Years ago, when I was in university, I decided that I wanted to learn how to play guitar. So I bought a guitar and some learn-how-to-play-guitar songbooks. Then I learned a few notes and chords and how to play some songs. But for the past ten or so years has been sitting in a corner unused. And this is in spite of the fact that I can envision myself playing songs on my guitar. I also want to play guitar and I have all the means, all the resources that are needed to do so. But I am still not learning how to play guitar. And the reason for that is I don’t have a passion for learning how to play guitar. So I still haven’t done it even though everything is already in place for me to learn to play guitar.
This blog post is based on Philippians 4:4-13. This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on October 14, 2018. To go to the podcast, click here.
Passion is vitally important in determining the direction and fruitfulness of a human life, and here’s why. Imagine that inside of each and everyone of us is something called a Passion Flywheel. A flywheel is a large heavy wheel that can store up energy and that stored energy can be used during a time with little or no power to keep an engine running or keep a vehicle moving forward. A flywheel takes a lot of energy to get going, but once it is going it takes very little energy to keep it going.
Something that works very much like a flywheel is a merry-go-round. Imagine for a merry-go-round in your mind for a moment. It’s full of kids and there is a dad or uncle standing on the ground beside it using his arms and strength to make the merry-go-round move. It takes a lot of energy to get the merry-go-round to start spinning. It also takes a lot of energy to make the merry-go-round spin fast. But once the merry-go-round is spinning around quickly, it takes very little energy to keep it spinning quickly in the same direction. Now how much energy do you think it will take to stop the merry-go-round and get it spinning quickly in the opposite direction? Quite a lot. You could lose an arm trying to stop a fast spinning merry-go-round and make it spin in the opposite direction.
Have a Passion Flywheel inside of us is the reason why there are times when we can have the opportunity, the resources and even the desire to start practicing something new that will make our lives better, but we don’t, because we don’t have any passion for it. This is not only true for learning to play guitar. It is also true for learning how to dance.
My recent blog posts have been reflections on our life with God as a Dance. It is a dance that God initiates and invites us into. As we dance there is partnership and communication between us and God and as we move through space and time together, beauty and grace result. That beauty and grace not only blesses us, it also blesses others. And we hope that the beauty and grace that God produces in our life as we dance with Him will encourage others to also accept God’s invitation to dance a beautiful dance with Him.
We want to be a church that helps the people of the Fraser Valley to thrive. We want the people of the Fraser Valley to dance a beautiful dance with God with their one and only lives. And we seek to do help them do that by reaching them with the Good News of God’s love and leading them into a growing relationship with Jesus.
As we think about our life as a dance with God, I am inviting you to reflect for a few moments on one particular aspect of that dance, and that is practice.
here is one something to think about, and this will be the focus of attention during our time together this morning: Even though God brings us into this dance with Him as a gift and we are never, in this life, going to be perfect at dancing with God. And even though any good things which come to us in the dance are not of our doing, but completely a gift from God, as we dance with God, It is important for us to practice because something wonderful happens when we practice and practice and getter better and better at dancing with God. Because making a practice of trusting in Jesus results in contentment, peace and joy.
In his letter to the Christian Church in Philippi, Paul gives us a vision for what our lives could be like. In Philippians, chapter 4, he writes, “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.” (verses 4-5). Here Paul is trying to help us to see that practicing to dance with God helps us to have joy. In verses 6-7, he writes, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” So practicing to dance with God helps us to have peace. And then in verses 10-13, Paul tells us, “How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” Practicing to dance with God can help us to have contentment Paul is saying.
So Paul gives us the vision but he also gives us the means, or the how-to, to have this better life with more joy, peace and contentment. In verses 8-9, he writes, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.”
Paul is giving us two key patterns to practice. First, to think about permanent good things from God. Our thinking cannot be based on our circumstances, which is our default position, because our circumstances change. We need to slow down and stop that circumstance-based merry-go-round and get it spinning in the opposite direction. To fill our minds with God’s permanent good things we need to fill our mind with what God tells us. And the primary way that God speaks to us is through the Bible.
Here are some things that can help you to hear God more clearly as He speaks to you through the Bible. First, find a translation that speaks clearly to you. Some examples are the New Living Translation, The Message, the Contemporary English Version or the Good News Translation. Second, find a Bible plan that works for you. We are blessed in this day and age to have a tool like the YouVersion Bible app which has all kinds of Bible reading plans on it. Third, find a devotional that explains God’s Word to you. There are lots of great resources available for you to use. Devotionals come in booklet form or as books. You can also download devotional apps onto your smartphone and you can also sign up for free subscriptions to devotions that will be emailed to you. Finally, find a time & place that works for you to read the Bible. That time could be in the morning, or the evening, during a lunch break or it could be listening to a podcast during your drive to or from work.
The second tip that Paul gives us to practice our way into a dance with God with more joy, peace and contentment is to find someone who you would like and are able to pattern your life after. When you identify someone who is living the kind of life you would like to live, you could ask them if they would be your mentor or you could ask them if you can join a small group that they are in. The next step would be to invite them to speak truth into your life. Your part is to do what they tell you to do and imitate the things that you see them do.
Having a godly mentor is something that can help us even when the person we want to have as a mentor is no longer part of our lives. Maybe the person you are thinking of is someone like a parent or a grandparent who has passed away. Or maybe the person you want to imitate is still alive but your paths have diverged and you don’t see each other much anymore. You can still have them as a mentor because you can remember the things that they have taught you and you can remember the way that they lived their life and you can follow that pattern in your life.
Paul has given us a vision for our lives of a life filled with joy, peace and contentment. He has given us the means for how to accomplish this: by filling our minds with eternal good things from God and following a godly mentor. But what Paul or I or anyone else cannot do for you is give you Intention or Passion. We could say that Intention is what sets the direction of the passion flywheel of our life but passion is what supplies the energy needed to get our flywheel moving in the right direction, to get it moving quickly so that it has the energy needed to smooth out the bumps of life and to keep it moving at a steady quick pace. But the Intention and the Passion we need has to somehow come from inside of us. No one from the outside can give us intention or passion. There is a saying that we use to illustrate this truth, “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.” If that horse does not have a passion for water, it is not going to drink it.
So the first place we need to begin is with some Introspection, we need to evaluate what is going on inside of us. Here is a question that we could use to help us begin the process of introspection. “On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the amount of Joy, Peace and Contentment in your life?”
This evaluation is best done is a hard season of life. If you are a Mom with 2 high-energy, challenging kids to look after, it is hard to have peace. If you are the main care-giver for a loved one whose mind is being ravaged by dementia, it is hard to have contentment. If you have been given a diagnosis of a terminal illness and you are facing the prospect of leave this world and all your loved ones behind, it is hard to have joy.
One reason why these inner evaluations are best done during hard seasons is because hard seasons force us to look at what we use in our lives to try to have peace, contentment and joy in our lives. But the best reason why hard seasons in life are the best times to do inner evaluations is because hard seasons in life tell us that we need Jesus.
Only Jesus has flipped the script on the whole human story by going to the cross to suffer and die and then rising from the dead on the third day that followed. Jesus has written a new story where that young Mom can have the peace of Jesus’ presence and He will give her the strength that she needs to not only endure this trying season of life but to also do so in a way that she serves as a godly mentor to her children and blesses and encourages others. Jesus has written a new story where that care-giver can grieve the gradual loss of their loved one’s mind and also rest in the contentment of knowing that a day is coming when Jesus is going to purge away all sin-ravaged brokenness and heal that diminished mind so that their loved one is more clear-minded and whole than they ever were before. And in the meantime, Jesus will give that care-giver the strength they need to keep calm and carry on in a way that blesses and encourages others.
Jesus has written a new story where the person who has been given a terminal diagnosis can know that this diagnosis does not define them for Jesus has given them a new identity and a new life. Jesus has brought them into the family of God and remade them as a beloved, forgiven child of God. And, even now, they are living their lives in God’s presence with a Father who unconditionally loves them and faithfully cares for them, with a brother, named Jesus, who will protect them from all eternal harm, and with a divine Mentor, the Holy Spirit, who is helping them to blossom and grow into being the beautiful person living the beautiful life that God has in mind for them. And they can also have the joy of knowing that this beautiful life, which they have already begun to live now and is presently hidden, will one day be revealed for all to see and they will see Jesus, the Great Lover of their soul, face-to-face. That disease will be gone and they will have a new body that will never grow old, never get sick and never die and Jesus will wipe away every tear from their eye. In addition to all this, Jesus will give that person with a terminal illness the strength they need to keep moving forward through life with an unexplainable grace and beauty that blesses and encourages others
So here is the challenge that I am leaving with you: Find the way that God feeds joy into your life. Joy is what will feed your passion and get your passion flywheel going. Because the joy is from God, you can know that it will move your passion flywheel in the right direction and that God-given joy can also help to turn your passion flywheel in a new direction if it is going the wrong way.
Joy is important because we can practice good patterns of reading the Bible daily and following a godly mentor but if we don’t experience a measure of joy in doing those things or as a result of doing those things, those patterns won’t be life-giving habits that endure and those good habits will soon be sitting in the corner unused like my guitar.
On the other hand, when we find those habits that give us joy as we think about God’s good things and follow a godly mentor, then our lives can become like a flywheel on finely-tuned V-8 engine that builds up momentum in the good times powers through the rough seasons because it has been running on the joy that Jesus gives. Amen.