After more than a year out of the pulpit, I returned this week to fill in for our senior pastor. So as the new year starts, I start a new phase, too. I pray this message helps you. Thank you for reading.
Remember playing hide & seek? The rules are simple: one closes their eyes and counts while the others run to find hiding places. Then when the count is finished, the counter must go off and find the hidden ones.
Now my buddy Possum has a little twist to the game. When we brought him home, he loved to be chased. He would look at me, then take off running and I was supposed to run after him. He ‘hides’ under the bed, but his tale always sticks out so it is easy to ‘find’ him.
The game continues when I tag him, and he takes off running again. My job is to chase. And to add to the picture, he likes to run with a toy or a plastic bottle. If I throw it, he takes off, grabs it and heads right back under the bed where I ‘find’ him.
Fortunately, Havanese puppies love to run and play in short spurts. After about three or four times down the hall and up and down the stairs, he suddenly just stops. Game over.
Here is my question: Is our spiritual journey like a hide and seek game with God?
Let us begin with prayer:
Open our hearts, Lord, so that we see you in our faith journey and help others find you in their lives, too. –Amen.ˆ
We all have a story about our life journeys, and mine landed me in Warrensburg when the Johnson County school districts inaugurated an alternative education program. This professional move dropped me into a new community where the one thing I knew would be familiar was the Methodist church. I joined choir, something I had long missed. I started attending Sunday school and gradually moved into teaching the MeMarCo class.
The professional move did not begin my spiritual journey, but this church nurtured me and has been instrumental in God finding me. You see, I had been playing hide and seek with God’s calling and it ended here when I was asked one simple questions: “Why haven’t you been a preacher?”
Throughout my Methodist life, I have known many ministers, but I had never sat down and shared my story; but something sent me to sit down in this church’s office to share my story. That conversation led to one simple question, “Why haven’t you been a preacher?” I was startled and realized I had only one answer, “No one had ever asked me.”
Each one of us has a story filled with people, circumstances, challenges and successes, but how many of us still are in a game of hide and seek with God. My story is probably very similar to yours, and I have been blessed that I was raised in a faith-based family. Still, I know that for years, I played hide and seek with God.
After completing the discernment process, my spiritual journey became more formalized attending the Course of Study. And what I had suspected about spirituality developed into a clearer picture, especially in understanding John Wesley’s means of grace.
Our spiritual journey begins with our birth; and for those raised in a Christian family we have the advantage of knowing that God loves us from the very beginning. We are born with the Holy Spirit drawing us to God; this is Wesley’s prevenient grace.
As we grow up, our spiritual journey begins. For myself, I was nurtured by my family and I am thankful for the teaching because it helped me learn how God loves us and forgives us when we make mistakes. For Wesley, the ability to understand that our sins are forgiven is the means of grace called justification.
Our spiritual journey develops through the four levels of grace. For those raised in a Christian environment, the transition from one phase to the next is logical, but for others God uses his disciples (which can be us) or experiences to reach out to them. Yet we do learn that God is beside us through all the earthly challenges that confront us. We learn that even when we make a mistake, God is there waiting for us to ask for his forgiveness and return to a faithful relationship with him.
Still, life keeps racing forward and we have a tendency to return to that game of hide and seek with God. We may walk through the practices of being faithful, but we may not consciously seek him. Learning to ‘hear’ God speaking to us is often difficult.
Despite how different our spiritual journeys began–whether born into it, married into it, or forced into it by life experiences bringing–we find God and discover he is speaking to us.
When we reach the third level of Wesley’s means of grace, we hear God more clearly. Sanctification is the point in our spiritual journey that we know God personally and have a love for him that translates into love, unconditional love, for one another, our neighbors. We reach a new level of spirituality that sends us seeking God rather than hiding from him.
When I was asked that one question, “Why haven’t you been a preacher?”, I had to stop and examine my own spiritual journey. Hear Paul speaking to the Corinthians in his second letter:
5 Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless, indeed, you fail to meet the test! 6 I hope you will find out that we have not failed. 7 But we pray to God that you may not do anything wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. 8 For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. –2 Corinthians 13:5-8 (NRSV)
I challenge you to examine yourself. Are you still playing hide and seek, or are you in the process of growing in love with God and one another? The spiritual journey never stops; there is no retirement or aging out along one’s spiritual journey. We must continue to grow in faith moving toward the final level of grace: perfection. Wesley defines perfection as “growing in love for God and our neighbors, and he believed that the kingdom of Heaven could be reached even before death.
Our earthly journey can challenge us in so many ways that our spiritual journey gets sidetracked or overpowered. At those times, we need a support system or spiritual practices to weather the storms along the journey. A Christ-like life takes discipline.
God challenges us to use our gifts to serve one another in love, unconditional love:
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. –1 Corinthians 12:4-11 (NRSV)
God gives us these gifts so that we can serve as his hands and feet. It takes all of us using these gifts to help each other along the spiritual journey support ing one another through relationships, experiences, and learning. We help discipline each other.
Through my spiritual journey, I can list the people who have guided me in developing my faith. I can also list experiences that filled my developing years: the 3rd-grade gift of a mustard seed necklace, a summer youth minister, the United Methodist Women sending me to their mission school, and even being assigned to the religion page in journalism school. The landmarks in my spiritual journey just kept popping up and I did not ‘see’ them. I kept playing hide and seek with God.
Consider the Magi, the wise men of the East. They saw a star and it called them to follow it to find the baby Jesus in a manger. They were not Israelites. Yet they saw the star and decided to go and see what it was calling them to learn. They were ‘seeking’ God, no longer ‘hiding’ from his call. They listened; and they followed what God told them, leaving and not returning to Herod with their new knowledge.
Preparing to lead Rick Warren’s 40 Days of Purpose campaign, I came to that one chapter, the one I call the Wesley chapter (I believe it was chapter 33.). There was the quote from John Wesley:
Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.
The words stopped me cold. I was a cradle Methodist and I was so surprised that Warren was using it because he was a Baptist minister! I was preparing to lead the church’s 40 Days of Purpose campaign, and there I sat on the front porch in awe of what God was telling me.
I knew the scriptures, I attended church regularly, I felt like I was doing what I was called to do—teach alternative education. I was doing all the good that I could—or least I thought I was. And then came that question, “Why haven’t you been a preacher?”
Each one of us has a spiritual journey. We live our lives growing up in families who do or do not attend church. We go to work at jobs that may or may not be fulfilling. We go in and out of relationships with family and friends that can be hurtful or enriching. We can get in our cars and drive from one destination to another without incident or we become entangled in an accident.
Our lives are journeys, but how we live them makes such a difference in the quality of that journey. When I finally had to stop and review the journey that I was living, I had to realize that I had been playing hide and seek with God. He had been calling and I had not heard him.
Today we are closing out the Christmas holiday season with Epiphany tomorrow, January 6. Our journey continues much like the Magi. They chose to return to their homes knowing they had met the Messiah. They listened to God’s direction, not to Herod’s.
As we continue our own journeys, we must make sure that we no longer play hide and seek with God. We need to turn around and realize God sees us and is asking us to follow him. I challenge each of you to seek God rather than hide from him. Examine your practices to see what needs improving in order to move from one type of grace to the next.
Today, make the decision to improve your spiritual journey. Decide what you can do so your spiritual journey moves you on to perfection? Are you able to use your gifts to help others along their spiritual journey as part of sanctification? Or do you want to improve your own understanding of God’s grace through study and Christian conversation?
As Paul told the Philippians, in chapter 4 verse 13:
13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (NRSV)
Do not be afraid because God will make sure you can do all that you can for all you can in any way you can. God has loved you, loves you, and always will love you. It is your turn to seek him.