming up on a big section and let’s break now for a few minutes.