What does it take to get to play at Carnegie Hall? Practice. How do you become an NFL great? Discipline. How do you write the next great american novel? Patience. How do you anything of lasting value or eternal consequence? Hard work.
Just how much hard work does it take? According to researcher, author and staff writer for The New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell, “people who are fabulously successful have almost always put in more than 10,000 hours of practice time in activities related to their success” (Homileticsonline.com 10,000 Hours Aug. 2012). Gladwell wanted to understand the truth behind success and his research was aimed at discovering the secret behind successful people like The Beatles and Bill Gates. What he discovered was rather profound. Successful people, he discovered, are the product of two key factors converging: potential and practice. According to Gladwell, people don’t rise from nothing. The people who stand before kings may look like they did it all themselves, but in fact they did not. True geniuses are the result of an intersection of timing, talent, and we might say tenacity. But he argues, they are also the product of a community of people who helped them along the way.
Can the same be said about becoming spiritually successful or spiritually fit? What if we applied this 10,000 hour rule to the practice of living faithfully as a follower of Jesus? Who is ready to sign up?
The leading questions for this series have been, what does it look like and take to be in the best spiritual shape we can be as individuals and as a church community? Today we wrap up this series by celebrating our progress AND recognizing the final step in our spiritual fitness journey. This step of course, like any fitness routine, must now become life long. Our journey does not end with the end of this series. Now is the time it matters most to keep going. In the physical fitness world this is called the “maintenance phase.” And in some ways it is harder than any other part of the training.
We end back at the beginning of the book of Ephesians. Paul writing to the early believers in Ephesus. In Ch. 1:15-18 he tells them the significance of what they are pursuing and his prayer for their continued spiritual growth.
I believe this text is key to our big reveal today. This is the core value of spiritual fitness. It is our “so that.” Paul is giving thanks for all that is being done in the lives of the believers and what is happening in their church. He has heard from others what is going on. And he wants them to know their efforts do not go un-noticed! What person doesn’t want that? When you have worked hard, stayed the course, put in the effort, etc., it is nice to receive affirmation and encouragement.
His words do more than recognize their efforts. They also tell them what he hopes for them. He gives them insight into what his ultimate hope is for them as they mature in faith, grow as a church, and connect with those around them. You have done this and this and this, “so that…” So that you will see beyond what you are doing or have done and realize where the true strength and power come from and what / who your spiritual fitness is firmly grounded in - Jesus.
The lesson in all this, in every sermon of this series, is that it takes practice. It takes discipline. It takes being involved and connected to other believers. It takes effort. It doesn't happen overnight. It doesn’t happen in one Emmaus weekend, or one small group experience, or one bible study. It’s not about natural ability, skill or talent. It cannot be sustained in one hour of worship a week. It cannot last without intention and growth. And all the practice, discipline, and intention in the world means nothing if you are not grateful and giving. 10,000 hours is just a lot of time unless it transforms your life to be a part of transforming the lives around you.
If you do not see the value of what you have, the sacredness of what you have been given as a follower of Jesus, and you are not moved to a sense of gratitude and giving, than you have missed it all together, and your workouts have been for naught. You can know the bible forwards and backwards. You can recite the 10 commandments on demand. You can know the apostles creed and the Lord’s Prayer without looking at the screen. You can go on multiple mission trips and volunteer at every food pantry or thanksgiving / christmas day dinner. Yet, if your life is not shaped more and more to look like, sound like and be like the image of Christ, dear church, you missed it. If you cannot / will not connect with others in genuine and meaningful ways; if you cannot / will not build relationships and community with others, all your scripture flexing, bible muscle building, or prayer posture positioning mean nothing.
Where are you on the scale of spiritual fitness? How do you measure up and weigh in since the beginning of this series? We pray God has shown you what it means and what it takes to stay connected, how it transforms your life, and giving is at the heart of spiritual fitness.
We leave you with this challenge for your spiritual fitness lifestyle: make it count - give back in ways that matter - give out of what you know and have - and do not give up on the goodness, beauty and truth of what God can do through a small group of Jesus followers like those Paul wrote to in Ehphesians. Through one church, one person, one event, one prayer, one moment at a time, you just might change the world. Amen