This morning, we will take a look at the third and final of the three simple rules. These rules are taken from John Wesley’s general rules, which intend to help followers of Jesus Christ live out the life He has called us to. The rules call us to do no harm (in word, thought, or deed), to do good (in word, thought, or deed), and to stay in love with God. While the rules are simple to say and remember, they are difficult to live out.
This morning, we will focus on staying in love with God. Staying in love with God implies that we are in love with God. So, the first step is to confess that we do believe in God, that we believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah who lived and died and now lives again, and that we believe in the Holy Spirit who dwells within each believer and guides, leads, directs, and teaches us. Some here today may be searching, seeking to figure out all this God stuff. The things we’ll be talking about this morning can be applied to help us stay in love with God or help us fall in love with Him again or for the first time.
Our love for God is what makes us different from the rest of the world. There are plenty of people in our world who do no harm and do good outside of a relationship with God. It’s our relationship with God that gives purpose and meaning to living lives of doing no harm and doing good. Some do no harm and do good to make themselves feel better. As Christians, we do no harm and do good in order to honor and glorify God. Good feelings can be a bi-product of faithful living. However, our motivation isn’t feeling good, it’s giving God glory and honor.
Staying in love with God will push us beyond feelings and church attendance. It goes beyond nice thoughts and one hour on Sunday mornings. Staying in love with God requires that we each take intentional steps and time to cultivate our relationship with Jesus Christ. Staying in love with God requires that we “DO” something to stimulate the relationship. We have to actively pursue God on a daily basis. John Wesley believed that staying in love with God could best be accomplished “by attending upon all the ordinances of God…” These “ordinances” may be referred to as spiritual disciplines. They are practices that are crucial to the growth and development of our relationship with God.
There are plenty of passages of Scripture that urge us to invest in our relationship with Christ:
- Colossians 2:6-7– In order to live in Him, we need to know what that means. For our roots to grow deep, to be built up and strengthened, we need to take steps to grow.
- Philippians 2:12-15– Work out your salvation. Our salvation not a wham-bam, thank you mam’ kind of thing. To truly live out our salvation takes work on our part. Our salvation doesn’t depend on our works, but our works are the result of salvation. If we truly love God, we will desire to grow in Him and learn more about Him and become the people He calls us to be.
- Ephesians 4:1-16– Living out our faith on a daily basis will help us grow in our love. If we live out our faith, we’ll grow, build, and strengthen our relationship with God…producing a stronger relationship where we will stay in love with Him. We’re not meant to sit on our hands. We’re not meant to continue on as immature babies…we’re meant to grow strong and mature. Seeking out Christ in worship, prayer, study, doing no harm, and doing good is meant to be a regular thing…not something we do in little fits…starting and stopping. Are we taking regular and consistent steps to stay in love with God or do we desire to simply be spoon-fed?
- Philippians 4:8– We’re called to fill our minds with God things. In order to fill our minds and meditate on the God things, we need to surround ourselves with God things. We need to know what God things are. It’s not going to just magically fall into our laps, it requires that we pull our own weight. Our relationship with Jesus isn’t meant to be one-sided. Our relationship with Jesus isn’t meant to be something where we sit and receive without putting forth any effort.
- 1 Timothy 4:7-8 – Some of us are so focused on the spirit that we are letting our bodies go. Some are so focused on the body and are letting the spirit go. Some are letting both the body and spirit go. Some are working on both the body and the spirit. What Paul is getting at is that our spiritual workouts are more important than time spent on the treadmill (both are important, but one is of greater importance). How many of us would be willing to admit that 5-6 hours of working out physically each week is a good starting point, but 5-6 hours each week of worship, study, and prayer seems like a bit much to ask? Can you redeem your physical workouts and find ways to focus on God in the midst of your time at the gym?
There are certain practices that I believe are essential to maintaining and growing our relationship with God. You may want to write these down and use them as a guide…The would be some of Wesley’s ordinances, also known as spiritual disciplines.
- Regular times of prayer (both speaking and listening)
- Regular times of worship (private and corporate)
- Regular times of study (private and group Bible study…get a Bible you understand)
- Regular times of service (lend a helping hand to those in need)
- Regular times of giving (giving our time, talents, and resources in ways that honor God)
- Regular times of fellowship (time with other believers – encourage, admonish, laugh, cry, etc…if we don’t spend time with other believers, we set ourselves up for temptation)
- Regular times of witness (telling people what and why we believe strengthens our relationship with God)
Take steps to protect, nurture, and build your relationship with God
- an hour (at least) in worship
- an hour (at least) in Bible study
- an hour (at least) in service
- an hour (at least) of prayer
- and make a commitment to give regularly (4 plus 10 challenge- four hours in worship, study, service, prayer, and tithe)
- Practice 4 plus 10 for 4 weeks and see what happens. I bet you’ll feel closer to God!
If we’re in love with God, we need to live like it. If we’re searching, trying to figure out this God thing, than we can apply these same principles…the only way to figure it out is if we take the time to learn.
Charles Swindoll tells this story, “I read about a young man who was determined to win the affection of a lady who refused to even talk to him anymore. He decided that the way to her heart was through the mail, so he began writing her love letters. He wrote a love letter every day to this lady. Six, seven times a week she got a love letter from him. When she didn’t respond, he increased his output to three notes every twenty-four hours. In all, he wrote her more than seven hundred letters. And she wound up marrying the postman.”
Are we investing our heart, our time, and our energy in things that will draw us near to Christ (the one who loves us), are we giving our time to things that will help us maintain our relationship with him…or are we wasting our time in writing love letters when we really just need to show up?
You won’t grow with someone you don’t spend time with. Sometimes we have to set aside time…guard the time we spend with God…schedule it…don’t leave it to chance (the idea that we’ll get to it when we have the time), if God is truly important to us we will make Him a top priority…put it on the calendar, on your iPhone, or whatever. There are regularly scheduled times on my calendar each day, blocked out for prayer and study, where I will not be available. It’s not that I don’t like you. It’s just that my time with God is that important. Nothing is more important than my relationship with God.
If we act like we’re in love with God, we just might find that we’re really in love with God.
Eugene Peterson once said that, “Discipleship is anything that causes what is believed in the heart to have demonstrable consequences in our daily life.” Does your life suggest that you are in love with God? Are we giving our time, energy, talents, and treasures to things that cause what is believed in our heart to be lived out in our daily lives?
Dallas Willard writes that, “a relationship with God, as with any person, soon requires a contribution from us…” Are we contributing to our relationship with God…or do we simply want to receive without putting in any time?
Our relationship with God is similar our relationship with our spouses, significant others, family, and friends. You have to protect the relationships that are most important to you. You have to make time for the relationship. In marriages, you need to date regularly, talk regularly, and bond regularly. We have to make that person we desire to be with a top priority. There are all kinds of things that can interfere with a relationship and draw us away from the time needed to nurture and build the relationship. Work, hobbies, kids, which are all good things…can get in the way and be used as excuses for avoiding taking time for one another. Then, after the kids move out of the house, you look at the person sitting across the table and you feel like you don’t know who you are with…you feel a cold distance. And, we do the same in our relationship with God. We avoid him and justify it because we’re spending time doing good things. But, in the midst of these good things, we’re avoiding and even losing the most important things.
For some, we have these mountaintop experiences where we truly feel connected and transformed by God. Then, as the days, weeks, months, and years go by…we find ourselves feeling a great distance between God and ourselves…mostly due to our failure to take the appropriate amount of time developing our relationship with God. We convince ourselves that Sunday worship is enough. We convince ourselves that praying before dinner is enough. We convince ourselves that listening to Christian radio every once in a while is enough. I’ll be honest, Christian radio is something that tends to drive me away from God. We convince ourselves that other things are more important, more urgent. We buy into the lies of the evil one and end up finding ourselves separated from the God we claim to love because we’re so busy doing good things.
David Watson, days before he lost his battle with cancer, wrote: “As I spent time chewing over the endless assurances and promises to be found in the Bible, so my faith in the living God grew stronger and held me safe in his hands. God’s word to us, especially his word spoken by His Spirit through the Bible, is the very ingredient that feeds our faith. If we feed our souls regularly on God’s word, several times each day, we should become robust spiritually just as we feed on ordinary food several times each day, and become robust physically. Nothing is more important than hearing and obeying the word of God.”
Are we feeding our souls? Are we becoming robust spiritually? Are we making an effort to grow stronger…or are we hoping that God will just hand it all to us? What would happen if we all committed to read God’s word, even just a small portion, every time we sit down (or stand up) to eat? Challenge= Take some small steps. Pray before each meal & read the Bible for 5 minutes at each meal (instead of gossiping or telling inappropriate stories or jokes in the break room, we read the Bible and pray). Start with the Gospel of John or the Psalms. If you already do these things, set aside more time…4 plus 10! Many of us should already be praying for our church daily, reading a Psalm a day, and inviting others to join us on this journey. So, practicing 4 plus 10 really isn’t that much to ask!
William Barclay wrote that, “It is possible to be a follower of Jesus without being a disciple; to be a camp follower without being a solider of the king; to be a hanger-on in some great work without pulling one’s weight. Once someone was talking to a great scholar about a younger man. He said, ‘So and so tells me that he was one of your students.’ The teacher answered devastatingly, ‘He may have attended my lectures, but he was not one of my students.’ There is a world of difference between attending lectures and being a student. It is one of the supreme handicaps of the Church that in the Church there are so many distant followers of Jesus and so few real disciples.”
Are you a real disciple or a distant follower? Are you a student or an attendee? What steps do you need to take to ensure that you are a real disciple?
Bishop Reuben Job says that the way to stay in love with God is to live, “in the presence of and in harmony with the living God who is made known in Jesus Christ and companions us in the Holy Spirit is to live life from the inside out. It is to find our moral direction, our wisdom, our courage, our strength to live faithfully from the One who authored us, called us, sustains us, and sends us into the world as witnesses who daily practice the way of living with Jesus. Spiritual disciplines (these things we’ve talked about…worship, prayer, study, giving, etc) keep us in that healing, redeeming presence and power of God that forms and transforms each of us more and more into the image of the One we seek to follow.”
The most important thing is that we find the things that will best keep us in love with God…and then do them. Each of us needs to identify the ways we best connect with God and grow in our relationship with God…and then make those things a priority.
What will you do in order to stay in love with God?