A Disciple’s Spiritual Fitness Course, Pt. 6
Study Guide, April 16, 2023
Pastor Clay Olsen
So how’s your Discipleship fitness program going? Have you been pumping some spiritual iron…lifting some spiritual dumbbells? By the way, I’ve always wondered how the word ‘dumbbells’ ever got connected to hand weights or free weights. I learned that in 17th century England, athletes trained by lifting heavy hand bells which had the metal-ringers removed. And since the ringers were gone, the bells then became noiseless, or dumb…meaning ‘without sound’. Thus, they started calling them ‘dumbbells’…and the rest is history.
Anyway, our spiritual fitness program is somewhat like a weight-training program, but it is even more so a ‘will-training program’. A ‘will-training’ program? What do we mean by that? Well, it is very interesting to discover that ‘the will’ can be trained. Our will can be trained. You that have worked with horses know all about training the will, right? Your goal is to break the horse’s will, but not the horse’s spirit. You want your horse to be bright eyed, spirited, and free to express its special personality, but with a surrendered will. You want it trained to choose your will over its own.
So guess what? Now it’s our turn to be the horse. God wants us to be bright eyed, spirited, and free to express all of that special personality that God has given to us, but with a surrendered will. God wants us to choose His will over our own. And we can, but it does require training. Our will can be trained, but it requires discipline. You can’t just choose God’s will every so often, and then think that you will have a ‘surrendered will’ to God. No, no, It has to become a daily – “Lord, not my will, but Thy will be done” kind of discipline. It has to become part of your daily disciplines in order to reap the strength and power and peace and fruit of the Holy Spirit! Do you remember the verse from Heb 12:11? “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” NASU
It sounds like physical disciplines and spiritual disciplines have a lot in common, right? Exercise is often kind of tough to fit in to the schedule and sometimes hard to get motivated to do, but afterwards there’s that payoff or reward of getting toned up or getting strengthened. It’s a similar experience with spiritual exercise. Well, let’s get right to our Spiritual Fitness theme passage. 1 Tim 4:8-9- “Spend your time and energy in training yourself for spiritual fitness. Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is much more important, for it promises a reward in both this life and the next. This is true, and everyone should accept it.” NLT
So, again, the reward for spiritual exercise is both temporal and eternal. Let’s review those five exercises or disciplines and then we’ll get into the fourth one today.
Five Disciplines of Spiritual Fitness:
The Discipline of Bible study training.
The Discipline of Intercessory prayer.
The Discipline of Body life and service.
The Discipline of Sowing the seed of the Gospel.
The Discipline of Giving: Tithes and Offerings.
So today we move into ‘The Discipline of Sowing the seed of the Gospel.” But before we talk about being Sowers of the gospel, let’s get back to what we said about training the will. How about this? The most devoted man in the Scriptures and the wisest man that ever lived both prayed that God would make them willing to obey God’s will. How fascinating is that…because it was like they both prayed that God would sort of ‘over-ride their will’ and train them to be willing and obedient. Listen to their prayers:
Ps 51:12- “Give me again the joy that comes from Your salvation, and make me willing to obey You.” TEV
1 Kings 8:57-58- May the LORD our God be with us as He was with our ancestors; may He never leave us or abandon us; may He make us obedient to Him, so that we will always live as He wants us to live, keeping all the laws and commands He gave our ancestors.” TEV
We would think; “Do you mean even the most devoted and the wisest men that ever lived wrestled with be willing to obey God’s ways to live?” Oh yeah, they did! And we bring this up, especially in relation to this fourth discipline, because of all of the five disciplines, which one do you wrestle with the most in being willing to practice? Right! In fact, both the history of the Church and our own experience has shown that ‘Witnessing’ is the toughest discipline to consistently practice for most Christians. But again, God never commands us to do what He doesn’t also enable us to do. So in relation to this fourth discipline, go ahead and ask God to make you become more and more willing to obey Him in sowing the seeds of the gospel. When you think about it, maybe David and Solomon had this particular discipline of sharing their faith in mind when they were praying this way.
But the thing is, since this discipline is clearly one of the disciplines that we have to practice in order to be spiritually fit, as well as obedient, we have to find ways to do this. So what we want to do is to give you some helps…or to give you some exercises to practice in sowing the gospel. And one of them is right in the title itself: ‘Sowing the seed of the gospel.’ As we have pointed out before, identity is everything. How you see yourself is key to how you live your life. But the key to seeing yourself for who you really are is to see yourself as who God sees who you really are. And one of the ways that God sees you is as a ‘Sower’ of the His seed of the gospel. And I praise God for helping me to understand that’s how He sees me. And I have these three reasons for that: One – because it focuses my attention on the seed; Two – because it places the responsibility on the soil; and Three – because it excites me about watching God the Holy Spirit work with both the seed and the soil.
Let’s think about it. Isn’t one of the reasons we get so discouraged about witnessing is because we put so much pressure on ourselves about what we think that we’re supposed to say and how we should defend what we are supposed to defend and how we feel about being fearful of what others will think of us, and on and on? Of course it is! But do you see what the problem is here? Where’s the focus? The focus is on us. But when the Sower went out to sow, where was his focus? The Sower’s focus was not on himself, but on just sowing the seed. His focus was on carrying out his mission of sowing the seed. And actually, and this part has always been kind of refreshing and inspiring here…and it’s this: This Sower didn’t seem all that deterred about the kind of soils his seed was falling on! Rather, his focus was on sowing the seed and thinking about all the possibilities of what could become of it all. And since his focus was on that, it was an encouraging exercise for him.
His anticipation was like that of Eccl 11:6, which tells us; “Sow your seed in the morning and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether morning or evening sowing will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good.” NASU It’s like this Sower was thinking, ‘Let’s just get this seed sown on all of these different kinds of soils and then see what happens!’ He was enthused about the possibilities of just getting the seed connected with the soil. Making contact between the seed and soil was his mission! Do you see where we are going with this?
Never underestimate the power of what the Holy Spirit can do once the seed is in contact with the soil. Remember, Jesus said that God could raise up sons of Abraham from stones! You might be thinking, “Yeah, and I know a lot of ‘stony people’, for sure.” Well, don’t be deterred by stony people. Remember, God created the Universe ‘Ex Nihilo’, or ‘out of nothing’, so He can sure take the seed of the gospel and make it grow a son or daughter of Abraham out of one of your stony friends, or family members, or co-workers. Heaven is going to be filled with a lot of pleasant surprises over those who are there.
Now, we need to notice again something about how the Sower sowed the seed all over the place. Did you ever notice how freely he sowed the seeds on those different types of soils? Look at the passage: Matt 13:3-9- “And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, “Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” NASU
Now, just looking at this we might say, “Wait a minute…beside the road, on rocky places, among thorns…? You know, this Sower was kind of sloppy!” Why would he sow seeds beside the road and on rocky places and among thorns? That’s a bit wasteful with the seeds, don’t you think? Those seeds cost good money you know! Well, the point of the parable was not to teach thrifty farming methods, but to teach faithfulness in generously sowing the seed of the gospel in spite of the soils, not because of them. Now certainly we pray that those who receive the seeds will be good soil, and respond with a receptive heart and a life of good fruit. But we are not always able to immediately discern what kind of soil it is onto which we are sowing. Let’s repeat that part: ‘The point of the parable was to teach faithfulness in generously sowing the seed of the gospel in spite of the soils, not because of them.
Here’s the point: We tend to worry way too much about ‘soils’. We tend to evaluate which soils around us we think are good candidates for a seed or two, and which soils just don’t seem like bothering with at all. We tend to spend so much time and effort on evaluating soils that we never get around to sowing seeds. But, although that tendency is just kind of natural to us, we have to make sure to not let it become determinant in us.
Actually, The Disciples had a ‘soil-evaluating’ problem, too. In fact, the Lord told this parable soon after the parable of the Sower. Matt 13:24-30 – “Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. But that night as everyone slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat. When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew. The farmer’s servants came and told him, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds!’ ” ‘An enemy has done it!’ the farmer exclaimed.” ‘Shall we pull out the weeds?’ they asked. “He replied, ‘No, you’ll hurt the wheat if you do. Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds and burn them and to put the wheat in the barn.’ ” NLT
Now, of all the points in this story, one of the clearest ones was this: Just leave the evaluations to the experts, like the Angels at the end times. And so it is to be with our ‘sowing mission’: Instead of evaluating soils, just sow the seed! Just plant the gospel! Spend less time on soil sampling and weed examining and more time on sowing and planting the seeds. Plus, it was like saying to the Disciples, “Besides, you’re not all that good at distinguishing the wheat from the tares anyway. So just keep sowing the seed.”
But again, the Sower in the earlier Parable was focused more on spreading seeds than on evaluating soils. And that is a necessary ‘paradigm shift’ for our thinking if we are ever going to get into and get on with the exercise and the discipline of sowing the seeds of the gospel. Think about it: If Andrew had been a soil evaluator, he probably would have skipped going to Peter to tell him about the Messiah. Peter was about as rocky headed as they come. His name even meant ‘stone or rock’. And then remember the disciple’s response when they heard that Saul wanted to worship and fellowship with them? They thought, you’ve got to be kidding, Saul the persecutor?! You talk about a thorny kind of guy! But, you see, God specializes in hard cases and head cases and thorn cases. You never know what stone or thorn will turn into good soil and then become a son of daughter of Abraham. No, let God worry about the soils, we just need to sow some seeds on them, generously and consistently. They may look like ‘off the road’ or ‘rocky ground’ or ‘thorny patches’ to you, but just go ahead and sow some gospel seed on them anyway! It may be the biggest surprise of your life to watch God the Holy Spirit take that seed and turn one of those ‘stones’ into a ‘servant’ of the Lord Jesus Christ! In fact, every church fellowship has a good share of former stones and former thorns that are now servants and branches of Jesus Christ. Amen to that?
‘Who are we?’ ‘We are Sowers!’ And what do Sowers do? Sowers sow seeds of the gospel! That’s what we do. It’s supposed to be one of our spiritual fitness habits. And since we live in the information age, we have even greater aids…we have great tools to help us with our sowing. Sure, we are always to be trying to work on taking opportunities to talk to people about the Lord and how to have a relationship with Christ. But we also have some other ‘great helps’ for our sowing exercises, from great pamphlets to great books to social media, snail mail, and again, our conversation whenever possible. We just have to make sure that, as Sowers of the gospel seed…that we go out to sow. We have to intentionally make it a part of what we do, of what we practice…make it one of our spiritual disciplines and exercises. For if you don’t intentionally go out to sow, you probably won’t sow.
So if sowing gospel seed has not been one of the disciplines of your spiritual fitness program, make a new commitment to it. Be creative. Think of places where you could leave the gospel seeds of tracts; from restaurants to shopping malls to motels to airports and so on. Think of people to whom you could sow some gospel seed of a Gospel pamphlet or a book or an online message, and so on.
And build up a seed supply, like a Sower would have a bin full of seeds. Acquire a supply of materials that explain the New Birth…of how a person becomes a Christian, what it means to be Born Again, how a person can know for sure that he or she is going to Heaven, and so on. We have some of those materials right in our foyer. So make use of them. Be able to point to your supply and tell people, “This is my gospel seed supply. These are some of the seeds I sow onto all kinds of soil.”
What better way to spend some money than buying great materials to give to friends or co-workers or extended family members, or to neighbors and such, that explains to them how they can become born again and have a relationship with Christ. Build up your gospel seed supply and then practice getting it out…practice sowing it. It’s just one of the disciplines, one of the exercises, that we do to stay spiritually fit, and to be faithful to our Savior. Besides, you never know what God is going to do when some ‘Gospel seed’ connects with ‘somebody’s soil’.
So not only just “Let’s go”…but “Let’s Sow!” Let’s get on with ‘Sowing the Gospel seed!