This week we look at vital signs of spiritual health. It will take courage to be honest about the state of your spiritual health, but if you do you will know exactly where you need to make adjustments to get to a healthy place in your spiritual life and health.
Our prayer for you is that you will have more clarity about your spiritual heath than ever before, and you’ll be able to use these vital signs to look at your spiritual health in the future.
Hi, I’m Matt VanCleave, one of the pastors at Blue Oaks.
I read an article recently about how often people avoid going to the doctor. They avoid getting a regular physical to find out how healthy they are.
The strangest thing about this is the number one reason people avoid going to the doctor is they’re afraid the doctor may give them bad news.
Seriously! Is it better that you don’t know there’s bad news? I mean, do people think the artery fairy will come unclog their arteries at night or something?
It’s extremely important for you and me that we know the condition of our health.
And the most basic way to assess our physical health is to check our vital signs. There are four of them: pulse, temperature, blood pressure, and breathing.
Now, here’s the deal — as important as it is to monitor our physical health, it’s infinitely more important to monitor our spiritual health. So many people neglect this.
Your physical body and mine are headed toward the same fate, so the question of upmost importance is — what is your spiritual health? What is the health of your soul? What would God say about the trajectory of your life and your character?
So today we’re going to look at the vital signs — not of your body, your physical health, but of your soul, your spiritual health.
There’s a passage in the Bible where the writer of Scripture lists four spiritual vital signs. And we’re going to walk through them today.
The reason this matters so much is — just as there are people all around us who have heart disease or cancer and the symptoms are there but they ignore them — so there are people whose spiritual lives are in real serious trouble.
* They’re ignoring God.
* They refuse to look at their character.
* They’re moral compass is off and getting worse.
* They’re headed down a road that could lead to major regret.
* The symptoms are there, but they don’t want to know.
If you’re courageous enough today, I want to challenge you not just to know what the vital signs are but to actually use them to monitor your own spiritual life and health.
By the time I’m done with this message, my prayer for you is that you will have more clarity about your spiritual heath than ever before, and you’ll be able to use these vital signs to look at your spiritual health in the future.
So if you have something to write with, either notes on your phone or a piece of paper and pen, I want to help you assess each of these vital signs. And I want to ask you, as we walk through them, to rate yourself in a way that most accurately conveys your own spiritual condition.
Now, let me give you a warning about this — do you think people ever lie to their doctor? It turns out it’s common knowledge among doctors that patients regularly lie to them.
* They drink more than they say they do.
* They exercise less than they say they do.
* They even lie about their weight when there’s a scale right there in the office.
A doctor I know told me he asked a patient one time, “How much do you smoke?” and the patient said, “I quit.” The doctor said, “Well, I guess that pack of cigarettes sticking out of your purse is for a friend.” The patient actually said, “Yes, they are.”
I want you to know as you’re assessing yourself today, this is just between you and God. No one else gets to see it.
So try not to lie. Because here’s the thing — God already knows. It’s not like God is going to say, “What? That’s where you are spiritually? I had no idea.”
Alright, the four vital signs are in the book of Acts, written ironically by a doctor named Luke. This is written after Jesus died and was resurrected and ascended into heaven; and after God sent the Holy Spirit to move in our lives in a new way, which was on a day called Pentecost in the New Testament. That’s when the church actually was born.
It turns out that in the book of Acts, in the second chapter, Luke talks about four defining characteristics that demonstrated spiritual health in followers of Jesus, something like blood pressure and heart rate reflect physical health.
This passage has became a classic expression of the four spiritual vital signs of the early church. This is what Luke wrote:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
I want to note one distinction in this verse that will help us all as we assess our spiritual health.
We’re told the early followers of Jesus “devoted” themselves to these practices.
There’s a big difference between dabbling and being devoted to something.
Let me put it like this — if you’ve ever taken piano lessons, you know that in order to experience the art of playing the piano, it takes devotion. You can’t skip a day. You can’t omit a scale. You devote yourself to piano lessons. That’s how you learn to play the piano.
Now, I’m sure there are more people in the world who dabble with playing the piano.
To dabble with something means I do it when it’s convenient or when I’m in the mood or when I need something.
These early followers were convinced that now, through Jesus Christ, through his teaching, through his way of life, through his presence with them, they could live in the power of God, and that was the offer of a lifetime. That was what they wanted more than anything.
So they made this way of life, this way of Jesus, their ultimate priority. They sacrificed for it. They devoted themselves to it, and they did it with joy.
So as you’re assessing yourself today, I want to ask you to consider whether you’re dabbling in these areas or you’re devoted in these areas.
Alright, here’s the first vital sign.
1. The apostles’ teaching
And the question I’d like you to consider as you evaluate yourself in this area is: “Am I meeting God regularly in the Bible?”
When we’re told the early followers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, that teaching has come down to us through the Bible, particularly through the New Testament. All of the books of the New Testament can be traced back to the teachings of an apostle.
What the apostles taught about more than anything else was Jesus. They were obsessed with the wisdom of his teachings and the way he lived. They were obsessed with the reality of his death on the cross for our sins, and his resurrection.
They were devoted to Jesus’ life and teachings, not because they thought God would give them a merit badge for paying attention to it, not because it was an obligation, not because they would get in trouble or feel guilty if they didn’t do it, but because they met in the Bible a man who offered confidence for life and hope beyond the grave like nothing else in the world.
I have to tell you, when someone is spiritually healthy they’re drawn to the wisdom in the Bible. They’re drawn to the comfort of it. They’re drawn to the truths of it to get so embedded in their minds that they live in the reality of it.
* When they’re in trouble they think, “The Lord is my shepherd. He will take care of me.”
* When they’re faced with a challenging day, they think, “This is the day the Lord has made; let me rejoice and be glad in this day.”
* When they’re insulted they think, “Turn the other cheek.”
* When they’re cut off on the freeway they think, “Get behind me Satan.”
There’s often a thought that comes from the Bible running through their mind.
Something is going to be running through your mind. We are designed that way. If it’s not the thoughts of the Bible, what would you rather it be?
We can get so casual about what matters so much. What are we filling our minds with?
Now this spiritual vital sign is not, “Do you believe the Bible is the Word of God?” A lot of people say they believe it but don’t actually read it.
The Barna Research Group says the vast majority of Americans believe the Bible is the Word of God, but 60 percent of those people cannot name one of the Ten Commandments.
One out of three people who profess to follow Jesus cannot name the Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Seventy-five percent of people believe the saying, “God helps those who help themselves” is in the Bible. It’s not in the Bible. It was Ben Franklin who said that, not a writer of Scripture.
Twelve percent believe Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. I’m not making that up. “Mrs. Ark.” Twelve percent of the people.
When someone is living a spiritually healthy life, when they have a vision for life with Jesus, they find themselves wanting to meet him in the Bible.
They’re curious about the things he said. They’re curious about the things he did. They will memorize passages in this Bible, not to show off to other people, but to experience a renovation of their mind.
It’s kind of like how you want to have great furniture for your house. Why in the world would you not want to have great furniture for your mind? Your house is temporary; your mind is eternal.
Alright, now let’s assess ourselves on this one.
When you’re dabbling with reading the Bible, you have a way of neglecting the Bible or even avoiding the Bible or you’re afraid you might feel guilty if you read it, and you don’t want that, or it just seems boring to you or you just have something better to do. You can get careless about what you’re feeding your mind.
I want to challenge you on this one. I especially want to challenge you if you’re a young person.
I was talking to a president of a Christian college recently.
He’s so encouraged by this generation of students. He said their commitment to compassion, the way they love justice, the way they want to be active in caring for the planet, the way they want to make a difference, the way they hate hypocrisy, all of these tremendously admirable things. But he said, “I have this huge concern: they don’t know the Bible.”
We’re raising a generation of young people who want to love Jesus, who name the name of Jesus, but they don’t actually know the Book in which we meet him. Their minds are being shaped by other sources.
So assess yourself on this one — where are you on this vital sign?
Are you devoted? Do you actually have a plan for regularly reading the Bible, and are you carrying that plan out?
Do you reflect on Scripture regularly? Do you memorize passages of the Bible? When was the last time you decided to do something because God commanded you to do it in the Bible?
Where are you on this one? Are you just dabbling with reading the Bible? Or are you devoted to it?
* Maybe for you it’s time for a new and fresh way to read the Bible.
* Maybe it’s time for you to read through the Bible.
* Maybe you need to immerse yourself in the life and teachings of Jesus so you just need to be in the Gospels this year.
* Maybe you need to read Proverbs or James, these books of wisdom where you can find practical truths that relate to your everyday life.
Alright, that’s the first vital sign. Am I meeting God regularly in the Bible?
The second vital sign is 2. Fellowship
And the question I’d like you to consider as you asses yourself is: “Is God transforming my relationships?”
I was talking recently to a man I know pretty well. He was telling me, “There’s this person in my life. I know him fairly well, and there’s some stuff about him that really bothers me. It’s been festering. It stews in my mind, so I need to have a direct, painful conversation with him.”
Do you know what my first thought was? My first thought was, “I hope that guy is not me. I hope I don’t have to have a painful conversation.”
You see, I can go into avoidance mode, and live with superficial relationships so easily.
Now, understand, when the Holy Spirit came he ushered the human race into a whole different way of doing relationships.
One of Jesus’ most famous teachings about relationships is so brilliant it became known as the Golden Rule. Jesus said, “Do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
In the church in the book of Acts, when the Holy Spirit came, it’s like people invented what could be called a “Golden Rule community,” — rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, male and female, every race, every language, and they took this real seriously.
When a person is spiritually healthy, it will be a top priority to have some relationships where they can get real, where they can be authentic, where they will talk about their temptations, where they will confess, “Here’s how I messed up. Here’s where I’ve sinned. Here’s where I am with money or with my sexuality or with my anger. I need help.”
This is where people will say, “Here are my values about finances, about prayer, about family, about intimacy, about my marriage. Will you hold me accountable to them? Will you ask me how I’m doing?”
So assess yourself on this one. Are you just dabbling, meaning you attend a church service when it’s convenient, but you avoid getting too close to real people. You really don’t want to be in a small group where you might actually have to open up and talk about your life. You don’t want to be held accountable.
I was talking to a friend recently who invited a guy at his work to come to church. He said the guy’s response to him was, “I’m a CEO Christian, Christmas and Easter Only.” My friend talked to another guy who was Jewish, and this guy said to him, “I’m an H2O synagogue guy, High Holy Days Only.”
Apparently dabbling is a multi-faith phenomenon.
When people are spiritually healthy, on the relationship vital sign they keep short accounts.
The apostle Paul said:
In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
Notice Paul doesn’t say you shouldn’t get angry. In fact, one of the worst ways to handle anger is to pretend like you never get angry.
There was an amazing Christian couple, Charlie and Martha Shedd. They were involved in a lot of ministry in their lives. Charlie said one time they had a big argument and Martha left him a note on the kitchen table that read, “Dear Charlie, I hate you. Love, Martha.”
When the Holy Spirit is really at work in someone’s life, they devote themselves to keeping short accounts, to doing relationships differently.
Lingering resentments, sarcastic shots across the bow, silent withdrawal, deep contempt and judgment are not things healthy people are willing to live with.
Not that they’re relationally perfect, not at all, but they’re devoted to setting things right and they regularly ask the Holy Spirit, “Would you guide me in my relational life?”
They say things like, “I’m sorry.” They say things like, “I forgive you.”
So, just real honestly now, where are you on this one? When it comes to the vital sign of your relationships, are you devoted to fellowship, devoted to community, devoted to accountability, devoted to forgiveness or, honestly, are you just kind of dabbling on this one?
Alright, lets look at the third vital sign, which is Prayer.
And the question I’d like you to consider as you assess yourself on this one is: “Am I continually communicating with God?”
Here’s what the apostle Paul says marks the prayer life of a spiritually healthy person.
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
On a human level, the healthier a relationship, the more attuned you are to the fact that there’s a little distance, there’s a little break in connection.
My wife and I had a disagreement recently that had to do with whether or not I was going to be home from a motorcycle ride when I said I was going to be home. I was geared up with ear plugs in and in a hurry to meet a friend when she decided she wanted to have a conversation about when I was “actually” going to be home. I told her I was going to be home at three o’clock so I said, “Bye, see you at three” and walked out the door. She followed me outside and said, “Don’t just walk out when we’re having a conversation.”
Now, I could tell… because I’m very skilled in this, I mean I’m a pastor for God’s sake. I could tell there was a little brokenness in our communication.
In the church in the book of Acts, the people were devoted to prayer, which means they were devoted to having this continual interactive engagement with God.
They knew that’s how they received grace. That’s how they lived by grace.
So people prayed when they were together.
* They prayed when they were on their own.
* They prayed to start the day.
* They prayed to end the day.
* They prayed when they were in trouble and needed help.
* They prayed when they were blessed and wanted to express their gratitude.
Why did they devote themselves to prayer? Not because it was an obligation. Not because they thought they were getting a gold star on a report card. Not to show they were spiritual people.
They were convinced that they were not in control of their world. They were convinced, unlike people in our day in the Bay Area, that self-sufficiency and self-reliance are not a good life strategy.
They were convinced that God exists, God listens, God cares and God responds.
You see, people who are alive spiritually have a conviction that the greatest intimacy with God comes uniquely through prayer.
Ask people who’ve experienced a tragedy, people who’ve been betrayed by a spouse, people who’ve been diagnosed with cancer, people who had a dream crumble, who lost a job. They’ll tell you something happens in prayer that does not happen anywhere else.
People will say things like, “I received a sense of peace that I couldn’t understand,” or “I can’t explain it to you, but I knew I was not alone.”
In prayer people receive wisdom, strength, encouragement, guidance, conviction or forgiveness and know that they are loved with a love that no human being can provide.
In many ways, it will feel like just an ordinary conversation.
If you’re looking for a way to pray, because a lot of times people are, it might go like this. I ran across this framework not long ago, and I love the simplicity of it. You might try this.
“Good morning, God. It’s me.” [He knows it’s me, but it’s just good to say.]
“This is my situation. This is how I’m feeling. This is how I need your help. What should I do?”
Then just be silent and listen for thoughts that can come from God.
“I’m concerned about these people,” and then name those people. I have some names written on my phone to help me pray for them on a regular basis.
“I’m concerned about them because of [whatever the reason is]. What should I do?” Then again just be silent to listen.
“God, would you guide me in…” Every day you’ll have meetings or problems or situations. Ask for guidance and then be silent.
“Thanks, God, for listening. I’m counting on you.”
This is just a real simple way to pray.
If that doesn’t work for you, find a way that does.
I need to tell you this. For the person who is not in great spiritual health, they dabble at prayer. They don’t routinely surrender their day to God. They don’t regularly express gratitude for God’s goodness. And they miss a lot of chances to connect what God is doing with what they are doing.
Their first instinct is, “I have to handle this problem on my own.” They often don’t pray unless there’s a crisis they can’t solve or a need they can’t meet, and then if they don’t get what they want right away they often don’t persist the way Jesus taught.
Jesus said persist in prayer like someone who’s knocking on the door of a neighbor. We’ll do that humanly, even if the neighbor might not have a great heart. So we have to do that with God.
Jesus would say it’s like a widow, where she’s just going to wear down a judge. She persists, even though he doesn’t have a great heart. God has a great heart. Persist in prayer. Dabblers don’t do that. They just forget.
Okay, so honestly now, where are you in this area? No hiding the cigarette pack in the purse. Where are you? Are you dabbling or are you devoted?
Alright, the fourth vital sign for spiritual health is The breaking of bread.
And the question I’d like you to consider as you assess yourself in this area is: “Am I sharing my life with others?”
In the church in the book of Acts, this was a radically different way of doing life from other people around them. Breaking of bread refers to the sharing of meals, the sharing of hospitality.
In the ancient world, people would simply take care of themselves and their families, but in the book of Acts something radical happened.
The Holy Spirit filled people’s lives and began to prompt them to treat strangers like their family, to treat people who were different from them — people of other ethnic groups, people who were of no strategic use to them — like their family.
* People who had homes would open them up and share their food with people who didn’t have food.
* People who had property would sometimes sell some of it and give their money to the apostles to give to people who didn’t have any.
People who are spiritually alive will devote themselves to this kind of thing. They will want to know, “What are the spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit has given to me, and how do I use those gifts not primarily for my own fulfillment or career but to serve God and help benefit his church, the bride of Jesus?”
The chance to teach children, the chance to be a volunteer, to come alongside young people in high school, the chance to help a stranger feel welcome.
They will actually say (and I’ve heard people say this), “It’s a privilege for me to serve.”
You’ll find them with no spotlight visiting someone who’s alone in a hospital or adopting a classroom of young students at an under-resourced school or going on a mission trip to learn about what God is doing in the world.
Instead of dabbling at giving when they feel like it, they will have a systematic plan for tithing and generosity. They will experience the joy and faith that comes when you know God is involved in your financial life.
People who are spiritually alive will walk through their days looking for Spirit-prompted opportunities to serve with energy and joy.
You see, if all you do is consume knowledge about God, but you’re not serving under-resourced people, and forgotten people, and people who are struggling to get by in life because no one cares about them, no one loves them, maybe everybody has written them off… if we’re not being the hands and feet of Jesus out in the world, if we’re not making a difference, no one is going to care that we’re dabbling here.
You see, people who are spiritually healthy are sharing their lives with others. People who are not spiritually healthy are not thinking about other people.
Would you just honestly take a look at your life and assess — are you dabbling in serving others, or are you devoted to it?
Now, this is just between you and God, where would you like to be in these four areas?
We don’t have the power to do this on our own, but this isn’t a self-improvement deal. It doesn’t have to be. Because Jesus will help you. He’s the one who started that church in the book of Acts with his life and death and resurrection, and he will help you.
Devotion doesn’t mean perfection. It just means sincere surrender one moment at a time.
I was wondering, when I was looking at that verse in Acts 2, if a writer was describing our church, which verb would get used? They devoted themselves or they dabbled?
I want to tell you this, because you’re not likely to hear it outside the doctor’s office. We live in a culture that will tell you to devote yourself to your own happiness, your own success, your own life, your own ego.
We live in a world that will try to persuade you to dabble with God.
I think the great danger for you is not that you’ll deny him, not that you’ll reject him, not that you’ll abandon him. The danger is you’ll just dabble.
And as your pastor, I have to tell you this: Jesus never called anyone to dabble in following him. There’s a stirring statement in the twelve steps program: Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked his protection and care with complete abandon. That was the only way to receive the power for a transformed life, to become sober, and that came from the teaching and the way of Jesus. || And here we are, not because he’s severe or strict but because it’s the nature of life in the kingdom. Half measures avail us nothing. We stand at the turning point. We ask his protection and care with complete abandon. That can be you. I hope it is. Alright, let me pray for you and then Michaela and the team will lead us in a closing song. Blue Oaks Church
There’s a stirring statement in the twelve steps program:
Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked his protection and care with complete abandon.
That was the only way to receive the power for a transformed life, to become sober, and that came from the teaching and the way of Jesus.
And here we are, not because he’s severe or strict but because it’s the nature of life in the kingdom. Half measures avail us nothing. We stand at the turning point. We ask his protection and care with complete abandon.
That can be you. I hope it is.
Alright, let me pray for you and then Michaela and the team will lead us in a closing song.
Blue Oaks Church