Follow up to sermon "Being Filled"

This past Sunday I preached on Being Filled with the Holy Spirit.  Here are two questions that I received from the sermon.

Question #1 You said, “The world and everything around us is pulling us constantly away from God.” I am a Christian, but I find the biggest struggle has been to get in God's word consistently. I have had many rich personal times with God and me.  I know how important it is to seek God and Pray.  I know that I need to be filled with the word daily but yet because I live in the flesh.  The flesh seems to win too often. For you personally, how do you discipline your time with Christ? Something in your thinking is much different apparently than mine.  I sadly feel so defeated in this area of my life and would say this has been a defeating area for years.  I am sick of the battle.  Please help.  Thank you for your consistent encouragement to follow Christ.  I know God loves me and continues to forgive me.

I’m encouraged to get an “in the trenches of life” question like this. I am sure that many of us can relate to this struggle.  I know that I certainly can.  First, I think that this person slightly misheard me.  What I actually said was, “The world and MANY THINGS INSIDE OF us are constantly pulling us away from God.”  The Bible is pretty clear that we shouldn’t expect struggles to come from things outside of us, but also things inside of us due to our indwelling sin.  The power of sin has been broken in our lives through the victory of Christ (Romans 6:6-11).  However, the presence of sin is still inside of us (Romans 7:15-21).  This is why we need to continually “be filled” (Eph 5:18).  We do not have the means in and of ourselves to win the war against our flesh.  We need to continually ask for God to fill us with His Spirit so that we might walk in the newness of life that He has given us in Christ.  All that to say, don’t be surprised about the struggle.  It is the struggle that keeps us dependent on God, which positions us to receive grace from God.  Also, it is the struggle that reminds us that heaven is not here on earth.  Personally, few things make me long to be with Christ in heaven moe than knowing that on that day I will shed this mortal body where the presence of sin still remains and put on immortality with all purity.  So don’t lose heart over the fight.  God is with you and will help you if you ask him.  And God promises that in your fight, you will not be defeated, but that he will bring all whom he has called home to himself. (John 1:28-29)

So we need to know that struggle is to be expected and that God’s grace is greater than our struggle.  Secured by that, we are to “train ourselves for godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7) and “make no provisions for the flesh” (Romans 13:14).  As Christians we are not to just wallow in our struggles.  The strength of God is in us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the strength of God comes to us through being filled with the Spirit.  Therefore, as we ask God to be filled with the Spirit, we can take real, tangible, diligent steps to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phi 2:12-13 ESV)

I’ve already given suggested steps for your personal bible study in a previous blog post (http://www.christchurchsouthphilly.org/dearchristchurch/2016/12/14/for-your-joy).    However, let me add a few thoughts.

  1. If you are currently in a place of struggling to get into God’s word, I’d encourage you to start by reading a section of God’s word that has spoken to you in the past.  Going back to places where our hearts have been warmed by scripture is a good way to remind ourselves of the truth of what God can do through his word.

  2. Study scripture in conjunction with listening to a sermon series on that scripture.  The preaching of God’s word is meant to stir our affections for God’s word.

There is no silver bullet, no magic strategy.  And there certainly isn’t an absence of struggle.  The Bible likens studying God’s word to digging for treasure (Proverbs 2:4).  It involves long and hard work.  There is struggle.  But the struggle is worth it as you uncover nuggets of immeasurable price.

Question #2 It feels like a contradiction to talk about outward expressions of worship when we are supposed to not judge someone’s spirituality based on how they look when they are singing.  I understand that we have real reasons to be excited and loud, but I feel like passionate worship can look differently for different people.  Vs. 19 says we are to sing with our “heart”.  Do you think it is dangerous to put emphasis on physical appearance during worship?

It is great to get questions like this because it allows me to hear how I might have come across to certain people and clarify what I said.  First, we are never to judge anyone based on appearances (John 7:24).  You can be a faker like the Pharisees (Matthew 6:5), or an unnoticed miracle like the poor widow (Mark 12:42-43).  Only God knows people’s hearts (Jeremiah 17:10).  So yes, as I said on Sunday, passionate worship can look different for different people.  However, within the capacity for passion that we have been given from God in our personalities, we are to use that passion to praise God.  Throughout the Psalms (too many references to cite) there are commands to lift a shout, raise our hands, make loud noise, etc…  Those things will look different for different people.  I probably shout louder than most because God made me to be a big mouth.  However, all those things should be present in our praise as God has made us, in varying capacities, to bodily express our worship.  So while I think we should not judge anyone based on their outward experience, I also think we should encourage each other to worship the way we see commanded in scripture with visible expressions of praise.  I think there can be a danger if we just focus on physical appearance in worship as we do not want to encourage hypocrisy.  Yet, there is an equal danger of not talking about physical appearance at all, since it is so widely addressed in scripture.  Yes, God knows your heart, but he wants to see your hands.  

Also, it should be noted that God commands us to be physical in our worship not just for his benefit, but to add to our corporate experience of praise.  If you go to a sports game and no one is really watching or paying attention, and the crowd is really quiet, that causes you to hold back as well.  But when the crowd is on their feet cheering, that gets you excited as well.  We were created by God to be influenced by one another.  As we saw on Sunday, a major part of our singing is that we are not just addressing God, we are addressing one another.  So while God might know your heart, I don’t know it, so if you are feeling passionate about God, it is helpful for me to see it for that encourages me to be passionate as well.

God’s people have always been a people who bodily expressed their praise to God.  It wasn’t until the late 16th century that the Western church began to be more reserved due to the influence of the false spirituality of monasticism.  “Traditional worship” where people are solemn and unemotional is actually not that traditional, but somewhat modern.  It certainly was not how David was praising God around 1000 B.C., nor how the early church was doing it in 30 A.D.  I think we need to get more traditional and shed modern reserved worship, so that we can return to the place of openness that we see in scripture.

So no one should feel judged for how they choose to praise.  That’s between them and God.  However, everyone should feel encouraged to use the capacity for passion that God has given them to physically express that for the glory of God and the good of the church.

I love you Christ Church!

Pastor Jeff

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