In last weekend’s sermon, Pastor Kong Hee emphasised the key role one’s physical body plays in the practice of spiritual disciplines.
“When you read the four Gospels and see the great moments of Jesus’ life, almost every one of them happened right after He gave Himself to the spiritual disciples,” said Kong Hee, senior pastor of City Harvest Church as he began his sermon on 12 and 13 Nov.
Continuing his sermon series on spiritual disciplines, Pastor Kong explained that Christians practise the disciplines not to win God’s love or arm-twist Him into fulfilling a prayer request. Instead, they are exercises that train a Christian to become well-pleasing to God (1 Tim 4:7).
Jesus Himself practised spiritual disciplines and grew in faith. Pastor Kong noted that Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine happened right after He came out of a 40-day fast. When He brought massive revival to the town of Galilee, He was in a season of early morning prayer. He walked on water right after He spent time with God in silence and solitude up on the mountain.
While Jesus was the Son of God, he experienced tiredness, hunger and emotions like any other human, and these spiritual disciplines would not have come automatically to Him. Hebrews 5:8 recorded that Jesus had to learn obedience.
“He wants us to follow Him in this way of life, in His practices; because if we don’t follow Him and do the same, how are we going to do His mighty works?” Pastor Kong asked. Practising spiritual disciplines is the secret to the easy yoke and finding rest in God.
“If we really desire Christlikeness, then we must immerse ourselves into His lifestyle and imitate His practice,” he continued.
THE BODY IS THE KEY TO SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE
“The secret to spiritual disciplines is that they involve your body, not just your mind,” the pastor emphasised. “Reading more about it is not going to help—it simply gives you information but it’s not going to change you.”
Spiritual disciplines are not just things of the mind, but they are bodily practices. Pastor Kong highlighted that everything Jesus did had to do with the human body—from the incarnation to His crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and the Second Coming.
Receiving salvation is more than just changing the way a person thinks—a new believer changes the order of his life when he comes to Christ (Rom 5:10). The gospel is not simply about having one’s sins forgiven, but also about a new way of living.
Following Jesus is not only giving God one’s heart and soul, but a believer needs to surrender his whole body to Him (1 Cor 6:19). “Your body is a very important part of God’s salvation plan for your life,” the pastor stated.
Directing the church to the creation story, Pastor Kong noted that God created everything with His spoken word. However, when it came to creating Adam, it was different. First, he formed a body, then He imparted something of Himself into Adam. Genesis 2:7 records that when God breathed into Adam, he became “a living soul”.
“How did that living soul come into existence? The moment the divine breath touch the dust of the body, a living soul was born,” Pastor Kong explained. This allows humans to become spiritual and communicate directly with God, who Himself is spirit. “Only we have this privilege, animals don’t. Only we can fellowship with God and have deep communion with Him.”
The living soul came about when the divine had contact with the body. “It is at the moment of contact when the breath of the Holy Spirit touched the body of Adam, that his soul came alive. In other words, without the body, this was not possible,” the pastor elaborated.
God created Man in His image and he deposited a seed of His greatness in every living soul. Humans have the image of God but not His likeness yet. “This seed of God’s image in us must grow into His likeness,” Pastor Kong said. “It was designed in such a way that every time we come into contact with God in the life of His Spirit, inner growth is stirred up, and inner transformation happens. Every time there is contact, we become a little bit more like Christ.”
This Christlikeness will ultimately bring the believer inner joy and heavenly delight—a joy that makes life worth living. That is the reason why encounters with God are so important. “The more you come into contact with God, the more alive you are in your soul—the more you become a living soul,” the pastor preached.
Human beings are designed to have communion with God, to be loved by Him and to love Him in return. This relationship transforms believers and they grow more like Christ.
Watching a video of people exercising while eating potato chips does not cause a person to become physically fit. In the same way, simply reading and studying about growing in Christ is not enough. Spiritual disciplines are exercises that the body needs to do. Fasting intensifies a person’s prayers. Lifting up of hands and bowing of knees in worship causes something powerful to happen in a person.
In 1 Corinthians 9:26, Apostle Paul taught Christians to discipline their bodies to achieve godliness. This was how Paul himself experienced the easy yoke and light burden of Christ. Even though he was busy planting churches, he had supernatural joy.
He gave his secret to his disciple Timothy who was the head of the dynamic Ephesian church. Timothy was overwhelmed leading the 60,000-member church and Paul encouraged him in 1 Timothy 4:7, saying that the way to not be stressed out is to exercise spiritually. The word “exercise” in Greek is gumnasia which means gymnasium. The way to find inner joy in the midst of leading a great revival is to train in the gymnasium of the Spirit.
“This has been a core message of Christianity for the last 2000 years, that there are certain spiritual practices designed to strengthen your spirit inside,” Pastor Kong taught. “They will build you up and transform your inner life and make you more and more like Jesus; practices like solitude, fasting, prayer, coming together for worship and study serving one another, and giving.”
The most radical of these spiritual disciplines is solitude. In prison, the worst punishment is solitary confinement. Yet, it is a sure way to break any stubborn will. Similarly, a person’s stubbornness against God—the rebellious nature of the flesh that does not want to forgive or walk in purity—is also broken in silence and solitude.
In solitude, a person’s inner life is nurtured by time alone in God’s presence. “If there are stubborn areas you want to break, don’t just think it away or wish it away. Practise silence and solitude and I promise you it will go away!” the pastor challenged.
Solitude alone opens the possibility of a radical relationship with God. For Jesus, the place of solitude was the place of power—the Holy Spirit led Him there to prepare Him for the challenges of being the Saviour of the world. After being in the desert for 40 days, He returned with power and was able to withstand the temptations that the devil threw at Him.
PAUL: EXERCISE UNTO GODLINESS
In Philippians 4:9, Paul wrote, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Reading this verse, Pastor Kong urged the church to not just hear and learn the truth in their heads but to put them into practice. “Because only practice will change your life,” he said.
Paul was already a zealous Pharisee but after he received Jesus, he became even more zealous about His spiritual disciplines. Right after he met Jesus on the road of Damascus, he immediately went into prayer and fasting for three days. After this, he went into solitude in the Arabian desert for three years.
Paul was in his hometown, Tarsus (modern-day Turkey) for a few years. Today, Saint Paul’s Cave—a place where Paul would go to seek God alone—can still be found in Turkey. Many believe it was where Paul was taken to the third heaven, and where he wrote 2 Corinthians 12. He was full of the fruit of the Spirit, and he constantly thought about it, especially the fruit of self-control.
Paul lived a life of sacrifice and simplicity, living by Jesus’ principles. He was famous, yet never greedy for money. He kept himself morally pure and never misbehaved with his female disciples.
“He trained himself to serve, not because he had to, but because he wanted to. Paul said, ‘the love of God compelled me to serve,” Pastor Kong highlighted, adding that Paul urged Christians to imitate him just as he imitates Christ.
Pastor Kong shared his own way of imitating Paul. When he was in prison, he served his cellmates by washing the floors daily and cleaning the toilet every other weekend. This act of service filled his heart with the love of Jesus for his friends in the cell.
Paul was a servant to all and was entrusted with a great ministry. Despite serving the New Testament church, he never burnt out or lost his joy because of his regular spiritual training.
In closing, Pastor Kong encouraged the congregation, reminding them that they too can find their destiny in God and serve Him without burning out, by training themselves spiritually in the gymnasium of the Holy Spirit.