People all over the world are drawn to the setting of the sun. Travel destinations set up the perfect place to catch a glimpse of a beautiful sunset. I am one of those sunset seekers.
The sky has always fascinated me. As a child, I remember lying in the grass and pondering the vast deep blue. Now, at this stage of my life, I prefer to remain vertical while gazing upward.
My late mother-in-law taught me the importance of taking time to appreciate a sunset. Every evening of our annual family beach vacations, she required the entire family to take a walk on the beach as the day was dimming. Dinner was always planned around this event and many times we would leave the table to clean up after our “sunset walk”.
I sit on our back porch with my grandchildren now, waiting for the sun to retire for the day as we anticipate the change in the sky. One day George sent me a picture of a sunset from his house. His great grandmother would be so proud! In our sunset-watching we have learned to stick around for the show; after the sun has slipped beyond the horizon, when the sky courses and moves through all the colors of the rainbow, to sit transfixed, silent.
But the real worth of God’s handiwork is this: it makes me stop, think, worship our Mighty God, and Master Designer. As I sit and observe God’s awesome gift, I cannot help but be thankful. It allows me to be still and know that He is God. I wait and listen for His presence to surround me. It re-charges my life without a doubt. I believe this is so important in our Christian walk.
Finding quiet places and times to commune with God provides light for our path, and renewed strength for service. Find your time; mine happens to coincide with the dimming of the day, and hopefully, an awesome sunset comes along as well!
It is certainly true that “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.” Psalm 19:1
“There is no way in which a man can earn a star or deserve a sunset.” G. K. Chesterton
John Wesley wrote a letter to one of his itinerant preachers saying this, “O begin! Fix some part of every day for private exercises…whether you like it or no, read and pray daily. It is for your life; there is no other way; else you will be a trifler all your days.” How is that for an invitation to the devotional life? Read and pray daily, whether you like it or not!
Actually, John Wesley was very honest about what it takes to grow in our faith and to live a life of discipleship. There are times we find it difficult to focus on our spiritual growth. It is easy to put it off or to make a promise to do better later, like starting a diet or new exercise program.
This is just one reason covenant groups are so vital to our growth as followers of Christ. We need each other! In fact, God works most powerfully in our lives when we are in community with each other. Covenant groups provide an opportunity to study together; to learn from each other; to share struggles, doubts, and questions; to pray together; and to hold each other accountable to attend the daily spiritual disciplines – whether we want to or not!
I have participated in several covenant groups and have found them to be extremely beneficial! When I had a prayer need, I had people who would pray and keep my prayer needs confidential. When I was tempted to push my scripture study aside I knew I needed to be prepared to share in discussion with my group. Above all, some of the deepest friendships I have known emerged from these groups.
This fall our church is offering a number of opportunities for folks to become a part of this divine experience of covenant. We will begin a church-wide study of The Gospel of John, written by New Testament scholar Dr. Ben Witherington. If you sense something missing in your life, perhaps this is just the thing. In closing, I’d like to share lyrics to a gospel song by Hezekiah Walker…
I need you! You need me! We’re all a part of God’s body.
Stand with me! Agree with me! We’re all a part of God’s body.
It is his will that every need be supplied
You are important to me! I need you to survive!
To join a group, click the link below:
You should be in a covenant group.
Let me tell you about mine. For the last year and a half, David, Gracie, Amanda, Krysta, and I—all Vanderbilt classmates and now Methodist pastors—have met on Wednesdays at 11:00 through video conference call. The five of us have covenanted to engage in acts of compassion, devotion, justice, and worship; and every week ask each other how we have been living up to the commitments we made together.
More than any other practice in which I’ve partaken, this group has helped hold me accountable to a life of consistent spiritual discipline. I know most every week that I’ll have people asking me about my life as a disciple of Jesus—about my prayer and scripture reading, about whether or not I have spoken up when I’ve seen injustice, about how I experienced God in worship, and about how I’ve extended grace toward others and recognize grace extended toward me. I also know that with them I have a community with whom I can be honest about my failures. And I know that they will respond to me with grace, giving me a fresh perspective on my life and my decisions. This group has challenge me when I needed challenging, encouraged me when I needed encouraging, and corrected me when I needed correcting. Each week we close with this prayer, which captures what we’re all about:
Open my eyes to your presence, O God,
that I may see the sorrows and joys of your creatures.
Open my ears to your will, O God,
that I may have the strength to keep this covenant.
Open my heart and my hands in mercy, O God,
that I may receive mercy when I fail. Amen.
This fall our church is going to take a step toward giving everyone that kind of opportunity to grow as a disciple of Christ. In addition to our regular teaching session at Refresh at 6:00 on Wednesday evenings, we will also offer covenant groups that will commit to growing as disciples together. At Refresh and in the covenant groups we will study the Gospel of John using a book by New Testament scholar Ben Witherington. But the covenant groups will also take time each week to examine their own lives in the areas of worship, devotion, and witness. We won’t ask you spend an hour reflecting about you life like my group does, but we will ask you to begin your sessions with a time of prayer, sharing, and mutual encouragement. It’s our hope that as you grow as disciples in these covenant groups you will reach out and invite others to grow in Christ alongside you here at First United Methodist.
Let us do life together, growing closer to Jesus, and closer to each other, through stories and experiences from the people of our church. Join us as we begin a new series for the Advent season, beginning Tuesday, November 28.