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New Beginnings – The Spiritual Disciplines

2 Jan 2011

Worship – Andrew
- Worship scripture – Ps 119:9-16

Word

I have been wondering a bit about this festival we honour – New Year celebrations. It
seems that most if not all the world’s cultures celebrate the end of one and the beginning
of another year (even if it’s not the same time of the calendar year). Why is the attraction
so universal? I suspect it is because New Year offers a sense of a fresh start - to put past
behind and start anew. To have another go at all the failings of my life. An end of a year
is an emotional cut-off point, and the beginning of a year resembles new beginnings in
my life. Why do people want another chance – a new beginning? It is because they
consistently get it wrong. People mess up, even the ones who try hard not to. People
battle and struggle to live the way they want to – they long for another chance to get it
right, but few do.

Discussion – share some new-years resolutions / past experiences in making them

As Christians, we learn that the only kind of new beginning that is really of consequence
is a new birth – the ultimate second chance. Furthermore, it is a second chance with a
guaranteed outcome (see 1Pet 1:9), but of course it comes at a substantial cost to
ourselves. We get eternity, but it costs us the right over our temporal, earthy lives. We
don’t loose it; we simply give up the right to do with it as we please. We in fact sign it
over to someone else. The fine print of this strange contract is however in our favour.
The One we sign our lives over to made us and loves us and knows more than we of what
a fulfilled, meaningful and joy-filled earthy life would look like.

People often are very sceptical about making new years resolutions. The reason of course
is experience – experience of their own failure.

Discussion: Why do we so often fail at living as we long to do?

John Ortberg wrote a book called “The life you’ve always wanted”. In it, he speaks
about the secret of attaining this kind of life that we dream of living. Who wants to guess
what the book is about? … (spiritual disciplines).

In it Ortberg gives what he calls “the single most helpful principle he knows regarding
spiritual transformation”. Here is the principle:

“There is an immense difference between trying to do something


and training to do something”.
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Spiritual transformation is not a matter of trying harder but of training wisely. This is
what Paul speaks about when he encourages Timothy to ‘train yourself in godliness.’
Example: invitation to compete in Olympics unprepared – doesn’t matter how hard you
try… Difference in someone who has spent years training and preparing.

Reading and discussion

• 1 Cor 9:24-27
• 2 Tim 2:1-5

This may sound like bad news but actually it is great! It means the whole idea of
following Jesus becomes something achievable. There is a way out of our own
incapacity to shape up – to live the live we were called and in fact made to live. For
those who can’t, here is a way of playing Bach and Mozart. Years of practicing scales,
appegios and Scarlatti exercises. It is hard work and it takes time, but it is achievable.

Our pursuit of godliness includes practise in the virtues such as forgiveness, joy, courage
etc, but it doesn’t stop there. What it is actually about is learning to think, feel and act
like Jesus. What does that actually mean? It so easily can sound ethereal and out there.
But the spiritual disciplines provide a meaningful, real, concrete and tangible means to
this out-of-reach yet crucial goal.

There is something true in the idea of a new year’s celebration. The Christian life is a life
of hundreds of thousands of second chances, because our sins – even the future ones – are
completely forgiven. The Lord does however call us to a higher life – a life of living
according to our true natures as sons and daughters of God. We are called to live in this
broken world with our broken minds, bodies and moralities as ambassadors of heaven,
ruling and reigning in the trust of the God who sent us. Such a call makes a profound
demand upon us. It demands that we live according to a nature inside of ourselves that is
like a mustard seed – tiny compared to the mountains of carnality that dominates our self-
awareness, but destined by God to become dominant – bigger than anything else that
competes with it.

To live according to this call means that we will have to live deliberately – it will not
happen by itself, nor by simply trying harder. The spiritual disciplines are a gift to us in
this quest. In your thinking upon the year ahead, please keep them in mind. From Feb to
Easter we have Lent coming up, which is a time for us as a fellowship to come before the
Lord together in prayer and fasting.

Recommended books:

1. The Life you’ve always wanted - John Ortberg


2. Celebration of discipline - Richard Foster
3. The spirit of the disciplines - Dallas Willard