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Sermon illustrations

Training

Grace and the Spiritual Disciplines

What is the relationship between spiritual diciplines and grace? Does participation in the spiritual disciplines mean that we are not resting in God’s grace? Dallas Willard shares the analogy of a baseball player to describe how the disciplines enable us to grow in our discipleship:

We are saved by grace of course, and by it alone, and not because we deserve it. That is the basis of God’s acceptance of us. But grace does not mean that sufficient strength and insight will be automatically “infused” into our being in the moment of need…A baseball player who expects to excel in the game without adequate exercise of his body is no more ridiculous than the Christian who hopes to be able to act in the manner of Christ when put to the test without the appropriate exercise in godly living.

Dallas Willard, Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, Harper One, 1999.

The Scottish Discus Thrower

As a young boy, around the time my heart began to suspect that the world was a fearful place and I was on my own to find my way through it, I read the story of a Scottish discus thrower from the nineteenth century.  He lived in the days before professional trainers and developed his skills alone in the highlands of his native village.  He even made his own discus from the description he read in a book. What he didn’t know was the discus used in competition was made of wood with an outer rim of iron. His was solid metal and weighed three or four times as much as those being used by his would-be challengers.

This committed Scotsman marked out his field the distance of the current record throw and trained day and night to be able to match it. For nearly a year, he labored under the self-imposed burden of the extra weight, becoming very, very good. He reached the point at which he could throw his iron discus the record distance, maybe farther. He was ready.

The highlander traveled south to England for his first competition. When he arrived at the games, he was handed the wooden discus—which he promptly threw like a tea saucer. He set a record, a distance so far beyond those of his competitors one could touch him. For many years he remained the uncontested champion. Something in my heart connected with this story.

John Eldredge, The Sacred Romance, Nelson, 1997.

Sitting in the Light 

A piano sits in a room, gathering dust. It is full of the music of the masters, but in order for such strains to flow from it, fingers must strike the keys… trained fingers, representing endless hours of disciplined dedication. You do not have to practice. The piano neither requires it nor demands it.

If, however, you want to draw a beautiful music from the piano, that discipline is required.… You do not have to pay the price to grow and expand intellectually. The mind neither requires it nor demands it. If, however, you want to experience the joy of discovery and the pleasure of plowing new and fertile soil, effort is required. Light won’t automatically shine upon you nor will truth silently seep into your head by means of rocking-chair osmosis. It’s up to you. It’s your move.

Charles Swindoll, “Sitting in the Light,” Day by Day with Charles Swindoll (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 170.

Solitude has a Learning Curve

In his excellent book, Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted WorldMike Cosper explains the value in persevering through the difficult realities of practicing solitude.

Solitude has a learning curve. It’s a practice we embody, and like anything worth doing, our first efforts will be pained. The “terror of silence” (as David Foster Wallace called it) will tempt us away from the quiet.

We will long for email, to-do lists, a sink full of dishes, the unread messages on our phone—anything that can turn our attention away from that quietly simmering something that makes solitude so troubling. So we practice solitude like a beginning violinist; we practice poorly. But poor practice—marked by a wandering and restless mind—isn’t bad practice.

Done with some regularity, it can become rich. We can discover a space in our hearts and in our world where the Lord meets us. As we’ll see, it’s the beginning of the end of our religious efforts, a chance to face both the reality of our spiritual poverty and the wealth of God’s spiritual blessings.

Taken from Recapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World by Mike Cosper. Copyright (c) 2017, p.79. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Surviving Navy Seals Training

And as difficult as most of their training is, nothing can compare to BUDS, which stands for Basic Underwater Demolition Seal Training. If it sounds intense, it’s actually worse. During BUDS, you have to survive “one-hundred-ten hours without sleep.” You have to carry a log over your head for hours. Countless swims, endless runs, jumping out of planes, and then there’s perhaps the hardest part of all, called “pool comp.”

In “pool comp” you are put underwater with all your scuba gear on, the instructor yanks your regulator out of your mouth, he ties your air hose in knots, he mocks you constantly as you struggle for air. What your mind is naturally telling you at this point is simple: You are going to die, but if you want to pass “pool comp,” you have to calmly follow all protocol to pass.

It’s not hard to see why there’s a 94 percent attrition rate. Now the question is, why do some pass, while most fail? This is the exact same question the Navy wanted to find out, because after 9/11 they were in desperate need for more Seals, but didn’t want to water down the quality either by simply changing their standards. So they began studying the data. And the results were quite surprising. The Navy didn’t need more macho guys or strong guys, they often were the first to ring the bell and give up. Nope, but they could use more used Car Salesman.

Why? Because Used Car Salesman have learned how to survive the seemingly never-ending amount of rejection they receive by changing their self-talk. That is, by changing the stories inside their heads.

The truth is, we aren’t like computers, going from place to place with mathematical computations inside our heads to make each decision. No, we are story-tellers. We tell stories because stories are how we make sense of the world around us. Scientists know this, Jesus knows this, and now even the Navy knows just how important stories are for our lives.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

Training Harder Than Necessary

As a young boy, around the time my heart began to suspect that the world was a fearful place and I was on my own to find my way through it, I read the story of a Scottish discus thrower from the nineteenth century.  He lived in the days before professional trainers and developed his skills alone in the highlands of his native village.  He even made his own discus from the description he read in a book. What he didn’t know was the discus used in competition was made of wood with an outer rim of iron.

His was solid metal and weighed three or four times as much as those being used by his would-be challengers. This committed Scotsman marked out his field the distance of the current record throw and trained day and night to be able to match it.

For nearly a year, he labored under the self-imposed burden of the extra weight, becoming very, very good. He reached the point at which he could throw his iron discus the record distance, maybe farther. He was ready.

The highlander traveled south to England for his first competition. When he arrived at the games, he was handed the wooden discus—which he promptly threw like a tea saucer. He set a record, a distance so far beyond those of his competitors one could touch him. For many years he remained the uncontested champion. Something in my heart connected with this story.

John Eldredge, The Sacred Romance, Nelson, 1997.

Training vs. Trying

There is an immense difference between training to do something and trying to do something.

… Spiritual transformation is not a matter of trying harder, but of training wisely.  This is what the apostle Paul means when he encourages his young protégé Timothy to “train yourself in godliness.”

John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People, Zondervan, 2002.

Warming Up

I grew up playing sports, and basketball in particular has always been a favorite. Though I turned fifty-one last year, I often remind my younger friends that I “still have game.” I keep insisting that my quickness and three-point shot are as prime as ever—though they make it clear they don’t entirely buy my self-assessment.

There’s one thing, however, that I have to admit is particularly different from my younger days: I’m much more conscious of the importance of warming up before a game. I know from long experience that my muscles work best when they’re prepared—stretched and warm instead of cold and tight.

C.J. Mahaney, Living the Cross Centered Life, The Crown Publishing Group.

See Also Illustrations on AccountabilityActions, Discipline

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