Digging Deep

Mark 12:30

In the movie City Slickers, Billy Crystal is lost and aimless, looking for meaning in life. He decides to go on a cattle drive to find himself. On this cattle drive he meets Curly, a crusty, intimidating cowboy. One day Curly and Billy are riding and Curly stops and tells Billy the secret to life is to figure out the one thing. Billy asks what that one thing is and Curly says, “That’s what you’ve got to figure out.”

Most people spend their entire lives trying to figure out that one thing. And sadly most never do. So, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m going to share it with you this morning.

Solomon, at the end of the book of Ecclesiastes, having exhausted every pursuit of meaning and happiness, came to this conclusion: Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. (Eccl 12:13)

Nine centuries later, when Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was, he replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mk 12:30) In those words, Jesus was speaking of the integration of the whole person into the pursuit of loving God. I’m not sure I could come up with a better description of the spirituality that we’ve been talking about over the last few weeks. He is speaking of those below the waterline issues in our lives and reminding us that loving God involves everything we have and are. It is “the one thing.”

But just because you realize that is “the one thing” worth pursuing with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, doesn’t really clarify what is involved in making that a reality in your life. It begins with a decision and a commitment, but what are the practical realities, the nuts and bolts of this pursuit of the spiritual life?

It doesn’t begin, as you might think, with opening your Bible. It begins with opening your calendar. And what that calendar will probably reveal about you is that you are a busy person. You have a job, a family, obligations and recreation. All of those rise to the top of your priorities and receive preferential status when you start blocking out the time in your calendar. There are two documents in your life that reveal more about your priorities than anything else: your calendar and your checkbook register. As you look through where you spend your time and your money, does God have a prominent place?

All the words about commitment and dedicating your life to God don’t really mean much until you give him a place in your schedule. So, you need to pick a time when you are going to get with God every day. That’s right, schedule an appointment and block it out so that he gets that time every day. Just like in budgeting your money, I always encourage people to give to God right off the top, not what’s left over after everything else. Give God the best time of your day, whether that’s early in the morning, late in the evening, maybe on your lunch break, you could even use the time you’re in your car driving back and forth to work. Schedule it and keep it. And the issue at this point is not how much time, but that you make time.

Now, what do you do with your time?

The first thing is to be still. Calm your heart, ready your mind, seek God’s presence. The Psalmist wrote, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Ps 46:10) John wrote, This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. (1 Jn 3:19-20)

Years ago I learned an acronym that has helped me to prepare my heart to enter God’s presence. It is the word ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication.

1) Begin by expressing thoughts of adoration and praise to God – be reminded of God’s greatness and majesty.

2) Follow that by confessing your sin and indebtedness to God. As Jim so often prays, “You are God and we are not.” It is always easier to say “All have sinned,” than to say, “I have sinned and fallen short of your glory.” But it is necessary as we enter God’s presence to acknowledge that it is only by God’s grace that we are worthy to come before him.

3) That is followed by thanksgiving – expressing your gratitude for what he has done in your life and all that he has blessed you with.

4) And finally come with supplication – a word that means humbly and earnestly asking God to come into his presence.

With heart prepared to listen, we open God’s Word. There are many different forms this might take. You could use a Bible reading schedule and systematically go through the Bible in a year, and there is great value in that – to see the breadth and depth and scope of God’s Word. I highly recommend it.

But I also want to point out the value of studying a book of the Bible in greater depth and detail – to move deliberately through a passage and study words and grammar and use a concordance and look at other connected passages, and spend time reading commentaries that explain and illuminate things you would never thought of asking.

A third way of reading the Bible is to use a devotional guide that highlights a specific verse or passage and to dwell on that verse throughout the day. This lets you focus, not so much on gaining biblical information as on letting God’s Word imprint on your heart.

The book of Psalms begins this way:

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. (Ps 1:1-3)

That is a description of the life God blesses. And what makes it possible for God to bless that life is that it is in tune with God’s will, because time is spent meditating on God’s Word.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of spending time every day in God’s Word. That is where God has a voice in your life, as he speaks through those words for which your heart hungers. The Hebrews writer describes how this time in the Bible exposes us to God’s healing and wholeness: For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Heb 4:12)

This is not a book with ink and paper, but the living Word of God that Paul reminds us in 2 Timothy 3, is there to teach and rebuke and correct and train you in righteousness. This is God’s classroom where he molds you into the man or woman you were created to be, where he reshapes his image in you to reflect Christ to the people around you.

Prayer is the bookends to our time in the Word. You began with Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. Now spend time asking God to bring those passages in his Word to life in you, to give you opportunities to apply them in your life. Take this time to talk with God about what is going on in your life and ask him to take control of the things you’re struggling with. Speak to him about the people in your life that need special blessing and lift up those needs for him to take care of.

This may be fifteen minutes, it may be thirty minutes, or more, depending on the time you have and are willing to devote to the process. The amount of time is not nearly as important as the fact you are spending time with God.

And all the while, the Holy Spirit is at work transforming you into the likeness of Christ, as Paul writes, “from one degree of glory to another.” It is a process – not a process that ever has a conclusion in a finished product – you are always a work in progress. But, and here’s the catch, you have to show up. You have to be involved in the process for it to have any effect. He will not work against your will and he cannot work without your willing involvement.

Now, discipline is never for discipline’s sake. Discipline is intended to grow you, strengthen you, deepen you. Spiritual disciplines aren’t just to make you a daily Bible reader, but to deepen your relationship with God.

You’ll remember that Jesus told a story about building houses on adequate foundations, but there is something we need to hear in that story. “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Mt 7:24-27)

The key to this story is what prefaces each of those vignettes. The wise builder is the one who hears the words of Jesus and puts them into practice. The foolish builder is the one who hears his words and does not put them into practice.

So the difference is not hearing the words (or reading the Bible), it is the application – putting them into practice. What do you do with what you read? God’s word intends to change you, to transform you. To do that, it has to sink deep into your soul and change how you live from the inside out. If reading the word becomes merely an exercise in reading, it remains on the surface and has little impact, and certainly no foundational stabilization.

It is the work below the waterline that we’ve been talking about: building the keel, distributing the weight where it will help us withstand the storms that come. Or to use Jesus’ analogy, to dig the foundation and provide a stable platform on which to build the house that is above ground.

We saw those issues arise a few years ago when they began building houses out in Ironbridge. They built on unstable soil and underestimated the depth those pylons needed to go to hit solid bedrock. And because they were too shallow, those houses developed all kinds of foundational problems and many of the houses had to be torn down and built again.

If it’s true of buildings, it’s even more true of our lives. In fact, you can count on unstable soil and shifting sand if you’re building on anything other than the foundation of a relationship with God. Only if you have sunk those spiritual pylons down into the bedrock of God’s love will your house withstand the storms that will come.