Ministry Monday: Sermon Illustrations on How to Have Spiritual Community in Life
This blog post is part of a small series focusing on Hebrews 12:12-17. Let’s continue looking at some of the spiritual necessities we can learn from these Scriptures.
“Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears,” (Hebrews 12:12-17, ESV).
Looking at Spiritual Community
This passage hits on “community involvement.”
When my son, Scott, was in Officer Candidate School he challenged me to work out with him. I ran a couple of miles a few times a week. I ran alone in the early morning; willing myself to run when I didn’t feel like it. I was committed to run when I didn’t think I could go another step. When I finished, I thought I had given it all. Then we went to his graduation and officer’s commissioning. They had scheduled a “grad run, ” and family members who wanted to could join the candidates. Scott asked me if I would run, so I did. Up early in the morning, the soon to be Naval officers did their exercise routines and then it was time for the run and off we went (at a pretty good pace). I was running up front alongside the block of candidates who were led by their Marine Drill Instructor. As we ran, I was somewhat concerned that I would wear out and need to stop. My competitive nature didn’t want that to happen. But, almost to my surprise, I ran the two and a half miles at a quicker pace than I ran alone at home and I felt good. I didn’t think about quitting. I didn’t focus on how my breathing was getting, my knees aching, or my side hurting. I ran, I finished, and it was great. I realized that what helped me was that I had other runners alongside me who were all in the same race. Their presence and involvement strengthened me to run better than I thought I could.
In our lives, running “in spiritual community” strengthens us when we don’t think we can keep going. We need to stay with “the pack, ” and we need to be coming alongside others we see sagging and dragging.
Spiritual Community: How to Look Out for One Another
Verse 15 says, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God….”
We are to “see to it” that certain things don’t become true of others in our community of faith. The words “see to it” come from one that means “to oversee.” It is related to the word from which we get “Bishop” which means an overseer in the church (one who watches over others spiritually). Here in Hebrews, it is all of us who are to watch out for others in the community in regards to their spiritual life. We are to help others stay faithful in following Christ. We are to spiritually support the weak and weary, coming alongside them and encouraging them to continue to trust in God and to endure the hardship they are experiencing.
Life is Hard, but God is Good:
Perhaps you are familiar with the story of Joni Erickson Tada. More than 30 years ago she dove into shallow water, broke her neck, and ever since has been a quadriplegic. In a message she delivered entitled, Life is hard, but God is Good, she told of how in high school she was captain of the hockey team and her best friend Jackie was co-captain. They played in the Baltimore County championship, and the game went back and forth and forth and back, hitting goals, defending balls. She said it was a fantastic game. But just as the rain began to fall in the last quarter, the other team slipped a goal by… Joni and Jackie’s team lost.
They were disappointed. Dejected and slump-shouldered they got on the bus for the trip home. Some cried… they had worked hard and the season had been long. Joni and Jackie were the saddest – as captain and co-captain they felt responsible. But she said, “we dried our tears, and believe it or not, we sang there on the back seat of that bus bumping down the beltway, the old hymn ‘Man of Sorrows, what a name, for the Son of God who came.’” We were glad we had a Savior who understood our heavy hearts.
It was just a few months later she broke her neck.
Joni has had an incredible ministry. I believe she is one of our generation’s most significant ambassadors for Jesus Christ. She has helped people better understand suffering and see what God can do through it. If you haven’t read her story, you should do so.
In her message, she listed what she called “Good reasons why we suffer.” And then said, “But good reasons don’t always meet our need.” Here’s what she said, “Sometimes even good answers aren’t enough. Like that night long ago and far away, after all those wonderful things began to sink in. I knew the reasons. Really, I did…. But, sometimes – you have been there, I know you have – even when you’ve got all your theological ducks in a row, it’s just not enough. Sometimes the pain seems to outweigh even the best of benefits.
It happened one night when I was in the hospital for a checkup. That night they showed the Birdman of Alcatraz on the Monday Night Movie. After about an hour and a half of watching Burt Lancaster clutch those iron bars and look out into freedom, I began to get claustrophobic. I felt as though I was so paralyzed that I was in prison. ‘Lord, I can’t do this… sometimes even all the good doesn’t outweigh the pain I’m feeling right now.’
That was the night my girlfriend Jackie snuck in to see me after hours and hid behind the couch in the visitors’ lounge. When they turned lights out in the hallway, and the nurse’s station cleared, and all my other roommates were sound asleep snoring away, long after the movie, and I was wide awake… I heard a movement over toward the door. I peered through the guardrail of my hospital bed, and there was Jackie crawling on her hands and knees across the linoleum floor.
She got right up on the side of my bed, took hold of the guardrail, and peered through it at me. I hissed, ‘Jackie if they catch you, they’re going to kick you out of here.’
She said, ‘Shhhhh.’
With her hand, she lowered the guardrail of the hospital bed and climbed onto the bed and got close to me. She grabbed my paralyzed hand and lifted it high so I could see it. Mind you; my hands can’t feel. I can’t move. My fingers have no sensation. So, she lifted my hand high intertwined in hers and then turned her face toward me on the pillow and began to softly sing, ‘Man of Sorrows, what a name, for the Son of God who came. Ruined sinners to reclaim. Hallelujah, what a Savior.’
Joni said, “It met my need like nothing else.” 1
You know what that is? That’s community care. That’s looking out for one another.
The author of Hebrews says that we are to look out for one another. We need to make sure nobody misses the grace of God.
We are also to see to it that “no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Esau is a strong negative example of a person who gave up what God had for him to satisfy the cravings of the moment. He had an incredible inheritance, but turned away from God to get away from difficulty and hardship to gain immediate relief out of the “now.” He was only thinking of the earthly, physical life that will end with death.
What we are to do for one another is “see to it” that doesn’t happen to any of us. We are to look out for each other and be concerned about where we are in our relationship with God.
This kind of spiritual community care needs to be developed. It needs to be an ongoing part of our journey with Christ. It’s part of God’s prescription for maintaining spiritual health. It promotes healing when we are tired and wounded spiritually and emotionally.
- Joni Eareckson Tada, “Life is Hard, but God is Good,” Preaching Today, accessed April 13, 2017, http://www.preachingtoday.com/sermons/sermons/2005/august/209.html.
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