On our honeymoon in Galveston, we ferried across to Bolivar island where we spent the day. When we got ready to come back we drove off the hard pack and got stuck in the sand. We were starting to panic when an old pickup truck came slowly down the beach and stopped and helped us back up onto the packed sand. Some of us are stuck in the sand spiritually – wheels spinning, going nowhere – and the truth is, we’re starting to panic. What started as a spiritual pilgrimage has turned into a rat race – and the rats are winning.
Erma Bombeck was sitting in church behind a mother and her little boy, who was standing in seat, smiling at everyone behind him. Suddenly his mother notices, jerks him around and says, “Stop that grinning, you’re in church.” Have you ever felt like that?
What I’m talking about is that gloom that has settled over and seeped into our spiritual lives. What once was powerful has been tamed and domesticated to the point that it no longer holds any kind of fire to our lives – the joy is gone.
Last week we talked about five factors in spiritual depression: unfulfilled expectations, empty tanks and depleted accounts, passion becomes routine, isolation, and sin. They move in, take over and sap our spiritual strength.
Paul wrote in Gal. 5:7 – “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?”
Illust - Mary Decker – ’84 Olympics L.A. (Zola Budd) – fell to the ground crying in defeat / Eric Liddell – ‘24 Olympics – Chariots of Fire – running a 440 yard race in a dual meet between Scotland and France – feet got tangled up with another runner and fell – but got up, 20 yards behind and ran with all his heart, winning the race at the tape.
You get to choose your response when you find yourself knocked down on the side of the track. Will you lay there defeated, or get up and run your heart out?
This week I want to talk about two principles for restoring your spiritual passion:
If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.
More of the same isn’t going to change anything. You’ve got to get out of the rut and create a new and different way of living – (Jesus talked about putting new wine in new wineskins.)
Most of us keep doing the same old things and secretly hope we’ll start getting different results – who are we fooling? You must be willing to change – to think and to act differently than what you are doing right now.
You’ve heard of a comfort zone? We all have one – actually most of us have barbed wire and padlocked gates surrounding ours. We like things just the way they are. It would take dynamite to blast us out of our routine.
The fact is nobody, no sermon, no anything is going to move you until you’re ready to move. So, you may need to start by praying to God to change your “wanter.” “God, I don’t want to change, but I want to want to.” That’s a prayer God can work with.
When you are finally convinced that where you are in your spiritual life isn’t as good as where God can take you, then you’ll be ready.
It’s easier to act yourself into a better way of feeling, than it is to feel yourself into a better way of acting.
We keep waiting around to feel like it. There are a lot of things we don’t feel like, but know we need to do.
We excuse ourselves saying, “I’m doing the best I can.” Winston Churchill said, “Sometimes our best isn’t good enough. Sometimes we have to do what is required.”
Here’s the bottom line – do something. Too many of us suffer from the paralysis of analysis – we know we ought to do something, but just never get around to it. We think it to death, but won’t step out in action. If you want your faith to grow, make a list of the things you think a “faithful” person would do and then start doing them.
So, do something – even if it’s not the best way, the perfect technique, the right Bible reading schedule – do something.
Start a morning devotional – get into the word, make a prayer list, start journaling your spiritual walk, memorize specific scriptures. You need some help? Talk to me or one of the elders.
Get involved in a new ministry, try something you’ve never done before – teach in a Bible class, get in on the new Jail Ministry, get involved in the Prayer Ministry, start going to a Life Group.
Do something out of the ordinary – go to a spiritual conference or a lectureship at a Christian college like ACU or Pepperdine or Harding, go on a mission campaign, go on a spiritual renewal retreat.
Do you know what’s going to happen? When you start acting the way a “faithful” person would act, you start feeling like a “faithful” person feels.
When I’m feeling spiritually depleted, I start by looking back over what I’m doing and I almost always discover that I’ve been neglecting some really important things. My feelings are red flags alerting me to some area of my life that is being neglected.
It’s back to our observation last week that you can’t make withdrawals when you haven’t been making deposits. You can’t take out what you haven’t been putting in.
This morning, I also want you to notice two actions from Scripture for restoring spiritual passion:
Immerse yourself in God’s Word
Paul is pretty emphatic about our spiritual diet. When we fill our lives with the things of this world, we are subject to its thoughts and values, its ups and downs, and most of the time it is pretty depressing. Paul writes to the Christians in Philippi:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Phil 4:4-8)
If you want your life to be filled with joy, if you want your spiritual life to be vibrant and full of life, you need to fill your heart and your mind with the things that produce that.
Solomon said, “Whatever a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” The place to begin is in God’s Word.
The book of Job tells us: “Submit to God and be at peace with him; in this way prosperity will come to you. Accept instruction from his mouth and lay up his words in your heart. If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored.” (Job 22:21-23) Think how many times the scriptures encourage us to “lay up his word upon your heart.”
Calvin Miller wrote about an antique wooden dynamite box they had in their living room beside the recliner. In large red and black letters it warned: DANGER! DYNAMITE! But inside was his wife’s knitting and crochet.
There is power in the Word of God, yet we treat it with such neglect and disinterest. We think it is tame and domesticated, but it has the power to move mountains and change hearts. If you are struggling with your spiritual passion, the place to begin is to immerse yourself in God’s Word.
Luke 24 tells us about two disciples who were traveling on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. It was Sunday evening on resurrection day, and the last they had seen Jesus was hanging on the cross. And they were downcast because they assumed Jesus was dead. A man appears and walks with them and asks them why they are so sad. They said, “Where have you been? Haven’t you heard? Jesus is dead.” They stop for the evening and invite the stranger to eat with them – he blesses the bread and suddenly their eyes are opened – it was Jesus alive!
Notice two things:
Vs. 31 Luke writes: “Their eyes were opened and they recognized him.”
When you’re not looking for Jesus (in other words, if you act like he is still in the grave), you’re not likely to find him, or recognize him when you do.
Vs. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” It was the Scriptures that opened their eyes and made it possible for them to recognize it was Jesus.
In fact the Hebrews writer gives us the antidote to times when we are floundering in life and struggling with our faith: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus…” What we are talking about is exactly what the Hebrews were experiencing – they were struggling with their faith and wondering whether it was all worth it. Our problems are often the result of taking our eyes off of Jesus. When we lose sight of Jesus, we lose hope, joy, courage.
The heart of our problem is usually that we have focused on us – our problems, our struggles, our wants, and we have taken our eyes off of Jesus. Our god has become us, and you and I are much too small to bear that kind of burden. And we’ll tell ourselves, “I just don’t seem to have much faith.”
It’s not the size of your faith, but the size of your God that matters. If your spiritual life is floundering, one of the things you need to check out is where are you focused – are your eyes fixed on Jesus? Who are you leaning on? Who is at the center of your faith?
The Scriptures play a key role in rekindling our spiritual lives. They reveal the majesty and faithfulness of God. They remind us of who God really is and what is really important. They reconnect our spiritual battery to the source of power.
If your spiritual life is floundering – check it out – how is your time in the word? Inconsistent, haphazard, dull, meaningless? Immerse yourself in the word – establish a plan, keep a schedule. You may need to jump start your devotional life – read a new version, listen to the Bible on cd or podcast, get a study guide to follow. There are hundreds of Bible studies available in the Right Now Media that every one of you has access to. Watch one and follow along with some great Bible teachers while they open the word of God. Whatever it takes, get into the word.
The second action that will begin to restore your spiritual passion:
Connect yourself with people
Look at the kind of people David surrounded himself with:
1 Chronicles 11 – David is deep in the caves of Adullum. He and his armies are behind the enemy lines of the Philistines. David is experiencing a moment of despair and thinks out loud – “Oh for a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem.” Three of David’s mighty men overhear him and fight their way through the Philistine lines and risk their lives for a cup of water. Do you have a friend like that? Are you a friend like that?
In 2 Samuel 11, David commits adultery with Bathsheba, then he tries to cover it up by having her husband murdered, and then he lies about it all. But then in 2 Samuel 12, David’s friend and prophet Nathan risks his life to confront David, and David repents and comes back to God. Nathan was willing to confront and challenge – to risk not only the relationship but his very life.
David is a great man of God because ch. 12 follows ch. 11 – if David didn’t have a Nathan in his life, it is likely that he would have been crushed under the weight of his own power and pride – just like Saul had been.
Last week we talked about sin being one of the contributing factors to spiritual depression. In Psalm 32, David talked about how he felt crushed under the weight of his sin. But then, in Psalm 51, David reflects back on the effect of having that sin forgiven: Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. (Ps 51:7-12)
If David had not had Nathan in his life, his story would have been short and tragic and concluded with the same words as most of the rest of Israel’s kings: “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord…”
David’s son, Solomon will write:
As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (Prov 27:17)
If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! (Eccl 4:10)
We need to connect with people:
With people who have what we’re looking for – a spiritual passion in their life – role models, mentors, people whose own enthusiasm ignites our enthusiasm.
With people who are encouragers and affirmers, like David’s mighty men who were willing to lay down their lives for him.
With people to whom we are willing to be accountable. We all need a Nathan in our life who is willing to risk the relationship by challenging us when we’re living in denial of our sin, or wallowing in self-pity.
Life Groups are a great place for that, get involved in the women’s Bible study, come on Wednesday nights, maybe invite two or three other guys to meet with you regularly for breakfast once a week or out for a cup of coffee and pray together. Find someone in your life with whom you can have a deeper conversation than how the Broncos or Rockies are doing.
The tendency of fire is to die – the burning ember becomes a dying coal. We need people in our lives who will fan the flame and rekindle our fire for the Lord. And there are people who need you in their life who will do the same for them.