Spirituality what springs to your mind when you hear that word? Expressions like new age, feng shui, or perhaps it makes you think about getting in touch with your inner self. For some spirituality can appear to be quite frightening like getting in too deep. Yet for me the whole concept of spirituality is as the hymn writer said O for a closer walk with thee. God is spirit whether we prefer the more tangible elements of God the Father and God the Son over the God the Holy Spirit, God was, is and is to come. God is Spirit.
We cannot see God but we can feel God. We cannot pick up the telephone to God but we can have dialogue with God. We cannot barricade God in but we can block him out our lives. Another song some of us will remember Shes like the wind made famous in the film Dirty Dancing well that is perhaps one way to understand God.
In the story of Nicodemus, an intelligent righteous man talking with Jesus about how to become what we now call a Christian we find the following: Jesus answered, Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7You should not be surprised at my saying, You must be born again. 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. John 3:5-8
For Christians we understand our relationship with God through the Holy Spirit. Like I say we may be more comfortable with Father or Jesus, but without the Holy Spirit we would not be able to come to God. Jesus lived on earth to help us get to know God through tangible events, and for us to appreciate the God does fully understand the human condition. The Holy Spirit though is the element of God that brings our relationship with God to life. As Christians we cannot or should not ignore the spiritual dimension to our faith.
Without a doubt we must look after creation like we heard about at the start of this series. But even people with no faith in God take care of the environment. Then we considered the taboo topic of finance but even people with no faith donate generously to charity and even to the church.
Then last week we explored time and talents and how all of us no matter who we are able to contribute to Gods family because God doesnt discriminate but humans do. Yet again people with no faith can be just as generous with their time and talents to benefit humankind. Sadly there are many still even within the church today who have no faith yet live what appear to be full Christian lives. Some of that comes down to the Protestant work ethic even when we are sick we still struggle into work despite spending the time when we are healthy wishing we could be sick so we can have some time off. Ah the irony of it!
Over the generations there has been a deepening sense of earning our way into heaven. If we give enough of our time, talents and money, then we are sure to be granted a pass by St Peter at the pearly gates. And yes, how we spend our time, gifts and money, particularly in Gods service is important – it is an important out working of our faith but we need to start from the right place. Last week I spoke about what you might put in your church or faith CV and what God might say about it. A challenge for all of us to consider but it should be totally unnecessary. And this is why. For a moment I want you to think about an important relationship in your life a close friend or your life partner, somebody that you love dearly and have a close personal relationship with.
Right now I want to think about how that relationship started a conversation whether in person, on the phone or over the internet, perhaps on the dance floor or at work. Over time the relationship grew and grew conversation after conversation, a string of dates or events sharing similar hobbies or trying out each others hobbies. At what point in the relationship did you hand over your CV? Exactly. You didnt. When Stuart and I decided to get married we knew what each other was aiming for professionally and we had discussed having children. We knew something of each others pasts but certainly didnt know everything. But I guarantee you we never swapped CVs. Nor have I ever done that in friendships.
I recently gave a friend a fridge magnet that said you will always be my friend you know too much about me! God doesnt need or want a CV. God wants a personal relationship with us. We are not employees though we are servants. We understand our relationship to be in a spiritual sense. Lets start with prayer.
· Prayer is having a conversation with God. Prayer is not a formula. · Prayer is not a one-sided event. · Prayer is not even a get out jail free card. Prayer is a conversation between us and God. Prayer can be general or specific. · It can be emotional, draining or uplifting. · Prayer can be repetitive or persistent. · Prayer can be frustrating and encouraging. · Prayer can be listening or shouting. There is no set way to pray. When you converse with your close friends or life partner there are times when the conversation flows, when comfortable silence happens, where the conversation goes around the houses or focuses on one event, when all you ever talk about for weeks on end is one topic so it is with prayer.
Paul writes that we should continue praying, keeping alert and always thanking God. And that is where scripture comes into our spirituality. Reading the Holy Bible can be a little more daunting. Some people often start a new year with a desire to read the bible right through. They start at Genesis and they may make it past Genesis but before you know it, the new year resolution goes the way of all the other resolutions abandoned and forgotten. The Bible is full of stories about a culture and a time we dont know or at times even understand. But with the right books and teachers to help us the Bible opens up to us our God. The Bible is our superhighway of information about God.
There are hundreds of thousands of books written about the Bible and about God. Not all of them are helpful or accurate so we need to remain rooted in Scripture if we are to find a way through the minefields. A bit like using Wikipedia for information sometimes it pays to double check. The Bible is the physical foundation of our faith. It is the tangible element.
The reading we had from the Psalms today Psalm 119 the longest psalm is a passionate outpouring by the author of the love he has for Gods word. He wants to learn it fully. Not to succeed in some exam and then forget it but he wants to live it out as well. He wants the teachings of God so fill his life, he cannot help but live in Gods ways. We would never read out the whole of Psalm 119 in church because it would take so long yet the passion, the energy, the enthusiasm, the concerns of the author are actually well worth hearing.
Our understanding of faith, our knowledge of faith is to be found within the pages of Gods word. We read elsewhere where Paul is writing to Timothy, a young leader in the early Christian church But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:14-17
The heart of our faith is our relationship with God. Without a solid foundation based on scripture and prayer, we will struggle in our witness for God. Our reading from Colossians reminds us of our collective spirituality and its out working in worship and living as brothers and sisters in Christ. Deepening our relationship with God is our primary focus because everything else will flow from that. Stuart and I got married 11 and half years ago. Since then we have continued to talk, to share, to grow closer together and have a friendship, a love that unites us, even when we disagree, that forgives, that helps me do the housework willing rather than tally up how many loads of washing I have done and he hasnt and so on.
Our relationship with God should be just like the closest human relationship that we have. The ones we dont put appointments in the diary for but always find time for. All the other commitments of faith that we have looked at creation, money, time and talents all of these commitments will simply happen when we fully commit our lives to God. We wont be able to help ourselves.
People sometimes ask how do I know I am saved? How do I know I am a Christian? First of all, if you havent already you need to make a commitment to God. You need to recognise that your life is not all you want it to be and that there is something missing. Or perhaps you feel that your life is a mess and you want help to sort it out. Then now is the time to pray for God to make himself real to you. God has a personal relationship with us there are no grand children in Gods family. But nor will he turn up uninvited.
Secondly remember God loves you. Upon making a commitment, he makes a commitment to you. He is already waiting for you with open arms. Paul writes God has chosen you and made you his holy people. He loves you. Thirdly like any relationship that will survive the challenges, the ups and downs, the joys and frustrations, you need to make an effort. Stuart and I very nearly split up 3 months into our relationship because we were too lazy with each other too caught up in everything else to make the effort. When the moment came we had to make a decision, a choice and praise God, it was the right one. We committed to each other. God promises to commit us at exactly the same moment we commit to him. Jesus Christ made it possible for that to happen through his life, death and rising again that first Easter time. The Holy Spirit brings us all that we need to experience God for ourselves. A Prayer
Loving God,We thank you that we can have a personal relationship with you. We thank you that through the Bible and through Jesus we can get to know you better. We thank you that the Holy Spirit is your gift to us to help us draw ever closer to you. Loving God you have called us and have chosen us. Yet sometimes we fear you because we have not got to know you well or have been taught unhelpful things about you. If we need to help us lay aside our prejudice that we may be open to your presence knowing that you will not take from us our self-control or awareness of our surroundings.
For some God we do not know you but today we have sensed you and want to start a relationship with you. In our own hearts we pray: I am sorry for the things I have done wrong in my life. Please forgive me. I now turn from everything which I know is wrong. Thank you that you Jesus died on the cross that I could be forgiven and set free. Thank you that you offer me forgiveness and the gift of your Spirit. I now welcome that gift. Please come into my life by your Holy Spirit to be with me forever.
Loving God, help us develop our relationship with you, through prayer, through scripture, through worship and through love in action. In the name of Jesus who opened the door to heaven that lets all who seek enter, we pray. Amen. Now we rarely do this kind of prayer in church but for todays theme it was appropriate.
If you have made a commitment for the first time today or recently, or are not quite ready too but want to know more, then we can send you a WHY JESUS? book, come along to Alpha on a Sunday night or speak to your elder or myself, even over email. And the same goes for any who have made a fresh commitment or want to make the commitments of faith a reality or who simply want to explore where they are in the journey of faith.