Faith Practices (part 1)
Today we are introducing a new series that will take us all the way through summer. This is one in which I will be encouraging all of us to follow along quite closely. And I invite everyone here to consider making a commitment to dig deeply into the journey these messages will provide for us—as individuals and as a church family. This will be a series on the topic of spiritual disciplines—or faith practices as I am calling them; those holy habits that help us help us love God and our neighbor, listen to the Holy Spirit, and become more like Jesus. These are the habits and routines that Christians have used for centuries to become better disciples of Jesus. And I want to encourage a challenge right here at the start because this is the kind of endeavor in which you are going to get out of it what you put into it.
One of the stated goals of the Church Renewal Lab is for churches to make more and better disciples. They intentionally name it as more and better. The church will grow by making more disciples, and the way the church will make more disciples as for those already in the church to become better disciples. This is a journey in the coming months, then, in which the Word of God will challenge each of us to become better disciples of Jesus.
if you seek to build the church you rarely get disciples, but if you seek to build disciples you always get the church
Church planter and author Mike Breen says that if you seek to build the church you rarely get disciples, but if you seek to build disciples you always get the church. Breen has planted and multiplied several churches in his time as a church planter. But his goal has never been about planting or building bigger churches; his focus has always been about planting and building better disciples of Jesus. The result has always been growing and thriving churches because the focus has always been more and better disciples.
Today I am starting us out with an overview of what faith practices are and why we do them as disciples of Jesus. In the coming weeks we will look individually at several of these faith practices one-at-a-time. But it would be good before we do that to consider why we do these holy habits in the first place and what the intended goal is for investing time and effort into faith practices.
1 Peter 1:13–23 (NIV)
Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
I’m not very good at golf, which I suppose makes me a good fit for this church’s golf league. According to my best intentions I would get out to the driving range more often and work on practicing the mechanics of my swing, but that didn’t happen at all this spring. And so I’ll be showing up to our first league outing without having touched a gold club since last autumn. It won’t be pretty. I cannot possibly expect to get any better at playing golf unless I dedicate a regular routine of time and effort on practicing the fundamental swings, chips, and putts that make the game of golf.
On the other hand, it would not make much sense if all I ever did was go to practice my golf swing at the driving range but then I never actually never go out and play any rounds of golf. I would get all the practice to become good at the game, and then never use it to actually play the game. It would be like the baseball player who spends all the time in the batting cage but never steps onto the ball diamond, or the football player who spends all the time in the weight room but never steps onto the field, or the drama cast who spends all their time in rehearsal but never puts on a stage performance.
misalignment between faith practices and the Christian life
dive straight to Christian life without establishing fundamental practices of faith never take discipleship skills outside of the sanctuary and apply them to everyday Christian life
I wonder if sometimes we have that same kind of misalignment between faith practices and the Christian life. Either we dive straight forward into the Christian life without ever taking the time and effort to establish the fundamental practices that are necessary for discipleship, or we spend all our time huddled in scrimmage mode, but never take these discipleship skills outside the sanctuary and apply them to everyday real life. Can we all admit there tends to be a disconnect here? We all have times of struggling with lining up faith practices that actually carry forward into making us better disciples of Jesus. Let’s talk today about that connection. Let’s set up a framework for understanding how a routine of time and effort towards faith practices results in better discipleship.
First, let’s track through this passage and follow the progression from hope to holiness to habits. Verse 13.
Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.
Faith practices begin from a place of hope. We are called to dive more deeply into a life of discipleship because we hold onto a firm hope that the gospel is true. We hold onto an unwavering hope that we do, in fact, love and follow a God who has redeemed us and calls us his own and anointed us with the righteousness of Christ. We are people who live in the hope that God keeps his covenant promises, that the Holy Spirit will in fact guide and nurture God’s people in steps that will include the people of his church as part of the restoration of shalom he is working all throughout his world.
we have hope in a God who transforms people’s hearts and redeems broken lives
faith practices are what place us at the forefront of God’s redeeming and shalom-restoring work in this world
Maybe it sounds like Peter is making a bit of a sales pitch right now, trying to convince you of the reason why faith practices for discipleship are important. These habits of discipleship are not just something we have to do in order to check off a list. Neither do I think that Peter intends for faith practices to be an optional component of Christian life—take it or leave it; it’s up to you. No, Peter is framing it more intensely than that. If you truly hold onto a sure and certain hope that God is in the business of redeeming a broken and sinful world, then why wouldn’t you want to be on the very front edges of that redemption? Faith practices are what place us at the forefront of God’s redeeming and shalom-restoring work in this world. It is because of our hope in a God who transforms people’s hearts and redeems broken lives that we stand ready to go all-in on being the best disciples of Jesus we can be. Faith practices are the key to being better disciples. It starts from a place of hope.
From hope, Peter moves on to holiness. Verses 15-16.
But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
Faith practices produce and develop holiness — set us as different from a broken, divisive, violent, unloving world
Faith practices are training for holiness. The goal, the aim, the target towards which discipleship is pointed is holiness. The word “holy” by itself simply means separate or completely other. The nuance it carries in the Bible is a declaration that God is like no other, in a category all by himself. Faith practices point us towards holiness. That is, these holy habits make us more holy, more set apart from the ways of a broken, divisive, violent, and unloving world. Faith practices produce and develop a holiness in God’s people which makes his disciples stand-outs in this world. Others look and notice something different about those who are being made more holy.
attributes of holiness — spiritual fruit: love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control
This holiness does not just show up as personal piety or ethical moral behavior. Those things are not bad, they are just means to an end. Holiness shows up in the life of God’s people as the bearing of spiritual fruit. The apostle Paul talks about spiritual fruit in Galatians. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These are all attributes of the Holy Spirit. People who are being made holy in the image of God will reflect these same attributes as well—not just on Sunday in church, but in everyday life. Holiness shows up by bearing the fruit of holiness, the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
(1) faith practices help us better love God and others (2) faith practices help us pay attention and listen to the Holy Spirit (3) faith practices help us become more like Jesus, being conformed into his image
Faith practices bend our lives in that direction. Faith practices are habits that allow us to put focused and dedicated time and effort into being disciples who embrace holiness by bearing the fruit of the Spirit. How do faith practices do that? They are routines and habits that focus our attention in three specific ways: (1) faith practices help us better love God and others, (2) faith practices help us pay attention and listen to the Holy Spirit, (3) faith practices help us become more like Jesus, being conformed into his image.
That moves us into the last thing Peter brings in this passage. He moves from hope to holiness to habits. Verses 22-23.
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
faith practices are the place where those discipleship skills are refined and honed and shaped — laboratory for developing expressions of holiness
Faith practices are for us the driving range, the batting cage, the weight room for developing what it looks like in your life to love God and love others, what it looks like in your life to listen and be able to hear the Holy Sprit, what it looks like in your life to be able to become more and more like Jesus being molded into his image. Faith practices are the place where those discipleship skills are refined and honed and shaped. They are habits that press our attention towards a practice of loving God and others, towards a practice of being still and listening for the direction of the Holy Spirit, and towards a practice of living in ways that become more like Jesus. Faith practices are a laboratory for these expressions of holiness to form in your life so that you can grow into a life of discipleship that bears the fruit of the Spirit.
commit to opportunities to try out new faith practices — be realistic
Enough about that. Let me close by previewing what’s coming in the next few months as we look intently into a handful of these faith practices. And let this be my way of helping to set you up for how these upcoming sermons can be most helpful. Let’s be honest, there is no way any of us can start taking on and adding one new faith practice each week from here on forward through the rest of the spring and summer. That’s overwhelming; it’s too much; it’s unrealistic.
sabbath, generosity, hospitality, scripture, justice & mercy, listening, celebrating, prayer, wonder, remembering, service
Rather, I want you to see the coming months as a sampling, an opportunity to consider and try out some faith practices. Maybe some of these will just be an affirmation or refining or tweaking on something you are already doing. Maybe some of these will be an opportunity to try a brand new faith practice you have never tried before. My encouragement is this, work along with us to try a new faith practice each week for just one week. Let’s take them one at a time. Next time I am beginning with the faith practice of sabbath. And then I want all of us to try out the practice of sabbath during the next week. But at the end of that week let that one go and shift your attention to the next one: gratitude. And for the rest of that week try out the practice of gratitude, and on we go one week after the next.
identify one or two that may be the most meaningful and uplifting | one or two that may press further ahead in becoming a better disciple
When we get to the end of the summer and have been through all these small, one-week samples of faith practices, I will encourage each one of us to look back at all the faith practices you have had the opportunity to try out and reflect on your experience with each of them. That will be the time for identifying which one or two may have been the most meaningful and uplifting for you, as well as identifying which one or two may press you further ahead in becoming a better disciple if you could grow in those particular faith practices. And it may look a little different for each one of us; we might all have a different roadmap of faith practices by the time we get to the end of summer.
Richard Foster — inward, outward, corporate
Perhaps the premier American author on the subject of faith practices is a man named Richard Foster. He comes from the Quaker Christian tradition and has written extensively on faith practices. Just about every single American book published in the last forty years on the subject of faith practices contains footnotes and references to Richard Foster. In his book, Celebration of Discipline Foster places faith practices into three helpful categories: inward disciplines, outward disciplines, and corporate disciplines. Each of these categories is useful, and Foster urges that mature disciples of Jesus embrace some kind of discipline from each one of these three categories.
balance of faith practices in all categories
You will find, for example, that introverted people greatly gravitate towards the inward disciplines as feeling the most natural and being the easiest to embrace. But Foster argues that greater spiritual maturity grows when introverted people stretch themselves to develop a corporate discipline which places them with other people. And it also works the other way around. Extroverted people may feel the most comfortable and energized by the corporate disciplines which places them with other people. But extroverts can stretch and grow in discipleship by adding an inward discipline to the mix of their own discipleship.
This means, as we go from week to week, you may certainly identify faith practices that feel natural and uplifting and invigorating, practices that connect well with your personality. But it also means taking note of faith practices as we go which feel like a stretch and are perhaps more difficult. One of those more difficult faith practices may actually be the thing that can balance out your life of discipleship by providing a more well-rounded discipleship expression.
I will make a personal discipleship plan for becoming a better disciple of Jesus
My encouragement is this. Don’t back away from trying. There may be a faith practice or two in the coming weeks that simply does not connect with you. That’s okay; but don’t let that be something which makes you quit. Stick with it and try them all out. Take notes as you go along and keep them all together. When we get to the end of the summer, you will all have what you need for us to identify and make a personal discipleship plan for becoming better disciples of Jesus. Mike Breen says when you seek to build the church you rarely get disciples, but when you seek to build disciples you always get the church.
the Holy Spirit equips God’s people to be disciples
This is what God wants. It is what Jesus calls us to do. And it is what the Holy Spirit equips God’s people to accomplish. Faith practices do not create in us a holiness of our own. They simply plug us into the holiness of Christ that is already there and already given to you. Jesus has already provided everything you need to follow him in faith and grow as his disciple. Let’s work on that together.