Feb. 4, 2023
Pastor Rich Knight
“Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the ordinances—that the Lord your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, 2 so that you and your children and your children’s children may fear the Lord your God all the days of your life and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long. 3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you.
4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
To get us into our topic this morning I want us to first think about something called, “Emotional Intelligence.”
In the last few decades Emotional Intelligence has become quite popular in the workplace and in education. The idea was pioneered by a psychologist named Daniel Goleman. Goleman wrote that Emotional Intelligence involves these 5 abilities:
- Self-awareness– the ability to know one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, drives, values, and goals and recognize their impact on others while using gut feelings to guide decisions.
- Self-regulation– involves controlling or redirecting one’s disruptive emotions and impulses and adapting to changing circumstances.
- Social skill– managing relationships to get along with others.
- Empathy– considering other people’s feelings especially when making decisions.
- Motivation– being aware of what motivates others.
One common definition of Emotional Intelligence is, “the ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior” (Peter Salovey & John Mayer). Goleman and others believe that Emotional Intelligence is just as important if not more so than traditional intelligence in prediction effectiveness in the workplace.
The point I wish to make however it that Emotional Intelligence is learned over many years. You could have Elon Musk plant his computer chip in your brain and instantly have all the knowledge, facts, and theories known to humanity now stored in your brain, but you wouldn’t have any extra Emotional Intelligence, because that takes years of practice to develop the instincts and intuition required. It’s not just about the facts. The same is true for spiritual maturity. We don’t get it all at once. It takes years of practicing our faith, years of practicing discipleship to develop the spiritual instincts and habits that lead to spiritual maturity.
Some of you are probably familiar with The Message version of the Bible. It was written a number of years ago by a Presbyterian minister named Eugene Peterson. Prior to The Message Peterson wrote a classic book on spirituality called A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. The theme of the book is that the journey of discipleship is a long obedience in the same direction. Discipleship involves a commitment to faithfully walk with God throughout one’s entire life, regardless of the hardships and trials that may arise. Eugene Peterson points out that true spiritual growth and transformation take time, patience, and a persistent commitment to follow in the footsteps of Christ. We don’t get spiritual maturity overnight through a mountaintop experience or even a weekend retreat – though those things can be very helpful. We gain spiritual maturity by walking with God over many, many years.
Peterson writes: “There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.”
I think this is what Moses is calling for in our text this morning from Deuteronomy 6.
He lays out spiritual truths that will become the foundation of Judaism, but he implies that it’s not going to always be easy to live out these teachings. It’s going to take effort.
“These are the teachings and commandments that you’re to keep in the Promised Land – they’re for you, your children, and your children’s children. Remind yourself and each other of these teachings. Talk about them in your homes. Talk about them when you rise up in the morning, when you go to bed in the evening, and when you are out for a walk with your family. Put reminders on your clothing, on the doorposts of your house. There’s not a magic formula to gain maturity in these things. It’s going to take hundreds of little steps in the Same Direction!
Think about this: God gets our full attention for an hour each week. The world by and large has our attention the rest of the time. And the world is pretty influential.
Illustration. Years ago, I was preaching on Revelation 2 where John the Apostle expresses grave concern regarding the Nicolaitans. Unfortunately, I called them Nickelodeons. I hardly think a children’s TV network is a threat to anyone. Another time I slipped up was when I meant to quote the Scottish Bible Scholar William Barclay, but instead I called him Charles Barclay.
The world gets our attention and tends to keep it. That’s why not only is weekly worship important, but so is saying grace before meals, reading a daily devotion, being a part of a small group, a fellowship group, Bible study, or book club. Being a Christian takes practice and focused attention.
Alisa’s sister, Julie, mentioned to a friend of hers that he brother-in-law was in need of prayer. They were having a phone conversation. When the call ended, Julie’s friend put down his phone and immediately got down on his knees and prayed for Julie’s brother-in-law. I wonder if he did that in his early years of being a Christian. Maybe, maybe not. I think that instinctively going to God in prayer is part of his Long Obedience in the Same Direction.
Now, we’re not going to do this perfectly. God’s not looking for perfection. If so, God should look elsewhere. But God’s looking for a general consistency where our hearts are turned toward God and Prayer, toward Love and Grace, through Hope and Kindness and Compassion.
I’ll close with this: This message was inspired by reflecting on Deuteronomy 6, as well as by the words of Peter Marty. Peter Marty is an Episcopal Priest and the editor & publisher of the Christian Century Magazine.
“Faith is a deeply ingrained condition formed through steady habits, disciplined practices, and reliable instincts that take shape over long stretches of time. It’s a way of life that acquires its layers and contours incrementally, developing ever so gradually and often imperceptibly.
“The Christian life doesn’t emerge overnight anymore than a friendship does. The internal dispositions that form our character establish themselves often unselfconsciously and over the course of many uneventful days.
Peter Marty says his faith is something he can access and rely upon because of countless numbers of small yet significant spiritual deposits he’s made into his soul – “Countless hymn texts, song lyrics, and musical tunes I know by heart; the numerous Bible stories and passages I’ve absorbed and committed to memory over a lifetime; the human experiences of a faith community that remind me of all of this – I know nothing that comes close to this sustenance of the heart. It’s vast and deep. Encyclopedic. I have to retrieve it quite deliberately, but it’s all in there.”
Think about it.