You Reap What You Sow Part 3: Practice What You Preach
On Sunday 17th September at our morning service, we started our series You Reap What You Sow with the topic 'A Harvest Of Faith'. In this blog you will find a summary of the talk and then some questions and reflections for you to think through on your own or to discuss in your small group.
To listen to this, click here.
This week we’re looking at two more things that can help us to sow seeds with the Holy Spirit and grow our faith in God: Practical Teaching and Providential Relationships – how we can sow into these things and build our faith?
Firstly, let me explain what I mean by those terms Practical Teaching and Providential Relationships.
Practical Teaching is what EBC’s preaching team tries to deliver in our sermons – our goal is to help people put into practise Jesus’s teaching, rather than just explaining what the bible says.
Jesus himself stressed the importance of this, as we find out at the end of what is often called the “sermon on the mount”. After teaching on a whole range of subjects, Jesus says “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practise is like a wise man who built his house on the rock… but everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practise is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.” You can read this in Matthew Chapter 7 by clicking here.
Here at EBC we believe Practical Teaching is indeed a key to spiritual growth and we try to put together and deliver our talks in such a way that it teaches people what Jesus said to do and inspires them to put his words into practise. But there’s a challenge for our preachers in this – and it’s one that goes way beyond the techniques of putting such a talk together and delivering it confidently.
Let’s park that for now and talk about our second thing that can grow our faith – Providential Relationships.
A providential relationship is the kind where God seems to put someone in your path in life – and you can get a glimpse of God in that person or hear from God through them – or it could be that the other person sees or hears from God through you (or perhaps it might be two-way).
There’s a link between these two things that can grow our faith – between Practical Teaching and Providential Relationships. Why? Because we’re all in relationships of some kind and therefore we can all choose to apply practical teaching within them.
We are all teachers of somebody. At our best, and if we’re intentional, we can all give someone a glimpse of God which can change their lives for the better and perhaps… perhaps forever…..
Who might it be for you? A friend? A co-worker, a family member? A child, a grandchild? What do we want for them? How can we help them?
Well if you want the best for them, if you really love them… you face the challenge we parked earlier and which we come back to now. The preacher’s challenge – how do we teach people in such a way that they not only receive good, true advice but that it actually captures them and inspires them to change? How do we do that?
There’s some great wisdom on this in a letter written by the apostle Paul to a church leader, Titus, to whom Paul was writing advice and encouragement on how to lead the church in Crete. You can read this in Titus Chapter 2 by clicking here.
Paul’s advice to Titus should make us realise that there is a causal link between what we practice and what those who learn from us will practice. Monkey see, monkey do! What will they see in you? What will they hear from you? Will they see God in you? Will they hear from God through you?
If we want to inspire and influence the people we’re involved with, we can’t just impart the truth and expect them to follow it. We have to do what Jesus did and what Paul did. We have to practice what we preach.
You see, poor example trumps great advice.
For instance – how might this apply physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally and spiritually?
Physically - we might say “it’s not rocket science – you should regularly do some healthy exercise and be active in general, not too sedentary… look after your body and your body will look after you! Eat a balanced diet with plenty of fresh foods, not too much sugar, and if you don’t want to put weight on just make sure you burn up at least as many calories as you eat and drink!” Good advice! Great advice! But not much good if you just say it but what they see you DO looks a lot more like sitting in a comfy chair eating junk food!
There again on the mental side of things you might say “Oh you know you have to make time to relax. It’s no good getting wound up about the things you can’t change. Don’t get yourself all worked up over trivia – “don’t sweat the small stuff” as they say…Life’s too short… try not to get worried about things… Hakuna Matata, as they say…” but then they see you react to situations in anything but a relaxed manner - “Oh no! I’m late! I’m running over! This’ll be a disaster and it’s all your fault, if you hadn’t kept me talking – argh!!”
And by the way, spiritually, we might advise: “You have to make sure you “feed the right wolf”. Make sure you devote time to God. Life is like a battle between two wolves, you see… one good, one evil and the one that wins is the one you feed, so feed the right wolf! If you go to bed a bit earlier instead of staying up watching rubbish telly or dodgy internet, you’d have a lot more time and energy to get up early to read the bible, say your prayers and spend some time with God…” Great advice …But how’s your own example shaping up?
God is not mocked or fooled and neither are people, mostly – so stop fooling yourself if you are not putting into practise – really – Jesus’s teaching and indeed Paul’s.
On spiritual growth, the things that sow into the Spirit - are you giving/serving/loving/worshipping? Are you forgiving? Are you practicing kindness? Are you submitting to God and seeking his will and trying to follow it? Are you all theory and no application? Are you practising what you would preach to those you love or can influence? Really? What do you need to change – in practise? Ask God to help you now – today –and every day this week and resolve to practise what you preach.
Imagine what your circle of friends and family – and church family – could be like if we all committed to being a living example to others, by doing, really doing, what is good!
I long for us to be doing loads more as church and growing as a church. The way the growth will happens is this: we invite people, they come and they find the teaching and the example of the people they meet so attractive and compelling that they say “I want what they’ve got! I’ll have what she’s having!” That is a real experience of God – and a life submitted to God and his will for our lives – his will which is good and pleasing and perfect. An experience that changes us, and them, forever.
If we think about those providential relationships in our lives, if we are on the lookout for them in the future – opportunities to sow life-changing truth into the lives of others, by our example, then we’ll reap a harvest together. And it will be a harvest of faith in your life, my life and the lives of everyone who comes here.
But we have to lead and teach by example and pray for help to do it. Because poor example trumps great advice. Practice what you preach – because poor example trumps good advice.
Questions and Reflections (for you to think about on your own or to discuss in your Life Group)
1. Think of someone you want to influence for the better. What would you have them change?
2. Do you consistently model those things yourself?
3. Think of someone who has had a good spiritual influence on you. What is it about them that you might get a “glimpse of God” in?
4. Do you have a spiritual mentor figure in your life? If you don’t have access to that person “in person” could you read, listen, watch them instead?
5. In part one of this series, Steph talked about Personal Disciplines - making time with and centred on God your priority. Have you begun to respond to that challenge? If not, how are you expecting to become a better influence on others?
6. What one different thing can you commit to changing, so that you spend more time with God and centring on him this week?
7. What one thing could you resolve to be a good example of from now on?