Dallas: There is something being handed around now that I will come to at the end of the hour today so please just take it and hold it and we will come to it at the end.
And by an interesting coincidence, we are precisely at the discipline of worship in our progression through the Disciplines of Engagement and if you would turn with me to begin our thoughts to the fourth chapter of John. We want to look at this encounter between Jesus and the Woman at the Well and here we are talking about water again—the water of life and Jesus offers this woman the water of life and in a very gentle way, He leads her through a progression, a discussion beginning where she is—to go back to what we were saying the other day—He begins with what she can hear to lead her to what she cannot now hear but will grow into and be able to hear. [1:16]
And one of the questions, which she asks Him, is about worship as worship is of course a very important part of our life with the Lord and after being impressed with Him, she says in verse 19, “Sir, I perceive you are a prophet.” (John 4:19) Now, that’s important.
We’ve had some discussions with some of you about prophecy and it’s important to understand that she perceived He was a prophet, not because He was foretelling anything. Prophecy does not primarily have to do with foretelling. She perceived He was a prophet because He discerned her condition. He was able to see into her heart and her life. [2:08]
Now, she says—she poses a questions for him—“Our fathers worshipped in this mountain;”—referring to a mountain in Samaria—“and you say,”—you Jews say—“that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” (John 4:20) And Jesus said unto her, “ . . . Woman, believe me, (that) the hour cometh when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.” (John 4:21)
Now, this is a stunning statement. It’s very hard for us to appreciate it today but it was a stunning statement in that context to indicate that worshipping would have nothing to do with where you are—have nothing to do with where you are—and that was almost inconceivable that it should be so. Because people in those ages still thought, though the exile into Babylon had done a great deal for the Jews, it had not yet cured them of the habit of thinking that they had God in their box and their box was located in a certain place. And of course, you see, the reverse side of this view of worship is that those who control the box, control the God. [3:29]
And only in so far as we begin to move out of that view of God which had come a long way because you’ll recall that in the Old Testament, there were thought to be Gods of the valley and Gods of the mountain and if you took your God out of his ground, you might just get him whipped by the God of the other place and so there had been some improvement but still of course the Samaritans and the Jews were arguing precisely because the question was, “Who had God in the box?”
“Ye worship,” Jesus, said, “ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:22-23)
“ . . .spirit and in truth . . .”—and we have seen many times the conjunction of these two—spirit and truth—and we are going to deal with this more when we come to our last talk about mercy and truth and what the desire of all nations is that mercy and truth should come together and the way that mercy and truth can come together in social order and individual life is through the spirit and life in the spirit. These alone can bring mercy and truth together. [4:55]
And Jesus said true worship is worship “in spirit and in truth” and the reason for this is because “God is (a) Spirit.” Now, since God is spirit, the only place you can meet God is in spirit and in truth. “ . . . and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24)
Now, when we come to worship, we see clearly what I have mentioned a number of times before and we will see again and again as we come to Disciplines of Engagement; namely, that many of the disciplines are not just disciplines. We do not worship God just for its disciplinary effect. [5:38]
In other words, remember what that means now, we don’t just worship God because it will help us do something we cannot do by direct effort. I wonder if everyone has got that concept. Now, the discipline is something we do to be able to do something else which we cannot do by direct effort. That’s the heart of the matter now so let’s hang on to that.
Now, what I am saying is worship of course is not just a discipline and this is characteristic of many of the Disciplines of Engagement. For example, service is not just a discipline. It is done as an act of love, and prayer is not just a discipline. It is an activity of co-laboring with God in itself of value. Do you see what I am talking about? [6:28]
Now, I have mentioned this contrast between direct and indirect submission of our members to righteousness a number of times but as they used to say to me, “repetition is theological mucilage” or “theological glue” and so I am repeating this because I am hoping that as we go over it from time to time, it will get clearer and clearer and when you walk out of here, you won’t be able to forget it so let’s remember that now—a discipline is something we do in order to be able to do something we cannot do by direct effort and then we understand that we have a wide range of activities which in themselves are not just disciplines but are also services of some kind perhaps. [7:14]
Now, we see that fasting—fasting is just a discipline. Solitude is just a discipline. Silence is rarely anything but a discipline. Let me tell you one of the sure signs that the approach to the disciplines has gone terribly wrong and that is when people major on the disciplines, which are only disciplines. And that you see over and over and over and over again in the history of the church and if you take the rich history of these disciplines in the history of the church, you will see that the times of great grief in the church where people are tearing themselves apart are precisely times when the Disciplines of Engagement that involve so much more than discipline are not properly emphasized. [8:13]
And of course the secret of many of the great orders has been that they have been able to balance them. So, there is the time of silence and there is solitude and there is fasting but there is also service and prayer and celebration and fellowship, you see? And when those are balanced, then you have the right breathing out and breathing in that I talked about last time and in that you have life.
Now, let’s talk about worship a little more directly. What really is worship? It’s an interesting word to just think about. Worship—worth-ship—and “ship” here is associated with the Germanic term schafen—schafen—to create—to give—to confer. [9:14]
Why do you think we call these things that float around on the water ships? It’s because they are created. They are made. They are artifacts and when we speak of fellow-ship, we are talking about coming together to produce a kind of union and I like to think of fellowship, really as something much more like we might describe as “being in the same boat” and play a little bit on this word ship here. Fellowship is being in the same boat. We have to create that and in fact, fellowship is a gift of God. It is not something that we just up and do; we have a part in it. [10:00]
So, worth-ship; wor-ship—when we worship, we are ascribing and giving worth to God and we are focusing upon Him and bringing our mind to bear upon all of the wonderful things that constitute His worth.
Now, you see, this is extremely important when you notice the great declination that is described in Romans 1. You notice that the primary step is when people refuse to retain God in their knowledge. They would not think about it. They would not think about it. And the carnal mind, which cannot be subject to the law of God, is the mind, which will not dwell upon God. It puts God out of its knowledge and I repeat, there is nothing wrong with the flesh but the mind of the flesh—the mind, which restricts itself to the flesh as its object is a dreadful thing—terrible thing. It is not the flesh that is minded but the minding of the flesh, which expresses the rebellion of the human being against God who says, “I will not think on Him. I will not bring Him before me.” [11:14]
See, the opposite is—I will fix my mind upon the Lord—“I will set the Lord always before me,” (Psalms 16:8) the Psalmist says so you have those two things.
Now, worship is a discipline—is a time in which we engage ourselves, quiet ourselves, bring ourselves apart, and we dwell upon the greatness and the beauty and the goodness of God. In thought, and I want to emphasize that—it is in thought. We bring our minds to bear upon the greatness, the beauty, and the goodness of God in thought and we use words and rituals and symbolisms, which attempt to express those thoughts of God’s greatness. We consciously choose these. We use them. [12:05]
One of the great things about those institutions which function symbolically in our life is that we are able to go to them—say the great prayers which are present in the Bible or given to us from elsewhere. We are able to take these words and enter into them. If you haven’t yet learned to use the Lord’s Prayer as one of the most enrapturing, worshiping experiences that you can have, ask God to lead you into that and learn how to take those words and use those words. Lose yourself in those words as a means of directing your heart in worship to God. [12:47]
The Psalms also are marvelous for this purpose. The 23rd Psalm used as a way of bringing before us God so that we might worship Him because when we bring Him before us, we will worship Him unless we are rebels; in which case, we will turn away and run to something less. Worship gives great strength because the worth, which we described, we ascribed to God enters through out thoughts and our mediations into ourselves. God’s strength becomes our strength.
Now, if in worship, we are met by God Himself our thoughts and words turn to perception and experience of God in His greatness and beauty and goodness and our lives are tremendously changed. This is what happened to Isaiah the prophet who once while at worship saw the Lord, sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up and His train filled the temple and He was surrounded by the seraphim crying to one another, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts, the whole earth is full of His Glory in Isaiah 6:1-3 but now the direct encounter of God in this way is not essential to true worship. And it may occur even outside of the context of worship as it did with Elijah and with Ezekiel and with Paul for example. [14:26]
You have to understand that worship is man’s part, even when Divinely assisted and therefore can be a discipline for the spiritual life in the sense we have explained it. Remember that a discipline is an activity we engage in by such strength, as we have in order to lay hold on further strength that will enable us to do great things that we could not do otherwise.
So, worship is a very important discipline and it is dreadful to go to church and try to worship and not be able to and sometimes it’s our fault and sometimes it’s other people’s fault and there is no point in placing fault but we do need to be able to find those places of worship. [15:12]
I remember many years ago, I stopped expecting church services to give me a worship experience and I began to prepare my own heart to worship the Lord and sometimes that required that I disregard what was going on when I got to church. Sometimes, they gave twenty minutes of announcements, for example and I couldn’t get over that and so, there are other things that might be done but and sometimes of course, not every time one teaches, it needn’t be a worship experience by the way. It isn’t necessarily wrong that some of our church services do not have worship as a component.
There are other functions of church services. There are times to make announcements. There are times to enlist people to do good deeds and to organize things and so on so don’t misunderstand me—not every church service should be a worship service and I think sometimes we ought to stop calling them worship services if they aren’t and recognize that worship is a special function and maybe even have special services which are worship services. [16:22]
And I think often we are not very good at recognizing the way the wind of the Spirit is blowing in these matters and we are “bound down” and so we wind up calling things worship services which are not worship services and no one intends that they be worship services and then some unsuspecting person comes in and is disappointed. So, I just give that to you to think about because worship is a tremendously important function and it’s certainly one of the vital functions of the church.
And we also want to remember that not all worship is corporate worship—some is and some isn’t; and we should never try to have all of our worship services in church. See? We should have a regular routine of worship outside of church and I’ll tell you, when you bring a little of that fire with you to church and you get two or three people bringing it, it will be hard to contain it. We have to understand that our services are a reflection of what we bring to them and we can’t put the weight on the poor preacher to get up there and “bring all the fire.” We have to bring the fire with us to the service. [17:35]
So, now, as a Christian, our primary subject of worship is to and through Jesus Christ in His life and in His death and in His ascended priesthood—His life and His death and His ascended priesthood. Here again, we can learn many things from people in the past as long as we have the right spirit and attitude about it.
You may know that many of our Catholic brothers and sisters use something called the Stations of the Cross and this is a routine of worship which goes with Christ from the judgment hall of where he was condemned to the cross and stops at various ways for meditation. If you go to many Catholic retreat houses, you will have maybe around the back wall of the grounds, you will have the Stations of the Cross. We need whatever our method is to bring Christ before us on the cross. We need for Him to stand before us on the cross as the expression of the greatness and the humility of God. [18:49]
Now, never let us forget. The cross was not the moment of weakness. The cross was the moment of greatest strength. Jesus Christ was not nailed to the cross against His will. He gave Himself. He laid down His life.
By the way, when you get to thinking about what went on in the Garden and His praying and His sweating great drops of blood, never suppose that He was talking there in His prayer about avoiding the cross. He was not concerned about avoiding the cross. He was concerned about getting to it. This was Satan’s last chance to kill Him in the dark and the struggle was to stay alive until He could get to the cross. [19:30]
And the book of Hebrews tells us that He was heard in what He asked in that prayer. He did not ask to avoid the cross. The cross was what He had been looking forward to. He said, “If I be lifted up shall draw all men unto me” (John 12:32) so the object is to get lifted up and Satan had been trying to staunch Him and kill Him from the Garden of Eden on. He had his last chance in the Garden of Gethsemane. [20:01]
And God gave Him assistance and He lived through that experience to reach the cross and climbed upon His throne; there to die and redeem the world and we need to bring that before us and we need to stand before the foot of the cross and all of our relationships and all of our endeavors to hold that before us and we also need to remember that He ascended on high and He lead captivity captive and gave gifts to me and He ever liveth to assist those who come unto Him as their Risen Lord. So, our worship is caught up in Jesus.
And so we sing “when I (we) survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince (Lord) of Glory died, my (our) richest gain, I (we) count as (but) loss and pour contempt on all my crime (our pride).” It is in that vision of worship of a crucified, risen, ascended Lord that our hearts are lead from where we are into the fullness of God’s Kingdom and we come to the point to where believing in Him, we can understand something of the grandeur of our lives unto God—what we were created for and what we are called to. [21:23]
Let me move on now to the next Discipline of Engagement which is the discipline of celebration. The discipline of celebration is pretty hard for we Protestants to do much with and we need to go back and learn from the history of the church and from the Old Testament about celebration. It isn’t insignificant I think that Jesus’ first recorded miracle was an act of celebration. He turned the water into wine and it was a part of a gift to some young people who were getting married. It was a wonderful act to contribute to the happiness of their ceremony of reunion and all of the people who were gathered there together.
We engage in celebration when we enjoy ourselves, our life, our world in conjunction with our faith—in conjunction with our faith—in God’s greatness and beauty and goodness. We enjoy ourselves, our life, our world in conjunction with our faith and confidence in God’s greatness, His beauty, and His goodness. We experience our life and our world as God’s work and as God’s gift to us and typically, what this means is that we come together with others who know God, to eat and to drink, to sing and to dance, to relate stories of our life and of our people. [23:09]
Miriam, in Exodus 15:20 celebrates the goodness of God. Deborah in Judges 5—David gets quite carried away in 2 Samuel 6:12-16 and they all provide us with vivid Biblical examples of celebration as does Jesus’ first miracle that I have already mentioned and as does the appointed feast of the nation of Israel. Celebration was also maintained by the church in the established feast days up to the Protestant era and continued on today in the life of the Catholic or Orthodox communions.
One of the great tests of our faith is whether or not we can celebrate. I do want to emphasize just to help us. Celebration is not the same thing as worship. It is related but it is not the same thing. In worship, we focus upon God. In celebration, we focus upon our life and God’s gifts to us. The unabashedly central and earthy character of celebration or jubilee is nowhere more clearly seen than in the instructions contained in Deuteronomy 14. These instructions are normally not read in Baptist churches. [24:35]
Here a tithe—a tithe of goods produced by one’s activities was to be used in a feast before the Lord on a vacation trip to the big city of Jerusalem. A tithe—if the city was too far for the individual to carry his chickens and lambs and eggs and other provisions that he needed, the tithe was to be sold for money and the money taken to Jerusalem where the scripture says, “thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever the soul lusteth after, for oxen or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink . . . “—and when this says, “strong drink”, that’s not sassafras tea. [Laughter] “ . . . or for whatsoever thy soul desireth;”—whatsoever thy soul desireth—“ . . . and thou shalt eat there before the Lord thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou and thine household. And the Levite that is within thy gates” (Deuteronomy 14:26-27) —you’re even supposed to take the preacher with you—and the point of such indulgences was always as it says in Deuteronomy 14, verse 23, “that thou mayest learn to fear the Lord thy God always”—that thou mayest learn to fear and reverence God. You celebrate for that purpose. That’s why you celebrate. [26:09]
See, people are always afraid a little fleshly pleasure is going to draw you away from God. Now, it’s true that in the soul that is alienated from God and starved to death, they will eat the slop in the pigs trough but my dear friends, once you have begun to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” (Psalm 34:8) you will understand the proper balance of pleasure and you
will never allow sensual pleasure to disturb your rest in the Lord.
Ecclesiastes is very helpful to us on this point and I would like to just read a few passages in this book of Ecclesiastes. Now, both Proverbs and Ecclesiastes—I talked a little bit about Proverbs last time—but both books are designed to help us understand that you cannot catch life up in a simple formula. You just can’t do it and that’s why Proverbs will say things like, “Answer a fool according to his folly” (Proverbs 26:5) and the next breath says, “Answer not a fool.” (Proverbs 26:4) So, you have to learn how to do both of those things. If you don’t know how to do both of those things, you are in real trouble with fools. [Laughter] And, there are a few left—in the United States at least. [Laughter] [27:47]
And Ecclesiastes also is concerned to help us understand that you cannot catch up life in a simple formula. It emphasizes the radical unsuited-ness of this life to man’s heart. Life under the sun is radically unsuited to what God has put in the heart of man and it tells us that that is not going to be changed in the current condition of things by being very, very spiritual. If you are very, very spiritual, you are still going to have to deal with the radical, unsuited-ness of life as we now know it to the human heart and so, Qoheleth, or the preacher searches out the way to deal with this grinding un-satisfaction with human life and the conclusion he comes to is repeated over and over. [28:49]
Let me just read it a few times for you. First, chapter 2, verse 24—“There is nothing better . . .” By the way, the key to—one of the key words in Ecclesiastes is “better” and as the key word for Hebrews is “perfection.” The key word to Ecclesiastes is better and if you understand that, it will help you get the point of the books very well because as I am saying in this world, nothing is wholly good, nothing is the best really—just some things are better than others.
“There is nothing better for a man, than (that) he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.” (Ecclesiastes 2:24)
“For God giveth to a man that is good in His sight wisdom, and knowledge, and joy: but to the sinner, he giveth travail, to gather and to heap up, that he may give to him that is good before God. This also is vanity and vexation of Spirit.” (Ecclesiastes 2:26) [29:59]
So, as you work and you live in your faith, you are not to despair because you know that there is a world which is satisfactory but in this world, you are strangers and pilgrims and as strangers and pilgrims in this world, you want to turn aside to celebration.
Look at chapter 3. This is the passage where we see the great passage—the great statement about the seasons of life and I talked a little bit about that last time and I am going to skip over it but I want to call your attention to it and then go on to chapter—verse 11.
“He hath made everything beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world (whole of things in man’s) heart, so that no one (man) can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end. I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and do good in his life.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) [31:02]
Verse 12 the same chapter, verse 23 carry out that—verse 22 carry out that same motif.
Chapter 5, verse 18-20—
“Behold that which I have seen: It is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all of his labour that he taketh under the sun all of the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is His portion.
This is your time. It’s the only one you’ll have. Where you are, you can find God. It is for you there to enjoy Him. [31:43]
“Every man also to whom God hath given him riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God.” (Ecclesiastes 5:19)
For in so doing, one seldom reflects on “the days of his life; because God” keeps him occupied with “the joy in his heart.” (Paraphrased Ecclesiastes 5:10) [32:05]
You see, God gave us wonderful things in creation to enjoy—all of the animal Kingdom, all of the food and the fellowship, all of the dimensions of art and we are to enjoy these in celebration and in them, find a good God who is so good that we stand in awe of Him. That’s why the scripture says as I read “ . . . that thou mayest learn to fear the Lord Thy God always . . . ” (Deuteronomy 14:23) [32:34]
Now, I want to tell you something. Until you practice the discipline of celebration and enter into it with full faith, you cannot have a right attitude towards God. You cannot. Only this discipline will enable you to really believe God is good from the tips of your toes to the top of your head. A right faith before God cannot be built without heartfelt celebration of His greatness.
In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis has Uncle Screwtape chide his demon protégé, Wormwood for allowing his patient, as he is called, to read a book he really enjoyed and take a walk in the country, which filled him with joy. In other words, says Screwtape, “You allowed him two real positive pleasures. Were you so ignorant as not to see the danger of this?” he inquires. [33:30]
And then he elaborates, “the man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the world for its own sake and without caring two pence what other people say about it is by that very fact forearmed against some of our subtlest modes of attack. You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or books he really likes in favor of the best people and the right food and the important books. I have known a human defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions. “ [Laughter]
Elsewhere, Screwtape remarks, “that when we; that is, the demons are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are in a sense on the enemies ground. We know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His, God’s invention, not ours. He made the pleasures. All of our research so far has not enabled us to produce one.” [34:39]
We need to remember that, dear friends. Pleasure is something that is good in its place and those who worship it, only worship it and pursue it to their destruction because they don’t know God. Because the highest pleasures are of course with Him and when we have the right balance of faith and celebration, then pleasure becomes our friend. [35:04]
This is why I have urged you over and over when you practice the disciplines, do not make yourself miserable. Don’t torture yourself. Don’t be a hero. Try to find the way that is convenient and effective to be lead into these good practices, which will help you meet God and know the strength of His life as it flows through you.
In celebration, faith cultivated rightly become a sometimes delirious joy coursing through our bodily being when we really begin to see how great and good and lovely God is and that even those commonly thought by man to be ruined, the poor, the depressed, the persecuted, even those as we are told in Luke 6 and Matthew 5, have Godlike well being—makarios—not just—eudaemonia—but makarios—the kind of happiness in the Greek language which the God’s enjoy—have Godlike well being in His company and in His Kingdom. Feasting, dancing, singing, oration become insuppressible for by thee we shout with the Psalmist, “I have run through a troop: and by my God have I leaped over a wall.” (Psalms 18:29) [36:20]
And again, “Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness: To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks unto Thee forever.” (Psalm 30:11-12)
And such incredulous joy was the spontaneous reaction of the common people to the message, which Jesus preached for they all heard him gladly because they heard this note of joy in celebration in the abundant goodness of God, which He announced in His Kingdom. [36:57]
All of our deprivations, which we suffer will seem as nothing when our life is developed into a celebration of the goodness of God. We were made to celebrate. We are made to transcend. We are made to reach out and expand. We are made to fly and that’s why people who don’t know God have such a hard time and seek out for drugs and all sorts of illicit kinds of pleasures to give them a sense of expanse and of expansion and power which should come as we worship and live before God. [37:32]
Then we come to service. In service, we engage our goods and strengths. We engage our goods and strengths in active promotion of the good of others. In service, we engage our goods and strengths in the active promotion of the good of others as well as the cause of God in this world. And here is the place, which we have to once again remember that distinction between an activity as a discipline and an activity as a direct submission of our members to righteousness. We may serve another simply as an act of love without regard to how it may enhance our abilities to follow Christ; and there is nothing wrong with that.
But, I may also serve another in order to train myself away from arrogance and possessiveness. Then, my service is a discipline for the spiritual life as well as an act of love. Of course, service as training is supposed to bring us to the point to where our whole life is a service of love and Jesus said in Matthew 20,
“ . . . ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever shall be great among you, let him be your minister. And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant. Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minster, and to give his life a ransom for many.”(Matthew 20:25-28) [39:43]
See, we lose the touch with the language—a minister. We have a church and in that church is “a” minister or “the” minister–something wrong with that, you know? There is something wrong with that. A church should be a group of ministers–people ministering to one another.
Perhaps, we see, lose the sense of minister—what does that mean? Maybe we should talk of “the servant.” Suppose instead of saying, “the minster,” we said, we are having “the servant” for dinner today. Wouldn’t’ that be wonderful? We are having “the servant.” [40:38}
But suppose when we have servants, someone should say in our household to help us, someone should say, “Do you have any ministers in your household?” The minister who makes the beds and the minster who cooks the food, you see? It helps us to play with those words, doesn’t it and to think about them.
You might use this as a kind of discipline once in awhile, those of us who are pastors and teachers. Sign your letters, “the servant” or “the servant” will bring a message on John 3:16 today. These are not trivial things, are they? Because these words get loaded with so much power, don’t they that we forget that the prime minister of the nation is the first servant and it’s easy to forget that when we see this person who has all the others serving him. [41:40]
Now, that of course needs to be thought about deeply because there is no reason why a servant shouldn’t be helped. There is no reason for that at all and we have to purify our mind of all of these worldly ways of thinking about human relations.
I am going to talk a little bit more about that tonight when I give you my shocking interpretation of The Beatitudes but we have to pure our minds, purify our minds of all of these ways in order to appreciate, for example, how a person who is the prime minster, for example of your country—you have prime minsters here? Not anymore. Got rid of them.
Comments: He was demoted.
Dallas: I see. Well, there is nothing wrong with the idea that a person who has a job like that should be the minister and needs lots of helpers in order to serve. The trouble is of course in many countries; we find out later that these minsters have large bank accounts somewhere around Geneva. [Laughter} Then that calls it all into question, doesn’t it? Who was being served? [42:51]
Dallas: I see. [Laughter] I play with the word, “service” in our place and have a service station; it’s a question as to who gets served? Serve us? Sometimes, well, real questions arise here as to “who is serving whom” on some occasions. It’s very useful to toy with these words now in thinking about this issue of service and . . . yes?
Comment: This could become a real problem here with people serving God who look at the pastor as the servant . . .
Dallas: Absolutely, yes, yes! [43:35]
Comment: It would be terrifying for people theologically in terms of the Bible says that we are their servants . . .
Dallas: By helping them see that to serve them is not necessarily the same thing as to do what they think should be done. You see, that’s it. The dentist who comes to pull my tooth is my servant. He often does dreadful things, which I don’t want him to do. But of course, he knows that in order to serve me, he must do those things whether I want it or not and that’s an excellent point.
See there is the other side of this too brother and that is that we have people like Peter, when he was going to have his feet washed, they just can’t stand it because they’ve thought about it the other way. They see their righteousness in serving you so you will have that problem too. [44:32]
And, this delicate issue of mutual service and mutual submission of love and respect which does not turn upon whether or not you make the beds or sleep in them but on other considerations about the worth of the person before God and the necessity of the roles which are performed. It’s extremely hard to purify our minds of those things and that is one of the roles of the Beatitudes and I’ll return to that again this evening, God willing.
But the life of the servant does not come without training and without the right preaching and teaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom and of course, it is for this reason that Jesus told His disciples in John 13 to wash one another’s feet. I trust that no one will suppose that he restricted it to washing feet. I mean, the reason for the foot washing was—it was a needed task and in a home in that time, if you came to visit, there would be someone to wash your feet and to perhaps anoint them and make you comfortable—clean and comfortable. [45:47]
And the problem was that now we had a group of people who didn’t want to wash one another’s feet. They had a meeting and they all sat around there with dirty feet. The last supper was taken with dirty feet because no one would do the necessary work and that’s why Jesus taught that.
Now, what we are focusing on here is not just something—I love the Pope’s gesture. What is it—once a year, he goes and finds some bum down on the Via Veneto or somewhere and washes his feet. Well, that is not quite the point. It’s a nice gesture but that’s not quite the point and we have to learn how to serve and how to wash one another’s feet. Very often, the most needy things are not even physical things. For example, to listen to one another is a wonderful gift—to listen to one another. Not just when the other operon is trying to talk but to be able to listen when they are not trying to talk to us and hear what is being said by their whole demeanor and to sense their needs and to respond to that. That is a great gift and a great service to be able to listen. [47:09]
Love is as I said last time—the desire to see others well off—and humility is the desire to see them better off than we are. And we serve people without any regard to whether or not they are better off and we of course, must get beyond this idea that if someone is better off, they are better.
Let me turn away now from service to spend most of the rest of my time on prayer. I have a great deal to say on this topic and hope I can communicate adequately on it because it’s a vast topic and remind you again that I am talking now know about prayer as a discipline and that it is not JUST a discipline but IT IS a discipline. [48:08]
What is prayer? Prayer is conversing or communicating with God. Prayer is conversing or communicating with God. In the nature of the case, it involves much else, especially study, meditation and worship; perhaps, solitude and fasting as well and above all, service. Many people can’t pray because they don’t have anything to talk to God about because they are not doing anything with Him. See, when you are doing something WITH Him, you will have lots to talk to Him about. Namely, the things you are doing with Him. [48:57]
But so, service, you see is very importantly related to prayer and it’s as we are immersed in service that we will have many, many things to pray about and of course, we know that we can serve others at the highest and strongest level only if we are able to bring the resources of God to bear upon them through prayer and through action.
Sometimes, we think of prayer as basically asking for things and in some context, I understand that because you get many people who talk about prayer in such a way that has nothing to do with asking for things. It’s kind of a mood adjustment thing or talking to yourself, and there are many, many people that approach prayer as primarily an exercise in self therapy. [49:56]
John R. Rice, an old evangelist in the Untied States wrote a book called, Prayer: Asking and Receiving and when you understand that there is this other thing to react against, you can see how someone would go to the other extreme and think of prayer merely as asking and receiving.
But, as Jim has indicated last night and I tell you, so I trust that all of us realize that there certainly is a great deal more to prayer than petition and likewise, all of us, I am sure recognize that there is a great deal more to prayer than as a discipline and yet what I want to emphasize here now is the effects of prayer as a discipline in our lives. [50:47]
Jesus, in the passage which we spoke of earlier said to those whom He took with Him in the garden, “Watch and pray! Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation . . .” (Matthew 26:41) and this is an endorsement and an indication by Him that prayer has a great disciplinary power.
Indeed, the indirect effects of prayer upon the conduct of our lives is so well known that they are often mistakenly treated as the only point of prayer. Even when we are praying for or about things other than our own spiritual growth, the effect of conversing with God cannot fail to have a pervasive and spiritually strengthening effect on everything else about us—on all aspects of our personality.
The conversation, when it truly IS so, makes an indelible impression upon our souls—upon our minds, even upon our bodies and our consciousness of him remains vivid as we go our way and with all of the good that flows from that vivid consciousness of God.
Praying with frequency gives us the readiness to pray again as is needed from moment to moment and I am going to come in a few minutes to speak practically about this point of praying without ceasing. The more we pray, the more we think to pray and as we see the results of prayer, the responses of our Father to our requests, that also swells our confidence in God and in His power over all of the areas of our lives and gives us confidence that He is indeed a very present help, not only in times of trouble but in all times. [52:39]
Rosalind Goforth has a wonderful little book called How I Know God Answers Prayer and you may know Rosalind Goforth as a missionary in China. She had many, many experiences, not the least of which was the experience of the Boxer Rebellion in which her life was constantly in danger and saw deliverances many, many times from what was clearly the presence of death. And here is what she says, “Perhaps the most blessed element in this asking and getting from God lies in the strengthening of faith which comes when a definite request has been granted. Many people’s faith is weak because they have never experienced this.” “What is more helpful,” She says, “and inspiring than a ringing testimony of what God has done in answer to our prayers?” [53:43]
The disciplinary bearings of prayer stand out in the homely old hymn, (Did You Think to Pray?)
“Ere you left your room this morning, did you think to pray? In the name of Christ, our Savior, Did you sue for loving favor, as a shield today? Oh, how praying rests the weary. Prayer will change the night to day. So when life seems dark and dreary, don’t forget to pray.”
That hymn is entirely about the disciplinary effects of prayer.
Those who have been able to follow this advice in practice have found how absolutely right it is. It stands up to any fair test by experience but while prayer is one of the greatest and most powerful of all disciplines, we must admit that it is not normally the one, which should be undertaken first in abstention from the other disciplines.
It is a discipline, which has to be handled very carefully in conjunction with the others disciplines of the spiritual life. It requires careful cultivation with those other disciplines before it really becomes what it can be as an aid in the spiritual life. [55:05]
Many people hurt themselves gravely by taking up the scripture and reading the passages about what can be accomplished by prayer and they try to move a mountain or in that beautiful story Jim told us about John Bunyan who attempted to try to move a puddle—and you can just see that man standing there thinking about trying this. [Laughter] You know, do I have faith? Now, if I had faith, I could move the puddle. But then, he is afraid to try because it might prove that he didn’t and you know; many people go through that in prayer. They really do. They are afraid to really lay it on the line in prayer because they are afraid that nothing will come back and then what are they going to do?
So, you see, prayer is not the first and mainline of discipline and I need now to conjoin that with the statement that needless to say, one should pray first, last and always as well as one can but if you are going to use prayer as a discipline, you have to be careful with it and cultivate it with the other parts of spiritual discipline. [56:11]
Now, I want to say some practical things about praying and give some advice and this advice will be given out of my own experience and I trust you will simply take it as such. I am not trying to put forth doctrine now in any way; I am simply trying to talk about the practicalities of learning to pray and in these matters, one has to adapt and learn their own course of experience. [56:38]
I’ve put on the board up here what I have learned to regard as the parts of a complete prayer session—a complete prayer session. Now, others will give you different advice on this. Perhaps they may use the same parts but arrange them differently or they may even use some slightly different parts.
I’ve learned to pray in the following way. We are talking now about praying alone. When I am in solitude, and I like to pray after I’ve studied. I like to hear from God before I talk to God. So, I study some first and then I will come to prayer and I have a routine which I follow, not with any great rigor because if I find that I get so caught up in stage 1 or 2 or 3 or whatever, I am not under any bondage to just stay there. [57:45]
My normal experience is that I have a number of things I want to accomplish in prayer and I always begin with thanksgiving. When I say I begin with thanksgiving, I mean, I find something I am really thankful for. I don’t begin with things I ought to be thankful for but things I really am thankful for. That may be the orange juice. That may be my dog or something of that sort.
Now, you may say that’s terrible. That’s blasphemous. No, I don’t believe so. If you can’t begin there with thankfulness to God, it’s going to be hard to begin. And you begin with the things you are thankful for in the sense that you really do appreciate them and you might start out like that instead of saying, “Oh, Lord, I thank you for this orange juice.” You might look at the orange juice and say, “Lord, I really do appreciate the orange juice.” The language is important. [58:48]
Bring your prayer to bear upon the things that really fill your heart with gladness—your children—if you have a little baby—that’s a wonderful place to begin your prayers of thanksgiving.
Just look at the little fellow for a little while and let your prayers, or if you have a wonderful teenager—not one of those other kind, but a wonderful one. [Laughter] Teenagers are just such blessed creatures when you begin to look at them. They are in this marvelous in between where they are still—you can still see the baby on them but you can also see the adult growing out and what a wonderful time that should be and what a wonderful time it can be for the teenager. [59:41]
And so, you thank God for life and you thank God for the life that is around you, and your flowers and things of that sort and then you can move on and you can say, “Isn’t it wonderful that I have heard the Gospel of the Kingdom of God so that I can really appreciate the orange juice because I know where it came from. I really appreciate my babies and I really appreciate my pets.”
And then you can move on to the history of the church and how the gospel came to you and you can think about all the wonderful things you have and you may wind up saying, in the words of my friend that I quoted to you yesterday, “Thank God for God” and when you do, you’ve hit the right note because real praise and thanksgiving to God comes at the point where we are just thanking Him for being Who He is. [1:00:29]
See, here we have gotten beyond the gifts and we have moved to the giver. And now, we are in the place where our heart can rest in thankfulness and we understand all of the wonderful things that are said in the scripture about God and His goodness and how as Peter says, “If you do that which is good, nothing can harm you” (Paraphrased- 1 Peter 3:13) because all of this wondrous relationship to this beautiful person is beyond all threat. It’s beyond all danger and when we enter into that relationship with Him in Christ, we need never be threatened again. No matter what may happen to us because that relationship is secure. [1:01:18]
So, begin with thanksgiving and you can see how—I’m not going to be able to stay out of Stage Two, right? I will just be thrown over into that—adoration; and I may use words of the scripture or the Psalm to help me adequately adore Him because when you come right down to it, it is very hard to get words that will do it.
We need to take the ones that have been developed through the church and in the scriptures and the wonderful common book of prayer, which I still use—the language is so magnificent in many parts of that and the Psalms and the hymns. Many of the hymns are so wonderful to use and you may want to sing that second phase and that’s okay. You can sing a prayer you know? You can even sing one that is alone so that would be a wonderful thing to do. [1:02:16]
Now, when you have done that, you are ready to confess because you are going to go to the God you adore in the right attitude with your sins and with your failures. If you don’t have that God before you, your confession may be rather fruitless, because it will be manipulative. You will be confessing because you want to stay out of trouble with God, rather than because as you look at Him, you see how undesirable it is that you be the way you are. You see that’s very different.
In the first case, I am trying to escape the penalty of being who I am. In the second case, I am trying to escape being who I am. I am asking, “Lord, it would be so wonderful to be like you. Won’t you help me? I so adore you and so love you and so want to be like you. Won’t you help me?” See, that confession is very different from the one that the person makes who comes and is concerned to escape the consequences of their wrongdoing. “Don’t whip me Lord. I don’t want to be whipped.” See, that’s a very different kind of prayer. [1:03:37]
So, you move to confession naturally and now that you’ve become aware of your needs and they’ve been met by this God, you are ready for intercession because God meets you in forgiveness, you understand His graciousness and His greatness and now your heart goes out to the world because you say, “Wow, I’ve found this wonderful resource of help and blessing and wouldn’t I want this to be given to others?” And intercession is the approach to God to bring His riches and power to bear upon the needs of others—upon the needs of others.
And then we come finally to our own needs. That should be a “p” and it looks like an “r” so that’s a “p” in hiding. Petition—we are asking for the things we need and we can do that heartily because we have looked both at the greatness of God and His love for us and we have dealt honestly with the needs of others and we are now prepared to ask for what we need with a good clear conscious and a hearty confidence that God loves us enough to give us what we need. [1:04:54]
Listen to this one beautiful verse from Romans, the 8th chapter to reassure you and just put it on that point because I—indeed if you just put with petitions the verse, Romans 8:32—“He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall he not also with Him freely give us all things?”
Now you see, you can’t enter into that until you’ve been through this. Once you’ve been through this, you won’t have any trouble entering into the last one because your confidence will be such. [1:05:40]
Now, you see these are parts. Many people are beaten by prayer because they say, “Well, what’ll I do?” That’s what you do. That’s what you do. And as we teach and as we guide pastorally our flock, dear friends, just encourage them to do that and you, by your experience, go through them and you learn how to do this and then you will never lack for something to do when you are praying. Honestly, many people give up prayer because they don’t know what to do and these are the things to do. If you will do this for a little while, it will be just as natural. You won’t have to sort of keep a list and check it, “Now, did I intercess?” It will just be natural. You get a natural order and you go through it. So, those are what I call the parts of a complete prayer sessions when we think of praying alone. [1:06:41]
Let me give you now a second heading under which I simply call “The Four Dimensions”—sorry, “The Three Dimensions of Our Effort.” That’s not a very neat way of talking but perhaps it will do. The first dimension of our effort is our mind and the second is our mouth and the third is our bodily posture. These are the three dimensions of our effort—our efforts in prayer.
In our mind, we must take great care to be precise in what we are thinking about. Don’t allow you mind to be vague. When you give thanks, be precise. That’s why I say, start with the orange juice or your dog or whatever it is you are really thankful for and when you thank god, don’t just say, “Thank you God for your blessings.” Your mind doesn’t work that way in prayer. It just doesn’t work that way. [1:08:08]
You could never say—in your efforts to clean the table or anything, you could never work at vague level—you always have to pick up this dish and that fork and that napkin—that’s the way you do it. You don’t just pick up the dishes. You pick up this dish and that dish and that’s the way we are and our mind has to work with great precision and if I had time to deal with this at great length, I would want to go into the psychology of prayer and talk about the fact that our belief, our faith only rises to what is concretely set before us. Our faith only rises to what is concretely set before us. You cannot believe vaguely, or if you can, it’s going to be very, very weak belief. You cannot believe vaguely and you should very rarely ever just pray for someone to be blessed. You pray for some definite thing. [1:09:20]
Now, it’s all right in our ordinary intercourse, we say, “Bless you” and that’s wonderful, but that’s different. That’s not prayer. That’s passing something on that is in our heart to another person. We send our blessing upon them; that’s okay so don’t be disturbed about that and please don’t get caught in legalism because I’m addressing these issues. You will learn how to handle them but I do want to say to you that if you are going to pray, you have to pray with a very clear idea of what it is you are dealing with.
If it’s in thanksgiving or adoration—that’s why for example in adoration, we need the cross and Christ upon the cross before us to help our adoration. In confession, we need to be specific; in intercession, again specific; likewise, with petition. [1:10:05]
Many people are unable to grow in prayer because they never learn this and they keep praying vaguely and this is why, for example, if you are praying for healing for someone, you need to know exactly what it is you want done. Don’t just say, “Lord, make them well.” You say, “Lord, fix that ankle or fit that heart or whatever it is.” The more you can—the more you can see in your mind of what it is you want done, the stronger you will be able to believe.
Now, this is not a cure all but it’s an important truth. Those people who have gone in to imaging as a spiritual method, the partial truth, which they are on to is that faith is a function of precision of thought. Your faith can only work with some (tape went blank for a few minutes). . . . I don’t, so I just urge you with your mind—be precise—use your mouth. Find words that will help you pray and use them. [1:11:18]
Use the Lord’s Prayer as an exercise with your mouth. Use your mouth. Take words with you as it is said in Hosea, I think 14:2—“Take words with you.” (Paraphrased) A lovely phrase and go to God with words—talk to God.
If you have trouble praying, sit down in a chair and imagine that Jesus is sitting in a chair across from you and talk to Him. Talk to Him as if you would talk to a friend. You won’t need to do that for long but if you feel comfortable with it and want to keep doing it, that’s fine too.
But also, take the wonderful language that is provided by the history of our fellowship as Christians and by the scriptures and use the word. Never fall into that fallacy of so many Protestants that if someone else thought up the words, I cannot use them sincerely to pray and much of the dreadful praying that you hear among Protestants is due to the fact that they think it’s got to be spontaneous and if it’s spontaneous, it can’t be someone else’s words. [1:12:24]
An old teacher of mine used to say, “It isn’t important to say it the first time; it’s important to say it at the right time.” And you cannot probably invent words that will match the majestic words in the scripture. It is very likely that you will, especially on the spot, be able to invent words as grand as those that you can find in some of your prayer books and your devotional literature—use them, use them. If they speak what is in your heart, use them and don’t be afraid to use them in order that your heart might rise to what they speak.
Then finally posture—something no one is willing to talk about because we all like to believe that somehow it doesn’t matter if you are standing on your head or hanging from a tree, it’s all the same. It isn’t all the same. Your posture is important.
My advice to you is especially when you are learning how to use the discipline of prayer, start out on your face on the floor. Get a good rug and use it and as you get into it, you may be able to rise and walk about or you may kneel. Don’t be in bondage to any of these things. Don’t be in bondage to any of them. It isn’t a matter of what you must do; it is a matter of what you can do and what will work well. [1:13:49]
So, I would urge you to combine not only fasting and solitude and silence which are disciplines of the body with prayer but also an understanding of those postures which are most helpful to you in prayer. [1:14:04]
We are so naïve about these things. We must understand that we are an embodied personality. If you look in Exodus 17:12, you’ll see an interesting story there where they—the children of Israel are fighting the Amalekites, I believe it is—yes, the Amalekites—and verse 9, “And Moses said unto Joshua, choose us up—oh, Amalek—I’m sorry, well, that is the Amalekites. [Laughter]
“ . . . Choose out men and go out and fight with Amalek; Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill of God with the rod of God in my hand. So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek. And Moses, Aaron and Hur went up to the top of the hill.
And it came to pass that when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed but when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone and put it under him he sat there and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side and the other on the other side and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun and Joshua discomforted Amalek.” (Paraphrased) (Exodus 17:9-13) [1:15:27]
What’s that all about? Kind of silly, don’t you think? You mean, God couldn’t answer the prayer unless Moses had his hand up with the rod in it, you know?
You want to think deeply about that, dear friends because your faith is not independent of your bodily posture. And Moses’ faith was not either. This is not magic. You are not dealing here with magic. You are not dealing here with superstition. We are dealing with real connections between faith and personality in God and for whatever the reasons, right or wrong. I mean, one might say, “Well, why couldn’t Moses have enough faith with his arms down to keep this thing going?” I don’t know why he couldn’t. Maybe you could have. He didn’t and he’d had enough sense to see that when his arms came down, Amalek started beating up on Israel and he had enough sense to say, “Well, do something quick. Get my hands up” because it affected his faith. And I say to you again, you are an embodied personality and your faith is not independent of the condition of your body—the state of your body. [1:16:40]
I am going to have to leave aside now many, many things that I would like to talk about on this because I want finally to come to a conclusion of the discussion of the disciplines and I’ve had to leave aside them fellowship and confession and restitution and submission and all of these are important disciplines and especially you will note as you think about them that they get into the more communal disciplines—fellowship and confession and submission.
These are vital disciplines—very vital disciplines and they go together into that mix of activities which gives us the complete set of activities, which will serve as a basis for the entrance of our full life in Christ. [1:17:35]
Comment: Inaudible (something about adding another session?)
Dallas: Yes, I suppose so. Maybe we can. I’ll talk with John and Charles about it and see what we can do. It isn’t a long discussion.
Let me now just conclude. Are these disciplines adequate? Now, as we’ve already indicated, there are many activities, which could for the right person and upon the right occasion be counted as spiritual disciplines in the strict sense that we have defined it. The walk with our Lord is certainly one, which leaves room for and even calls for individual creativity and an experimental attitude in all such matters yet the range or extension of the disciplines is largely determined by the actual tendencies to sin which are established in our psyche and in the social reality around us and which must be resisted as well as by the avenues of loving service to God and man which offer themselves to such creatures as we are.
The major disciplines, which will occupy us in the normal case, stand in a symbiotic relationship to the chief sins of commission and omission, which in the normal case of human life will entice us and threaten us. Those that we have looked at—arrogance, envy, wrath, sloth, avarice, gluttony, lasciviousness and so on along with many others which are more peculiar to our time. [1:19:06]
It is hard to find names for many of the sins, which are incorporated in the social structure of a country and yet we all know that they are there. These are the automatic tendencies, which have to be resisted; and these sins, they are not phantoms or jokes but hard bitten realities with dreadful effects which we can view from hour to hour and they call for hard nosed, tough response on the part of those supported by infinite grace.
The above list of disciplines that we have looked at seriously applied provides us with just such a response. We can say with an assurance founded upon our experience and that of Christians throughout the ages that the activities which we have mentioned; if they are engaged in conscientiously and creatively adapted to the individual person in time and place—and we must not make a machine out of them—will be more than adequate to enable reception of the full life of Christ and produce in us and around us the kinds of persons that everyone knows should emerge from the following of Christ. [1:20:15]
If I’ve left someone’s favorite discipline off the list, I only hope that they will, nonetheless be pleased with the ones I’ve included and practice them faithfully and if they do, there need be little concern that what else they may do or whatever else they may do for the ones given will certainly secure that anything else added will be guided aright.
And now, if you just look a moment at this selection that I handed around—I’m not going to read it but just comment on it and ask you to read and think about it, meditatively as you—perhaps today you will have time to look at it as you think more about your own plan of activities leading to the fullness of your life in Christ. [1:21:04]
The first admonition here is an admonition that we take the disciplines, as he says, in the way in which we would take medicine from a physician’s hand. That is, thoughtfully guided by someone who understands the possibility of adapting the medicine to the individual nature.
And he says toward the bottom of that first page the following rules, “if they be made familiar to our natures, and the thoughts of every day may make virtue and religion become easy and habitual.” Would you please note that line? Now, that’s what I’ve been telling you about the “yoke that is easy and the burden that is light” (Matthew 11:30) and where we find rest unto our souls. [1:21:53]
And the next point, he says at the top of the next page—“In using the instruments of virtue, we must be curious to distinguish instruments from duties.” These are not duties. I have not given you duties. I have given you means so if you do not follow what I have said to you in detail, you should not regard yourself—I certainly don’t want anyone to feel guilty.
On the other hand, I do believe that you have a duty to find a plan; maybe not what I have said but I believe we all have duties to find those ways of doing what it is our duty to do. And we are called and it is out duty as well as our blessing to follow Christ and so we need to find the ways, which will be able to make that possible. [1:22:49]
And then the third point, “be not nice in stating the obligations of religion.” We would say today, don’t be picky. Don’t be over-precise. Don’t split hairs. “But where the duty is necessary and the means very reasonable in itself, dispute not too busily whether in all circumstances it can fit thy particular, but take it upon the whole. It is a good sign of great religion and no imprudence when we have sufficiently considered the substance of affairs, then to be easy, humble, obedient, apt, and believing credulous is the old word in the circumstances which are pointed to us by our spiritual guides or in general, by all wise men.” [1:23:37]
Skip down a sentence—“a man must not weigh grains in the accounts of his repentance but for great sins, have a great sorrow and great severity and in this take the ordinary advices.” “Don’t try to look for an arithmetical formula,” he says. “Use the rule heartily and enough and there will be no harm if any—in thy error if any should happen.”
And then fourth, “if you intend heartily to serve God and to avoid sin in any one instance, refuse not the hardest and most severe advice that is prescribed in order to it, though possibly it be a stranger to thee.” [1:24:17]
I need to just comment. You remember the case of the Syrian general, Naaman who had leprosy and his little handmaiden said, “Why don’t you go down to Elias and get healed?” (Paraphrased 2 Kings 5:3) And so he went down and received this discouraging instruction, “Go dip seven times in the Jordan” and he said, “Behold, I thought that he would come out and wave his hand over me and say a prayer and that would be it and he stormed off down the road.” (Paraphrased 2 Kings 5:10-12)
And one of his servants had enough sense to say to him, “Now, you know, if he had told you to do something hard or something challenging, you would have done it, wouldn’t you? Why wouldn’t you just do this simple thing, right?” (Paraphrased 2 Kings 5:13) So, just do these simple things. [1:25:10]
And then finally, “when many instruments for the obtaining of any virtue or restraining of any vice are propounded, observe which of them fits thy person or thy circumstances of thy need and use it rather than the other.” In other words, good common sense about what this means for you individually and my final word on the disciplines in particular is that they are opportunities to get to know, on a first hand basis, the personal guidance of your Lord Jesus Christ as you learn how to live in the disciplines for the spiritual life and may God bless that to you.