A Sentence can change your life

A Sentence can change your life May 30, 2010

This post will explain why I am so keen to invite you to join us to hear John Piper live on 26th and/or 27th June, especially if you are already a leader or are thinking that God might be calling you to some leadership role in the church. The reason is very simple:  A single phrase anointed by the Holy Spirit might transform your life, and hence the life of the church you are in.  Tickets are disappearing fast, so book now!  The following is an excerpt from a John Piper sermon:

I have often heard the contrast made between spending one hour a week in Sunday School and twenty or more hours a week watching TV. The point is usually that we can scarcely counteract the secularist influence of twenty hours of TV with one hour of Sunday School. This sort of observation creates what you might call a “quantitative hopelessness.” It gives the impression that life-changing impact is directly proportionate to the quantity of time spent with a particular influence.

Our Problem with Evil

I think this way of assessing the value of influences (whether TV or Sunday School) is wrong for two reasons. Thinking quantitatively like this obscures the problem with evil, and obscures the power of a holy moment. First, it obscures the problem of evil. It gives the misleading impression that the approach to take toward harmful influences on TV is to balance them with good influences at church or at home . . .

The Power of a Holy Moment

The second reason it is wrong to assess the influence of Sunday School quantitatively is that this obscures the power of a holy moment. What I have in mind here is something tremendously encouraging to teachers. It is what I would call the “immeasurable moment.” What the quantitative approach overlooks and obscures is the lasting, transforming power of insight which can and usually does happen in a moment . . .

In Reading

What I have learned from about twenty-years of serious reading is this. It is sentences that change my life, not books. What changes my life is some new glimpse of truth, some powerful challenge, some resolution to a long-standing dilemma, and these usually come concentrated in a sentence or two. I do not remember 99% of what I read, but if the 1% of each book or article I do remember is a life-changing insight, then I don’t begrudge the 99%. And that life-changing insight usually comes in a moment, a moment whose value is all out of proportion to its little size. That’s why I call it an “immeasurable moment.”

Here are some of the examples of the 1% that have gripped me and changed me.

From Jonathan Edwards, his sixth life resolution written in college: “Resolved: To live with all my might while I do live.” From his book Religious Affections: “True Religion, in great part, consists in holy affections.”

From St. Paul a sentence hit me when I was about twenty-two that has shaped my theology ever since, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to do his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12f.).

From C.S. Lewis in his sermon, The Weight of Glory: “If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong but too weak. We are halfhearted creatures fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mudpies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

From St. Augustine’s Confessions, “I have not hope at all but in thy great mercy. Grant what thou commandest and command what thou wilt.” Also from his Confessions: “For he loves Thee too little who loves anything together with Thee, which he loves not for Thy sake.

The list could go on but the point is this: In reading, more often than not, what grips you and gives you a new view of the world and changes you is not whole books but key sentences or paragraphs. You read them, the lights go on, the heart is strangely warmed, and you experience an “immeasurable moment.” Such a moment can be more influential than months of TV and radio. So do not fall victim to “quantitative hopelessness.”

In Counseling

. . .Whether the session is short or long, it is often the “immeasurable moment” that makes the difference. Many times students have returned to me years later and said, “Do you remember what you said to me?” I say, “No,” and they recite one sentence. Just one sentence. It may have determined their vocational choice or their choice of graduate schools. It may have caused them to break an engagement, or give up a habit. Usually I don’t even recall saying what they remember. The point is this: There is no way to measure what power a word spoken in a single moment can have. It is an “immeasurable moment.”

. . . All this is meant for our encouragement. Do not think that your thirty-minute lesson on Sunday morning is nothing in relation to twenty hours of TV. Prepare with all your heart, as if the truth you teach is astonishing and revolutionary. Pray with all your heart for those you teach and for yourself. And you will create—perhaps unbeknown to you—you will create “immeasurable moments” for your students. Never underestimate the power of truth spoken in a single sentence.

Copyright Desiring God.  From Quantitative Hopelessness and the Immeasurable Moment :: Desiring God Christian Resource Library.

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