Process with God

Scripture: Mark 4:26-29

 

Title: Process with God

 

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Spirituality is more about process than product
  • Some spiritual processes
  • Conclusion

 

Introduction:

Earlier in the service I talked about dancing as a metaphor for spirituality

–         Spirituality (or being with God) is like dancing in a number of ways

–         Some people don’t see the point in dancing – it doesn’t seem to produce anything, it doesn’t make anything

–         When the dance is over, what do you have to show for it?

 

Well, the most valuable things are often the things we can’t see

–         In the process of dancing we get to know the other person we are dancing with – we become closer to them

–         It’s like that with spirituality – the more we dance with God the better we get to know him and the closer we become to him

 

This morning we continue our series on ‘Being with God’

–         This series is essentially about Christian spirituality

–         In very basic terms we could say that, for Christians, spirituality is Christ’s way of being with us as well as our way of being with Jesus

–         Using the analogy of wireless internet, if wifi is the capacity to connect with the virtual world of the internet – to interact with others on-line

–         Then spirituality is our capacity to connect with God – to interact with His Spirit in other words

 

Rebecca Nye has a wonderful acronym which I’m borrowing for this series [1]

–         Her acronym spells the word S.P.I.R.I.T.

–         Space, Process, Imagination, Relationship, Intimacy & Trust

 

These are all essential elements of Christian spirituality

–         We need these six things to connect with and interact with Jesus

–         Last week I talked about the importance of sacred space in our relationship with God

–         This morning we think about the importance of process

 

Spirituality is more about process than product:

When I was kid my grandfather took me fishing in his boat often

–         We usually caught something but even if we didn’t, nothing was lost – it was still nice to hang out with each other

–         Fishing was a process we enjoyed for its own sake

 

It’s similar with walking on the beach or tramping in the bush

–         Yea, it’s nice to reach your destination, but getting from A to B is not the main reason for going on the walk

–         Simply being on the journey, close to nature, is a process to be enjoyed for its own sake

 

Spirituality is more about process than product [2]

–         By that we mean the spiritual life is an on-going work

–         Spirituality (or being with God) is not something we ever complete or finish doing – we can’t tick it off our bucket list

–         Being with God is a process to be enjoyed for its own sake

–         We don’t spend time with God just so we can get cool stuff from Him or so that he will do the things we want

–         We spend time with God because we delight in Him

–         We love the giver, more than His power or gifts

 

I’ve told this story before but I’ll tell it again because it fits for this idea that spirituality is a process

–         When I was about 10 I went to Cubs (which is sort of like Scouts but for younger kids)

–         At Cubs there were all these badges you could earn – like your swimming badge, your camping badge, a knot tying badge and so on

–         There was one badge in particular I was keen to have a crack at and that was the ‘Duty to God’ badge

 

To achieve your duty to God badge you had to do 3 things:

–         Learn the Lord’s prayer

–         Make a nativity scene out of a shoe box, and

–         Do some kind of good deed

–         All of this had to be supervised by a minister of religion

 

Our family weren’t attending church at that stage but there was a chaplain at my school so I asked him and he said…

–         “Will, you can never do your duty to God”

–         I remember it real clearly – funny the things that stick with you

 

The chaplain wasn’t being mean or discouraging – I trusted him and knew he cared about me so I didn’t take it the wrong way

–         His main point (among other things) was to make me realise that Christian spirituality is not something you achieve or conquer or complete – it’s not something you get a badge for and then say…

–         “Okay – that’s done. What’s next?”

–         Christian spirituality is an on-going process – we never finish the process of being with God

o   We never stop praying

o   We never learn all there is to know about Jesus

o   We never exhaust the possibilities for loving our neighbour

–         At least not in this life

 

Now in saying that spirituality is mainly about process we don’t mean to imply that the product is unimportant

–         The end result certainly has its place

–         After all Jesus spoke about being fruitful

–         But that fruitfulness was the natural overflow of the process

–         Our focus isn’t on the fruit – our focus is on being with God, remaining in Christ (like branches remaining in the vine) [3]

 

Please turn to Mark chapter 4, page 50 toward the back of your pew Bibles

–         Jesus was into process

–         He often told stories and parables to help people imagine what the Kingdom of God was like

–         The Kingdom of God is an expression which means the reign (or the rule) of God – what the world would look like if God’s will was always done

–         In Mark 4, verses 26-29, Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a growing seed – from verse 26 (bottom of page 50) we read…

 

Jesus went on to say, “The kingdom of God is like this. A man scatters seed in his field. He sleeps at night, is up and about during the day, and all the while the seeds are sprouting and growing. Yet he does not know how it happens. The soil itself makes the plants grow and bear fruit; first the tender stalk appears, then the ear, and finally the ear full of corn. When the corn is ripe, the man starts cutting it with his sickle, because harvest time has come.”

 

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this reading for us

 

The main point here is that the Kingdom of God is a process

–         God’s reign (heaven on earth) doesn’t come all at once – it comes slowly, gradually, inevitably, step by step

–         …first the tender stalk, then the ear, and finally the ear full of corn…

 

It’s not that the Kingdom of God is all process without any purpose or product at the end

–         The Kingdom of God does produce fruit

–         But it’s more the process which is in view here, with this parable

 

The other thing we note is that once the seed has been sown the process happens automatically

–         The farmer is not in control of the process – the process carries on whether he is asleep or awake

–         There is a mysterious power at work in the process – not definable

 

Many of the Jewish people of Jesus’ day thought that the Kingdom of God would come all at once, when the Messiah turned up

–         But Jesus’ parable here indicates otherwise

–         The Kingdom of God is a process that can’t be rushed – there are no short cuts

–         You can’t have the corn without the ear and you can’t have the ear without first growing the stalk

–         Process takes time, faith and patience

–         The farmer must simply wait and trust that his crop will come to fruition in good time

 

Of course, the Kingdom of God isn’t just something which takes shape in the world out there

–         The Kingdom of God first grows and takes shape in the human heart – in our inner life

 

In Galatians 5 the apostle Paul writes…

–         But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control

 

These fruits are the result of a spiritual process

–         We don’t know exactly how the Spirit of God grows love, joy, peace, patience and so on in us – He just does, gradually over time

 

We see this idea of process at work in Moses’ life

–         For the first third of his life (40 years) Moses was a prince of Egypt

–         He grew up in the palace, was educated and trained with the elite

–         Had all the privileges money could buy

–         That was stage one of the process – the tender stalk stage

 

Then he killed an Egyptian slave master

–         So he was forced to flee into exile, where he lived as a shepherd in the wilderness for the next stage of his life (another 40 years)

–         The second stage was very different to the first

–         No fame & fortune in the desert – just lots of obscurity and menial labour

–         The tedious routine of survival – taking care of animals in a harsh and unforgiving environment

–         But it was all part of the process of preparing Moses to lead Israel, in the desert – the wilderness years changed Moses

–         That was stage two – the development of the ear to hold the corn

 

Finally, the third stage, when Moses’ life bears fruit and he leads the people of Israel to freedom, giving them God’s Law to live by

 

When we start off in the Christian faith it is often a feel good, positive experience at first

–         But as we go along it usually starts to get harder

–         We might begin wondering why we aren’t full of love and joy and peace and patience and all the other fruits of the Spirit

–         Well it’s a process – we can’t expect it to happen all at once

–         God often makes us wait

–         Good things happen while we wait – invisible things, mysterious things, powerfully creative things which we aren’t always aware of and certainly don’t understand

–         But we keep going through the process, in faith, trusting God to complete the work he has begun in us

 

Some spiritual processes:

Nigel Latta recently presented a series of documentaries called The Hard Stuff

–         One of the docos, titled Degrees of Success, looked at tertiary education in NZ and whether it is really worth it

–         During the programme Nigel interviewed Karl Steven, who used to be the front man for the 90’s band Super Groove

–         After Super Groove disbanded Karl Steven went to university to study philosophy for about 10 years and ended up with a PhD

 

During the interview Karl said…

–         ‘Some people think of a degree like a police badge.

–         They think if I get my degree it will open doors for me and behind those doors will be all this money’

 

Then he went on say…

–         ‘The other way to look at a degree is that the experience of reading all that stuff, attending all those lectures, writing all those assignments and getting that feedback on them – that changes you as a person’

 

Karl valued the university process for its own sake

–         He recognised how the process had changed him

 

Prayer is a spiritual process that changes us

–         Sometimes though we think of prayer like a police badge

–         We might think that asking God for things in prayer will automatically open doors for us, behind which are all the things we want

–         And while prayer can open doors it is not a passport or a badge for getting what we want

–         It’s more of a process which brings us into harmony with what God wants

 

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we say to God…

–         Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven

 

On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane

–         Father, if you are willing, take this cup [of suffering] from me; yet not my will, but yours be done

–         Jesus prayed that prayer not just once but a number of times

–         I reckon Jesus had to repeat that process in order to make his peace with God’s will

–         If he hadn’t taken the time to process God’s will then he would have gone to the cross with a divided heart and may not have had the strength to go through with it

 

The process of prayer is important for what it does inside us, as well as for the external change it might affect

 

Going back to the documentary on tertiary education for a moment…

–         At one point Nigel Latta commented that the focus with University these days is all about money.

–         To which Karl replied, ‘It’s funny the way we tally it up

–         We don’t tally up the amount in total we’ve spent on food in our lives

–         We don’t say, “Oh, I’ve spent $100,000 on salami in my life”

–         But we do tally it up with education, as though education is an investment that’s meant to pay off’

–         Karl went on say, “I don’t see education in that way. For me just doing it paid off instantly. It’s a different kind of riches. It’s not money but it’s better than money to me”

 

Preaching is a spiritual process, more than a product

–         Preparing the sermon itself is a week long process – sometimes longer

–         I don’t just stand up & speak off the top of my head on a Sunday morning

–         Nor do I sit down and write the message in one hit

–         I read and think and pray and marinate in the Scripture, giving the ideas time to form inside me before writing and then re-writing

–         I use the contents of my experience to understand the text before us

–         I listen to hear what God might want to say through the process

 

And what is there to show for it at the end of the week?

–         Most of you won’t remember a quarter of what I say

–         And many of you will take away a meaning different from the one I intend – but that’s okay – that’s between you and God

–         I guess I’ve come to see preaching like serving a meal

–         God provides the ingredients and then God & I prepare the meal together

–         You eat the meal – you listen to the sermon in other words

–         You don’t necessarily remember what you ate a week later, but the meal still sustained you at the time – it added something to your well-being

–         Preaching is a spiritual process similar to sharing a meal – it’s more about nourishment for the soul than information for the head

 

There’s something life-giving about hearing the word of God in fresh ways and making connections with his word in your own experience

–         The ideas contained in God’s word have a shaping influence on the interior of our lives

–         Jesus’ words, his parables and so forth get under our skin – they change us almost imperceptibly

 

We could say something similar about other spiritual processes too

–         Prayer, preaching, personal Bible study and sung worship – they are different kinds of riches – not money but better than money

 

At our wedding reception, the master of ceremonies (Gus Row) made a joke

–         I was at university at the time and he said, “Will, marriage is like losing your Bachelors and never quite gaining your Masters”

–         He was being funny but there is a certain truth to what he was saying

–         Marriage is an on-going spiritual process

–         It’s a process of love & commitment

–         It’s a process of learning to accept your partner and yourself warts & all

–         It’s a process of developing trust & intimacy – not hiding your truth or shutting the other person out but sharing & growing closer to each other

 

Spiritual processes are not always enjoyable – they can sometimes be painful

–         Grief is a case in point

–         Grief is a process of accepting our loss – learning to live without

–         Like the growing seed we cannot rush the process

–         Nor are we in control of the process of grief – we just have to go with it

–         But the process changes us – it shapes us – we are not the same after going through grief

 

Forgiveness can be another painful process

–         Forgiveness is similar to grief – it’s a process of letting go

–         Letting go of anger and hurt

–         Letting go of our need to get even

–         Letting go too of our own self-righteousness – learning to live with those aspects of ourselves that we don’t like all that much

 

For example, if we are finding it difficult to forgive someone, it could be because that person reminds us of ourselves in some way

–         And sub-consciously we are angry at them for showing us a mirror

 

Jesus talked about removing the plank from our own eye first, so that we can see clearly to remove the speck from someone else’s eye

–         The first step in the process of forgiving someone must always be asking ourselves, ‘What have I done wrong? What is it I need forgiveness for?’

–         When we’ve dealt with that, then we will find it a lot easier to let go of our anger and hurt – to forgive each other

 

Spiritual processes can also involve a fair amount of routine and repetition

–         Like learning anything new we often have to do it several times before it sticks

–         The technical term for this is myelination

–         The more you do something the better your brain is at remembering that

–         The processes we follow wire our brains to think in a certain way

–         Which is a fairly basic layman’s description

–         But you get the point, repetition of process affects the way we think

 

Young children in particular need repetition

–         We see this, for example, in the way a small child never tires of hearing the same story read to them over and over again

–         This sort of repetition gives them a sense of security – it makes them feel safe

–         One of the best things you can do for a child is give them consistency and routine

–         Feed them regularly, put them to bed at the same time, read the stories of Jesus to them daily, pray with them and give them a blessing every night before they go to sleep, be reliable, be there for them

–         Repeating those processes over and over again may seem tedious or even boring to us but it is how children learn faith – it’s how they learn to trust

 

We talked about Moses earlier and how the fruit of his life was leading the Israelites out of Egypt and out of slavery

–         For 40 years the Israelites struggled in the wilderness

–         They could have made it to the Promised Land in a matter of months but leaving Egypt was a process

–         Releasing a person from slavery is one thing – but releasing them from a slave mentality is another thing entirely

–         The Israelites had to go through a process of re-learning

–         For centuries they had been under the thumb of the Egyptians

–         From childhood they had been trained to think like slaves

–         Now they were released from slavery they had to learn to think as free people

–         In other words, they had to learn to trust God – because that’s what freedom requires, it requires trust (or faith)

 

Conclusion:

This morning we’ve talked about the importance of process in the spiritual life

–         Being with God is more about process than product

 

This may be difficult for us because we live in a society that measures success by results

–         Doing something without achieving anything feels like failure

–         Higher profits, better productivity, more followers on Twitter, a growing GDP, and so on

–         We might struggle with process because it seems to us inefficient and difficult to measure

–         We need to change our thinking

 

In John 6 the people ask Jesus… [4]

–         “What must we do to perform the works of God?”

–         Meaning, ‘What does God want us to achieve or accomplish?’

–         And Jesus replies…

–         “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he has sent”

–         In other words, God’s job for us is to believe in Jesus – to trust Jesus

–         Trusting Jesus is an on-going spiritual process

–         It is not something we can tick off and say ‘Ok, that’s done, what’s next?’

–         We can never do our duty to God

 

Let’s pray…

 

[1] Rebecca Nye, ‘Children’s Spirituality’, page 41.

[2] Rebecca Nye, ‘Children’s Spirituality’, page 46.

[3] John 15

[4] John 6:28-29

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