The Disciplines of Engagement: Study

Dallas Willard Part 10 of 13

A series of talks Dallas gave for African Enterprise on his first trip to South Africa in 1985. He works through some of the material that became The Spirit of the Disciplines.


Dallas: Now, I want to begin with the major Discipline of Engagement as it affects the first part of our walk with the Lord and this is the discipline of Study—the spiritual discipline of Study.

Calvin Miller, whom some of you may know. —He publishes a lot of books with InterVarsity and I think he is a very fine writer recently remarked in one of his books—“Mystics without study are only spiritual romantics who want relationship without effort.” I give you that again. “Mystics without study are only spiritual romantics who want relationship without effort.” That’s on page 83 of his book The Table of InwardnessThe Table of Inwardness: Nurturing Our Inner Life in Christ and I think that’s a marvelous way of putting it. [1:03]

Now, we have a lot of problems with study that derive from our school system in our society and ever since Shakespeare, we have known about the school boy that winds his way complainingly to school. A school is bad news and so we have a hard problem here to overcome this and I’ll say a little bit more about this later but I just want to say that we are going to talk now about study as something that can be made a part of our lives. We are not talking about becoming scholars unless that is something to which we are especially called but study is a part of every disciple’s life. Study is a part of every disciple’s life. Yes?

Question: Will you please repeat the author and title of the book?

Dallas: Yes indeed. It’s Calvin Miller is the author and the name of the book is The Table of Inwardness (Nurturing our Inward Life with Christ) and it was just published last year. That was on page 83. The publisher is InterVarsity. I am sure it is InterVarsity.

Comment: Calvin what?

Dallas: Calvin Miller and he has published many wonderful things. He is a very fine writer and a fine man and this is one of these great statements that you get and you want to treasure. Much of our charismatic movement and our renewal movement falls under this statement—“Mystics without study are only spiritual romantics who want relationship without effort.” [2:48]

This is where that view of church services that I mentioned as sorta weekly cheerleading sessions where you come and get “juiced up” for the rest of the week. It really comes home in these types of meetings very often because their whole exercise is given to just enjoying the service and having experiences and wonderful experiences, no doubt but that’s it, no more. Just experiences and there is no structure in their life and study is a way of putting structure in the life.

Study means primarily—of course, study of the Word of God but it also means study of God’s creation. We want to have before us always the various forms in which God’s Word comes. God’s Word is God speaking. God’s Word is God speaking and God speaks in nature and the Bible tells us about that. Psalm 19 as well as Psalm 119, the Psalms and the prophets are full of the Word of God in nature and the Word of God of course speaks in nature because the logos is the principle of nature. So, the Word of God speaks in nature. [4:11]

The Word of God is also in history and here we have the story of the Jewish nation and of the church and this is God speaking in the church. Now, indeed, nature is inclusive of history so we should not be surprised if we find God speaking in history.

History is just the story of man in nature and God is in history. God speaks in His written word and I am prepared to take a very high view of the scriptures. In the written word, we have God’s infallible expression of everything we need to know for our redemption—everything we need to know for our redemption. It is infallible for God’s purposes and we have to be careful and not judge too closely as to what those are. But our faith is that it is infallible for God’s purposes. [5:31]

And then of course, God speaks in the Son, Jesus Christ Himself. He is the Living Word and in these four ways, God speaks and we give our minds to study God in all of these ways.

Now, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that in my view, the primary focus of study around which all of the others turn would be Jesus Christ and Christ is present in the Scriptures but we must never take the scriptures apart from our life and we must always remember the words of the old hymn, “Beyond the sacred page, I seek Thee, Lord; My spirit pants for Thee, O Living Word.” (from the hymn, Break Thou the Bread of Life) [6:29]

The prayer of Washington Gladden that as we study, God would light up The Sacred Page and “from fettered bondage, free us.” See, the Word of God, if we take it simply as the written Word of God without the living Word of God can kill us and it has killed many people.

And 2nd Peter makes clear that the writings of Paul are very dangerous and he speaks about people who rest with those writings to their own destruction. I wonder if the writer of 2nd Peter, if he were here today if he wouldn’t see many people slain by misunderstandings of Paul because the evangelical movement today is not under the ages of the Gospels. It’s under the letters of Paul—falsely so, perhaps but it’s still true. I’ll say something about that more in a moment. [7:32]

But we turn to the written Word of God and we take it in its fullness and by the way, the written Word of God is the whole Bible and not any part of it. It’s the whole Bible and what is infallible is not parts of the bible but the whole Bible. [7:46]

You will remember the case of the man who read the Bible and it said and it went out—“and Judas went out and hanged himself” (Matthew 27:5) and then he turned to the other verse which said, “go thou and do likewise” (Luke 10:37) and a lot of times, we use the Bible just about as silly as that. You study the whole written Word of God and in it, we are instructed and we meditate and we memorize and we utter it and we hear it from others and in so doing, the written word of God comes to us in the Power of the Holy Spirit and in the life of Jesus Himself and the Father forms then of His people a temple in which He can dwell.

Listen to these words from Joshua 1:8—Joshua 1:8—“This book of the law shall not depart out of your (thy) mouth; but you (thou) shalt mediate in it day and night, that you (thou) may observe to do according to all that is written therein . . . ” Now, I want you to notice that this is—in the way I have described disciplines, this is simply a statement of how a discipline works. [9:02]

You remember a discipline is something we engage in in order to be able to do something we cannot do directly. Here is what we cannot do directly—“observe to do according to all that is written therein.” You cannot do that directly but if you meditate in the book of the law, you will draw from it the strength to do what it says.  “ . . . for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.” (Joshua 1:8) [9:34]

Let me join that to Psalm 119—one of my very favorite passages in all of the Bible is this little section, Psalm 119:9-16. Listen to these wonderful words. “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?”  A young man especially needs guidance. Old people do too of course but young people need guidance and the question is, how is a young person going to take hold of life and succeed with it and the answer is ” . . . by taking heed (thererto) according to your (thy) Word. With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wonder from thy commandments. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” (Psalm 119:9-11) [10:30]

You want to not sin? Hide the word in your heart.  When it gets in your heart, it will help you do what it says but if you don’t put it in your heart, it won’t be there to generate the strength and guidance that is needed.

“Blessed art thou, O Lord; teach me thy statutes. With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth. I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches. I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways. I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.” (Psalm 119:12-16)

See, people who forget the word are the ones who have not delighted themselves in it and meditated in it.

Memorization has a bad name, but remembering is not just based on memorization. It is based on understanding and the light. When we understand and delight in something, we remember without memorizing. I am not coming out against memorizing by any means. I believe it is a good thing. I may talk about that in a little more detail if we have time. [11:40]

I do want to step aside just now on that passage to say something about mediation because you will observe that I am not listing meditation as a separate discipline and I think indeed it is not a separate discipline. My own view is that meditation is a manner or way in which we carry out many of the disciplines.

Meditation. Meditation means centering. Why do we call the Mediterranean Sea the Mediterranean Sea? Anyone know? Yes?

Comment: It’s in the middle of the earth. [12:27]

Dallas: Absolutely. it’s in the middle of the world. Everyone knows it’s the middle of the world, I suppose. [Laughter] People who named it thought it was. The Mediterranean Sea—the middle—we “center in” in meditation—we focus—we con-cen-trate. What does concentrate mean?

Comment: We are back to the center.

Dallas: We are back to the center, aren’t we? Con-cent—with the center—we do “into the center.”  We turn into the center. [13:11]

So, now when we meditate on the Word of God, we center ourselves upon it and all of those devices, those hermeneutical devices, which Jim talked about in his lectures, recently come to our aid as we center on the Word. We look at its literal meaning. We think about its moral application, its spiritual significance. We think about its meaning in terms of Christ. What does it mean for Christ and we center in.

And you see—now, this meditation is full of substance and the reason why I stay away from meditation as a separate discipline is because it is apt to present itself as some kind of psychological trick for emptying the mind. And indeed many people who use it tell you that’s just exactly what you want.

I don’t want my mind emptied; I want my mind filled with Christ and I am awfully conscious of that statement that Jesus made about the person who cleaned out the house and left it empty and the demon that was cleaned out came back with some of his friends.  I don’t want my mind to be empty. I want my mind to be filled with Christ. [14:36]

There is a very interesting thing in the Old Testament. You will find that when the Jews went in to the Promised Land, God told them, now, don’t kill all these people at once; don’t empty these cities at once because if you do, the animals will move in, so you don’t get rid of all these people at once. You wait until you are ready to occupy and that’s an awfully important truth and with just those words, I explain why I don’t take meditation as a separate discipline. We ought to meditate in many of our disciplines and of course, above all, study is meditating. [15:21]

In study of course, we also strive to see the Word of God at work in the lives of others in the church, in history and in nature. We not only read and hear and inquire but we meditate on what comes before us in this way. We have lost very much by not being able to meditate on the lives of the saints. We have lost much. And one of the greatest things about European art is how it enables us to mediate on the lives of the saints and I know a lot of Protestants who get a lot of illicit help by looking at great art and the art, which presents the saints.

Now, it’s true that—it’s interesting in many respects if you go through The Louvre in Paris, one of the most interesting things is how many people’s heads cut off and blood spurting all over the place—it’s bloody. The art of the western world is bloody. Just go through and count them.

If you think that this is something new in cinema and so on, all you have to do is just walk through The Louvre and look at the paintings but you see, that’s important because that’s an authentic representation of the sternness of human life and of the sternness of the call to discipleship. And you will see all of these saints full of arrows and hung upside down and all the bloody things that are done to them. [16:59]

And it’s a wonderful thing that—listen—I know a young man—I know a young man—he’s not young anymore. He’s getting old like all of us but he was raised in quite strict Protestant upbringing in the USA and he went to the university and took his degrees and he went to Europe and when he got back, he began to have overwhelming experiences with Christ and I know exactly why it was because he had gone to Shartz and Notre Dame and he had looked at the art and he had seen the embodiment of something so magnificent that it became real to him, and he began to have overwhelming experiences of Christ and his life has just been revolutionized. And when he began to have these experiences, he would sit around saying, “Thank God for God. Thank God for God,” you know because his joy was so great, and he just wanted to say just, “Thank God for God.” You ever feel that way? Thank God for God! [18:07]

And we need to be able to meditate on the reality of the Word of God in life and history and in nature in order to begin to approximate an understanding of how great God is and how wonderful He is. We need to turn back to meditation on the lives of the Saints.

Now, you see, I don’t need to tell you that the Saints were not all right. Sure, they made mistakes. Only you and I are perfect. [Laughter] Only your doctrine and my doctrine is perfect; they were wrong about some things, you know? I often have occasion to point out to people that it is odd how we can suppose that we are all correct but Luther, of course made some mistakes. Wesley made a few and even Paul—some people suggest he made a few mistakes, but of course, our doctrine is perfect. Hmmm? And that’s what saves us is we believe all the right things.  [Laughter] We have that in common with the devil. [Laughter] [19:18]

I want to say some more practical things now about study and I want to spend the rest of my time today talking about this because study is so absolutely fundamental for us, we just must try to come to grips with it in a very realistic kind of way.

First of all, let me just say that we must understand that the early disciples of Christ and His apostles—what they did were study Christ. They studied Christ. See, that’s the whole point of their being with Him was to study Him. They studied what He did. They listened to what He said and after a couple of years of apprenticeship or maybe eighteen months—it’s a little hard to say exactly how long but—after a period of apprenticeship, then, He told them, “Now, you do what I have been doing. You preach the Gospel.  You teach. You heal the sick.” [20:33]

It’s interesting, by the way—I take it back—it’s interesting if you study the way He commissions them when He first sends them out, there is one thing He does not tell them to do and that is teach. He tells them to preach and to heal and cast out demons but not to teach.

I think that is awfully important because of course, teaching is the hardest part. It’s the most difficult part. Their teaching would come later but they could proclaim the Gospel. They could go out and announce the availability of the Kingdom of God and that’s what they were sent to do. And then of course, they would show forth the presence of the Kingdom by casting out demons and healing but they did not teach. They were not commissioned to teach at that point. [21:24]

Teaching came later and of course my own view is that that’s because teaching requires a very special presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives and that only after they had grown to a certain extent were they in a position to then so receive the spirit that they could teach. And also, it appears that Jesus had to get out of the way in His fleshly form so that the spirit could come and be with them in the way that would be most helpful in their teaching.

And so, the Spirit as teacher, if you will recall begins to be introduced in John 14 and from thereon, that develops—the Spirit as teacher and as ministering teacher. And just to remind you of course, Jesus was given a Spirit without measure so He was a great teacher. He was the greatest of teachers because He had the Spirit without any measure. [22:16]

But the point is simply that these disciples studied Jesus. Now, when we study, we focus our mind upon something so that our mind can take on the structure, which is in the thing. We submit our minds to the objective reality, which is out here in order that that reality might take possession of our minds and of our lives, of course because if it takes possession of our minds, then it will translate into action when the occasion is appropriate.

So now, when we submit our minds to the Word of God, whether it’s the written or the living and of course we want them together, then we are submitting ourselves to the objective truth and reality, which is present in the life of Jesus and in the Kingdom of God. You see it in many, many ways. [23:07]

The problem of course is for you to find out how to be with Jesus to study Him. How can you be with Jesus to study Him? And for you, as for them, study is the primary Discipline of Engagement, not abstinence; it’s the primary Discipline of Engagement at the beginning of your walk with the Lord and it will remain a major one, but at the outset, it is primary. The most important thing those fellows had to do was to be with Christ and study Him.

And, we must never forget that to be a disciple means to be a pupil. It means to be a student. That’s what it means—a learner and when we go to make disciples of all nations, we are enrolling people in Jesus’ course. We are enrolling people in Jesus’ course in life in the Kingdom of God and we have to study and, we have to determine for ourselves what is the primary way in which we can be with Jesus. [24:31]

Now, solitude of course goes with this. Solitude is primary in the Disciplines of Abstinence because it is in being away from others at the first that we learn how to be with Jesus and one of the problems that you see in many of the cults is they do not allow the individual to really get away from the group and one of the marks that you see in authentic Christianity is when the Word of God is implanted in the mind, the one who planted it goes on like Johnny Appleseed over the hill and leaves that individual to be with Christ. [25:15]

Now, there will be a fellowship. I am not denying that and the fellowship is important. We will talk about that later but it is most important that we find the solitude in which to study Jesus—absolutely vital.

And you may notice that in the book of Acts—I remember how stunned I was the first time I carefully studied the book of Acts and saw how Paul would just go through a town and scatter the seed and cause a riot and get thrown out and go on. A few days later, he would come back and ordain elders and disappear over the hill.  But you see, he was imparting life and when you plant a grain of corn in good soil, you don’t need to check it every day. You don’t need to dig it up and see how the roots are doing. You need to leave it alone and let it work and we come to Christ and that seed which has been sown in us by the word of the Kingdom, we nourish by study of Christ. [26:29]

And study is the main way in which we can be with Christ through a discipline. Study is the main way in which we can be with Christ through a discipline in the early days of our discipleship to Him.

Now, I want to make some quite practical remarks. First of all . . . Yes, Philip?

Philip: Inaudible

Dallas: Yes. I am saying something that is closely related to that actually, Philip and it is this. We certainly do need to attend to those who are born into the Kingdom but one of the things we don’t want to do is give them the impression that their life comes through us, you see and we want to encourage them to have an inward life with Christ. [27:43]

And you see the funny thing about the body of Christ is that all the nourishment comes from the head. It does come through the members and as Paul says, “ . . . as every joint supplieth . . . ”(Ephesians 4:16)—every joint nourishes every other but the nourishment comes from the head.

And so, what I am saying is that we must really encourage these people, not only to be in a fellowship but also to be alone with Christ. And we must encourage them to believe that He is with them and able to guide them and I think what that means, among other things, is that we begin to listen to them—what is Christ telling them?

Rather than is so often the case, I think, we just overwhelm them with what Christ is telling them to do through us and we need to encourage that kind of individualism—a good individualism—which is not rejecting of fellowship but keeps the person independent on Christ for a direct line of nourishment and fellowship and makes real the priesthood of the believer. But when they come together, they really nourish because when they were apart, they really got something if I can put it that way and then the church is to build up. [29:02]

Now, Jim’s point about institutions which I’ve been thinking about very intensely since he said it—about doctrine not replacing institution—I think here we have some real needs today to develop the institutions which will provide the kind of care for the babies without making them parasites or something of that sort. I guess I would say only the paraclete in their life could keep them from becoming parasites on human beings or human groups.

All right; now, some rather practical things. How do we study? In order to succeed with the discipline of study, we must arrange our affairs. We must have in particular a time and a place. And I am back now to my list from yesterday. You have time. You have place. You have imaging. You have money and you must invest it in study. [30:15]

Study will not happen. It’s not going to leap out from behind the hedge and grab you. You will have to make arrangements and sometimes, a busy pastor for example, finds every corner of the church and all the offices and maybe even his own home occupied by things that are going on. You have to have a place that is sacred, that is away from everything and yours. You have to have your place. You cannot succeed with it (I think he means to say without it) and you have to have your time.

I especially suggest that for those of us, who are leading busy full lives, we must have a place where we come and when we come to that place, we study. We don’t do anything else. And it should not be the kitchen table unless you just can’t avoid it. You want a place where you study and all you do is study and when you come to that place, you don’t have to clean it off and set it up. You want to be able to leave your materials there where you can come and directly move into it and let that be a place of study and prayer and solitude and silence. You have a place. Don’t despise place.  [31:33]

One of the ways that I think we must understand the gospel is that it is primarily concerned with the sanctification of place. It isn’t an accident that you can be only at one place at one time and that place is essential to your life. It is metaphysically and theologically and psychologically fundamental to recognize the importance of place and when to begin to understand this, you will have begun to make some progress with this issue of study.

Many people are just defeated by study because they never master this point—they never master this point, You must have a place and it must be sanctified by this function and it must be a holy place where your eyes are open to God and when you go there, you go there to meet Him as you study. [32:28]

And you think of Jacob after he woke up from that dream, he said what an awful place this is. This is the household of God. This is the doorway to Heaven. God is in this place and I knew it not. (Genesis 28:17) And you need that place in which you know God is and you go there and you go there to study alone.

Now, let me say; it should be comfortable. Don’t make it hard on yourself. Make it comfortable. If you need to spend some money to secure this, get some money and do it. If that’s impossible, God will help you do the best you can. I’m not saying that that’s impossible but you need to arrange your resources so that this will be a comfortable place. It will be an efficient place. If you—have your books in order, your Bible in order and the sources that you use to study—have them in order. Don’t have them piled in a corner where you can’t find anything. You’ll spend your life going through the pile of books. [Laughter] [33:34]

I mean, this is important now. It’s really important and we need to talk about these kinds of things because so many people just get nowhere because it takes them a half an hour to get started and by the time they get started, now then they begin to think about the end and so they never have their minds free to concentrate.

You have a holy place and you covenant with God about this and you ask Him to help you and you spend some money to make it comfortable and when you get there, be sure that you are rested. Don’t drag in there like that. Respect the economy of your life and find the good hours in your day that you can give to God in study and you will get somewhere. [34:17]

We are much troubled by misunderstandings of some of the things we read from the great ones who have gone on before. We read that Wesley got up at 4:30 or Luther at 3:30 and prayed for six hours and we forget that he went to bed at 7:00. [Laughter] They didn’t have electric lights. You know, people used to “go to bed with the chickens.” We speak about that—they used to really do it. [34:42]

When I was a boy, I lived in a house with my grandparents and we had no electricity, none of the so called conveniences of modern life and I can remember many nights being in bed while it was still light and hearing the chickens find their roosting place, but then of course they were up at 4:30 in the morning and by 5:30, they had cooked a huge breakfast and they had listened to their favorite gospel radio programs coming from Mexico or wherever it was that these stations broadcast these messages and that was a different life. You can’t do that unless you are prepared to change your whole life and that probably means to move to a different part of the world or at least out into the brush here. Then you can do that but that probably is not for you. [35:31]

I have a Methodist friend who said he read about John Wesley doing all that and so he thought he would try it. After a week, he found that he could sleep better in bed and so he gave it up. [Laughter] And that’s really where we are.  That’s really where we are.

When you go to your place of study, be rested. You are not doing this to impress God. You are doing it do benefit yourself. You are doing it to benefit yourself. Go rested. Be fresh. [36:05]

It may be that a daily session is not what you need for your time and place. You may need to plan longer, more intensive sessions, which are not every day. You will get further by studying all of Saturday afternoon than by spending five fifteen frazzled minutes a day through the week. Intensity is important. You cannot take a shower by having one drop of water put on you for eternity. [Laughter] You see? You need it all put on you at once. Intensity is the essence of the matter and you must have a comfortable place that is quiet where you can intensively give your mind to the study.

What to study—study the Gospels. I say without any hesitation, study the Gospels. Why do you think there are four of them? So you will study those four times more than you do anything else. No, seriously! Of course, there are four Gospels because the subject matter of the Gospels is most fundamental and it is most necessary for us to approach it in different perspectives. [37:22]

In order to grasp the nature of a simple, physical object, it is not enough for you to just look at it. You have to be able to walk around hit, pick it up, handle it, look at it in many, many perspectives and then you begin to understand. Study the Gospels. The Gospels are the fundamental subject matter, which provides you the opportunity to be with Christ in study. Study the Gospels!

Look at the parables. Look at the miracles. Look at the sayings. Pull these out and study them and the parables are most important. The parables are most important because of the absolutely ingenious nature, which they have for reaching the hardened heart. [38:17]

I would like for you to take just a moment now and look with me at Mathew 13, verses 10-17—Matthew 13, verses 10-17. This is a passage, which has bothered many people and they can’t understand it and I want to try to say some things to help you understand what it is saying.

I’ll just preface it by saying, the reason Jesus taught in parables was because of the hardness of our hearts but it was not done to punish. When we hear His explanations of why He spoke in parables, we think He is up to some trickery and in a sense, that’s true but He does not do it to punish us. He does not do it to make us suffer. [39:04]

Listen to the words of this passage—“And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto

them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” {Matthew 13:10-11)

Now, He does not say, “I’m not going to give it.” It’s very important to understand, He does not say, “I’m not going to give it.” He says, “It is not given.” “For whosoever hath, to him shall be given . . . “—marvelous law of the Kingdom of God which holds in every realm of life. “ . . . whosoever hath, to him shall be given . . .”—the reason that I’m not giving them much is because they don’t have much and think of it just like this. If I am going to go to you and get some water, the water you can give me will depend upon the size of my bucket, won’t it? And the folks that He was speaking to in the parables didn’t have very big buckets. They had a little bucket but not a very big bucket. [40:09]

“For whoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.” (Matthew 13:12) If I had come to you and had no bucket except my hands or a leaky bucket and you give me water, I’ll lose it.  I won’t even be able to contain it and I’ll throw the bucket away.

“Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not . . .” They see but they don’t see. They see a little bit if I tell them a story about a man who went out to look for the one lost sheep, they will remember the story. They can hear that. They can see that but they cannot see the deeper thing, at least not yet.  [41:03]

“ . . . seeing,  . . . they see not: and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing, ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing,          and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears . . .” (Matthew 13:14-15)

You see He is even aware of the fact that the grossness and hardness of their heart is connected with their will. They don’t want to hear. They don’t want to understand. Now, the question is, “shall we just give them up?” And Jesus’ answer is, “No we will give them what they can take. We will give them what they can take and we give it in the form of parables.” [41:58]

Now, parables are extremely important because they can sit in our minds and feed us what we need as we grow able to understand and that’s why Jesus teaches in parables. And you will find in practice, if you will study the parables and meditate on the parables that they will come to you in flashes. They go off like these—what do we call them?—time capsules?—you take a time capsule and all through the day, it just releases medicine. You take a parable and all through your life, it will continue to just release things, which you can now appreciate but you could not earlier.

You see this is the teaching that Jesus gives us when He talks about not giving pearls to swine. (Matthew 7:6) The common tendency among human beings is to believe if I’ve got something good enough, it will cure you of whatever you’ve got, just because it’s good, but it won’t necessarily because there is the other side, which is your capacity to receive. And no matter how many pearls you put in the pig trough; no matter how precious they are, the pig cannot digest pearls and one day, you will step in to put another bucket of pearls in its trough and it will see something edible—mainly, you leg. [43:25]

Now, I ask you, isn’t that exactly what Jesus said? He said, they will turn and rend you (Matthew 7:6) and that’s what happens when you give people things they can’t receive; and it very often happens because you take on their hard heart right straight on. You say, “I’m going to show you. Now, you jus stand still while I show you” and their heart rises up and says, “No, you are not.” How are you going to get around that? Jesus knew exactly how to get around it. He told parables. Hmmm? He told parables. [44:03]

You take a Pharisee on directly and you’ll get a big argument but you tell him the story about the Prodigal Son, what’s he gonna argue about? How can you argue with a story? And he goes away with a story in his head and when he’s not on the spot, he begins to think about that story, you see and his heart, which is hard, begins to melt and he begins to say, “Well, it’s true, I haven’t blown my father’s goods but on the other hand, am I like that older brother?” He’s not on the spot now, you see.

If you try to prove to him, “You’re like the older brother,” he’ll say, “No, I’m not and you’re a bad person besides.” And then he’ll take after you, but if you tell him a story, what’s he going to say? You see?  You need to meditate on the parables. The parables are absolutely vital, absolutely fundamental, and you cannot understand the sayings until you’ve meditated on the parables. [45:09]

You need to meditate on the miracles. I’m not going to dwell on those long because time of which I have spoken is running out but you need to mediate on the miracles and you need to take the sayings of Jesus—“ . . . seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33) Hmmm? The sayings of Jesus—“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8) and meditate upon them and fill your mind with them and as you do so, your mind will be transformed. [45:51]

Now, let me go on beyond that. You need to focus on the Gospels and you need to give great attention to them but you need some other things as well. You should take the Gospels and you should exert them and you should memorize them. I want to say again, memorization—many people have the idea they cannot memorize—they can memorize. Anyone can memorize if you will repeat, concentrate, and understand. The secret of memorization is simply repetition, concentration, and understanding. If you just try to repeat, it will work a little bit but not much but if you combine repetition, concentration, and understanding, you will remember. You will remember.

See, a person who isn’t used to this thinks it’s strange but it isn’t at all strange. And in the early days of the church, in many parts of the world, people were required to memorize the whole book of Psalms before they could be ordained. And if you look at people who work on the stage, for example, their powers of memorization are fantastic we think. They are just used to it and they have habits and they learn how to do it and so they memorize. [47:07]

Of course, memorization is not the only way of keeping them before us. If you look for example at Deuteronomy 6:3-13, you will see the way that was endorsed by Moses which was to write them on your doorposts; put them all over the house; where you look have scripture there. There are many, many ways of doing this and of course, we mustn’t do it in the way that the Pharisees came to do it which was mainly to have a little scripture tied on their forehead and a little bit on their wrists and of course ignore it entirely because they treated it as if it were magic, and it’s not magic.

And we mustn’t treat the plaques on our walls and the verses that we write on our refrigerators or wherever we write them—we mustn’t treat those as magic. We must use those to internalize and we must concentrate on their meaning and let them dwell in us richly. [47:57]

Now, I do want to turn to some other things. The other things, which we should study are, above all the Psalms and the Proverbs and the persons of the Old Testament—the Psalms and the Proverbs and the persons of the Old Testament. I wish I had a lot of time to elaborate on this. I’m going to piggyback a little bit on Jim’s discussion of the Psalms last night and how simple they were to both Luther and Calvin. The main reason why the Psalms are so important is because they address and even screen the questions, which the growing disciple raises about his own experience. They address those questions and it’s especially important for growing faith to be able to ask the questions and sometimes to ask the questions at the top of your voice. And many times our church fellowships don’t encourage this. [48:52]

Very often when we really have terrible, terrible questions that are grinding on us, we can’t raise them because they threaten too many people and maybe our friends don’t have answers to them and so they just don’t want to hear them. “Just don’t raise those questions; get away.”

Oh, but when you step into the book of Psalms, you see these uproarious people asking these uproarious questions and just challenging God and going to God and saying, “here is what they said about me and here’s what they asked me and where are you?” And then some answers come through, too!

But we need the Psalms because the Psalms are a reflection of the questions and the answering and then finally also of the vision because the great vision that is in the Psalms of the greatness of God and His Kingdom is just absolutely ravishing and indeed that vision always turns out to be the answer to the question. I wish I had time to spell that out, but over and over you will see the Psalmist returning to that vision and either the questions are answered or they just disappear in insignificance or something of that sort. [50:09]

The Psalms give us life. We need the Proverbs because in all of our headiness that we have as we experience the Kingdom of God, we are apt to lose our good sense and the Proverbs are just immense good sense and the church suffers a lot from the lack of good sense and the Proverbs will will help us. The Proverbs are extremely realistic about all of these things and it’s very vital that we should read the Proverbs. We should meditate upon them. The “many-sidedness” of life cannot be caught up in any formulas; it has to be lived and the Proverbs are a marvelous expression of all of those experiences of the “many sidedness” of life. [50:55]

And if I can just add on, too, the book of Ecclesiastes. The book of Ecclesiastes scares a lot of people because again it doesn’t give the kind of “pat” answers, which we are apt to think we should have. It really does give some tremendous answers, and I am going to talk a little bit about that later on when I come to the discipline of celebration. It gives some tremendous answers. They too are in terms of a total vision but we need the book of Ecclesiastes to help us. We need someone to say to us, “Be not righteous over much.” (Ecclesiastes 7:16)

We need someone to tell us how important money is; we need someone to tell us that there is a time for everything. There is a time to love and a time to hate. In this world, that’s the way it is and if you believe there is no time to hate, you are in for a surprise. You may not do the hating but you are going to meet hate. [51:54]

There is a time for gathering together stones and there is a time for casting stones away. There is a time for war and there is a time for peace. He’s dealing with life under the sun where we live and even though, we are under the S-O-N, we are also under the S-U-N and He has much to teach us that will give us good common sense as we pursue life in the Kingdom of God.

The personalities of the Old Testament are again very vital for us because of the concrete reality, which they bring to our discipleship to Christ and we need to take them in their fullness and we need to use our imaginations to fill out the details and make real the things they were going through. [52:39]

I think sometimes we teach our kids in Sunday school about these wonderful people, at least a selection of them. Actually, it’s very noticeable that there are a lot of them we don’t talk about in Sunday school and that’s because they are a rough bunch. They are almost as bad as some of us and this riotous parade of human personality with all of the warts and distortions and the wrung-ness that God never the less deals with, we need to look at and it will help us immensely if we can do that. [53:19]

And then we need to go beyond that. We need to step outside of the Bible and we need to begin to look at the great classics. One of the problems I am afraid that we are apt to leave you with in this series is being overwhelmed with how many wonderful things there are to read. So, you are going to have to make a selection. I don’t know what Jim would advise on this but I’ll tell you without any qualification, I would say if there is one book outside of the Bible in the spiritual life that you should have, it is Kempis’ Imitation of Christ.

Not everyone would agree with me on that and as I say, I’ve been wrong before but that book is just so precious and so wonderful; and if you are from a tradition which has a little problem with the Eucharist as the Catholic’s understand it, then you can tear the last book off and throw it away and just use the first three books of The Imitation of Christ. You need to get ahold of that book. You should have that in your library. Buy up the copies that are here or get you a copy. Get a couple of translations. [54:21]

Many people don’t know that one of the first things Wesley published was a little abridgement of The Imitation of Christ. He called it The Christian’s Pattern. It’s a marvelous translation—The Christian’s Pattern—and it’s nothing but excerpts from The Imitation of Christ.

And then if I were to add a second one—it would be Brother Lawrence—The Practice of the Presence of God. One of the things about both of these books is they are not difficult scholarly books.  They are beautifully written simple statements of realities of the life. Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God. You can get it in many editions. One of the strong points of these books is that they won’t overwhelm you and they are not the kind of thing where you feel like you have to sit down and read them from beginning to end and take a test on them.

The power of the wording is just incredible. It will seize you. It will seize you and that’s what you need. You need to get these books and you need to read them again and again and again. Re-reading is the essence of study in the spiritual way—re-reading. Don’t try to read many things; try to find the things that are vital and read them over and over and over again. [55:38]

I don’t know how many copies of The Imitation of Christ I’ve had. I try to collect different translations because it’s been put out in so many, many different versions and Brother Lawrence also. I just wear them out or give them away finally or get rid of them and go on to another one. You need to wear the copies of these out. [55:58]


And then you need to add something like well, maybe Frank Laubach. Did any of you know Frank Laubach? Marvelous man. There has been a translation of some of his letters. I think they are called Letters From a Modern Mystic (Actual title is Letters By A Modern Mystic) or something like that and Laubach was found himself in the Philippines, a missionary and found himself with nothing to give. He was trying to minister to the Muslims there and he had the overwhelming realization that he had gone over there with a bunch of words and that’s all. And so, what he did was he took the steps to get alone with God until he knew God by experience and God met him as He will meet any one of us. And he knew Him by experience and these letters tell about Laubach’s experience.

And this has been—by the way, been recently published by a joint addition of Brother Lawrence and Frank Laubach has been published by a little group in Goleta, California called Christian Publications. I think it’s moved to New England since then, but it’s just called The Practice of the Presence of God and it has these letters in it and also of course if you don’t know Laubach’s book on prayer, The Mightiest Force on Earth, (Actual Title is Prayer: The Mightiest Force in the World) oh, you should know it. [57:12]

One of the great things about Laubach is he was a man out in the middle of the world. He just catches my heart and mind so strongly because you know, Laubach is the one who started this literacy campaign—“Each one teach one” and world-wide and he’s just—he’s a man of God and a man of the world and he’s there just bringing the Kingdom of God to bare and he’s a man of experience and we need to read people like that.

Listen to all parts in this Spirituality and Mission series