Invest With The Best

Invest With the Best

Matthew 5:1-3

Dr. Jim Denison

A good friend recently sent me my favorite new story. It seems that a couple from Minneapolis decided to go to Florida for a long weekend during a particularly icy winter. Their job schedules required the husband to fly down on a Thursday, with his wife to follow the next day.

Upon arriving, the husband checked into the hotel and then sent his wife an e-mail back in Minneapolis. However, he accidentally mistyped her address. Meanwhile, in Houston a widow had just returned from her minister husband’s funeral. She checked her e-mails, read the first message, and fainted. Her son rushed into the room, found her on the floor, and saw this message on her computer screen:

“To my loving wife, from your departed husband: I’ve just arrived and have been checked in. I see that everything is prepared for your arrival tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing you then. Hope your journey is as uneventful as mine was. P.S. Sure is hot down here!”

Surprise is not always a good thing. But sometimes it’s a great thing. Cancer which further tests can’t find; a final exam at school which is cancelled; an investment which exceeds all forecasts. Happiness in surprising places.

“Makarios” is Greek for that happiness which transcends every circumstance of life, a deep inner joy which nothing in life can give or steal. A constant sense of well-being, purpose, and significance. Happiness no matter how hot the summer becomes, or how long your in-laws stay, or what happens in Iraq or Dallas, with the economy or your family. This is to be “blessed.” This is true success. It is found in the most surprising places you can imagine.

Choose Jesus’ world-view

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus said. Before we discover what he meant by this paradox, let’s first learn why he said it.

The world Jesus inhabited was characterized by three big words. They were pluralistic, worshipping a multitude of gods. They were relativistic, with no unified or objective definition for right and wrong. And they were self-actualized, depending upon themselves for survival and success.

Is our world any different?

Are we pluralists? Conventional wisdom now says that Islam, Christianity, and Judaism all worship the same God, and that no one religion is right or wrong. The title of Diana Eck’s new book makes the point: A New Religious America: How a “Christian Country” Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation. Do you truly believe Jesus’ claim, “no one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6)? Most don’t.

Are we relativists? Since the 1960s we’ve been told that we’re a “mosaic,” coagulated groups rather than united individuals. There’s no right or wrong, just what’s right or wrong for you or for me. Do you truly believe that the Bible is the complete truth on abortion, homosexuality, or any other ethical issue? Most don’t.

Are we self-actualized, self-reliant? Nine of ten Americans believe in God, but one in four seek his help in worship each week. For every problem there’s an expert to solve it, from personal physical trainers to specialized counselors to on-line nurses. Americans crowded into churches after September 11, but now we’re back to “normal.” For what problem in your life are you relying completely upon God this morning?

This is not the world Jesus taught in his Sermon on the Mount. As we will discover across these weeks, Jesus was not a pluralist: there is only one God, and only one way to him. He was not a relativist: there is only one way, truth, and life, and he taught it. He was not self-actualized: success and happiness are not human achievements but God’s gifts.

We can be “blessed” only if we choose his world-view, only if we adopt his values and priorities. Only if we learn his rules for living, his keys to true success. The Beatitudes give us those keys.

Seek the “blessing” of God

“When Jesus saw the crowds, Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him and he began to teach them” (v. 1).

This “mountainside” is known today as the “Mount of the Beatitudes,” a beautiful spot overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Here Jesus “sat down,” as the Jewish rabbis did, their students standing around them in deference and attention. We still speak of a professor’s “chair” for this reason.

He began to teach “them,” his disciples. These Beatitudes and the Sermon which follows them presume that their hearers are already Jesus’ disciples, his followers. This is not the plan of salvation, or it would be works-righteousness. That’s religion, not relationship. Here we discover not how to be saved but how to live like it, how to live out the personal relationship with Jesus given to us by God’s grace through the cross.

Here are keys to true success, how to be “blessed” by God. And the first is crucial to all the rest. You will be “blessed” so that you are happy beyond all circumstances when you are “poor in spirit.” So what does this mean?

“Poor” here means to be as poor as a beggar. This is not the Greek word for an impoverished person (penes) but the word for absolute and abject poverty (ptochos). This is the person who has absolutely nothing—no food, no clothes, nothing at all.

“In spirit” shows us the kind of poverty Jesus means. John Stott: “To be ‘poor in spirit’ is to acknowledge our spiritual poverty, indeed our spiritual bankruptcy, before God. For we are sinners, under the holy wrath of God, and deserving nothing but the judgment of God. We have nothing to offer, nothing to plead, nothing with which to buy the favor of heaven” (p. 39).

The New English Bible renders the phrase better than any other translation: “Blessed are those who know their need of God.”

Why? “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

“The kingdom of heaven” is the place where God rules, where his will is done, where he is King.

Only when we know how much we need God will we make him our King. Our one and only King, refusing pluralism. Living by his rules and morals, refusing relativism. Depending upon him for our success and significance, refusing self-dependence.

If we will not admit how much we need God, we’ll be king and God will not.

This is the foundational issue to all genuine success, joy, peace, happiness in life. Who is king, you or God? Are you poor in spirit, or not?

When we are king, church is a Rotary Club with a Bible study, part of the culture but nothing more. We attend church in the same way that we attend other civic or charitable functions. We are religious in the same way that we are Republicans or Democrats—our faith is a compartment of the lives we control. But we are king.

Then Christianity exists to help us succeed. To give us peace and happiness; to help us with our problems; to help us accomplish our goals and fulfill our ambitions. But we are king.

But when we are poor in spirit, we trade in religion for relationship with gratitude. We worship God not so he will bless us but because he has. We read Scripture and pray not to impress God but because we do. We give our time and money not to pay our debt to God but because Jesus already has.

When we are poor in spirit, we admit that we don’t know how to live our lives and make our decisions, so we always pray first. We ask God first. We put God in charge of our problems and ambitions, our struggles and our dreams. We become subjects of the King, seeking every day to do his bidding and fulfill his will.

When we are poor in spirit, we recognize every day that it’s not about us. What matters is building the Kingdom of God, leading other people to make Jesus their King, helping people follow Jesus. Everything we do is a means to this end, when God is our King.

So here’s the question: are you “poor in spirit”? When last did you admit to God that you don’t know how to live your life, and put him at the controls? What’s the last important decision you gave to him first? The last problem you trusted to him in prayer? The last time you did what he said, even though you didn’t understand? Would an objective observer say that God is your King or you are?


Our Beatitudes series is entitled “keys to true success.” Material success requires excellent investments. In an unpredictable, changing world, investing with the best is crucial. Since September 11, for instance, investments in most airlines, hotels and restaurants, and insurance companies have been difficult. Investments in defense companies and security-technology firms have been extremely profitable.

May I urge you to invest your life with the best? Decide today that you want God to be your Lord, your boss, master, ruler. Choose to be “poor in spirit,” admitting how much you need him. Refuse the pluralistic, relativistic, self-reliant culture which surrounds you, and choose to live with him as your King.

What’s in front of you today? What decision? What problem, what issue, worry or burden? Would you be poor in spirit about it today? Would you, before you leave this place today, yield your life in absolute and utter dependence upon God? If you will, you’ll be in the kingdom, you’ll walk in the kingdom and you will experience the kind of makarios, the kind of blessing God yearns to give. But can’t give unless you’ll depend on him. Would you be blessed by God today? Would you be poor in spirit today?

Jesus was. In fact, of all the individuals who have lived in all of human history, has anybody been more dependant upon God than Jesus of Nazareth? Dependent upon God for his miraculous birth. Dependent upon God for his preservation from the wicked clutches of King Herod? Dependent upon God all across his ministry for every meal he ate, every day he lived, the clothes he wore, the places he slept. Absolutely, totally yielded to God for the words he spoke, the ministry he performed, the life he lived. So unconditionally yielded to God that in the Garden of Gethsemane, he could say, “Not my will, but thine be done.” Totally dependent upon God.

Now the world didn’t call him blessed, did it? In fact in the words of the well-known hymn, the writer says, “He was born in an obscure village the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village, he worked in a carpenter’s shop until he was 30 years of age. Then for three years he was an itinerate preacher. He never owned a home. Never held an office. Never wrote a book. Never traveled more than 200 miles from the place where he was born. He did none of those things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials, but his own.

“While he was still a young man, the tide of public opinion turned away from him. His friends ran away. He was turned over to the cruelty of his enemies. Put through the mockery of a trial. Crucified between two thieves. While he was dying, his executioners gambled for his cloak, the only piece of property which was his on the earth. When he was dead, he was laid in a borrowed grave to the pity of a friend.”

Makarios? Blessed? Only in every way. Blessed by God with a miraculous birth. Blessed by God with divine providential protection from the time of his birth to the time that his life had come to its end.

Blessed by God with words he would teach which would stand the test of time and resonate across the halls of mankind for 20 centuries. Blessed by God with miraculous power to perform feats which still amaze us today. Blessed by God with the courage to stand before hypocritical accusers and forgive his crucifier. Blessed by God to be able to shout in joyous victory at the moment of his death.

Blessed by God to be raised from the dead to be seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Blessed by God across 20 centuries to watch his followers grow from 12 to 2 billion. Blessed by God to be the leader of the column of progress across all of human history so that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings put together that ever reigned have not influenced the life of man on this earth as has that one, solitary life.

Blessed, because he was poor in spirit.

Would you like to be blessed today?

The Most Important Things In Life Are Not Things

The Most Important Things in Life Are Not Things

Proverbs 3:5-10

Dr. Jim Denison

Here are some of the least-important facts I know:

– Rubber bands last longer when refrigerated.

– There are more chickens than people in the world.

– Two-thirds of the world’s eggplant is grown in New Jersey.

– An ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain.

– A goldfish has a memory span of three seconds.

– It’s impossible to sneeze with your eyes open.

Here is the most important statement I know: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37, 39-40). As does your soul’s summer.

Last week we investigated the first great commandment, finding ways to draw close to God, to love him each day.

Today, we’ll explore the second great commandment. How will you love your neighbor as yourself this summer, thus proving that you love God? What will be your strategy for changing someone’s life, for living with significance and purpose, for making a difference that matters? How will you redeem this summer for God?

May I give you a proverb for these months, three words live by all summer long?

Learn God’s word (5-8)

When I was a high school senior, a dear friend gave me a topical Bible in which she inscribed two verses. They became the first biblical verses I ever learned: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6, KJV). Let’s pitch our tents here and explore for a while.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart”:

“Trust” means to rely upon in total dependence. The Hebrew originally meant to lie helplessly face down, with no way to get up or save yourself. Not just believe intellectually, but trust personally. You do not “trust” the airplane pilot until you get on his airplane.

“In the Lord”—we all trust in something or someone to give us meaning and purpose. Some trust in the stock market, others in their job, others in their ability, health, parents, spouse, or children. The proverb says to put your trust in the Lord, to depend upon him for your life, meaning and future.

“With all your heart”—the “heart” is not just your emotions but your will and intellect. This is a command to trust in God with your decisions, plans, future; to trust him with your life, ambitions, and direction. With “all” your heart means that you trust completely and only in God to be your guide, source and strength.

“And lean not on your own understanding”—This is Hebrew parallelism, where the second line comments on the first. In this case, the second line restates negatively what has just been said positively.

“Lean” means to depend fully, to support yourself in the sense of leaning on a wall or a railing. When you have surgery you “lean” on the doctor to wake you up—you put your life in his hands.

“Not on your own understanding” is in the present tense; it actually says, “stop trusting in your own understanding.” To trust in the Lord with all your heart means that you don’t trust in yourself. You don’t trust your abilities, education, experience or circumstances to give your life meaning, purpose and direction. If you’re doing that, stop it now.

“In all your ways acknowledge him”—”All your ways” means every step, every action, every decision. Everywhere you go, everything you do.

There is no sacred/secular dichotomy here, no Sunday/Monday split. In every part of your life—your finances and friends and family and future.

“Acknowledge him” means literally to “know him” personally, intimately. Walk with God in everything you do, everywhere you go. God is not one of the electives in the school of life—make every choice with his will in mind. And take every step only after you ask him what to do. With this result: “and he will make your paths straight.”

The Hebrew means, “He will direct your paths” or “He will set you on the straight and narrow.” He will manage your life, guide your steps, take you where you need to go.

God wants to do this for us. He is waiting to “make your paths straight,” right now. But you must ask him to; you must follow his leadership. His will is your Global Positioning Satellite system, but it is no good unless you look at it and do what it says. It will not drive your car for you.

Bear in mind that walking down his paths will cost you something: “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops” (v. 9).

The “firstfruits” were the farmer’s first and best harvest. The ancient Israelites lived by the crops they produced, but the Law required that their first harvest be brought to God as a sacrifice.

Your “firstfruits” are your best resources. The first hour of the day given to God in prayer, Bible study and worship. Your best preparations for the class you teach or the ministry you lead. Your sacrifice to help a hurting neighbor, to reach out to a lost friend, to care about a lonely soul. Your best service to God, whatever the cost. When God directs your path, you walk down it whatever its price.

But then you position yourself to receive the blessing God so wants to give: “then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine” (v. 10). Then God can meet your needs and make your life abundant and significant. Then you can make a difference that matters. And only then.

Ask God first

So the proverb for the summer is these three words: Ask God first. Before you make your plans. Before you plan your vacation, your job, your activities, your days, your life. Lean upon his word and not your wisdom. Ask him to direct your paths, and believe that he will use your life. Depend on him. Ask God first.

What a counter-cultural decision to make. William Ernest Henley’s Invictus speaks for our self-reliant souls:

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the Pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance,

I have not winced nor cried aloud;

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

Only if you want to ruin it.

But most of us don’t really know that. We think that God helps those who help themselves. The Christian faith exists to help us live our lives better. To be a resource for us as we seek happiness and fulfillment, a means to our end. But it’s up to us. And when life is done we’ll sing, “I did it my way.”

Think about the popular movies of recent years. “Gladiator” is the story of a Roman general who became a slave, defied an emperor, and changed the world. “A Beautiful Mind” portrays a brilliant mathematician afflicted with paranoid schizophrenia who learns to conquer his illness by sheer will power. “The Sum of All Fears” shows us Tom Clancy’s young Jack Ryan, saving the world from nuclear war single-handedly. No one needs God. Why are these characters so popular? Because they’re the captains of their souls.

Think about the popular dramas on television. “CSI” shows us brilliant forensic pathologists, solving crimes each week by their intellect and investigative skills. “Jag” pits military lawyers against forces of evil each week, and of course the lawyers win. “ER” portrays doctors fighting death and tragedy; even when they lose, they lose with dignity. Why are these characters so popular? Because they’re the captains of their souls.

Who is the captain of yours?

Have you given your summer to God? Have you asked him to make straight your paths, to use your life, to redeem your days? To fill your barns to overflowing with significant service and meaningful living? Or are you the GPS of your summer, the map of your life, the captain of your soul?

When last did you ask God first with decisions of your business? Your marriage? Your family life? When last did you surrender your will, your ambitions into his hands? Intentionally? Consciously?

How does God want you to love your neighbor this summer? What ministry strategy might he have in mind for your life? Is there a family member to whom he wants you to draw closer? A strained relationship he wants to heal? A neighbor he wants to reach? A hurting soul he wants to help?

It’s now the “firstfruits” of the summer, the first of the season. Now’s the time to give it to your Lord. Ask him to make straight your paths, use your days, redeem your time. Ask him to change someone’s life and eternity through you. Ask him to help you love your neighbor as yourself. And he will. Ask God first.

Ask God now

Ask God first. A simple proverb for life, to be sure. But let me ask: are you living this way? Does your summer belong to God? Your Sunday? Your soul? Can he do with you anything he wishes? Lead you anywhere he wants you to go? Are you leaning on him today?

You can trust his will to be your best. Would he create your life and then lead you into ruin? Would he send his Son to die for your sins and then misguide your soul? Would he promise to meet all your needs according to his riches in glory and then refuse?

It’s just that I get busy. I get in a hurry. I have problems to solve. Tasks to complete. Work to do. It’s not that I intentionally, maliciously choose self-sufficiency over Christ dependency. It just happens.

God is waiting to listen to you today. And then to speak to you, if you ask him first. He will direct your paths, if you ask him first. He will fill your barns if you ask him first. He will help you love your neighbor as yourself, changing the lives you touch with his love and care. He will make this your soul’s best summer, if you ask him first.


Ask him to forgive your sins, to save your soul, to give you new and eternal life. Then ask him to guide your life today to help your neighbor know his love through yours. And ask him first again, tomorrow.

We focused in recent months on changed lives—Christ living his life through us. Jesus wisdom. Jesus character. Jesus personality. Jesus power. Working through us. Not us for him, but him through us. It can’t happen unless you ask God first. But it will if you do.

There was a man who was born into the kind of privilege the rest of us spend our lives trying to achieve and seldom do. But he nearly lost it all. Took it for granted. Abused it. Neglected it.

As an adult he had a chance conversation with Billy Graham at a family gathering, and that conversation turned him to Christ as Lord and Savior. And he began to learn to ask God first.

He asked God first when experts said Ann Richards could not be defeated and he had no chance to be governor of Texas. He asked God first when the critics said he had no experience to be president of the United States. He learned to ask God first on September 11th, and three days later at the National Cathedral, he spoke some of the most significant words in American history. He discovered God always gives the best to those who leave the choice to him.

Would you like to make the same decision?

The Summer Of Your Soul

The Summer of Your Soul

Matthew 24:30-35

Dr. Jim Denison

Summer is my favorite season of the year. The stress of life lifts somewhat. Schedules are less demanding. More time off is taken. Families get together more. 29.3 million people traveled at least 50 miles for the Memorial Day weekend. But all is not idyllic. The number of cars and trucks traveling on America’s highways has tripled in the last thirty years. You saw most of them last week.

These are relaxed days, and that’s good. But not necessarily for our souls. Church attendance understandably slows during the summer. But soul attendance must not.

How can we make this the best summer your soul has ever known?

Live this summer as if it were your last

First, let me show you the most important single key to spiritual health. It’s a key the first Christians used every single day of their lives, but a truth we unfortunately neglect or even refuse to use today. Without this key, it’s very hard to start the ignition of your spiritual life each day. Here it is: you might meet God today. So you’d better be ready.

How many of you considered this morning the fact that Jesus could return today? Or the fact that you could die and stand before him before this day is done? The first Christians did. Jesus told them to.

It is a biblical and theological fact that Jesus Christ could return to this planet, today. Before this sermon is done, or this service is finished. Or my next sentence.

One day “the Son of Man will appear in the sky” (v. 30a). Jesus himself will come back. “All the nations of the earth” will “see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory” (v. 30b).

He will gather his followers “from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (v. 31).

When will his return come?

James 5:8: “Be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.”

Revelation 3:11 quotes the Lord Jesus: “I am coming soon.” Revelation 22:20 adds: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.'”

So we must be ready today. Jesus warned us: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36); “You must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Luke 12:40); “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2).

Yes, someone will say, but it hasn’t happened yet. Twenty centuries, and still no return. Why?

For this reason: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

But here’s the next verse in God’s word: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare” (v. 10).

And here’s the consequence: “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” (vs. 11-12).

The simple truth is that that we’re one day closer to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ than anyone has been in all of human history. Today. It is a fact that God could come to us today.

And it is a fact that we could go to him today.

We all know more fatalities occurred on American roads during the Memorial Day weekend than usual. Fourteen died in a barge accident in Oklahoma. And terrorist threats continue to dominate the news daily. The anniversary of September 11 comes in just three months.

On this first Sunday in June a year ago, how many of us expected the events of three months later? For the 3,200 victims who died that day, last summer was their last summer. It could be so for you and me.

Jesus could come to us, or we could go to him, this morning. You could meet God in ten minutes. You need to be ready for him now.

Keep your soul close to God

Now, why does this fact matter to your spiritual health this summer?

The fact that we could meet God today is not intended by our Lord to frighten us, but to encourage us. To motivate us to spiritual development, to soul health, to a closer fellowship with our Father in heaven.


This way of life keeps us obedient to God. The most frightening sound I’ve ever heard was Janet’s car driving into the driveway on a Sunday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. when I was expecting her to return from her out of town trip at 5:00 p.m. I had just resolved to start the three hours of cleaning it would take to be ready for her return. Most husbands know my terror. We don’t want that with God. We want to be found faithful to him, doing his will when he returns.

This way of life keeps us close to God. A man whose prayer life was unusually strong was asked his secret. He said, “When I see the Lord I want him to know me by the sound of my name.” We want to please him, to be in a loving relationship with him when we see him again.

This way of life keeps us from sin. I know of a businessman who carries a picture of his wife with him whenever he travels. He sets it up in his hotel room first thing, and it keeps him from sin. In the same way, when we resolve to do nothing we would not want to be caught doing at the return of Jesus Christ, we will live holy lives.

The enemy knows that it is so.

To update an old parable, Satan is holding a convention in hell. The subject: how to keep people from God. One demon proposes: tell them there is no heaven. Satan sends him forth, and some believe him. Some today believe that heaven is what you make of earth, you die and that’s it, heaven is a medieval legend.

Another demon suggests: tell them there is no hell. Satan sends him forth, and some believe him. A loving God would never send anyone to hell. Hell fire is an outdated Puritan threat.

Then a third proposes: tell them there is no hurry. And to the rest of the demons of hell Satan says, “Go and say it’s so.” And they have. Some are here today. If you’re thinking right now that this sermon is not for you, that your future is sure, tomorrow guaranteed, no rush to be right in your soul with God, guess why.

So adopt this mindset: I will live for God as though I were to meet him today. Because I might. The greatest Christians have lived with such daily urgency. Oswald Chambers’ life motto was simple: “My utmost for his highest.” Every day. William Borden said it well: “No reserve, no retreat, no regrets.” Annie Dillard is right: how we spend our days is how we spend our lives.

How will you spend your days this summer? What can you do to grow closer to God in these days? To develop your soul? To live ready for God? Several fundamental spiritual disciplines are easier to begin or reinforce during the summer than any other time of the year.

Let’s begin with some benchmarks. Every Christian should meet God every day for Bible study and prayer. Even fifteen minutes in the morning is a good start. Decide to read through a book of the Bible this summer, perhaps the gospel of John. Read for ten minutes. Write down practical lessons in a notebook. Jot down some specific prayer requests, and pray over them for a moment. Begin feeding your soul every day.

With a daily time for Bible study and prayer in place, expand next to a daily worship experience. Follow the ACTS model: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication. Begin your time with God in praise. Read a Psalm to him. Sing or read a Christian song or hymn. Then confess your sins specifically to God. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you anything wrong between you and your Father, and he will. Repent of them before God. Then thank him specifically for the good in your life today. And make supplication before him. Keep a prayer list so you can watch God answer your prayers. Such a daily time of worship is crucial to the growing soul.

Now incorporate spiritual reading into your week. I am always reading something by Henri Nouwen, for example, with great profit. Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, A. W. Tozer or R. A. Torrey would be very helpful to your soul.

As your next step, dedicate an hour a week to solitude and meditation. Meet God in nature, or in his word. Focus upon some part of his creation or revelation—a leaf or a single verse of scripture. Analyze it; bring all your senses to it; ask God to reveal truth to you through it. Spend an hour observing his revelation, listening to his Spirit. Mother Teresa said that early on she spent 90% of her prayer time talking to God; at the end of her life, she was spending 90% of her time listening to him. When did you last listen to God?

Consider a spiritual retreat this summer. Take several days to be alone with God. In addition, some will sense God’s call to the discipline of fasting—give up something physical for the sake of the spiritual. Fast from food for a meal or a day and spend the time instead in Bible study. Fast from television or movies or the stereo and spend the time with God in nature. Abstain from the physical for the sake of your soul.


When the summer of 2002 is at its end, will you be closer to God than you are right now? More in love with Jesus? More thrilled with your Savior? More ready to meet God? If he were to return this morning, would you be ready? If not, decide to do some soul work. You’ll keep Jesus’ first commandment, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength (Matthew 22:37). Your Savior is worthy of such love, such passion, such commitment. And so is your soul.

For years you’ve heard the story behind “It Is Well With My Soul.” Horatio Spafford wrote its words from his ship as it sailed directly over the place in the Atlantic where his four daughters had previously drowned. I know the hymn and its origin well. But a few days ago, as I heard it sung, a whole new meaning emerged for me.

You remember the first stanza: “When peace like a river, attendeth my way; when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.” I’d always thought of a peaceful river, a tranquil sea, on which I could say “It is well with my soul.”

But that’s not Spafford’s meaning at all. He means a roaring river, a billowing and stormy sea. Listen to the next stanza: “Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, let this blest assurance control ….” During the buffeting times, the trials of life, the hardest places, it is still possible to say, “It is well with my soul.”

The choice is yours.