Have you noticed that when people asked the question, "What are you doing for the New Millennium?", they usually mean, "What are you doing to celebrate New Year's Eve?" Typically, they're not asking what goals you have set for the upcoming year, or how you plan to enhance the quality of your life in the year 2000. They mean, "Where are you going to go to make a bunch of noise when the clock strikes 12?"
Some people's plans are quite intimidating. For example, about 100 people paid $5000 for dinner at New York's Natural Museum of History. Two million people were in Time's Square and downtown Chicago, or on ocean cruises, etc. etc. etc.
Even in years that don't end with a triple zero, have you noticed how some people put more effort into having a great New Year's Eve than they put into having a great New Year? I always thought it was strange for people to celebrate the arrival of a New Year, and then spend the next 12 months doing nothing worthy of the celebration.
This, I fear, is how many people celebrated the new year; a big party on December 31, but nothing to ensure they live a life of substance in the year 2000.
As life continues to move along at a tremendous pace, it becomes more and more difficult to fill our lives with things of substance. We're simply too busy. Many times we feel we don't have time for the best things; we settle for less. We may prefer substance, too often we settle for convenience. We may prefer a lobster dinner; too often we settle for a Quarter-Pounder with cheese. We may prefer to read great books; too often we settle for People Magazine. We may prefer to spend our leisure time sailing, or hiking, or going to the theater; too often we settle for catching an hour or two on the tube, and we call it relaxation. Too often, we're just too distracted to focus on substance and settle for convenience.
As we enter the 21st century, we face many uncertainties. Life is changing at a pace faster than ever before, and not only in the area of technology. Families are changing, values are changing, society is changing, ideas about what is moral and immoral are changing. The question is: in the midst of all this change, how does one prepare for life in the new millennium?
The good news is: There are things in this life that never change. Jesus Christ never changes. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). The world may crumble around us - or your own world may be crumbling around you even now - yet, you can be sure our God is the same God he has been since the days of creation; - he is still as loving, kind, powerful, merciful, generous, holy, good, and faithful as he has always been. Just as the people of the Old Testament could depend on him for guidance; just as the people of the New Testament could experience his power in their lives, just as Christians through out the history of the church have been under his protection; you can depend on him to lead you, to empower you, and to protect you in the days to come. He never changes.
You know what else never changes? The grind of day-to-day living. It's always been tough. Relationships have always been difficult, jobs have always been stressful, sin has always been tempting, and the future has always been uncertain. With the exception of a few bells and whistles, life is as challenging today as it has ever been. The only way to survive the challenges you face day-in, day-out is through the power of God's Spirit in your life. In order to thrive, we must make an effort to guard our spiritual life - to nurture it and strengthen it.
Have you seen the advertisement for monster.com that features small children sharing their "goals" in life? One says, "I want to be forced into early retirement." Another says, "I want to be downsized." and on and on. Of course, no one wants this kind of life. Everyone wants to live a life of substance - no one really sets a goal of mediocrity. Yet, this is what many people achieve. However, it doesn't have to be that way. Today we're going to look at three things you can do to avoid mediocrity in the new year - three priorities you need to set for your daily life. The first spiritual priority is -
There are believers that read their Bibles and pray on a regular basis, they also have intimate fellowship with other believers, and they are involved in reaching others for Christ. They have a dynamic growing and glowing Christian life. They are an influence for Christ where ever they go and what ever they do. I'm sure you know some believers like that. Then, there are many other believers who rarely, if ever, read their Bibles or pray; they have very little fellowship with other Christians, and they never share their faith. These believers have no testimony, they are not a positive influence in any one's life for the cause of Christ, their Christian life is stagnant and weak.
What is the difference between these two types of believers? I think the difference can be summed up very simply as discipline. The effective believers are disciplined, and the others are not. It is beyond dispute that most of us are living lives which are seriously lacking in discipline.
Now, we can define discipline as the ability to regulate your conduct by the principles of the Word of God. It means bringing my desires and emotions under the control of the Spirit of God so that I can live a life of obedience to the principles of God's Word. Someone has defined discipline as, "Doing what we don't what to do so we can accomplish what we've always wanted." I think that is a fairly good description of discipline. We want to live lives of spiritual substance, but we usually don't want to do the things it takes to have a life of substance. I think that everyone in this room knows the importance of Bible study. We all believe that the Bible is God's Word and that it has the power to change our lives.
Hebrews 4:12 (NKJV) For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Psalms 119:9 (NKJV) How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word.
Psalms 119:11 (NKJV) Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You!
We believe these things, but how many of us actually discipline ourselves to spend time in God's Word?
Discipline is doing what we don't want to do (most of us don't usually want to pull ourselves away from the business of our day to sit down and read and study the Word of God) so we can accomplish what we've always wanted; we want to be spiritually strong, we want to live lives of substance. So, we discipline ourselves to spend time in God's Word and as we do, we become strong spiritually.
Discipline doesn't just involve reading and studying the Bible, but it also involves bringing our attitudes in line with what the Word teaches. For example, we are to have an attitude of JOY.
Philippians 4:4 (NKJV) Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!
1 Thessalonians 5:16 (NKJV) Rejoice always,
Paul says, "be joyful always." One of the greatest misconceptions people have is, "I can't help how I feel." The fact is, many times you CAN help how you feel, because how you feel about any situation is simply the result of what you believe about the situation.
This is a really old example, and you may have heard it before, but I'm going to use it because it fits so well: Two shoe salesmen were sent to a primitive country overseas in order to establish new business. When they arrived, they saw everyone walking around barefoot. One salesman sent a letter to his wife saying, "The boss must really hate me. He sent me to a place where no one wears shoes." The other salesman wrote home and said, "The boss must really believe in me - he sent me to a place where no one wears shoes."
How you feel about a situation is determined by what you believe. You can be joyful in any situation by choosing to believe God's promises. He loves you. He wants what is best for you. He will take care of you. He will cause every situation in your life to turn out for good. If you are facing challenges in life that make being joyful difficult, choose to be joyful, choose to believe God's promises for your life. It takes effort, it takes discipline, but you can do it. And it will make you stronger spiritually. Paul also says we should discipline ourselves to be thankful.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NKJV) in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
He says, "in everything give thanks." Notice, that's "in" all circumstances, not "for" all circumstances. You may not be able to say, "God, thank you that my boss just yelled at me in front of everyone and made me look like a fool." But you can say, "God, I give you thanks in this because I know that you are in control of my career, and I thank you that I don't have to seek approval from others, I only have to seek approval from you." Or, you may not be able to say, "God, thank you that my teenage child has become totally rebellious and is making our family life miserable." But you can say, "God, I give you thanks in this because I know that you have the power to work miracles. I give you thanks because I know that you can make me a better parent, and you can strengthen and unify our family. I give you thanks because I know that you will always be a source of comfort to me during difficult times." Being thankful isn't always easy, it takes effort, it requires discipline. But if you'll do it, you'll become stronger spiritually.
All of these involve effort on our part, but the effort pays off. Spiritual strength is the result of spiritual discipline. In order to thrive in our spiritual life, we must practice discipline. The second spiritual priority we need is -
We do not live in an exclusively clear-cut, black and white world. There are many shades of gray, and some of the decisions we make are not always open and shut cases. You can't always believe everything you read, or everything you hear, or everything you see on the news. You have to use discernment.
If you have email, then you have undoubtedly received unsolicited offers on hot stock tips, money-making schemes, and fool-proof investment strategies. Most of these are easy to see through, and you probably delete them immediately. But most likely you have also received letters -sometimes sent to you by a friend - warning you of some impending crisis. They are sent by well-meaning people, and they often have a certain ring of truth to them, but if you look closely, you will discover they're false through and through.
For example, a number of people have sent me an email asking me to forward it to as many people as possible, because, as the letter states, Microsoft is tracking how many people receive it, and you will be compensated for those who you send it to, and the people they send it to, and on and on - kind of like cyber-multi-level marketing. The letter even states, "One man received a check for $2000." I realize Bill Gates can afford to send every one on the planet a couple of thousand dollars, but the fact is, he isn't. I got another email, supposedly from Honda, that said if enough people received email from me, they would send me a new car. Obviously, it was a hoax.
I've also received warnings that the US Postal Service is attempting to put a 5 cent tax on all email, and I should write my congressman to protest. There's no truth to it. I've also received a warning that Madelyn Murray O'Hare has "recently" introduced a petition to the FCC to ban all religious broadcasting. The FCC insists there is no such petition before them, and besides, Madelyn Murray O'Hare has been missing since 1995 and is believed to have been murdered by one of her followers. She's hardly in a position to be antagonizing the FCC!
Now, you may have received one of these e-mails, and you may have believed it, because they sound convincing sometimes. But you can't believe everything you read. You have to look between the lines and ask questions. You have to use discernment. This doesn't just apply to email; it applies to all areas of life. Paul said:
Philippians 1:9 (NKJV) And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment,
They were not only to grow in love but also in "discernment." The word "discernment" is the Greek word aisthesis. It has to do with practical application of knowledge. Your life is to be controlled by your theology, and your insight in the application of that theology.
Years ago a man came to our church looking for a place to stay. I told him that we supported the Union Mission and that I would be glad to take him down to the mission. He responded by telling me that he couldn't stay at the mission because he needed a private room. I told him that I would take him to the mission, but that was the best I could do. He said to me, "I thought that Christians were supposed to love?" I said, "We are, but we're not supposed to be suckers." That is a paraphrase for discernment. This made him angry and he got violent. We ended up calling the police and he was taken to jail. We need to be discerning. Feeding and putting up a person who is too lazy to work does not help them, it promotes their laziness. Do you know what God's cure for slothfulness is? Hunger!
2 Thessalonians 3:10 (NKJV) For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.
Most Christians have no discernment - this can be proven by seeing who the preachers are on television that are being supported by Christians.
Here's a confession about my driving habits: I hate to sit in traffic, and I will go a great deal out of my way if I can just keep moving. Do my detours save me time? Probably not, but I do it because I have a tendency to believe a certain "male" myth about driving; If you're moving, you're making good time. When I'm behind the wheel, nothing is more frustrating for me than to have to sit still. I would rather go a little out of my way, as long as I can keep moving.
It's bad enough to have this habit when you're driving. It's worse to live your life this way. We have a tendency to think that motion equals progress. This isn't the case. Have you ever seen a hamster in wheel? They go round and round and round, but they never get anywhere. Do you ever feel like your life is like that?
Luke 10:38-42 (NKJV) Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus' feet and heard His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me." 41 And Jesus answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 "But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her."
Many Christians are like Martha, they're very busy but not spending much time with the Lord. We need to realize that being busy isn't good enough. We have to give thought to what we're busy doing with our lives. Mary had chosen to spend time in fellowship with her Lord and Jesus said that her choice was a good one.
One day a man noticed two men in a public park working feverishly in the summer heat. One man would dig a rather large hole. Then his co-worker would immediately fill it in. After watching this happen several times, the man became intrigued, and said, "Excuse me for interrupting, but can I ask what you are doing?" The hole digger caught his breath and said, "We're planting trees." The man said, "It looks like you're just digging holes and filling them in." The hole-digger said, "Yeah...well...normally we're a three man crew. The guy who puts in the trees called in sick today."
This is how too many of us go about our lives. We have mastered the form of what we're supposed to be doing, but we neglect the content. We need discernment to know if we are planting trees with our life; or just digging holes. This is a crucial distinction if we want to live a life of substance.
1 Thessalonians 5:21 (NKJV) Test all things; hold fast what is good.
We are to "test everything." Paul is saying, basically, look before you leap. You don't have to be cynical, but it doesn't hurt to be a little skeptical. Investigate! Test things! Don't allow yourself to be spoon-fed. When you hear a sermon or read a book about spiritual matters, think it through. Compare it with scripture. Don't be gullible! Reason it out! "Test everything", Paul says, "and hold on to that which is good, reject that which isn't good." It's not always easy to think things through, but it's necessary. The more you practice discernment, the stronger you become spiritually. The third spiritual priority Paul mentions is -
In order to maintain spiritual health, we must remember where our spiritual strength lies. You cannot do this on your own. You cannot make yourself holy by your own strength. The only way to develop and maintain spiritual strength is to depend entirely on the power of God's spirit at work in your life.
How can we tell if we're living lives of dependence? There is nothing in our Christian experience in which we manifest our dependence on God more than in prayer.
Matthew 6:7-8 (NKJV) "And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 "Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.
God knows what your needs are before you do, he knows them before you ask. So pray like this:
Matthew 6:11-13 (NKJV) Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. 13 And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
Why ask when He already knows what we need? To declare your dependence! Lord, we need these things, and we look to you to provide them. Lord, we are dependent upon you. We need you to feed us, forgive us, and guide us. Prayer is a declaration of our dependence. Are you dependent? How much time do you spend in prayer?
There is nothing in our Christian experience in which we manifest our dependence on God, thus glorifying Him, more than in prayer.
John 14:13 (NKJV) "And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
We glorify God by prayer. We ask God to do for us through Christ what we can't do for ourselves. Prayer is the open admission that without God we can do nothing. And prayer is the turning away from ourselves to God in the confidence that he will provide the help we need. Prayer humbles us as needy, and exalts God as wealthy.
A prayerless Christian is like a bus driver trying alone to push his bus out of a rut because he doesn't know Clark Kent is on board.
Psalms 50:15 (NKJV) Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me."
Since God is in control of all things, why would he bring trouble into our lives? Why not just provide us with a trouble free life? David gives us some insight into what trials do.
Psalms 119:67 (NKJV) Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word.
Psalms 119:71 (NKJV) It is good for me that I have been afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes.
If we had no trial or troubles in our lives, how much would we depend on God? Our trials are an opportunity to glorify God by our dependence and faith in Him.
Paul didn't like the ongoing trial that he had, and he pleaded with God to remove it.
2 Corinthians 12:8 (NKJV) Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.
God never removed the thorn that we know of. God wanted Paul to learn to depend on His grace continually. And as Paul depended on God, he experienced the sufficiency of His grace.
2 Corinthians 12:9 (NKJV) And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Think about this: Prayerlessness is a declaration of self-sufficiency, and self-sufficiency is an attitude of pride, and God resists the proud.
1 Peter 5:5 (NKJV) Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble."
God designed His creation to have a dependency upon Him. Even in the ordinary decisions of a day, we need to depend on God for wisdom and direction. The Fall, itself, was precipitated when man sought to live independently of God, and this human independence continues at the heart of sinful rebellion today.
God wants us, as His children, to always be aware of our need of Him in our lives. God often takes us through difficult situations in order that we might realize how much we need Him.
We often go through life in such a hurry and so overwhelmed by our problems that we think we don't have time to pray. That sense of hurriedness can be spiritually devastating. When you pray, you are forced to slow down. You are forced to shift the focus of your thoughts from yourself to God. You stop thinking of how impossible everything is for you, and you start thinking of how possible everything is for God. You stop thinking of how weak you are, and you start thinking of how powerful God is.
William Carey said, "Prayer lies at the root of all personal godliness." If you want to be spiritually healthy, discipline yourself to pray.
Another area in which your dependence can be seen is in your attitude towards sin. The fact is, we all miss the mark; we all fail. When it happens, what is your response? Is it, "Oh no, God could never love me now. I'm such a mess."? If that is your response, you are depending on your own goodness, not on God.
When you sin, your attitude should be, "Lord, I have broken your law. It is wrong. By your mercy, through the blood of Christ, please forgive me. And by your strength, help me not to do it again." The Bible says:
1 John 1:9 (NKJV) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
It is up to us to confess; he forgives, he cleanses, he purifies.
Hopefully, this morning was a reminder of what it takes to keep our spiritual lives in shape: we must exercise spiritual discipline; we must practice spiritual discernment; and we must depend wholly upon the power and mercy of God to give us the strength we need to live lives of spiritual substance.