The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
October 30, 2016
What is the most significant achievement in anyone’s life?
The kind of person he or she ends up becoming!
We all have, in who we are, certain “givens”: the characteristics we inherit by way of our genetics, the perspectives on life we receive from our experiences, the assumptions in values and beliefs we imbibe from the culture and the family in which we were raised, etc.
Yet, ultimately, we are all responsible for the kind of human being into whom we develop. We all choose who we become, in a life-long process of decision-making. The most determinative set of decisions we make pertains to whether we put ourselves into, and continue to put ourselves into, the hands of God. For God can develop us in ways we cannot. The second most determinative set of decisions pertains to the self-defining habits we establish in our lives. For our habits make us. “We are,” Aristotle said, “what we repeatedly do.” For every one of us, our character consists of the commitments we keep.
Even a little commitment kept a long time has a big impact. Put away into savings 10% of what you make each pay day, and after a year you’ll be surprised at what you can afford at Christmas. Keep deliberately parking at a good distance from the front doors of the stores you frequent, and the extra walking will have you taking in your belt a notch before your next New Year’s weight-loss resolution. Start eating those five vegetables a day, and you will hear, at a subsequent school reunion, more comments about how good you look.
The habits we choose shape who we become.
Today’s Scripture tells us, first, that “the grace of God has appeared” in order to “[train] us to renounce impiety and worldly passions” and “live lives that are self-controlled, upright and godly”; and, second, that Jesus gave Himself in order to “redeem us from iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds”. We collaborate with His agenda to make us more like Himself by carrying out, again and again, certain actions that work on us and shape who we are. We can act our way into new feelings and dispositions.
For example, consider the scriptural practice of tithing. Have you ever wondered why God asks us to give back to Him ten percent of what we make? To do us a favor of course! After all, the One who according to Psalm 24 owns the earth and all that is in it does not need our money. But maybe we need to share it in order to shape our character.
Randy Alcorn observed, “Suppose you buy shares of General Motors. What happens? You suddenly develop an interest in GM. You see a magazine article about GM and read every word, even though a month ago you would have passed right over it. Suppose you’re giving to help African children with AIDS. When you see an article on the subject, you’re hooked. If you’re sending money to plant churches in India and an earthquake hits India, you watch the news and fervently pray.”
Do you wish that, say, you cared more about eternal things? Then reallocate a good portion of your money from temporal things to eternal things. Put your assets and resources into the things that count most with God. Then watch what happens. As surely as the compass needle turns to the north, your heart will turn to God.
Never forget that Jesus did not say, “Where your heart is, there your treasure will be also,” though that’s true. He expressed the more important and urgent point: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Our hearts follow our money. We tithe, and we become over time more godly: that is, more invested in, and more passionate about, God’s concerns.
No one act of course affects us much, but the repeated practice of an act transforms us profoundly.
Consider the habit of meditating on Scripture. As you do, imagine your soul to be a cup of hot water and your intake of Scripture to be a tea bag. Hearing God’s word in worship is like one dip of the tea bag into the cup. Something of the tea is absorbed into the water, but much more would be with repeated bobbing up and down of the bag in the water. The more the bag is immersed in the water, the more the tea permeates and changes it. The more steeping there is, the more seeping into it of the tea’s tint, savor and flavor.
To meditate on Scripture is to let the Bible brew in our brain and soak into our soul. The practice colors our thinking, and imparts God’s aroma to our personality.
All sorts of folks have got the Bible. What matters, however, is whether the Bible has got them. It gets us by our steeping ourselves in it by daily devotions and weekly worship together, and by our again and again stepping forward in life in line with its leading.
We shape our soul by the habits we choose. We fulfill these wishes of God, expressed in these verses, that we repudiate impiety and radiate godliness, forsake iniquity and embrace goodness, if we persevere in those practices that rid us of the negative and build in us the positive.
We need to act in both a negative and a positive direction, but it behooves us to focus more on attaining the positive than eliminating the negative. For the latter may just leave us empty, while the former always fills us with God’s grace.
The more positive approach is more helpful in all of life, even in a mundane effort such as creating a beautiful lawn or playing field unblemished by weed patches. To pursue that goal, you can do one of two things: You can buy weed killer and drench those eyesores with poison, but the best result you can expect to end up with is clumps of brown in a sea of green. Or you can buy the seeds of a hearty grass and sow them all over the place. With enough water the grass will overtake the weeds – and you will have created an uninterrupted expanse of gorgeous green.
The best way to shape our soul is to stress growing good things in it more than killing off bad things. So keep sowing the seeds of grace by tithing, meditating on God’s word, attending worship, saying your prayers, fighting for justice, volunteering your service. By sowing such habits you will reap a more Christ-like soul. Let us pray.