Spiritual Direction For Christian Community

Rev Jim Splitt

August 1, 1999

I Thessalonians 5:12-28

1Ths. 5:12-28 Now we ask you, brothers [and sisters], to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers [and sisters], warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is Godís will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spiritís fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. Brothers [and sisters], pray for us. Greet all the brothers [and sisters] with a holy kiss. I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers [and sisters]. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Charles Colson, former special counsel to President Richard Nixon, spent time in prison for his participation in the Watergate scandal. During his time in prison, he did some serious soul searching and turned his life around. Christ is now the center of his life. In his book, Loving God, he makes this remark:

"The greatest commandment of all, Jesus said, is Tlove your Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.. Iíd memorized those words but had never really thought about what they meant in practical terms; that is, how to fulfill that command. I wondered if others felt the same way. So I asked a number of more experienced Christians how they loved God. The cumulative effect of my survey convinced me that most of us, as professing Christians, do not really know how to love God. Not only have we not given thought to what the greatest commandment means in our day to day existence, we have not obeyed it. And if this was true for individual believers, what were the ramifications for the church. [p.15-16]

Spiritual direction for the Christian community gives specific guidelines on how we are to fulfill the greatest commandment in our life. What Colson discovered in himself and in others was a lack of genuine understanding and commitment to Christian behavior. In his conversations he found that many well meaning Christians did not live the Christian faith with sincerity, devotion, or continuity in their lives. He discovered that many peopleís actions were not consistent with their belief. Instead he found token behavior. People would say they attended church regularly, or made regular contributions to the church, or prayed on a regular basis. But when pushed further to speak more about their Christian life and conduct, there was little to be said. It appeared to Chuck Colson that many of the Christians he talked to simply went through the motions of doing an occasional "Christian" thing. If we are to follow Christ teachings in our life, we need spiritual direction. We need guidance on how we can channel our life energies in a way that truly reflects our passion to love and serve Christ daily in every aspect of our lives.

The text from I Thessalonians provides an excellent guideline for how we are to direct and govern our lives spiritually. There are 19 specific instructions for Christian conduct and they all relate to the love of God and neighbor.

Respect those who work hard among you.
Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work
. Live in peace with each other.
Warn those who are idle,
Encourage the timid,
Help the weak,
Be patient with everyone.
Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong,
Always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.
Be joyful always;
Pray continually;
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is Godís will for you in Christ Jesus.
Do not put out the Spiritís fire;
Do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything.
Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.
May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our
Lord Jesus Christ. Pray for us.
Greet all the brothers [and sisters] with a holy kiss.

There are so many circumstances in our life that can distract us from healthy Christian living. The biggest hurdle we face in following Christ is our own neediness. When we think more about ourselves than others we loose sight of the great commandment. This is such a common problem. The shocking news of the senseless killings this week in Atlanta by a distraught man is indicative that he lost sight of anyone else but himself, blaming others and going on a killing rampage. The first step in a spiritual direction is to empty ourselves.

Family disputes, conflict of all kinds locally and internationally, all stem from self-preserving interests and the expense of someone else. Spiritual direction guides us away from a preoccupation with our own needs to developing a sensitivity and awareness for the care of others.

Words of spiritual direction are I respect others, help the weak, encourage the timid, live in peace with one another. An important guide that Paul states is to be patient with others. What happens when someone really gets on your nerves? We are quick to condemn, point the finger, or find cause to blame. But spiritual direction suggests that we are not to pay back wrong for wrong. By emptying ourselves we allow the love of Christ to fill us. When we allow the love of Christ to channel our efforts 24 & 7, we are no longer self-centered but Christ centered.

Colson states we are to "love the God who creates us, to care for others out of obedience to Christ, to heal those who hurt, to take away fear, to restore community, to belong to one another, to proclaim the Good News while living it out. The church is the invisible made visible. [p. 197].

Another step in the pathway of spiritual direction is spiritual discipline. Not only does Paul talk about caring for others, but he also outlines the basis of self-care. There are things that we are to do to take care of ourselves. The words of spiritual direction are: be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, and keep the fire of the Spirit. The key words conveyed in these directives are: always, continually, and in all circumstance.

It is so easy to become discouraged about any life situation and loose sight of our spiritual direction. This happened to me on the third day of the Habitat 500. I was discouraged, my shoulders hurt, the gearing on my bike was malfunctioning, it was hot, the wind was in our face, we had fallen back to the end of the line of 116 bikers, my stomach was upset, and nothing was going MY WAY. I was miserable and wanted some company. Kathleen tried to cheer me up and be encouraging but it wasnít working very well.

Just about that time we caught up to another biker. We exchanged conversation long enough for me to give a few of my many complaints. With a smile on her face, this biker said, we overcome all our difficulties by enjoying something special about Godís love for us. Look at these beautiful fields and the clouds over head and you have such wonderful company to share your journey with. I melted in the grace of that moment. I was touched by an angel, lifted up on eagles wings, inspired by the Christ centered presence of another.

The July issue of Guidepost has an inspirational piece that Kathleen found and shared with me. It is by Ruth Senter.
Godís call to me, his child, is not to safeness, but always to something more P always upward, higher further along. To bypass the call is to settle for mediocrity, complacency and dormancy. And should I choose not to risk. I will more than likely wake up some morning with the haunting question on my mind, " Could God have had something more for me, If I had only dared to trust?" Amen.

A third step in our pathway of spiritual direction leads us to recognize Godís work within us. May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has created us holy, continues to keep us in this holy image. God wants us to safe guard the sanctity of our lives. This past week Kathleen and I taught the campers a song, which we used for worship, called Sanctuary. The words are:

Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary.
Pure and holy, tried and true.
With thanksgiving, IUll be a living
Sanctuary For you.

As we conclude our worship today with the sacrament of Holy Communion, we begin our spiritual journey with Christ at the center. As Christ welcomes us to this table, let us welcome and prepare our hearts for Christ.

Amen.