Follow The Leader – Others Teach Us
I Corinthians 4:16-17
God IS Near! Growing A Relationship with Our Creator
First Baptist Church Laurens
September 16, 2018
This past week, I had an issue with a pair of wireless headphones that I own but use sparingly. I needed them for a video conference I was participating in with some other Baptist pastors. But, since it had been a long time since I had used them, I could not remember how to connect them to my computer. In the end, I did what many of us who live in 2018 do when we have a similar need, I went to Google. There, I typed in the brand name of my wireless headphones along with the question of how to connect them to an Apple computer. In mere seconds, I had a workable solution offered in a step by step fashion.
The availability of instant help and support truly is one of the great benefits of life in our modern world in so many ways. And, it is not just Google that is our friend. This sort of assistance comes in lots of forms and ways.
Today, we don’t need a map and we rarely have to ask folks for directions. Most of us drive cars that contain a GPS device or we simply use a similar application on our phones. We quickly plug in the address to which we are headed and the directions instantly appear. In fact, their specificity can be amazing.
Further, if we need to know how to fix something or accomplish a normal household chore, we simply go to Youtube or similar sites where there is almost always a video available for how to do all sorts of things from fixing your washing machine to knowing how to keep deer away from your Fall garden. We really do live in a “step by step”, “help is only a phone call or google click away” world in a manner that human beings have never known before.
Yet, for some reason, many of us have never allowed this modern, help filled way of living to carry over into our lives of faith. As we admitted last week, we often struggle to experience God’s nearness and presence in our lives in a satisfying way. For so many of us, this is the regular struggle of our faith lives and a place where we feel spiritually inept.
We are good at bemoaning the issue here but we rarely reach out for the help, guidance and direction that is so readily available to us in abundance just as it is in so many other arenas. And, this help is not a luxury of only the modern age. No, it is help that has been available for centuries.
Now, I am not suggesting that you can go to Google and immediately find a one, two, three guide to better conversation with God. On second thought, you might find such a guide, but, I am not sure I would trust it!?! Nor am I suggesting that a relationship with God is as clear cut or step by step as solving other problems can be. But, I do want us to recognize this morning that help is and always has been available to us in ways that we often fail to see or take advantage of with regularity primarily through the wisdom, lives and words of those who have proceeded us in the faith with the life, words and guidance of Jesus being at the top of the list.
Scripture itself suggests and hints at the expectation that all of us will at times need this sort of guidance. There really is no need to be embarrassed, to feel inferior or to be ashamed in admitting our inability to figure out our relationship with God all by ourselves. Again, the very fact that we all need the guidance that others who have gone before us can offer is assumed by the New Testament writers.
That is why I like passages like our text for today from I Corinthians 4. In it, Paul is clear with the Corinthians that they don’t need to try to reinvent the wheel in their attempts to figure out how to live out the faith in Corinth. All they needed to do was to remember the example he had set before them and pattern their lives after it. Paul had already showed them by his example how to act and what to do. They didn’t need to sit around and wonder, they simply needed to follow.
Jesus says basically the same thing when he calls the disciples. While the four gospels tell the story of Jesus in slightly different ways, they all have Jesus saying the exact same words as he invites people to be his disciples. In Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Jesus says “follow me”. (Matthew 9:9, Mark 1:17, Luke 5:27, John 1:43, etc) There is not a place where Jesus calls someone to be his disciple where he says “well, now you are on your own, good luck on figuring out what discipleship means!” No in each case he simply says “follow’ which is another way of saying, “watch what I do, listen to what I say and then pattern your speech and behavior after what you hear and see in me”.
I mentioned last week the words of John Ortberg related to the principles that he keeps in mind as he seeks to develop further and hold onto a daily relationship with God. As I said, his words spoke to me and are a heavy influence in this series of sermons. One of those principles is his belief that coming to experience God is a “learned behavior” which in my way of thinking is a way of saying it is something others help us to learn.
So, let me say it this way. Deepening a relationship with God is not about inventing some new way. Rather, it is about learning, following and patterning our lives after old ways – long established for us as believers by Jesus and his followers.
So, if we don’t find them by searching Google, how do we learn and rediscover these long established ways of deepening our daily relationship with God?
Let me mention two basic steps. First, we must live as watchers and followers. What I mean by this is exactly what I have been pointing too already today. We are blessed with example after example of how others have lived out a life of relationship with God. Our job, very simply, is to watch their lives and to pattern our own after theirs. Rather than go down our own path or go off into uncharted territory, we should simply stick with the road already traveled. This watching begins with the life of Jesus.
Jesus’ life was a life lived in daily relationship with God the Father. We truly are blessed with four distinct Gospels that tell us a great deal about what this looked like. The gospels are clear that Jesus regularly spent time alone with God. Jesus prayed. Jesus knew the Old Testament scripture from reading, study and memorization. Jesus lived attentively every day as to the world around him. He saw in the plants of the earth, animals of the field and basic interactions with other people God’s involvement in our world and basic lessons for life. These same Gospels record Jesus’ prayers, share with us a number of Jesus’ conversations with God the Father and give us a glimpse of how he involved God the Father in all of his critical decisions. Our job is to read, ponder, watch and follow. Our job is to see in Jesus’ relationship with the Father a blueprint for our own.
The same is true of the other Biblical characters we meet but also of normal, regular folks, who are believers who have gone before us and who go beside us. We are to be attentive watchers of their lives and all of their stories as to how they have and continue to keep time with God. Again, our job is to be the keenest observers of all – people who watch and follow what we see.
Many of you will know the name Phil Mickleson. Mickleson has been one of the finest professional golfers in the world for over twenty years. His nickname is, as you may know, is Lefty. But, the funny thing is the Phil Mickleson is not left handed. He plays golf left handed but he doesn’t do anything else as a left handed person. The reason is that when Phil was young, his father was a golfer and Phil would stand in front of his father, watch exactly what he did and then mimic it. Standing in front of his dad and trying to mimic exactly what he saw meant Phil swung with his left hand not right. Playing golf left handed happened because his sole goal was to simply do exactly what his dad did and do the same. After years as one of the finest golfers in the world, we must admit that Mickleson’s decision and his faithful watching payed off handsomely. This is our job too.
The other basic action is for us to live as people who ask questions and who are shaped by the answers we receive. The Biblical story is a story full of lots of good questions. Many of Jesus’ finest teaching moments are a result of the questions asked of him in terms of what this God saturated life was to look like. In the same manner, many of Paul’s letters that form the bulk of the latter New Testament are nothing more than Paul’s response to early questions asked by the earliest believers as to what this life of faith was to look like. If they didn’t understand, they sought understanding through questions. They were not ashamed. They didn’t mind admitting their confusion at times. They were okay with being seen as novices. They asked, listened, and obeyed. We should do the same.
Again, the learning, maturing and listening was happening as a direct result of asking good, basic and occasionally difficult questions. Likewise, they asked assuming others could share how they had lived out this daily life of knowing and being known by God and they felt that if they could simply understand what others had done, they could do the same.
I was very proud and impressed by our young Adult Sunday School class here at First Baptist a few years ago during a study they were doing related to having a strong prayer life. As a key part of their study, they asked some older adults in our church to simply come and share about their own lives of prayer over the years. On several Sundays, they had a guest – a real person, from the life of our church who told their story, talked about their own prayer life and offered their advice. They, as class members, listened attentively to these stories, asked their questions and they learned basic principles about prayer for their own lives. In my opinion it was a wise, mature, disciple making approach.
It wasn’t rocket science. It was simply a commitment to watch and follow, to ask and listen. I suspect that some of those class members have a deeper life of prayer too today as a direct result of something they learned from others.
Being a person who has a deep, daily relationship with God doesn’t simply happen. We are not born with the ability. Neither does it happen overnight. But, we can all get there. We can all grow to that place as we simply follow these long time, age old, centuries tested principles. Amen.