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The Rev. Johann Vanderbijl: “Preparing for Personal Spiritual Progress” (1 Peter 5:5, Luke 15:1)

June 28, 2007

From the Rev. Johann Vanderbijl of the Anglican Church of St. George the Martyr in South Carolina, we have the sermon “Preparing for Personal Spiritual Progress,” which is based on 1 Peter 5:5 and Luke 15:1.  Fr. Johann in this sermon, among other things, looks at the virtue of humility; he has provided the entire text of the sermon, which follows:

Preparing for Personal Spiritual Progress

Some of you may remember when we started discussing the building of what is now our parish hall – didn’t simply grab a hammer and few nails and draw lines on the ground…had to lay lot of other foundations before we could lay the actual foundation…bathed in prayer, meetings with whole congregation, the appointment of members to certain committees and the subsequent meetings of these various committees (planning, building and grounds, fund raising, finances, etc.) all had to access then current state of affairs – then there were meetings with banks, with prospective architects, builders etc. – often back to drawing board when glitch uncovered – had to seek congregational approval for each step, even amidst dissent , but finally – after all of this – (which to me it seemed like an age) moved forward and we started building…but there we have a building that meets all the needs of this parish at present…of course, still some work that need to be completed, but at least don’t need to knock down walls because things not thought through…

Well, same applies with building God’s House- real meaningful change and real life changing growth takes a lot of time, prayer, thought, preparation and hard work…both on personal level and on corporate level…building up the church infinitely more complex than building buildings, so prayerful preparation is actually an integral part of spiritual progression, and the process may need to be started over again from time to time as one grows – things change, people change – and as they do, things have to revisited and rethought…that is, if one doesn’t want to get stuck in a rut and become stagnant snf slowly dwindle and melt into obscurity and total irrelevance…

But, of course, as always, the more pressing question for us is how – how does one prepare for and perpetuate spiritual progress…other than carefully, prayerfully and slowly, of course? Well, I believe that St. Peter answers some basic questions in this regard in our Epistle lesson for this Sunday – so let’s unpack this treasure chest, shall we?

1stly, St. Peter alerts us to the need for, as Christians, us to practice humility – now, if you’re anything like me, humility does not come naturally – it is something you have to work on and keep working on every time that arrogant self rears it ugly head…You see, practicing humility is more than feeling humble…humility comes from years and years of constant practice, which will include both victory and failure – humility must find expression in an attitude and in action toward God and our fellow human beings…here, in our Epistle lesson for today, St. Peter tells us to clothe ourselves with humility and one can only wonder if there is a subtle reference here to Jesus clothing Himself with a towel in order to do the menial task of washing the dirty feet of His disciples…either way, it is a good image – one that shows clearly that humility is not necessarily a “feeling” – it is, in many ways, a choice – it is the adoption of an attitude (which may or may not be contrary to what you are feeling at the time) that leads to a humble action…and by repeatedly doing that action, you become more and more humble…i.o.w. it is in doing humble things that you become a humble person…

But, most importantly, humility must be practiced in our response to God’s dealings with us – particularly when they involve suffering or discomfort of any sort – careful not to resign ourselves to whatever our lot may be in a resentful manner – or to harbor hatred or bitterness or anger toward Him – rather we are to practice humility by willingly submitting to a hand we know by faith and by experience to be a loving hand – it is very much like patient needing physician to set a fracture – not pleasant procedure, but a necessary one if the fracture is to heal.

So, now we know what we ought to do, but how do we actually do it – how do we actually practically practice humility? – well, two things need to be done here:

a) we need to regularly engage in an honest self-assessment – you need to take time to sit yourself down before the Lord to Whom all hearts are open, all desires known and from Whom no secrets are hid, and you need to ask Him to help you see yourself exactly as you are – especially in light of Who He is – now, be prepared for a bit of a shock here! But do not flinch or turn away from His penetrating gaze – allow Him to gently show you yourself – not as you like to think you are, but as you really are…the idea is not to bring you to despair, but rather to urge you on to change…and to keep changing until He has made you like Himself…so, obviously this exercise has to be repeated ever so often – not for sake of morbid introspection – but rather to encourage you in your progress and to alert you to areas still needing attention…so take time out for this – it will be worthwhile, believe me…because if you keep filling every moment of every day with the hundred and ten things that must be done, you run the risk of never progressing in your spiritual life at all…so, take the time to prayerfully engage in honest self-evaluation…

b) then, secondly take the time to regularly engage in personal spiritual disciplines – by this I mean the habit of prayerfully reading the Scriptures, meditating on the truths you find there, seeking your Lord’s direction in your life, perhaps fasting and praying from time to time…but, nevertheless, taking time out to be alone with your Father and to listen for His soft small voice…to hear Him leading and guiding you in the way He wants you to go and grow…if you are to be transformed by the renewal of your mind and if your are to be conformed to the image of Jesus, then this is the way to go…in fact, this is the only way to go, because it is as you spend time with Him that you become like Him – and, of course, the reverse is just as true – if you don’t spend time with Him, well then don’t’ be surprised when you are not like Him…

So, as our sermon hymn said so well, you should be like the deer panting after water – your soul should long after your Lord – He should be your heart’s desire and you should long for moments to worship Him …only then will you know Him as more than a vague abstract idea…only then will you be able to call Him your Friend…only then will you be prepared for perpetual personal spiritual progress…only then will you be humble as He is humble.

2nd thing St. Peter points out to us is our need to actively trust God – we trust God, St. Peter says, because He cares for us – as long as we are on this side of eternity there are going to struggles and trials – sorry to burst any naïve bubble here, but that’s the fact of life on this sin-sick planet – but our loving, caring, kind, compassion, Heavenly Father has purposed to use all things – the good as well as the bad – He has purposed to use even our struggles and trials for our benefit (mentioned the story of Joseph – sold into slavery – suffered injustice after injustice before elevation to right hand of most powerful monarch at the time – brothers thought he might seek revenge, but he replied: “You meant evil against me, but God meat it for good.”) God has promised to use all things together for the good of those who love Him – so, when this or that peril threatens to overwhelm you, you are to turn to Him and deliberately lay whatever anxiety you may have at the time down before Him – or as St. Peter says you are to throw or cast our cares on Him – i.o.w. to rely on Him completely and utterly for the wisdom and the strength needed to face whatever stands before you, with the strong confidence that God cares and will sustain you and will keep you and will carry you through…You must understand, dearest brethren that a theoretical confidence is really no confidence at all…or as St. James indicates, an untested/untried faith is not a real faith…really, if you think about it, it is one thing to say you believe in God, but it is quite another thing to live out the reality of that faith in the face of the ups and downs of life…what’s your faith in God worth if it fails you when you need it most…so you have to learn to trust God at all times and in all circumstances…

However, more often than not, God uses His people as the instruments or the vehicles through whom His care for us is expressed – for this reason, He has knit us together with other believers as a Body – there are many reasons for this, but the overarching reason is that we were not designed to stand alone – right from the start God said that is wasn’t good for man to be alone and so He created woman – but what is true for married life is just a true for life in the Church – so the Scriptures tell us, that two are better than one because if one falls the other can help him up – this is why Jesus sent His disciple out two by two and not one by one – God’s children are meant to care for each other even as He cares for us all – and besides this, the Epistles constantly remind us that we are here to encourage each other and to help each other and to care for each other and to keep each other accountable as we progress in our spiritual life…but in order to do this, there has to be some form of trust between us – a trust that is founded upon our mutual need of God in all aspects of our lives.

And towards this end, St. Peter encourages us 3dly to become spiritually pro-active in dealing with life’s problems – just as struggles and trials are part of this present life, so conflict with yourself and with others is an inevitable part of reality – but we must always remember that our struggle is not principally against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places…all too often we spend time attacking each other rather than banding together and attacking the problem or indeed the source of the problem – indeed the source of all dissent and contention – namely the evil one himself – both St. Paul and St. Peter warn us about the devil – he is a reality, not a fairy tale and we must always be aware of his tactics and always be ready to counter his onslaught regardless of which medium he may choose to use. Our Heavenly Father intends for us to be disciplined in sober vigilance so that He might develop in us a steadfast endurance with a view to perfecting our character as followers of Christ…we need therefore to ask for His help in discerning our adversary’s attacks without finding a devil under every bush and around every corner – but, you know, all too often, tension within the church comes from without – it comes from him, and the sooner we quit fighting with each other and rather unite in prayer and in resisting him by our faith in the Word of God the better for us all – that way we can all progress in our spiritual lives together.

And then finally, St. Peter tells us that we may progress spiritually as we cultivate in our midst an awareness of God’s Mission for His Church universal. Just as we are not to think of ourselves as individual islands, struggling along life’s weary path by ourselves, but rather to see ourselves as needed members of a Body of caring fellow pilgrims, so we must never, ever loose sight of the fact that are part of a much, much larger picture. You see, the God of all grace has called us all to share in His eternal glory and part of this process involves suffering – suffering which we know will work together to perfect us, establish us in our faith, strengthen us in a resolve to build our Lord’s kingdom regardless of resilient resistance, and settle us in our progressive walk toward spiritual maturity – we know this, but nevertheless, suffering can wear us down very, very quickly if we are not careful – so, being aware of what God is doing in His world at large (rather than just focusing on our own small tiny world) will serve as an encouragement to us as we gain a new sense of what God can and is doing in and through His Church throughout His world – when we see how fellow believers face the awful trials of persecution and torture and deprivation without complaint – when we see how they witness to the grace and goodness of God, and how their churches are growing by leaps and bounds in spite of their poverty and their pitiful predicament – when we intentionally step away from our own small little world and look beyond ourselves, focusing on what God wants for all the world rather than on what we want just for ourselves here in Greenville, SC – when we begin to look for the bigger plan of God and as He opens our eyes to see this bigger plan – then we will begin to grow beyond ourselves and beyond our own limitations…then we will begin to progress in our spiritual lives as God and His whole kingdom becomes the focal point of everything in our lives.

Now, dearest brethren, each and every one of us is faced with a single question this morning, namely, “What are you going to do about your spiritual life?” Right now each one of you has a choice – to continue down the road you have been traveling for all your lives – to keep doing what you’ve always been doing – or to dare to take the plunge down a perhaps heretofore unknown road towards spiritual growth and progress. So, what will it be? If you choose to embark on the wondrous adventure of really getting to know our Father better and better every day, it is going to be jolly hard work, but it will be rewarding if you persevere…to truly be able to say that God alone is your heart’s desire…that you want Him more than gold or silver – more than the mighty doller, pound, euro, stock market – fame fortune – or the realization that only He can truly satisfy, brings a joy that you have not yet begun to imagine.

So, I dare you, this morning – I dare you…remember as kids we used to dare each other to do the unthinkable? Well, now, I dare you all today, to come before His Table to ask Him – to beg Him – to plead with Him to help you on the path to personal spiritual progress – ask Him to lead you and guide you into an increasingly deeper relationship with Himself until the words you sang in the sermon hymn today truly describes your everyday life.

© Johann W. Vanderbijl III 2007

There is some really good counsel in this sermon, if we will but open our hearts and minds to the message.  And that question “What are you going to do about your spiritual life today?” is one of the reasons we really should examine ourselves from time to time: are we growing in godliness, holiness, closeness to God and His church?  If not, what indeed will we do about our spiritual lives today?  Thanks to Fr. Johann for such a sermon.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 28, 2007 5:19 pm

    Yes, thanks indeed. I’ve heard many sermons on “humility” over the years…because of it’s practicality…this is one of the best.

    “…humility is not necessarily a ‘feeling’…it is, in many ways, a choice…it is the adoption of an attitude (which may or may not be contrary to what you are feeling at the time) that leads to a humble action…and by repeatedly doing that action, you become more and more humble.”

    The Rev. Vanderbijl continues to preach very high quality sermons.

    BTW, the greater Greenville, S.C. area now has three APA parishes/missions. St. George the Martyr in Simpsonville, All Saints In Greenville and Holy Cross in Anderson. I think there are some more APA churches just over the border in North Carolina. Impressive.

  2. June 29, 2007 12:28 am

    Wow, thanks for that information about the APA’s spread in South Carolina. I had not realized there were that many churches of the APA near Greenville. The APA’s website shows them quite clearly, too:

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