Sermon Starters: Acts of Devotion

by Steven W. Manskar

Scripture​s:      

  • Deuteronomy 6:4-9
  • Matthew 6:1-34
  • Mark 12:28-30
  • Ephesians 6:10-20
  • Philippians 3:12-21; 4:9
  • Colossians 4:2-6
  • 2 Timothy 3:15-17
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:16-28
     

Acts of devotion are the personal works of piety of the General Rule of Discipleship. They are practices that keep our hearts and minds open to God. Our relationship with Christ is similar to the relationship we share with our spouse, sibling, or close friend. When you love someone you make time to be with your beloved. You go to places your beloved goes. You participate in activities your beloved values and enjoys. You listen to and share your hopes and dreams with the beloved. Acts of devotion are how Christians participate in their personal relationship with their friend, Jesus Christ (John 15:15-16).

God meets us in prayer, Scripture, and fasting. John Wesley lists three acts of devotion in Rule #3 of The General Rules:

Family and private prayer

  • Showing up daily in prayer, whether you are alone or with others, keeps you close to God. Prayer is like conversation with your beloved. It’s time to share your desires, hopes, and dreams with God. Prayer is also a time to be quiet and listen to what God has to say.
  • Prayer takes many forms. It can be extemporaneous, spontaneously sharing the concerns of your heart. You may also read prayers of the church found in the Book of Common Prayer, The United Methodist Hymnal, The United Methodist Book of Worship, and other devotional books. Lectio Divina and Centering Prayer are other ancient prayer practices.
     

Searching the Scriptures

  • “If prayer is the ‘breath’ of the Christian life, a continuing relationship with the life-giving Spirit, then scripture is the heart of the Christian life, giving it a form and shape based on and in response to the character of God.”1
  • “And that this is a means whereby God not only gives, but also confirms and increases, true wisdom, we learn from the words of St. Paul to Timothy: ‘From a child you have known the Holy Scriptures, that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). The same truth (namely, that this is the great means God has ordained for conveying his manifold grace to man) is delivered, in the fullest manner that can be conceived, in the words which immediately follow: ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God;’ consequently, all Scripture is infallibly true; ‘and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;’ to the end ‘that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work’ (2 Tim. 3:16, 17).”2
  • “By ‘constantly,’ Wesley means to daily ‘set apart a little time, if you can, every morning and evening for that purpose.’ As with ‘praying without ceasing’ and ‘constant communion,’ scripture is an ongoing context within which the Christian life is lived, an environment which nourishes and sustains that life.”3
     

Fasting or abstinence

  • Fasting is an ancient means of grace. Wesley practiced fasting at least one day a week for most of his life. He believed it to be a very important practice because Jesus fasted and taught his disciples to do the same (Matthew 6:16-18).
  • Fasting leads to prayer and self-giving. It is a simple way Christians can imitate Jesus who “emptied himself” (Philippians 2:7) and become one with humankind as a humble servant. Charles Wesley describes Jesus’ self-emptying love in the third stanza of his great hymn, “And Can It Be That I Should Gain,”
     

He left his Father’s throne above,
So free, so infinite his grace;
Emptied himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race;
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free;
For, O my God, it found out me.

  • When you fast you empty yourself and become more aware of your dependence upon God’s good gifts of food and drink that sustain your life. Fasting also places you in solidarity with the people of the earth for whom fasting is not a choice. Christ suffers for them every day. Wesley encouraged Methodists to give alms to the poor when they fast.

 

In Sermon 16: “The Means of Grace”, John Wesley wrote: “By ‘means of grace’ I understand outward signs, words, or actions, ordained of God, and appointed for this end, to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men, preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace.” Acts of devotion are the practices that help Christians to participate in the personal relationship with God. They are means of growing and living as a person who loves God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.

 

 
 

[1] Henry H. Knight, III, The Presence of God in the Christian Life: John Wesley and the Means of Grace, (Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1992), 149.

[2] John Wesley, Sermon 16: “The Means of Grace,” § III.8, in Sermons I, ed. Albert C. Outler, vol. 1 of The Bicentennial Edition of the Works of John Wesley (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1976-- ), 387-388.

[3] Knight, 151.

Categories: Covenant Discipleship for Groups and Class Leaders, Sermon Starters

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