We’ve been discussing the “core” values of a disciple of Jesus Christ at First United Methodist Church, Monroe, hoping to discover those practices that will strengthen our discipleship and effectiveness in the Kingdom of God. I began the series talking about the core muscles of the human body, and the necessity of strengthening those core muscles. The core muscles serve as the foundation for the rest of the body, enhancing power, stability and balance. I conducted a live interview on Sunday morning with Kristy Rizzo, a member of FUMC, Monroe, as well as a certified professional trainer at Monroe Athletic Center. I brought Kristy in to talk more specifically about the core muscles because we talked about the “core of the core” this morning–spiritual growth. Kristy did a great job, but I challenged the congregation to take some steps, even if they are baby steps, to be intentional in developing a plan for spiritual growth. I promised in the morning message that I’d have some resources posted on my blog for folks to get started on “growing up” in grace. I like to keep my promises.
One of the best resources I’ve found, and that I use daily is entitled Our Daily Bread. It’s a great resource with a daily devotional, a suggested scripture reading, a one-year bible reading plan (if you’re so disposed!), and either a brief prayer or hymn quote. It’s a great way to start each day. You can also subscribe via email, or if you just absolutely need that hard copy in your hand, can order the old fashioned way.
Another excellent resource is The Upper Room. Like Our Daily Bread, The Upper Room is a daily devotional with scripture reading and a brief prayer. Some folks I know use both The Upper Room and Our Daily Bread in their daily routine. Also like ODB, The Upper Room is available in an email subscription form or via snail mail, so the choices are abundant.
Another on-line resource that I use often, both devotionally and in sermon preparation is Bible Gateway. Bible Gateway is an on-line bible with nearly one hundred translations (all the latest ones are available) including Hebrew, Greek, Spanish and a few other languages. A person can do parallel searches, and there are many commentaries linked to the site as well. It’s a great resource for everyone from the beginner to the theological scholar.
If you missed it, or if you’re interested, here’s the major portion of the text from this morning’s message (the entire text is not here because it was an interview with Kristy Rizzo):
We continue to talk about developing our “core” as disciples of Jesus Christ. We’ve talked about creating a community of faith, and we’ve talked about living invitationally as we invite others to experience Jesus. I asked Kristy to come today because our third practice of studying devotionally is the “core of the core” if you will. Studying devotionally is about “growing up” in our faith, and as the core of the core, I think this whole body metaphor continues to communicate in a powerful way. It makes it practical for us. I could spend the next twenty minutes unpacking a biblical foundation for intentional spiritual growth, but you’d leave saying, “That’s interesting,” or, “That was boring.” None of us would leave with practical stuff we can put into action today. That’s what I want to spend our time doing, and I think the questions we asked Kristy about the core of the body serves as a great foundation for making the connection spiritually.
We asked about the primary core muscles. What are those “core” spiritual muscles? Community we’ve mentioned. Evangelism we’ve explored. We’ll discover worship, service and generosity in the weeks ahead, but we’re reflecting on spiritual growth today—intentionally doing those things that help us grow in our understanding of discipleship. Growth is all-encompassing. When we grow spiritually every other practice of discipleship is made stronger. We serve more, we give more, we invite more, we create a stronger community, and our worship is more meaningful—it’s all connected.
That also speaks to the value of having a strong core. We literally become better disciples. We all know we should grow spiritually, but life gets in the way and we end up not growing. We hear messages like this one and we start to feel guilty. That makes it worse. So, not only are we not doing it, now we feel bad for not doing it. God must really be mad at us now! That’s where bad theology can mess us up.
When we fail to grow spiritually, God does not love us any less. But, when we grow spiritually, we grow to know Him better. The better we know Him, the more peace we find, the more joy we experience, the more good we accomplish, the more love we know, the more love we show, the abundant life we live. When we grow spiritually, the more like Jesus we become, and that’s the whole purpose of being a disciple. So, there is value in growing. We know it.
We also know the “exercises” that will promote that growth, especially if we’ve been around the church any length of time. If we’re looking for a place to start, though, the best place is the same place the first century disciples started. Acts 2:42 says, “They joined with the other believers and devoted themselves to the Apostle’s teaching and fellowship, sharing in the Lord’s supper and in prayer.” Let’s start where they started:
- Bible study (the first century equivalent was the apostle’s teaching)
- Both private and corporate
- Worship (you’re here, so you’re already growing—great start!)
- The Lord’s Supper (John Wesley practiced as often as possible—he saw it as transformative)
- Other spiritual disciplines (since we’re in the season of Lent)
Just as there are exercises that strengthen our body, there are exercises that help us grow spiritually, and we have to give ourselves to these practices to achieve that growth.
So, that raises the question “What if I’ve never exercised before?” Well, you’re exercising right now, but I also want to make it clear that growth is hard work. Nothing worth having is ever achieved very easily. I don’t want you to be misled. Growing spiritually is life-changing, but it’ll be hard work.
Our first inclination is to jump head-first and go all-in. We come quickly out of the gates, and being accustomed to speedy results in our microwave culture, when we don’t see immediate results, we get discouraged. We say, “What’s the use?” Alternatively, like when we exercise too much, too quickly, we’ll “strain” something…get tired, rather “burn out,” so we give up and quit. We get stunted in our growth. If we’ve never prayed before, it’s not smart to decide to go into a closet, shut the door and pray for an hour. If we’ve never done that, we’ll drive ourselves crazy! Here’s a better way to start: First thing in the morning, simply recite the Lord’s Prayer. But, do it daily. Actually, here’s your challenge: Pray the Lord’s Prayer every morning for the next 30 days.
Abbot John Chapman gave this advice to those who asked him about ways to grow spiritually. He said, “Pray as you can, not as you can’t.” Each of us is at a different place. We must follow God’s leading in our lives. It’s not so much a question of what we’re doing as much as it is a question of “Are we doing anything?” Maybe our Bible study needs to get deeper. Let me issue another challenge. If you’re not doing a bible study, join me in the fellowship hall on Wednesday as I begin leading a study from the book of Nehemiah. We’ll explore a God-given vision. Perhaps you simply need to join a Sunday school class, or a group like Bible Study fellowship. You guys, how about fellowship? Join us this Tuesday for our first Men at Work Lunch. These are all ways to grow. Have questions? Call the church office. We’ll get you connected.
Kristy talked about some alternative exercises for those who are older, and not as mobile as they used to be. Just as she gave examples of what we can do, so we understand that we NEVER stop growing spiritually. It’s a process that’s never over. It’s like a tree. A tree grows until the moment it dies. We are always growing deeper in our love for and knowledge of Jesus Christ. We may incorporate new techniques and new practices, but we keep growing. We Wesleyans believe that is God’s sanctifying grace at work in our lives.
We want to be successful. We want to see results. What’s the key? Repetition, repetition, repetition. Routine, routine, routine. Discipline, discipline, discipline. There really is a reason they call them “the spiritual disciplines.” Commitment early on is easy. I remember when I started running. I was passionate about it. I felt good. I was seeing results. I worked my way up to running 20-25 miles per week over 5-6 days per week. I was committed to the task. Lost a lot of weight, too. One day, I got a call from the Bishop asking me to serve as the Monroe District Superintendent, and the demands of the job took more time. I was now running 16-20 miles per week over 4-5 days. I soon found myself thinking, “Hey! I’m healthy.” So, I began running 10-15 miles per week over 3-4 days per week. Commitment wanes over time. Yeah, it’s better than most, but still it’s not as strong as I could be.
Just like with our bodies, no one can compel us to grow spiritually. Spiritual health is something we have to desire. I think wanting to want to is a great place to start. Wanting to want to is the Holy Spirit nudging us in His direction. That, too, is the sanctifying grace of God working in us to transform us. After all, that’s the whole point of spiritual growth—to transform us—from what we are to what God wants us to be, and what God wants us to be are disciples who love Him completely and others unashamedly, and who he might use for His glory in the world.”
Until next time, keep looking up…