A Spiritual Health Check-up
December 30, 2001
Horn Creek Ranch is a Christian camp located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of southern Colorado. It is the camp I attended every summer for five years while growing up. Horn Creek is a typical camp with cabins and a chapel and activities like swimming, horseback riding, archery, ping pong, crafts, target shooting and of course, a canteen with snacks like taffy, Snickers and Orange Crush pop, - all the stuff we didn’t have at home.
What set Horn Creek apart, though, and made it a great place for a young kid like me, was the hike up Horn Peak, a mountain just shy of 14,000 feet in elevation. Normally, 20-30 campers left just after breakfast and the hike took all day. It was hard, but it was not technical so a beginner could reach the summit. It was a challenge I looked forward to every year.
One year I wanted to be the first to reach the top so I took off right after lunch and raced ahead of everyone else. Nearing the top I looked back down the mountain and noticed someone following me – and gaining ground. As they got closer I noticed it was a girl and as we both neared the top together I couldn’t let her beat me, - I mean, how would the guys in the cabin treat me if they found out I was beat by a girl. So, I did something I’m not proud of – I bribed her! I offered to buy her anything she wanted from the canteen when we got back. I don’t think she was very aware of how the young male psche works because she agreed to my bribe and I walked to the summit a few steps ahead of Vicki, - who actually became my friend!
The best part of reaching the top of Horn Peak, though, is not who gets there first, it is the view . . . The view at 14,000 feet is breathtaking and spectacular, you can see for miles in every direction. You feel like you are on top of the world.
You know, there’s something special about being on top of a mountain, - or similar experiences like that, that cause a person to become more reflective about life, to kind of step back and look at themselves and consider what they are doing.
That’s also true as when we come to the end of the year. It’s like we’ve reached the summit. There’s something about the final days, the last week of every year that causes us to become more reflective about life. It’s like there is this internal clock within us that says its time to look back at the year gone by and look forward to the year ahead.
Our culture even encourages us to do it. Have you been paying attention to all the end of the year awards and lists coming at us this past week? One magazine selects its “Person of the Year”, a sports magazine chooses its “Athlete of the Year”. Another magazine selects the 25 most interesting people of the year and then does short biographies on them. (Aren’t you bummed you didn’t make it this year!). Broadcasters list the top news stories and events of the year. The end of every year is filled with lists from the past year.
But at the end of every year, we also look forward. We make resolutions for our lives, we set objectives for our jobs, we establish goals and make plans about the future.
Today is December 30th, 2001 and we are about 38 hours from beginning 2002. In the spirit of the season, in keeping with the collective reflection of our culture may I invite you today to reflect on your relationship with God and the condition of your spiritual life? Can we together engage in a spiritual health check-up during the next few moments? The check-up comes in the form of a list of questions I came across recently. Personally, I found the questions helpful and penetrating in my own relationship with God. I offer them to you today to help you assess your spiritual health.
Question #1: Do you thirst for God?
In other words, do you really desire God? Do you want his rule in your life? Do you want more of God and less of you in 2002? For the reality is that everyone thirsts for something. Thirsting and searching describe everyone of us . . . the difference is what we thirst and search for.
And the truth is that sometimes we attempt to quench our thirst by drinking from the wrong fountain. We try to satisfy our thirst through having more money until we realize that no amount of money can satisfy the thirst of our soul. . . or we try to quench our thirst through a position of power and influence over others before we realize influence and power are fleeting and bring with them their own kind of problems and tensions . . . or we try to satisfy our thirst through recreation and sports activities, or sex, or through whatever, . . . you fill in the blank. The reality is that all of us are thirsty . . . all of us are trying to fill the hole in our soul, to quench the thirst in our life in some way but too often we drink from the wrong well.
Question this morning, “Do you thirst for God? is really an important one. Do you thirst for God? Do you want a greater sense of his presence and his rule in your life in 2002? If you do, then Jesus has some good news for you, for he said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; for they will be satisfied.” Jesus promises that when we hunger and thirst FOR GOD, for righteousness, for his rule in our life, we will finally, we will finally be satisfied . . .
So, the question, then, is not so much WHERE can my thirst be satisfied . . . God promises to quench our thirst, the question is, “How can I GROW my thirst for God?” Can I make a simple suggestion? Tell God you desire a greater thirst for him. Tell him you want to grow in godliness, you want to be more like Jesus Christ. Tell God that in 2002 you want more of his rule and reign in your life; you want more of him and less of you in your life. Tell him you are ready to pursue him like never before because you believe that truly, truly, he satisfies your hunger and thirst like nothing else can.
Healthy Christians thirst for God.
A second question to help determine spiritual health is . . .
Question #2: Are you governed by God’s word, the Bible?
All of us are governed by someone or something. Whether it be through a set of ideas or beliefs or a person all of us are influenced or governed by someone or something. So, does the Bible, God’s Word, God’s truth. govern you, does it influence you and the choices and decisions you make?
Probably the best way to answer that is to consider your daily behavior. Think back over the past week . . . over the past 3-4 days if you can’t think that far. Was there a particular situation you were involved in where you made a conscious decision to act in a certain way because the Bible influenced you and you knew that’s what God wanted you to do? Did you respond kindly to someone who treated you unkindly? Did you help someone in need? Did you refrain from gossip? Did you pray for someone else and their needs? These are the kinds of behaviors the Bible teaches followers of Jesus Christ are to live out because, for them, the Bible influences daily choices and decisions; it governs life.
So let me ask you one more time . . . does the Bible, God’s truth influence your decisions? If not, how can the Bible become more influential? What can we do to allow the Bible to govern our life more and more? Can I make two suggestions?
Read the Bible regularly, - daily if possible, - but when you do, do not close it until you know one thing God would have you do in response to what you have read. In other words, read the Bible for more than just information . . . read it for application, to apply it to your life, do what the Bible says!
Make a list a couple of areas in your life and questions you have and then read what the Bible says about them. Areas like WORK: Does God care about how I perform on my job? Or does God know and care that I am unemployed? PARENTING: How can I become a better parent? DECISION MAKING: How can I make better decisions? BEING SINGLE: Does God want me to be single or to marry? MARRIAGE: What should I treat my spouse when we disagree? The Bible is book filled with practical advice. Read it. Follow it. Let it govern your life.
The Bible says a Christian is someone who comes to love the Word of God. Psalm 119:47, 48 says, “I delight in your commands because I love them. I lift up my hands to your commands, which I love, and I meditate on your decreees.”
Healthy Christians are governed by Gods’ Word.
A third question to determine spiritual health is . . .
Question #3: Are you loving toward others, especially those difficult to love?
The Bible says several times over that loving others is the distinguishing mark of a Christian. Jesus was clear
about this in John 13:35 when he said, “By this all men will know that
you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Further, Jesus emphasized the importance of loving those who don’t love us when he said (Mt. 5:44), “I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” Love for others is the clearest mark of a Christian. Jesus told us so.
So, how are you doing at loving others, -especially those difficult to love – which we all have! Probably right now there is a picture of someone in your mind who fits the description of someone who is hard for you to love! Are you growing in your capacity and commitment to love them? Are you at least making progress in loving them? Your progress may be slow, it may be meager. That’s ok, but is it going in the right direction, the direction of loving them.
How, then, can we grow our ability to love others? Consider these suggestions:
Realize you have the power within you to love others even if you think you can’t. The Bible tells us in 1 John 4 that God is love; that God is the source of love and that anyone who has been born of God has God’s loving nature within them. Our task, then, as people born of God, is to love others with the strength and ability God gives us. We need to rely on God’s supernatural ability to help us love others, because left to ourselves, we only love those who love us.
Take the initiative to do something loving towards others. Counselors tell couples in crisis that if you want to rekindle loving feelings begin by doing loving actions toward them. They say this because loving feelings often follow loving behavior.
Illustration: One recent example of this truth is the story of the two American missionaries, Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer, who were with the Christian relief organization Shelter Now. They were held in captivity by the Taliban for three months in Afghanistan. Once released they told the story of how they prayed and sang together with six other missionaries during their captivity to keep their spirits up. They also told how they prayed for and befriended their guards during their imprisonment. Personally, though people around the world were praying for them during this time I did not think they would make it out of Afghanistan alive. Their news conference following their release was emotional and it gave clear evidence of the power of Christian love in face of opposition.
Martin Luther said it well, “The more a person loves, the more they approach the image of God.” How well do you reflect the image of God?
A fourth question to help discern spiritual health is . . . .
Question #4: Do you have a growing concern for the needs of others?
Christianity is a religion of concern for others. NO other religion is known for its compassion for others as much as Christianity. The reason for this commitment to ministries of compassion? Because Jesus Christ himself modeled and taught compassion for the needs of others.
So, for 2000 years followers of Jesus Christ have demonstrated love and compassion for others through social reforms, providing medical care, creating schools, caring for widows and orphans, helping the poor and providing disaster relief. Check it out in history books. It’s true. That’s why its been said that the birthmarks of a Christian are a compassionate heart and a helping hand.
So let me ask you . . . how is your “c” quotient, your compassion quotient today? How compassionate are you towards the needs of others? Do you bear the birthmarks of a Christian, - a compassionate heart and a helping hand?
What can be done to increase our “c” quotient? Our compassion
quotient? Would you believe vision correction surgery?
Perhaps you’re like me and you’ve been with people praying and heard them refer to Jesus as the Great Physician when they are praying for someone who is sick. What they are affirming in their prayer is Jesus’ role in healing and they are asking Jesus to use natural or supernatural means to cure someone.
Did you know that Jesus is not just The Great Physician, he is also The Great Ophthalmologist? That Jesus can open the eyes of spiritually blind people to help them see clearly? So, it makes sense for us to ask Jesus, the Great Ophthalmologist to open our eyes to see the needs of people around us. My observation is that there are people all around us who need to experience the touch of God in their life . . . what we need is vision correction surgery to be more aware and see their needs so God can use us to respond! So, if you need to increase your compassion quotient, ask Jesus, the Great Ophthalmologist to do lasik surgery on you, ask him to open your eyes to see more clearly the needs of those around you.
Illustration: This past week I received a phone call from a woman and in the course of our conversation she told me she is disabled with an illness similar to MS. She told me its difficult for her to get out of her apartment but that there was a church nearby that sends people to pick her up and bring her to church regularly. This same church, she said, also sends a team of people to her place once a month to help with repair projects and to visit with her. I was impressed with the ministry this church had in her life so I asked her which church she was talking about. She said, “Westwood Church, it meets in the Chaska High School.” She then said, “Didn’t Westwood come from Wooddale?” Gladly, proudly, I said, “Yes, it’s one of our daughter churches.” Isn’t it great to hear a story of a church, a group of believers who have a high “c” quotient, a high compassion quotient?
5. Healthy Christians are people of compassion.
There’s a fifth question in our spiritual health check-up and it is . . .
Question # 5: Do you grieve over your sin?
Calvin Coolidge was our nation’s 30th president from 1923-1929. He was known as a man of few words. One Sunday he attended church and when he came home his wife asked him what the sermon was about. Coolidge said, “Sin.” His wife pressed him for more information and asked what the minister said about sin. Coolidge responded, “He was against it.”
Followers of Jesus Christ are against sin. They grieve over their sin because they realize it was their sin that sent Jesus to his death on the cross. But the grief a Christian feels for their sin is not a sadness that leads to despair and death . . . it is a grief and sadness that leads to life because grief over sin leads to repentance, confession, to turning away from sin and turning to God for forgiveness.
St. Paul wrote about this kind of good grief, “Your sorrow led you to repentance . . . For you became sorrowful as God intended . . . Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation.”
Christians grieve sin . . . they experience sorrow for what they have done, however, because they are turn from their sin and repent they also experience the joy and pleasure of forgiveness.
So, do you grieve about your sin? Are you sorrowful about it? If not, consider these two suggestions:
Consider the cross of Jesus Christ . . . read the stories of his death in the Bible. Look at a cross for an extended period of time and imagine what Jesus went through to pay the price for our sin. Imagine what it was like to be forsaken and betrayed by your closest friends and then nailed to a cross for six hours all the while being ridiculed by a crowd. Imagine the horrific physical and spiritual pain and suffering Jesus experienced because of our sin. Consider the cross of Jesus Christ once again.
Read and pray through Psalm 51 in the Bible. It is a Psalm written by King David a man guilty of murder and adultery. In the Psalm David acknowledges his great sin, however, he also greatly repents and and seeks forgiveness. Even though David was a great sinner, he was also a great repenter. That’s why he’s called a man after God’s own “heart.”
6. Healthy Christians grieve their sin.
Last question is . . .
Question #6: Do you ever yearn for heaven?
On Friday afternoon I visited briefly with someone who was yearning for heaven, - Willys Holmquist who died early Saturday morning. As we talked it was evident to me that Willys was ready to die, he was not fearful or upset about death. He was at peace, ready for his life to end and to begin living the next life with God in heaven. I was blessed unexpectedly by Willys and his yearning for heaven.
A couple years ago I read a short article entitled, “Wise People Read Obituaries.” The point of the article is that it is good for every one of us to occasionally read the obituary section in the newspaper to be reminded of our own death someday. It’s good to be reminded about our death, the article said, because it will affect the way we live now, on this side of death; what we spend our time doing and what we give our life to.
The Bible says the same thing another way . . . it tells us to “set our minds on things above”. The Bible encourages us to yearn for heaven.
Isaiah speaks about heaven in the OT,
“No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him.”
Well, there they are . . . six questions to determine spiritual health.
Do you thirst for God
Is your life governed by the Bible?
Are you loving toward others?
Do you have a growing concern for others?
Do you grieve about sin?
Do you yearn for heaven?
Can I make one final suggestion this morning? There are 38 hours left in 2001 before we turn the page and begin another year. How about setting aside 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 60 minutes before 2001 ends and sit quietly before God and consider where you are right now. Take some time to assess your spiritual condition . . . and then, ask God what he wants of you in 2002. And in your heart, listen to what the Holy Spirit says to you about 2002.
December 30, 2001
© Brian Doten 2001