Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Friday, December 06, 2013
Mike Turgeon A Summer of prayer: “Concern” July 24, 2011
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:26-28
A Summer of prayer: Concern
Imagine, if you will, that you work for a company whose president found it necessary to travel out of the country and spend an extended period of time abroad. So he says to you and other trusted employees, “Look, I’m going to leave. And while I’m gone, I want you to pay close attention to the business. You manage things while I’m away. I will write you regularly. When I do, I will instruct you in what you should do from now until I return from this trip.”
Everyone agrees. So the president leaves and stays gone for a couple of years. During that time, he writes often, communicating his desires and concerns. Finally, he returns. He walks up to the front door of the company and immediately discovers everything is in a mess--weeds flourishing in the flower beds, windows broken across the front of the building, the person at the front desk dozing, loud music roaring from several offices, two or three people engaged in horseplay in the back room.
Instead of making a profit, the business has suffered a great loss. Without hesitation, the president calls everyone together with a frown and asks, “What happened? Didn’t you get my letters?”
And you say, “Oh, yeah sure. We got all your letters. We even bound them in a book. And some of us have memorized them. In fact, we have letter study every Sunday. You know, those were really great letters.
I think the president would then ask, “But what did you do about my instructions?” And no doubt, the employees would respond, “Do? Well, nothing. But we read every one!”
Chuck Swindoll, noted church commentator, wrote this parable, and I believe it illustrates quite well, the topic of this morning’s installment of our summer series on prayer, and that is, concern.
Prayer is our most powerful tool, for many reasons. We began our examination by looking at prayer as a mechanism for helping us let go of our death grip on life. Prayer helps us trust that God’s worldview is bigger than ours. We also saw how prayer is a listening device, most perfectly attuned in silence.
Prayer is our primary way to stay in relationship with God. And just like with a family member or a friend, the quality of our relationship with God in Jesus, depends on the quality and frequency of our communication.
I was thinking about friends the other day, and how we cultivate them. The ones we count as closest are those with whom we communicate regularly. No surprise there, right? As we maintain communication with friends, we go deeper into the relationship.
But the cultivation of friends also provides stability and nurturance in our lives. By now, perhaps, we’ve seen these long-term studies that indicate improved health for those with close friends.
It is like that with prayer and our relationship with Jesus as well. The deeper we go, the more stable and healthy in spirit we become.
Another thing we’ve been learning about prayer is that it has both inner purpose and outer purpose. The inner purpose is to stay open, alert and awake to God’s presence in our lives. The holiness of life is palpable. Do we humans choose to do some pretty unholy things? Indeed. But we are spiritual beings having a human experience. God is woven into the fabric of that experience. Prayer awareness keeps us alert to that fact.
The outer purpose of prayer is to concern ourselves with that which Christ cares most about. The oppressed, those without enough, the lost.
In the parable, the employees of the company were concerned enough to be clear about the president’s instructions, but they did not concern themselves with carrying them out.
Concern is one of our greatest resources. Even the word itself has great versatility. It can be a noun
I have a concern for you.
Or a verb.
I had to concern myself.
Even an adjective/adverb.
I’m concerned for your well-being.
Whichever way you use it, concern defines our ability to care. And from that care we are called to act. The great task of life is to learn to concern with priority, whether you are one person or one church.
Priority of concern
To be a person of concern, one who cares, in a world of apathy and cynicism can often feel like being adrift in a rowboat on a stormy sea.
Without a priority of concern, we set ourselves up. You ever gone around responding to every crisis you saw or heard about like a fireman, frantically attempting to stamp out a grass fire? That’s dangerous territory. It can lead to paralysis and numbness. Or resentment that causes you to feel trapped. Or controlled by other people, other situations. Or even worse, without a priority of concern, we may never make time for what we know would make a difference, for our own transformation, or for increasing the kingdom of God on earth.
It is so easy to get caught up in the thick of some very thin things. Before long, guilt raises it’s ugly head about what you’re not doing, then joy seeps away. Best to leave the fire-fighting to the professionals.
You may be doing some pretty cool things in your life, but if they are not lining up with your deepest values, you may achieve, but if I may borrow a metaphor from a previous life, you may have your ladder leaning up against the wrong wall.
And it is not just individuals or churches who are subject to concern priority disorder, or
CPD = Concern Priority Disorder
CPD, if you must.
Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev wanted to restrict the use of alcohol and not allow the people of Russia to drink so much. For a period of time it was like American Prohibition, with similar results. Rather than turning to more productive activities, as was hoped, the people went from drinking alcohol to using narcotics instead. The government achieved their goal of reducing the consumption of alcohol--they climbed the ladder just fine. But it didn’t bring them what they wanted. The ladder was leaning against the wrong wall.
At this point, let me re-invoke the Apostle Paul’s words he wrote in this Letter to the church in Rome. I believe he is touching on this priority of concern issue.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
Feeling trapped, or controlled by other people, other situations. Paul must have got that when he wrote ‘sighs too deep for words.’ You can’t quite put your finger on what’s going on inside you. A vague notion of dissatisfaction. Major stress. Constant anxiety or explosive anger. Like the world is a burden and our burden alone, making our lives heavy. See what I’m saying?
Can we just take a deep breathe here, and experience a sigh too deep for words?
(Mike takes a moment with the congregation)
And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Paul’s language feels a bit stiff here, frozen in his time and place, but notice how he captures the biggest picture possible. Always pointing to God’s will and from what we’ve learned, there may not have been one more willful than Paul.
Now, I don’t want to go all Freudian here without warning, but hearing heart, mind, and will used together like this reminds me of our own battles with the ego. Imposing our will over God’s will.
Can I give you some technical explanation here from Psychology 101? I believe it is instructive. The id is all the ‘stuff’ that floats around up here above your neck.
The id corresponds to the mind.
id = ‘stuff’
The ego, then, aligns with the will.
the ego organizes and controls.
The superego makes moral decisions, so let’s put it with the heart.
superego = heart
In a balanced life, when you concern yourself with inner and outer purpose, id, ego and superego, mind, will and heart work together toward deep fulfillment. I call it total health and it starts with making sure your ladder is leaning against the right wall. Jesus calls this balance salvation.
Paul the Apostle for all his warts and flaws and demons, kept seeing God’s bigger and bigger vision. He nailed it when he said,
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
‘Praying as we ought,’ is the phrase Paul used. I know to some of us that might sound like finger-wagging, but Paul never took anyone to places he wasn’t willing to go himself.
Prayer, be it silent, corporate, intercessory, confessional keeps us clear about where our ladder is. When we neglect a practice of ‘praying as we ought’ the human will, and not God’s will, takes center stage. I’m pretty sure Paul never used the term ‘ego trip’ but that’s what we go on.
When we lose touch with God through prayer, we start to rely on our own devices. Fear, greed, power lust, the stock in trade of a will, an ego, out of balance, out of touch, out of control. The life, death and resurrection of Christ was devoted to the eradication of a system fueled by fear. When Jesus ushered in the kingdom of God on earth, the world’s system of fear was supplanted by his system of redeeming love. But he doesn’t force it upon us, does he? We must choose it.
Our ego dearly wants to pretend that we are good to go, fully in charge, in no need of God’s bounty, forgiveness, or really much of anything. It is our greatest deception.
So, where do we go from here? Let’s go to our source prayer, shall we?
SLIDE: Pray in this way: Our father, in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. Matthew 6:9-12
“...your will be done.” This, my friends, is our primary concern. God’s will is the outer purpose of which we speak. When we obey the will of God, we begin to carry out those instructions the president sent us in such great detail.