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The summer of your soul

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topic Scripture: Matthew 24:30-35

Summer is my favorite season of the year. The stress of life lifts somewhat. Schedules are less demanding. More time off is taken. Families get together more. 29.3 million people traveled at least 50 miles for the Memorial Day weekend. But all is not idyllic. The number of cars and trucks traveling on America’s highways has tripled in the last thirty years. You saw most of them last week.

These are relaxed days, and that’s good. But not necessarily for our souls. Church attendance understandably slows during the summer. But soul attendance must not.

How can we make this the best summer your soul has ever known?

Live this summer as if it were your last

First, let me show you the most important single key to spiritual health. It’s a key the first Christians used every single day of their lives, but a truth we unfortunately neglect or even refuse to use today. Without this key, it’s very hard to start the ignition of your spiritual life each day. Here it is: you might meet God today. So you’d better be ready.

How many of you considered this morning the fact that Jesus could return today? Or the fact that you could die and stand before him before this day is done? The first Christians did. Jesus told them to.

It is a biblical and theological fact that Jesus Christ could return to this planet, today. Before this sermon is done, or this service is finished. Or my next sentence.

One day “the Son of Man will appear in the sky” (v. 30a). Jesus himself will come back. “All the nations of the earth” will “see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory” (v. 30b).

He will gather his followers “from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (v. 31).

When will his return come?

James 5:8: “Be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.”

Revelation 3:11 quotes the Lord Jesus: “I am coming soon.” Revelation 22:20 adds: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.'”

So we must be ready today. Jesus warned us: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36); “You must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Luke 12:40); “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2).

Yes, someone will say, but it hasn’t happened yet. Twenty centuries, and still no return. Why?

For this reason: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

But here’s the next verse in God’s word: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare” (v. 10).

And here’s the consequence: “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” (vs. 11-12).

The simple truth is that that we’re one day closer to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ than anyone has been in all of human history. Today. It is a fact that God could come to us today.

And it is a fact that we could go to him today.

We all know more fatalities occurred on American roads during the Memorial Day weekend than usual. Fourteen died in a barge accident in Oklahoma. And terrorist threats continue to dominate the news daily. The anniversary of September 11 comes in just three months.

On this first Sunday in June a year ago, how many of us expected the events of three months later? For the 3,200 victims who died that day, last summer was their last summer. It could be so for you and me.

Jesus could come to us, or we could go to him, this morning. You could meet God in ten minutes. You need to be ready for him now.

Keep your soul close to God

Now, why does this fact matter to your spiritual health this summer?

The fact that we could meet God today is not intended by our Lord to frighten us, but to encourage us. To motivate us to spiritual development, to soul health, to a closer fellowship with our Father in heaven.

How?

This way of life keeps us obedient to God. The most frightening sound I’ve ever heard was Janet’s car driving into the driveway on a Sunday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. when I was expecting her to return from her out of town trip at 5:00 p.m. I had just resolved to start the three hours of cleaning it would take to be ready for her return. Most husbands know my terror. We don’t want that with God. We want to be found faithful to him, doing his will when he returns.

This way of life keeps us close to God. A man whose prayer life was unusually strong was asked his secret. He said, “When I see the Lord I want him to know me by the sound of my name.” We want to please him, to be in a loving relationship with him when we see him again.

This way of life keeps us from sin. I know of a businessman who carries a picture of his wife with him whenever he travels. He sets it up in his hotel room first thing, and it keeps him from sin. In the same way, when we resolve to do nothing we would not want to be caught doing at the return of Jesus Christ, we will live holy lives.

The enemy knows that it is so.

To update an old parable, Satan is holding a convention in hell. The subject: how to keep people from God. One demon proposes: tell them there is no heaven. Satan sends him forth, and some believe him. Some today believe that heaven is what you make of earth, you die and that’s it, heaven is a medieval legend.

Another demon suggests: tell them there is no hell. Satan sends him forth, and some believe him. A loving God would never send anyone to hell. Hell fire is an outdated Puritan threat.

Then a third proposes: tell them there is no hurry. And to the rest of the demons of hell Satan says, “Go and say it’s so.” And they have. Some are here today. If you’re thinking right now that this sermon is not for you, that your future is sure, tomorrow guaranteed, no rush to be right in your soul with God, guess why.

So adopt this mindset: I will live for God as though I were to meet him today. Because I might. The greatest Christians have lived with such daily urgency. Oswald Chambers’ life motto was simple: “My utmost for his highest.” Every day. William Borden said it well: “No reserve, no retreat, no regrets.” Annie Dillard is right: how we spend our days is how we spend our lives.

How will you spend your days this summer? What can you do to grow closer to God in these days? To develop your soul? To live ready for God? Several fundamental spiritual disciplines are easier to begin or reinforce during the summer than any other time of the year.

Let’s begin with some benchmarks. Every Christian should meet God every day for Bible study and prayer. Even fifteen minutes in the morning is a good start. Decide to read through a book of the Bible this summer, perhaps the gospel of John. Read for ten minutes. Write down practical lessons in a notebook. Jot down some specific prayer requests, and pray over them for a moment. Begin feeding your soul every day.

With a daily time for Bible study and prayer in place, expand next to a daily worship experience. Follow the ACTS model: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication. Begin your time with God in praise. Read a Psalm to him. Sing or read a Christian song or hymn. Then confess your sins specifically to God. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you anything wrong between you and your Father, and he will. Repent of them before God. Then thank him specifically for the good in your life today. And make supplication before him. Keep a prayer list so you can watch God answer your prayers. Such a daily time of worship is crucial to the growing soul.

Now incorporate spiritual reading into your week. I am always reading something by Henri Nouwen, for example, with great profit. Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, A. W. Tozer or R. A. Torrey would be very helpful to your soul.

As your next step, dedicate an hour a week to solitude and meditation. Meet God in nature, or in his word. Focus upon some part of his creation or revelation—a leaf or a single verse of scripture. Analyze it; bring all your senses to it; ask God to reveal truth to you through it. Spend an hour observing his revelation, listening to his Spirit. Mother Teresa said that early on she spent 90% of her prayer time talking to God; at the end of her life, she was spending 90% of her time listening to him. When did you last listen to God?

Consider a spiritual retreat this summer. Take several days to be alone with God. In addition, some will sense God’s call to the discipline of fasting—give up something physical for the sake of the spiritual. Fast from food for a meal or a day and spend the time instead in Bible study. Fast from television or movies or the stereo and spend the time with God in nature. Abstain from the physical for the sake of your soul.

Conclusion

When the summer of 2002 is at its end, will you be closer to God than you are right now? More in love with Jesus? More thrilled with your Savior? More ready to meet God? If he were to return this morning, would you be ready? If not, decide to do some soul work. You’ll keep Jesus’ first commandment, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength (Matthew 22:37). Your Savior is worthy of such love, such passion, such commitment. And so is your soul.

For years you’ve heard the story behind “It Is Well With My Soul.” Horatio Spafford wrote its words from his ship as it sailed directly over the place in the Atlantic where his four daughters had previously drowned. I know the hymn and its origin well. But a few days ago, as I heard it sung, a whole new meaning emerged for me.

You remember the first stanza: “When peace like a river, attendeth my way; when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.” I’d always thought of a peaceful river, a tranquil sea, on which I could say “It is well with my soul.”

But that’s not Spafford’s meaning at all. He means a roaring river, a billowing and stormy sea. Listen to the next stanza: “Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, let this blest assurance control ….” During the buffeting times, the trials of life, the hardest places, it is still possible to say, “It is well with my soul.”

The choice is yours.