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God is a loving and intimate Father who wants to spend time with us and pour into us. When people say they are not experiencing the abundant life, it is often because they are not spending time with God. We are called to diligence in our relationship with Him. Todd focuses specifically on the disciplines of solitude and fasting and how they can cultivate our relationship with God, not as a means to an end, but for the purpose of godliness.
Death to Self: the Truest Fruit of All the Disciplines
Baptism: Why You Should Why You Shouldn't and What it's For
The Discipline of the Lord's Supper
True Test of Being a Servant
The Secret Place as the Secret to Christlikeness
The Activity and Attitude of Prayer
The Spiritual Disciplines: Spending Time in God's Word
The Key to Knowing and Serving the God Who Loves You
Male: If fasting brings us closer to God, it's almost like we become part of the Trinity, which is, I think, pretty biblical. I fasted from a lot of things recently. Thursday night football, MySpace, McRib. I even tried fasting from my favorite Starbucks drink, the Orange Mocha Frappuccino. That only lasted about four hours or so because it's hard to get a McRib without a good drink.
Male: So how does not eating make me closer to God?
Male: I fast, but never from food. I'm on a social media fast.
Female: I'm just glad that some people take this seriously.
Male: Hey guys. We are fasting right now, so we can't eat.
Male: What are you doing? We're not off fasting.
Male: Give me the food. Drop it. No. No. Not on my watch.
[End of video]
Oh man. Well, how great have those been? Those of you who enjoy The Office might obviously recognize that more than just a little bit. Those of you who don't enjoy The Office don't take it up. That's much better, without all the trash woven in there and through there. Man, I am excited about what we're going to look at tonight. Specifically, how to grow deeper in relationship with the Father.
This series we're doing, we're calling InTIMEacy, because time is how you grow closer into a relationship with another person. Kids spell love t-i-m-e. You can't tell a kid you love them and hide behind the myth of quality time. Kids know you love them when you make them a priority and spend time with them and invite them into your life. Let me just tell you something, if you say you're a kid of a loving father who wants to spend time with you and you have really no desire to spend that kind of time with a perfect Father, you have to evaluate if you're his kid.
One of the things I do a lot is I spend time when I go speak places doing Q&As. They sometimes are on a specific topic, sometimes they're wide ranging. Whenever they're wide ranging, almost every Q&A I've ever done starts with questions about predestination and free will and ends with a question of how far is too far? This is the way it goes.
By the way, I just shot a Real Truth. Real Quick. last Friday on that question…How Far is Too Far in a Dating Relationship? I think you will be maybe a little surprised about the clarity with which the Scripture speaks to that topic. If you want to be a serious follower of Christ and to practice faithfulness as a good young man or woman, I think the Scripture is pretty specific in telling us how we can do that without wading into that which is defrauding and troublesome. Take a look for that. That's coming in the weeks ahead.
I was doing a Q&A one time and we were talking about dating relationships, and a kid in the back raised his hand. He said this to me, "Hey, Mr. Wagner, I have a question. There's this girl I really like and I think she really likes me, but lately she just started telling me she just doesn't have time. How would you tell us to handle that?" I thought to myself, "Oh, man. How can I let this brother down gently?" Because she has time. What she is trying to say is, "I don't have time for you."
I was trying to figure out a way to tell a man you need to wear black for a day, pretend she just died, and move on with your life because that girl has moved on. She has time; she doesn't have time for you. That's what she is trying to say. Ladies, do you have time for a guy who treats you with tenderness and care and honor, who values you and you find attractive both in person and in life? You bet you do. You have all kinds of time. The dog washing can wait. The hair coloring can wait. The night out with the girls can wait. You have time.
Well, I think we all have time, but how much time are you spending with the Father who says he loves you and gave his life for you? How much time are you spending with a God who says he doesn't want you to lean in your own understanding to be a victim to your own worldview or to the world of your peers around you who, in their little finite minds are figuring it out as they go? A loving, intimate Father wants to pour into you his will and way so you can know how to get along in any and every circumstance.
This is what typically happens. People say, "Todd, I have heard God loves me and he has a great desire to let me experience a life that is unlike any life man can experience apart from God, he has come that I might have life and have it abundantly, but I don't know where this abundant life comes from."
What I typically find out when people are not experiencing a sense of God's fullness in their life is they are not spending much time with him in the disciplines. This is not something that's talked about very much in churches, because most of us don't want to have to work hard to get something. We want the quick fix, the certain message, the great book, the one conference we can go to, the self-help thought that will move us into a place where we feel better about our week. God tells us he wants us to invest in our relationship with him.
Let me just insert this right here lest I forget to bring this out a little bit later. It is absolutely true we are saved by grace through faith. There is nothing we can ever do to make God love us more and nothing we can ever do to make God love us less, but grace is not necessarily separated from effort. Grace is something we are to respond to. Grace is absolutely impossibly separated from earning, but it is not separated from effort.
God calls us to effort to grow in our relationship with him that has been accomplished through grace. How are you doing at getting to know your Father better? You live in a world that is constantly not moving you to a place where you can easily spend time with the Father. You frankly can't easily spend time with one another. Technology is intruding more and more into our lives.
The initial idea of technology was that it would free us up and give us more time. In fact, I came across something recently that talks about the fact that technology's purpose was to create more ease. In 1967, there was an expert on this topic who testified before a senate subcommittee. Now watch this. He said to our senate that they believe if our government keeps investing in technology that by 1985, people could work just 22 hours a week, just 27 weeks a year and could potentially retire by the time we are 38.
They said the major challenge that's going to face people in the 90s would be what to do with all the leisure time provided by our technological wizardry. How's that working out for us? Not so well. If you go back and look at innovation and technology, most of the products that were developed in the 1950s, what were they? They were specifically developed in order to be time savers.
You have vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, mixers. They were designed to save time, to remove drudgery from our lives. Fast forward. What we did is when we got more time, we didn't move towards leisure or rest, we moved towards more and more activity, thinking that next activity would be the thing that would give us life because we haven't found life. We just kept adding more and more things to our life.
Now you watch in the 1980s what technology starts to do is not introduce time savers, but time controllers. In other words, because you are so busy now and you can't go to the bank when you normally go to the bank, here is this new thing called a 24-hour automatic teller machine. You can control your own life. Technology is going to let you go to the bank when you want. By the way, we've fast forwarded beyond that to now you walk around with the ability to deposit checks on your phone.
A VCR was invented because I know you're really busy and you can't watch TV when you want to watch TV, so now you can record it. We've moved on from that to TiVo or on-demand television. Technology went from time-saving to time-controlling, all because technology has not set us free. If anything, it has extended where our labors can chase us. We don't ever, ever pull back. It's always with us.
It wasn't long ago when I saved it so I can reread it periodically. My wife forwarded me this little article. The article about a woman who says she wants to be an iPhone for Christmas. You heard that correctly. Not she wants an iPhone for Christmas, but she wants to be an iPhone for Christmas. Here's how it goes:
"I want to be my husband's iPhone. He'd be drawn to me with magnetic force—always wanting to hold me. I'd be his first thought each morning—the vision in his waking eyes. Nary an hour would pass without his fingertips caressing my face. My husband would gaze at me and ask me questions, waiting patiently for the answers he knew would come. His evenings would be spent learning more about me and how I could make his life more fulfilling.
I remember, with nostalgia, a trip to England my husband and I took years ago. Before the dawn of iPhones and their competitors, I was in charge of holding the unwieldy maps and verbalizing the directions. From Oxford to Cartmel to York to Rye, my husband and I traveled. How I would beam each time my husband told friends and family the story of what a competent navigator I was! 'The whole week, we never made a wrong turn,' he would brag, squeezing my hand.
The iPhone is the ultimate navigator. We can never be lost. We never have to hold hands and just hope for the best. The iPhone knows where all the gas stations are, all the restaurants. It is a link to everyone we know. We are never alone. We are never adventurers.
Now, at social gatherings, he pulls out the phone. He brags on its abilities, saying, 'Have you seen this app?' The iPhone begins and ends conversations. No question can simply be speculated about, for within minutes the iPhone has answered it—even by a campfire in the middle of the woods.
At home, a tender moment in a movie we are watching echoes one of our own memories. I look at my husband, our son cuddled upon his lap, to give him a knowing smile. He doesn't notice me. Nor has he noticed the scene. He is entranced by a miniature screen. He's right here, yet loneliness pervades me.
The iPhone is the preferred entertainment. Holding it, you hold magic—the magic of never having to be fully in the room with another person. Yes, I want to be my husband's iPhone, cradled and protected at all times. Oh, the conversations we would have—his lips close to my ear. We would play together. I would sing for him, and he would buy me music and other presents.
A husband and wife should complement one another, like two puzzle pieces made to fit, each filling the other's weaknesses with his or her strengths. Now, the iPhone has become my husband's missing piece. It gives him confidence, boosts his self-esteem. Oh, that I might morph into that rectangular shape that I might, once again, be my beloved's other half. As an iPhone, I would be his most valued possession, the object of his attention, his indispensable helpmate. And, being all of that, I wouldn't have to miss him anymore."
Well, if that's not already convicting enough, let me just pile on. Think of it this way. What if God said, "I want to be my people's iPhone?" That's why there was Christmas. "I want to be the shepherd of my sheep. I don't want them to look to a rectangular screen filled with information that comes from other finite men. I want them to look to me." Where do you look? Do you Google or do you reflect on what God has already revealed? Not long ago, someone fired this little wonder out on the web:
"I wonder what would happen if we treated our Bible like we treated our cellphones. What if we carried it around in our purses and pockets? What if we turned back to go get it if we forgot it? What if we flipped through it several times a day? What if we use it to receive messages from the text? What if we treated it like we couldn't live without it? What if we gave it to kids as a gift? What if we used it as we traveled? What if it we used it in case of an emergency? What if we upgraded it to get the latest version?"
Technology sometimes can pull us away and it promises to set us free, but it doesn't set us free. It keeps encroaching. It keeps filling up our life with busyness. There are probably very few of us who, over the last couple of weeks since we started this series, have started to deny God, have moved away from radically believing in Jesus Christ to radical Islam or radical atheism. Mark my words, what the Enemy does is when he cannot get you to change your profession of Christ he will fill your life up with other things to get you to change your practice of abiding with Christ.
The reason we're doing this series is because I know if we're going to be the people God calls us to be, we have to practice the disciplines, because they are our means of life. That relationship with the Father that he longs for us to have is not just lost by prodigals who are wandering away with the pigs. You can be right there on the ranch with Dad and be distracted by the Xbox downstairs, the iPhone in your pocket, messages coming through the TV, or just your own interests and never be intimate with the Father. That is the goal.
Any time you are not intimately acquainted with the Father, you are a prodigal. God wants to be intimately acquainted with you. The Scripture says, "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you." For any of us to say, "I just don't have time," says a lot about what our love is really all about. We talk a lot about what a real intimate relationship with another person is like, right? We can be with them for hours and never have to say a word, because you're completely comfortable.
Are you comfortable just sitting there with God, letting his Spirit speak to you through his Word? Through contemplating what the Scripture says? Meditating on it. You know you love somebody when you're alone with them and you listen to them. You're not ready to say something back or top them or impress them. All you want to do is draw nearer still to them.
Is that your relationship with the Father? Or are you somebody who is telling the Father what he needs to know so he can run his errands so he can do for you what you want done so you can be satisfied with the relationship. That's not intimacy. God wants you to be comfortable with him as you draw near because of grace, and he wants you to grow in that grace. Grace is not the antithesis of effort. It is the antithesis of earning. God says he wants us to effort to know him still more, but it takes time and intention. Watch this short video, and be still just for a moment:
For many of us that might be the most quiet we've had in some time. The discipline I want to speak to you tonight about is the discipline of solitude. We'll talk a little bit about the discipline of fasting and we'll talk about how those two are intimately related, but the discipline of getting away to a lonely place.
One of the things I deal with, as you can well imagine, is talking to a lot of people whose lives are filled with despair. I want to tell you I believe the reason there is so much despair in this world is because we're looking for life in things that will never bring us life, and our hurried lives are increasing our restlessness, our stress, and our pain.
Last night at the end of a very long day, at the end of a very long week, on the backside of traveling with about 40 people and being with them from the crack of dawn until late at night, I got up early Saturday morning before it was light. I jumped in the car, drove down to College Station, spent the morning, lunch, and early afternoon with my second oldest daughter.
I spent some good time, for sure, on the car ride down there with my oldest as she went with me and stayed down there and some great time on the way back listening to Scripture as I drove and praying for you and other things. I got back around 8:30, had just a few minutes before I ran out to an 8:50 basketball game that one of my kids was involved with. I got home last night very late from this game at DeSoto High School then hurried around the house to put a few things together.
Around 12:05 a.m. last night, my wife said to my, "Hey, what are teaching on tomorrow?" She was genuinely interested. I looked at her and I said, "Solitude." For the very first time in decades of doing ministry, my wife laughed out loud at me. "You're teaching on solitude?" I did go, "You know what, I don't feel like I'm going into this with a whole lot of moral authority." But let me just share this with you.
I did have some time alone in the car and did purposely last week withdraw from people. I make it a normal practice to not be accessible. It's not easy, but I do it. I'll tell you why I do it and who I've learned it from. I also will share this with you. I've looked at my schedule coming up. I have some good friends, they are friends who are life-giving friends. People I enjoy to be with.
I got a call graciously this week to go and do something I love to do. I enjoy the game of golf. I went with a good group of friends last September. All we did is went away as guys and played golf in a beautiful country for a number of days and absolutely loved it. I haven't played any golf since then, but nonetheless I still look forward to it.
This same group of friends called and said, "Hey, Todd, we love you. We know you love this ministry we've all been a part of for many years. Next Wednesday is that time we're getting together in one of the most beautiful golf courses in all of Dallas, Dallas National." If you don't know about it, it's a beautiful place to go, even if you're not playing golf. "Why don't you come hang out with us and play?"
Everything in me wanted to, except for one thing, and that is I had decided in the midst of all that was going on that was going to be one of the days I have to be available in an extended way to be with my first love. As much as I love golf, as much as I love these friends, as much as love that ministry, as much as I love that place, I can't just go do what I want to. I said, "Nope. I have another commitment. To be alone with the one who gives me life."
Solitude is the key to figuring out how we can live our life in a way that will begin to move us into that abundance Jesus offers us. Let me just share this with you. A number of years ago I was reading through a psychological journal. I love to know what the world offers at different times and their ideas and solutions to man's problems. This is now, I don't know, almost 20 years old, the 1990s. I pulled this article.
It says this, "In every way, depression is a growing problem." Boy, I continue to see that today. If it was in 1996, you can bet your boots it is today. "In every way, depression is a growing problem. Rates of depression have steadily climbed over the last 50 years and are significantly higher in those born after 1945 than in those born before.
In addition, the average age of onset of a first depressive episode is steadily decreasing—it is now mid-20s whereas it once was mid-30s." It's even younger today. "Cross-cultural data show that the United States has a higher rate of depression than almost any other country, and that as Asian countries Westernize their rates of depression increase correspondingly.
The data make it abundantly clear that these changes are not the product of individual biochemistry or of family genetics but of a pathology within our culture." This is not coming from a text called the Scripture. This is coming from observable science.
"It has become fashionable to call depression a disease…." I editorialize. That way it's not my fault; I'm a victim to it. "…to medicalize it. And certainly neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine are involved in depression. But if you ask the more critical question—is biology the cause of depression?—the best data suggest that genes account for about one in five cases. The idea that a chemical imbalance causes depression, rather than reflects it, ignores the fact that the brain's biochemistry responds to our ways of thinking—in short, to life experience."
In other words, so much of our despair is from the things we're choosing to do, and I would offer, the one we're not choosing to listen to. The Scripture says, "Also it is not good for a person to be without knowledge, And he who makes hast with his feet errs." The Scripture says, "The foolishness of man subverts his way, And his heart rages against the LORD."
"God, why have you left me in this state? Where is this abundant life?" All the time, the Father is saying, "Draw near to me, and I'll draw near to you. Come away with me. Listen to me." "…be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water." How are you doing at the discipline, and is it a discipline today, more than ever, of solitude?
There is an amazing little passage of Scripture that whenever you start to experience some anxiety that somebody undoubtedly will share with you. It comes in Philippians 4:6-7. It says, "Be anxious for nothing…" Kind of like, "Hey, I'm starting to feel some anxiety and some stress. I'm starting to be filled with despair. I'm not sleeping very much so my body is shutting down. Some of those life experiences I have going on because I don't feel abiding peace are starting to lead to a lack of sleep, which is continuing to spiral me down to deeper, deeper dark place."
Which, by the way, I need to add this in right here. Gang, the reason this is such a big deal is because Jesus is a good shepherd. The trophy of a good shepherd is sheep that are healthy, at peace, and well provided for. If the Lord is our Shepherd, and there is despair and anxiety and hustle and concern and looking over our shoulder for the next thing, the next enemy that's going to come, the next thing that will threaten me, and we're not by still waters and green pastures and we're constantly, nervously looking for enemies all around us, that says something, not just about us.
It says something about our lack of a shepherd or the incompetency of our shepherd. God would say to us, "If you'll listen to me, I will lead you to a place of peace." Now sometimes when people start to say, "Man, I'm really starting to stress out." We just throw at them this verse. "Hey, man, be anxious for nothing." Kind of like, "Okay, yeah. Be anxious for nothing." But you just can't all of a sudden stop being anxious.
What I want to teach you tonight is the secret to being content in any and every circumstance and not getting caught in the spiral of despair. The reason we started this entire series with the illustration of our friend on the piano is because when you throw somebody up on a piano, the piano is in a room and maybe there is stress going on. Somebody gets on there and very gently starts to play soothing, calm music, the whole room will just kind of come down whenever you come in. How gifted that person can jump on that piano and in that moment change the environment of the room.
Maybe we're sitting here, it's a little bit boring, we don't know what to do, and that guy gets on the piano and "Great Balls of Fire" starts ripping up and down the keys. All of sudden we have a party going on, everybody is dancing, life is in the room, and you go, "How does he do that? How do they have the skill just to bring life soothing, healing, partying into the room? Whatever we need, peace or party, it comes. I love that skill." The answer is they have disciplined themself so they can take their hands and be the instrument of peace or pleasure or party.
You can't just look at them and say, "Hey, go play the piano," anymore than you can look at somebody who doesn't know the Father and go, "Hey, be anxious for nothing." They're like, "That's all I do. I'm a sheep. I don't have a good shepherd. That's all I do. I'm anxious." Things everywhere could consume me. Now I'm not really sure where to eat. Where do I lay down? What do I do? What we really want to say is, "Hey, listen. Do you know the Savior?"
Maybe you're in a prodigal period where you're not out there living with the pigs and living a riotous, party life, but you're not intimately pursuing time with the Father, so there is anxiety here. "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." Then in the midst of that, "And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
Watch what Paul says right after that in verse 8. He says this, "Whatever is true and honorable and pure and lovely, whatever is excellent and worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things." See that's the key. The key is to be an individual who purposes to discipline yourself to focus on what is more true than anything.
It is the eternal God who said, "I am the way. I am the truth. I am the life." "Whatever is true and honorable and pure and lovely, whatever is excellent and worthy of praise." That is to say, God himself. His Word. Let your mind abode there. You wonder why you're anxious? Chances are it's because you are not intimately walking with the Father, who says, "You're going to have trouble in this world, but take heart for I have overcome the world. In this world you will have trouble, but I have come that you might have peace."
The Scripture says in Isaiah 26:3, "The steadfast of mind Thou wilt keep in perfect peace…." So what does Paul say? Paul says right here, "Be anxious for nothing. Whatever is true focus on that." Then he says, "The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things; and the God of peace shall be with you."
It doesn't happen just because you want to play the piano. You have to commit yourself to it. The gift of music that is intimacy with the Father has been offered to you, but you must discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness. We're in verse 10 of Philippians 4 now. "But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me…."
Watch what Paul is saying. "I'm not anxious. I wasn't anxious when you didn't know about what was going on. Now you've heard about what was going on. I was suffering for the gospel. I was cold. I was hungry. You heard about it and you sent the gift. I am thankful for that gift." In verse 11, "Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am."
Let me stop and ask you a question. Are you 40 without a ring on your left hand? Are you content? Are you married without a child in the womb? Are you content? Are you moving forward in your career, not being compensated the way you want or are you out a job? Are you content? Are you at a place where you can just go, "I have peace. I don't know what God is doing, but I know who he is. So I will not get stressed. I will be proactive. I will take steps that are wise, but at the end of the day, I will look to the Lord who loves me and is intimately acquainted with my ways. I will trust in him."
Watch what Paul says here. This is an amazing thing. In verse 12 he says, "I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through[Christ]who strengthens me."
Paul tells you, "I have learned the secret," to which you're kind of going, "Hey, brother, that's good for you, but somebody hasn't whispered the secret into my ear. So I am anxious for everything, and despair marks me. I don't know if it's biogenetic or not, but I am responding to my way of thinking."
Let me just jump back over here for a second, this article again. "When therapists go looking for a cause of depression, they are wasting valuable time. Depression, scientists have learned, is an organized, patterned way of responding to events and experiences." That I might suggest is inconsistent with what Paul was doing in Philippians 4. Paul says, "I can go through any circumstance and be okay."
They might say this, "For example some people develop the tendency to take things personally, even when things are not personal. Or they tend to engage in all-or-nothing thinking. Either way, the result is they draw wrong conclusions about events and make the mistake of believing those conclusions rather than testing them."
"Depression is helped most when we encourage people to be active on their own behalf, to challenge their own thinking…." Does that sound like Scripture? "All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable to reprove you in your wrong thinking. To correct you and to train you in righteousness." "That's why," it says, "psychotherapy outperforms medication in the long run."
Let me just tell you what psychotherapy is: psuché therapīa. It is soul work. I have news for you, that's what your Father majors in. Work on the soul. Paul tells you he has found the secret. What I want to share with you right now is where he learned that secret. To do that, I have to take you out of Philippi in the letter there, over to the letter to the Galatians.
In Galatians, chapter 1, Paul is talking about where he heard the gospel, where he got the good news from. He is going to say, "I got it from the Father. I did get it from men." This is not Plato and Cicero. This is not my interpretation of God's Word, because anybody can twist words to mean what they want it to mean. Paul said, "I did that for a long time."
He was a Pharisee, which means he was a student of the law. He knew the law backwards and forwards. But what he didn't understand is the right way to interpret the law. He was a persecutor of the church and he did not bring peace into his own life. He certainly did not bring peace to others. He was a murderer and a terrorist.
Then on the road to Damascus one day, God revealed himself to him and said, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" He opened his eyes and let him see the truth of all that the Word anticipated. Helped him see that Isaiah 53 was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Helped him see that there would be a coming of the king of peace and a coming of the Lion of Judah. That there would be a season of grace between them that Paul would eventually write the greatest theological treatise ever explaining the Old Testament to all of us in the book of Romans.
Paul says in that book this amazing statement: "All things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose." He phrased it this way in Philippians, "Hey, I can go through everything through God who strengthens me, because I understand God is at work. I have been persecuted but not perplexed. I have been beaten but not abandoned. God is with me to deliver me."
Now in this little letter to the Galatians he says, "I learned this from God." "…I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ." Galatians 1:12. He said in verse 13, "For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure, and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions."
Let me just tell you, this is where trouble always comes, from ancestral traditions that are separate in their understanding apart from eternal truths. Paul said, "I was committed to the ancestral traditions of Judaism, which was not the eternal truths of God, because we had argued ourself right away from what he had tried to reveal to us." And he said, "Then by grace, God revealed it to me."
This is very important. "But when [God] who had set me apart, even from my mother's womb, and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood…""To see if that was a good idea, I didn't run to the other apostles." Watch what it says in verse 17 of Galatians 1, "…nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia…"
Just for a second, when you think of Arabia, if we were playing word association, what would you associate with Arabia? Say, "Desert." Right. Desert. Lonely place. Lawrence of Arabia was not exactly hanging out in the gardens of Babylon. God sent, it says right here… Three years. In Galatians 1:18, "I went to Arabia, then I returned to Damascus. It was three years later that I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Peter, and I stayed with Peter just 15 days.
"What I'm giving to you has come from my time that I spent for three years alone with the Father. Where I went back through that Old Testament I knew so well, and he showed me and illumined me, and he taught me about his plans. I see his plans for me are for welfare and not for calamity. Plans to give me and the entire world a future and a hope. The covenant to Abraham is being fulfilled, even to this day."
The Palestinian Land Covenant has been accomplished through Jesus Christ, who instituted the new covenant, as a descendant of David, as it says in 2 Samuel he would be. And on and on he goes. Paul said, "If God is for me, who can be against me?" It changed his life. But it didn't happen in a weekend. It didn't happen because he was aware of grace. It happened because he efforted to know the God of grace. For him, it was a three year tract.
Now here is my question to you. I don't think you need to go away to a desert for three straight years, but if you were going to slowly accumulate three years of time with the Father, I might suggest to you your Proverb-a-day pattern is not going to get you to three years fast enough. I would suggest to you that what God calls you to is to some extended times.
One man said it this way, "We need to divert ourselves daily. We need to withdraw weekly. We need to abandon annually. We need to have a set pattern of the discipline of solitude in our life. Sometimes, we say no to really good, pleasant things and God delights in us enjoying because there is something better we need."
With great moral authority, I can tell you I do that. It's part of the reason when I hear "I have cancer" or "I might lose my foot" or "It might run to my chest" or when I bury my mother-in-law in two days that I'll do it with song, because I know something this world doesn't know. That this world is not my home, and I don't just know that as an idea, I know that as an experience, and I have trained my brain to believe, based on the testimony and evidence, it is true.
People, at times, look at me and they marvel, and they say, "How does he do that?" The answer is, I spend more time with my Bible than I do my NCAA bracket. When everybody else is running around doing other things, there are times I retreat to a lonely place to work the instrument that I might either bring peace or the party as appropriate for the circumstance.
I want to tell you who my teacher is tonight. I want to tell you he is free. He loves you, and he wants you to learn with him. But you have to choose. There's nothing more concerning, I think, to God, or frankly frustrating, and what I would tell my wife I love her, I long to be with her, and she is like, "Well, I'm not dating anybody else. So if you ask me out, I'll probably say yes."
How much more for us to sit here and to sing "Lord, I need you, oh, I need you" and then to walk out of here and need our iPhone and technology and more money and more distraction because we don't think we need him. If I could give it to you in a pithy way, I would say simply this, "The secret place is the key to learning the secret of being filled, to use scriptural word, or the secret of being content in any and every circumstance." The secret place is the key to learning the secret. It is a discipline to move to that secret place.
Where did Paul get this idea? It wasn't just some crazy idea. He got it from the one who saved him from the worries of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the concern for many things. Let me just walk you through Jesus' life rather briefly. His ministry is taking off. People are stacking up to see him. Mark 1:35, "And in the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up. He left the house, and he went away to a secluded place."
A little bit later, as news about him was spreading even farther and large crowds were gathering to hear him and be healed of their sickness, and Jesus couldn't be found. Luke 5:16, "But [Jesus] would often slip away to the wilderness and pray." One of the reasons guys who do what I do burn out is because they always want to be Mister Present, Mister Available.
They go, "Oh, you're such a good pastor. You're always available." Can I suggest this to you? If you're always available, you are not a good pastor. I was gone for a week with my family on spring break. When I got back this week, I made a point to not be available. Because I knew there were some things I needed to do, both in leading the staff, catching up with others, and spending some time with the Lord that I had not been able to spend while I was with people all day, every day.
I read my Bible a ton as you can imagine when I was in Israel, but at night when I would go to read my Bible, I'd read it like this. It wasn't, frankly, doing the trick. So when I got back, I got alone. I learned it in the same place Paul did. Luke 6:12-13, "People were starting to be jealous of him and maybe wanted to eliminate him." So what did he do? "And it was at this time He went off into the mountain to pray…" Luke 6:12.
A little bit later, there was such a crowd chasing him and his disciples as he got a report, he took them away to a local place, quietly. He heard about John the Baptist being beheaded. Then in Matthew 14:13, "And when Jesus heard about John, he was troubled by what happened to his friend." So what did he do? He withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place by himself.
As fate would have it, about 15,000 people found him and said, "We're hungry." So he fed them and ministered to them and taught them all day long, because he is a Shepherd who cares about his sheep. Then he sent them away. Matthew 14:23, let's try this again, "…He went up on the mountain by himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone."
Not long after that, he charged into Bethany. He runs into Mary and Martha. Martha is trying to make everything just right for her beloved Savior and Lord, but Mary was seated at his feet and Martha was not happy with Jesus, not happy with Mary. He says, "Hey, Martha, Martha. Mary is doing the one thing you should do, which is to enjoy me right now. I don't need you to work for me. I need you to be with me."
Then right after that in Luke 10 when he says that, he goes away from there to a lonely place to pray. It continues all throughout his life. I can show you again and again. Matthew 17, after he was told by Peter, who was given the enlightenment by the Holy Spirit, you're the Christ, the Son of the living God. What do you do? You go, all right, let's get the party on! No. He went from there on a high mountain by himself. The night came for him to be betrayed, so what did he do? He went to the garden by himself.
Here's the deal. The secret to being able to be content in every circumstance, deal with the death of friends, the swelling of popularity, the threat of enemies, the fullness of a busy schedule, the celebrity of being used by God, is to get away to a secluded place. Let me just tell you this: isolation and seclusion are not the same thing.
The Scripture says, "The person who separates himself, isolates himself from others, quarrels against all sound wisdom." But the Bible also says, "If you don't ever move away to a secluded place to do business with the Father, you will not last long." We're called to community. If you go spend time with the Father, it won't be long before he says, "Rise and go."
The monastic confusion, the monastic lifestyle which is really holding people separate from others and staying secluded for an entire lifetime is nothing you see in Scripture. The Spirit of God tells you, "Come away with me. Be equipped. Let's go through the activity of prayer and study so you can you live with me out there in the world in the way I want you to."
Jesus says, "Do you love me, Peter?" He says, "Yes, I do." Then he doesn't say, "Then move to a monastery and study my word." He says, "Then love my sheep. By the way, Peter, if you're going to love my sheep, you have to know how I want you to love them. By the way, Peter, when you go into all the world and make disciples and you baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and you teach them to observe everything I have commanded you, do it with me, which means you must abide with me. Because apart from me, you can do nothing."
Isolation is the enemy of health. The lack of seclusion and the lonely secret place is the enemy of health. Seclusion and isolation are nothing but the same thing. God calls us to live in community. The biggest problem we have with communities at Watermark is that people in community are not secluded enough with the Lord that when they are in community, they can tend to sheep the way God would want them to.
They don't have on their lips what is on the heart of God. They give counsel that is inconsistent with biblical wisdom, and it leads to a community of confusion, because all they do is get involved with group think and nobody is bringing to that group what God has taught them in the seclusion of personal study.
Let me give it to you here real quick as we wrap up. As Paul was giving you more insight into basically how he found the life he intends for us to have, in 1 Timothy, he is saying, "This, Timothy, is how you live your life effectively." There's a section in 1 Timothy, chapter 4, where it says, "This is a good minister's discipline. This is what you should do." He says these amazing words, "But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness..."
I want to ask you a question: What is the purpose of the spiritual disciplines? It's given to you right there in 1 Timothy 4:7. Discipline yourself. What's the purpose of Bible intake, the purpose of meditation, the purpose of solitude, the purpose of fasting, and the purpose of prayer? Answer: godliness. It's a means to an end and not an end in itself.
The purpose of Bible reading is not that you've read your Bible. In fact, do you know this? Jesus says, "Hey, if all you do is read your Bible and you don't do anything else with it, you're a fool and your house is built on the sand." He says, "It's the man who reads his Bible and acts on what he reads." Or in Jesus' vernacular of Matthew 7:24, "He who hears and acts, that's the man who builds his house on a solid foundation."
It is a means to an end. It is to give me information that in humility you can respond to. Spiritual disciplines are not something you do. Spiritual disciplines do something to you. It produces a transformation. Can I just tell you this? The world is going to tell you, "You have anxiety, you have trouble? Take a pill. Escape from your troubles that way." I'm going to tell you the most powerful drug I know is truth. The problem is with the mind.
God says, "Don't you be conformed to the way the world does soul therapy, but you be transformed by the renewing of your mind." The most powerful drug I know of is truth. Jesus says he is the truth and he will set you free. Now watch, the words disciple and discipline we get from the Latin root. They both mean to train with effort. That's what they mean.
Isn't it interesting in our English word disciple, which means learner, we have it from the same Latin word, which means, to train with effort, discipline. That's how, sometimes, we train our kids, with great effort on their backside that they may learn to live a different life. The Greek word is not discipline. The Greek word is gymnazo.
You go, "Okay. Now why is Todd telling me the Greek word for discipline is gymnazo? That kind of stuff does me no good." Okay. It doesn't do you any good when you hear it, but let me let you see it: g-y-m-n-a-z-o. Can you think of another English word we get from the Greek word discipline? Thank you. Gymnasium.
A gymnasium is where you go to train. And you should take care of your body, it's an important part of our health, but Paul says, "While you're training your little body to look good in your bikini this summer, you had better train your little heart to be what God wants you to do as a priest." "…for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come."
Now let me just do this. As I close and land this bad boy tonight, and that is to simply touch on the topic of fasting, since that's where our little bumper video went tonight and since I'm going to conclude the two and wrap solitude and fasting together…What is fasting? Are believers supposed to fast?
Well, here is your first clue. In Matthew, chapter 6, Jesus says, "when you fast," which seems to indicate you should fast. "And whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do…." In other words, there are a lot of people who want to show how spiritual they were through the discipline of fasting whether they would heap ashes on their head, they would rend their garments, and they wouldn't eat, and they'd walk around going, "Oh. I'm a godly man. I'm a fasting."
They would walk around and their face would be basically a cover shot of the book of Lamentations. Jesus says, "Look, when you do it that way, when you neglect your appearance so you will be noticed by men, you're receiving your reward in full." The purpose of any spiritual discipline, Bible study, Bible memory, teaching, evangelism, is not so others will think you're spiritual.
Jesus says, "When you do this, don't do it as a sign to me that you love me. I don't need a sign from you that you love me." Jesus is going to tell us the purpose of fasting is that we would make a decision to discipline our body. Our body is not going to be our master.
Let me just insert this right here. In Joshua, chapter 7, this is evidence of this, when God is talking to the Israelites, they go into the Promised Land for the very first time. They take on Jericho, the walls of Jericho fall, they're 1-0. There is great celebration in the nation. Then they go up to battle Ai. While they're up there, they get their clocks cleaned.
They just went from being undefeated champions of the world to batting 500 and the people are scared, because they have a lot more battles to fight in this land. What does Joshua do? He rends his garments, he heaps ashes on his head, he throws himself down, he doesn't eat, and he begins to fast and pray before the Lord.
This is what God says, "Hey, Joshua. Shut up. Get up and get with it. The reason Israel is in trouble is not because you don't fall on your face before me, but because you don't walk on your feet the way I told you to walk. When you won that battle of Jericho, I told you what to do when you wiped those people out and how you should do it.
You didn't do it. Because you're not my people and you're not consecrated to me, we're not going to win that way. Deal with your sin and then we'll get back onto the blessing of my presence in your life." What God says is, "Don't you fast to obligate me. What you might want to do, Joshua, is pay more attention before you go fastening your heart to certain activities."
Here is why you fast, why you pull away from food or your iPhone or social media or TV. It's so you might have more time to focus on the God who loves you, not to make God love you more. Until you know there is nothing you can do to make God love you more, you don't know the love of God.
But when you know the love of God and you realize your life is running out of control and your flesh is always wanting to be stimulated, your flesh is always wanting to be fed, your flesh is always wanting to be pleasured, you're going to say, "You know what, flesh? You're not my master. God is. I'm going to discipline you and I'm going to deny you certain things so that in that denial I can teach you there is something more valuable than food or entertainment or distraction."
It is a choice to remove certain activities or pleasures or practices or provision in your life for a season that you might teach yourself there is something of greater delight, that Jesus is the bread of life and he is more satisfactory than bread itself. Fasting is what we do that we might focus on the God who has done so much for us.
Certain people give up something for Lent. Why? Not because they have to for God to love them, but because they realize God loves them and they want to focus by disciplining their body during the Lenten season so they might, in that moment of longing and wanting to do something, be reminded of a God who did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself and gave his life for them. In response to worship of him, they can meditate on by some small physical deprivation the great provision of God through the sacrifice of his Son.
Do you see that? If that for you is not eating meat on Fridays, God bless you. But if you show up before the Lord and go, "Hey. I didn't eat meat on Fridays." He is going to go, "And? Did you think about what I did for you? Because I don't really care if you eat meat or not. You can eat all the meat you want. What I really want you to do is just to mediate on me. Delight in my love for you. Walk with me."
I'll close with this story. When we were in Israel, there are amongst our Jewish friends, still some practices that they don't understand, that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Sometimes they think the things they do out of love for God, they need to do if they really do love God.
For instance, there are all kinds of laws about practicing the Sabbath. Some of them, to us, seem a little crazy. Let me say this. I think we have a lot to learn from our Jewish brethren about the discipline of Sabbath. But I think they have a lot to learn from us about what Sabbath rest really is.
When you go to Israel, one of the things you kind of right away go, "This seems a bit crazy" is if your pilot light goes out on your stove, you have to go get a non-Orthodox friend to come light your pilot light. But if you have your pilot light lit, then you can turn the spark that lights the light that lights your fire, because you're not starting a fire, the fire was already there. You can't start a fire on the Sabbath, but you can stoke the fire. If the pilot light goes out, we have problems. Otherwise, we're good.
You can't activate a machine on the Sabbath. That would be work. But you can jump on a machine that is already working. See also what is called the Shabbat elevator. You go over to Israel and there is always one elevator dedicated in any hotel in Israel on the Sabbath that an Orthodox Jew can get on. They don't press a button to make the machine work.
The elevator is already stopping on every floor all the way up, and it's stopping on every floor all the way down. You just wait for it and when the door opens, I can just walk in there and lo and behold if it takes me up slowly, I'll be to the 10th floor, so be it. Now you might go, "That is crazy."
But I had one of my buddies who got on there with his bags, we got to the hotel a little bit late. He jumped on the Shabbat elevator. Now there is a nice, sweet Jewish Orthodox man on there with him and he gets on there and he says hi to the guy. The guy nods his head at him. The elevator goes up a floor and stops.
Now these lights aren't all lit. They're just programed to stop. To stop at the first floor and nobody gets on, nobody gets off, so my friend kind of "Oh." Goes up a floor. Same thing happens. Eventually, he starts hitting these buttons. He goes, "What is wrong with this elevator?" The nice Jewish man behind him says, "This is an elevator for people who love God." My friend goes, "Perfect! I'm on the right elevator! Now what's wrong with this elevator?" He had no idea.
Let me say something to you in closing. Some of you guys are practicing spiritual disciplines. You're going to a quiet time, this place where you set aside for solitude every day, sometimes extended into a week. Sometimes a really extended months or annually. But you're on it and you go, "What's the big deal with this elevator? With this moment? I've done it and nothing really changes in my life." Because you think the moment is what you are on there for.
No, the Sabbath is to give you rest, not to be on some elevator that stops at every floor. The spiritual disciplines are not an end in and of themselves. The spiritual disciplines are a means to an end that you might abide with the Father, who in the moment of solitude, when you deny yourself food, you would meditate on him so that mediation would carry over to everything you do.
Whether you eat or drink you do it to the glory of God because you're reminded of the glory of God's love for you. If you're looking at your doing these things as what you have to do if you love God, you don't understand the purpose of the disciplines. They are a means of grace. The spiritual disciplines are made for you, not you for the disciplines.
Father, I pray for my friends. I thank you that we can just be here together tonight and just meditate on these great truths together. I pray we would now go, "Okay, Father, I have to make a decision. Do I really love you, do I want time with you so I can intake Scripture, so I can meditate on your words, so I can journal, so I can, in the secluded place, learn your sovereign will, be reminded of your sovereign goodness, that I might be in the community of saints, the source of life? Because what I will share with them will not be of men, not from Todd Wagner, but from your eternal throne."
Help us in the secret, in the quiet place, to in the stillness know you are God, to be reminded of your character and nature, to learn your Word that we might speak it to others. Thank you for a chance to get together tonight and be reminded of your goodness and your love for us. Be our God. Let us be your people. Let us not be in the ranch with prodigals. Let us spend time with you and discipline ourselves to that purpose. To the glory of God, I pray. Amen.
Let's close by singing this short song together as a commitment of what we want to do with our lives this week. Because the secret place is the secret to being content in any and every circumstance. May we never be the people who honor him with our lips, but our hearts are far from him. May we never be the people who say to our wives, "I want to know you" and then we don't date her.
Say to our Father, "I want to know you" and then we don't take advantage of it and we run out of here and get caught back up in our work-a-day world. Abide with him. Discipline yourself to solitude. Deny your flesh for the purpose of seeking the goodness and reminding yourself of God's provision. Take the time you were going to spend watching a game and fast from a game to study, reflect, journal, pray, and listen.
If you are here and you don't know how you can be reconciled to the Father who loves you, we'd love to help you meditate on that truth. Just take that little perforated section, check that little box "I want to know more how to have a relationship with God through Jesus" or come speak with us tonight.
But if you know him, would you enjoy him? Would you not be deluded to think grace is the antithesis of effort? God wants you to effort to know him more, that you might serve him, and enjoy him. Have a great week of worship.