This morning we hear from Colossians 1:9-14. We heard it read from the New International Version earlier in our service. Hear it now in the simpler Contemporary English Version. The first three verses read; 9 We have not stopped praying for you since the first day we heard about you. In fact, we always pray that God will show you everything he wants you to do and that you may have all the wisdom and understanding that his Spirit gives. 10 Then you will live a life that honors the Lord, and you will always please him by doing good deeds. You will come to know God even better. 11 His glorious power will make you patient and strong enough to endure anything, and you will be truly happy. I choose this simpler interpretative translation because I believe it helps us get the best feel for what Paul was trying to communicate. If you listen closely, you heard Paul begin to weave together what it means to both to do and to be a person – and a church family - that lives a life that honors God.
I think we have begun to master the doing part of the spiritual equation. We are a church that drips with a servant spirit and it has been on grand display over these past two weeks. The pictures from Wednesday night and the past two Saturdays show all ages of our church working arm-in-arm in service together. Last summer many of you took part in a congregational survey to identify the heart cry of our church family. The number item identified as a design to do intentional cross-generational mission and ministry. CHECK! I celebrate the fact that across the wide spectrum of our church family you have sought to live a life that pleases God by rolling up your sleeves and diving in. Well done!
But it is the second half of this proposition that seems more challenging for us. That second half is the call to be. Paul speaks of a way of life where God can show us all the wisdom and understanding that his Spirit gives. Being is hard. In the flurry of activity that can define us, it can be seem impossible to stop long enough to pause in the presence of God where God can show us all that He has for us to know. This is made even harder because of our tendency to empower and entrust others to take responsibility for our growth in our understanding of God’s word and way. If we are not careful we can begin to expect that Sunday school teachers, pastors and Bible study leaders will prepare in a way where we can passively sit back and wait for them to point the way. Please hear me clearly, I do not want to demean or diminish the role their spiritual leaders play in our lives. Rather, hear me say that what they bring us should be the beginning of our spiritual quest, rather than its end. The call to be; the call to invite God to show you everything he wants you to do and that you may have all the wisdom and understanding that his Spirit gives is profoundly personal and intensely corporate.
It is profoundly personal because we must make the individual choice to purposefully engage with God. Authentic discipleship is not a spectator sport. It is a life a spiritual engagement where diving into God’s word is at the core of who we are. There is no one else in the world like you. You bring a unique set of life stories and experiences to every encounter with God. This lets God speak to you and into your life like no other. But so often the voice of God is drowned out with the voices of distraction that surround us. A vital part of hearing and engaging with God is putting yourself in a position where you invite God to speak through His word and whisper into your soul. These acts of personal commitment and devotion place us at God’s feet and give us ready ears to hear what God has to teach us.
While personal Bible study and devotion is a cornerstone of our faith walk, it is insufficient alone. The call to be; the call to invite God to show you everything he wants you to do and that you may have all the wisdom and understanding that his Spirit gives is also intensely corporate. In almost every account of God speaking to His people in the New Testament, God speaks into a community context. Paul addresses his letter to the whole of the Colossian church family. His desire is for them all experience the wisdom and understand that the Spirit gives. They, and we, need each other to live out authentic discipleship. As Baptist we embrace the idea of the priesthood of the believer. This means that we believe that no one stands between us and God – but equally means that we are priests to one another. Let me put this in terms you might not have considered before. It is vital that you take the time to prepare for Sunday school or Bible study because the truths that God teaches you may be essential to the one that sits beside you. You bear responsibility for one another’s spiritual growth. This invites us into a transformation spiritual engagement with God and one another. It also invites us into spiritual relationships of accountability. We are to be voices of encouragement, instruction, support and prayer for one another because as we push and encourage each other we invite God to unveil the wisdom and understanding that his Spirit gives. We learn together. We grow together. We experience God together.
Paul tells us that the result of this kind of life is predictable. He says; Then you will live a life that honors the Lord, and you will always please him by doing good deeds. You will come to know God even better. Over these past two weeks God has shown me that what I thought was a huge vision was only the beginning. God has shown me what I thought was a deep faith was still young and growing. I have been humbled by the incredible work of God and stirred by the way I have seen God at work in you and through you. If we embrace the choice to be in God – to relish in his word – to linger in his way – to invite God to saturate our lives together with his wisdom and understanding then we will draw close to God and get to know God even better. Why would we settle for an arm’s length love of God when we are invited to draw close and to come to know the way and will of God?
Paul also tells us that this kind of life will make you patient and strong enough to endure anything, and you will be truly happy. Beth observed that so many came into the Furniture Bank on Saturday with an air of frustration or helplessness but left with laughter and smiles. When we encounter God together we find the patience and strength we need and the kind of patience and strength that lets us minister to others in Jesus’ name. If we are going to minister to hundreds upon hundreds of families we will need the physical, emotional, and spiritual strength and endurance found only at the feet of God. This is not optional in this moment; it is our spiritual necessity. The fruit of our faithfulness is strength for living and a joy that is sustaining.
Our passage concludes; 12 I pray that you will be grateful to God for letting you have part in what he has promised his people in the kingdom of light. 13 God rescued us from the dark power of Satan and brought us into the kingdom of his dear Son, 14 who forgives our sins and sets us free. I am grateful for God letting us have a part in what he has promised to do to those that are facing broken homes, broken hearts and broken lives. But it is essential that we remember that all we do we do thought God’s power and in the name of God’s grace. What makes us different than the Red Cross or the United Way is that it is our faith that calls us to God’s feet and then sends us out as God’s hands and feet. We go not out of charity or benevolence, but out of a desire to honor God.
If we are dream to be a church that changes the world and people that God uses to change the lives of others then we must find that healthy balance between doing what God calls us to and being in God’s presence where he can teach us, renew us, and strengthen us. If you dare to dream of living lives that honor God we must draw close and listen to all that God has for us to learn and to hear. I pray that God will show you everything he wants you to do and that you may have all the wisdom and understanding that his Spirit gives. 10 Then you will live a life that honors the Lord, and you will always please him by doing good deeds. You will come to know God even better. 11 His glorious power will make you patient and strong enough to endure anything, and you will be truly happy. Amen.