Smoothing Out the Hills and Valleys

             This morning, I’m not going to preach directly on the gospel or the epistle today because, to be honest, I’ve done that many times before.  Today’s special feast day, the Conception of St. John the Baptist, does offer us an opportunity though, to say in simple terms how important it is that we are constantly reorienting our lives toward Christ.  That was message of St. John and of Jesus out in the wilderness near the Jordan River.  In English, we say “Repent” but in Greek, you’ll notice a slight nuance that emphasizes the continuous nature of this reorientation.  He doesn’t say, “Μετανοιώσετε” which would mean to do it once – like those who say they are saved once – but, rather, “Μετανοείτε” which emphasizes the continuous nature of this reorientation of our minds and our hearts toward Christ.  Salvation is something we seek daily.

             So, this isn’t just a matter of grammar and tenses, this is a matter of how we see ourselves living out our lives as Christians.  To those who desire a relationship with God, to those who want to feel God more present in their lives, then being consistent and steady on the Christian walk is an invaluable asset.  Imagine if the Mass Pike had a speed bump every 50 feet or so.  What would that be like?  That’s the way many people practice their faith.  The greatest asset that we have in the church today is the church itself and its daily guidance through Scripture, hymns, and prayers.  It’s the lives of the Saints that are available to us daily.  It’s the cycle of feasts and fasts.  It’s the reminder of who is responsible for your daily bread and every other blessing.  It’s the calendar that scholars say is almost solely responsible for allowing Orthodox Christianity to survive more than 400 years of oppression, persecution, slavery and genocide.  For all these things, we make time.

Last year, I attended a wonderful, church conference and I was speaking to a lady who converted to the Orthodox faith.  She said before she was Orthodox, her spiritual life was filled with hills and valleys.  She’d be brought up the spiritual mountain in Sunday morning only to be thrown off on Monday morning.  In other words, there was no regularity and no consistency.  She said, “My life was already a bunch of hills and valleys with my job, my husband and kids, my successes and failures.  I wanted a spiritual life that was going to smooth out those things, not add to them.  Once I did that,” she said, “then I found God speaking to me throughout my day because order and organization are godly things.”  Chaos is not.  Chaos doesn’t allow you hear Him, to follow Him, or to be like Him.  Chaos is actually a very demonic thing.

So, how do we bring more order and consistency to our lives?  The first key is daily prayer.  If you want to change a bad habit, you have to perform the other activity continuously for a least two weeks.  That’s what professionals say but the Church has proven this billions of times over.  If you want a relationship with God, you need to listen to Him and talk with Him, and that means reading your prayers.  Sorry, you can’t text.  No Instagram, no Snapchat.  It has to be personal and it has to affect your daily life.  It has to cut to your core, taking your time, and focusing not on a book or on words but the Word of God Himself, Jesus Christ.

The issue that we have today in 21st century Christianity is that we have a lot of religious people who are not spiritual people.  In other words, worship one day each week satisfies them but they’re missing a great deal by starving themselves for six days.  With these people, the biggest losers are those around them because they lose the chance to be affected by someone who truly prays and connects with God.  What do you think the Internet and video game addiction is all about?

The second and last thing I’ll talk about is another very personal thing:  our food.  If you’re not fasting, if you’re not following the weekly cycle of what the Church offers us, then you’re ignoring one of our greatest strengths we have: a weekly reminder of Christ’s saving death and resurrection.  Fasting strengthens you.  Fasting disciplines you and, studies show, is actually very good for your body as well as your mind and soul.

When I see kids and many adults today just floundering, completely undisciplined, and seemingly without purpose, I can tell you 99 times out of 100, those people didn’t fast and they probably never learned to pray.  Scripture says it, “only prayer and fasting” can overcome the most difficult challenges but done together, there’s a tremendous increase in Holy Spirit activity.  Done together conscientiously, faithfully, and with purpose, those two things will change your life and you’ll begin hearing God as well.  So, focus your mind on God (prayer), focus your physical well-being on God as well (fasting) and the soul too will be sealed, forever imprinted with the virtues given to us by God.

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