(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on August 28, 2016)
Over these next few weeks, I’m adapting the messages I gave at Surfside, our high school camp at Twin Rocks.
Last week, we talked about the times when circumstances cause us to feel like we are losing our grip, emotionally ad spiritually. When we start losing our grip, the first natural reaction is to grip harder. But sometimes, it is better to just stop grasping, stop reaching, stop trying to hold on to something.
Just let go!! Watch this poor kid who just cannot let go.
Our first instinct when we lose our grip is to grip harder, to grasp for something, anything to keep us from falling. In fact, the grasping reflex is an actual instinct, something we all do as babies without thinking. Watch these crazy parents tormenting their kid with what’s called the Palmer grasping reflex.
Just like that’s not the best thing to put your kid through, sometimes just being instinctual and trying harder, grasping more, isn’t the best either. Today our focus is on trying to learn how to stop grasping, and learn to wait…wait in God’s presence. It isn’t natural. It isn’t all that easy. But with effort, we can unlearn the reflex to grasp for answers, to find someone to blame…we can learn to wait and experience God’s presence.
Main Message…So when we are at the end of our rope, what is the answer?
The hint of the answer for us, I said last week, is in verse 17 of Psalm 73. The hinge point, the place where everything begins to change is when the writer enters “the sanctuary of God.” It’s very likely that for the Psalmist, it was the literal temple building that was the answer. For us, we believe God’s Holy Spirit is everywhere…we believe that entering the sanctuary of God is less about going somewhere and more about paying attention to God wherever we are and whatever we are doing.
The change place is recognizing that God is right here, right with us, right alongside. But what’s interesting is that the change in Psalm 73 takes awhile. There are some missteps along the way. The full healing, as we’ll see next week, doesn’t come until verse 23.
So put yourself in the flow of Psalm 73. See if it matches up with your experience in some way. If you brought a bible, open up right about to the middle to find the Psalms. The Psalms are the poetry and the worship songs of ancient Israel-Jesus would have grown up knowing and singing these songs. I’ll be reading from the Message, so the words and phrasing may be different than what you will be looking at, but the same meaning is there.
The writer of Psalm 73 is doing more than pouring out her or his own soul…the writer is doing this to help you and me as we try to make our way through life.
The first half of Psalm 73 is losing our grip looking at others, or feeling your own pain, or seeing injustice in the world.
And then the first bit of hope enters in verse 17. The writer enters the sanctuary of God, and we watch, and we’re hoping now there will be the change, now there will be hope. But there’s a bump in the road, a bit of a detour first. In looking for answers, the Psalmist starts lashing out; there’s a vindictiveness here that is far more the Psalmist than it is God. Listen and follow along:
Then I saw the whole picture:
The slippery road you’ve put them on,
with a final crash in a ditch of delusions.
In the blink of an eye, disaster!
A blind curve in the dark, and—nightmare!
We wake up and rub our eyes. . . . Nothing.
There’s nothing to them. And there never was. (Psalm 73:17-20, The Message)
There’s some truth here, but it’s leading in an unhelpful direction. The truth is, God does invite us to look at the long road of life and see consequences to a life of poor choices. I’m old enough that I’ve seen the cycle happen-people that I envied and wondered why they had it so much better than me, but then see it all crash in on them. There’s some truth here that in the long run, our actions do catch up to us.
But the problem here is the writer is still focused out there, on other people.
First, those people are making me jealous. Now, I’ll feel better if I know those people are going to pay, are going to get what they deserve! One of the ways we grasp, one of the ways we try to hold on too tightly is to blame other people and criticize and devalue them.
When the answer we look for to help ourselves is for God to take other people down…we’re still setting ourselves up for failure. We’re still stuck depending on others for how we feel about ourselves. While there is truth here that eventually our actions do have consequences, there’s a dead end road for us here too. If we are just looking for pay back, for blame, for labeling those “successful” ones we once envied as losers, as not worth anything…that’s not a path that will lead to freedom. We’ll be stuck depending on someone else doing badly in order to feel good about ourselves, and that’s not a good way to live.
When we are losing our grip, one temptation is to grasp for a “payback” solution. There are other temptations-lots of ways we panic and look for something to explain what’s wrong, someone to blame, some kind of “fix” for the pain we are experiencing or the injustice we are seeing. Sometimes for true healing, we have to stop, to let go of trying to find answers, and wait.
A man sat in my office this year in tears: “What have I done wrong that makes God give me this?” Underneath that was anger at God. Underneath that was his belief that he had done everything right, worked so hard, and God wasn’t being fair. It’s the first part of Psalm 73, and it was leading him to blame God. It was easier to blame God then to admit there were still some things he needed to change in his own life.
Waiting is hard. Waiting isn’t easy. In fact, God’s promise to be with us no matter what, to be with us in our pain…sometimes that’s an infuriating promise. Why can’t you just fix it, God? Why can’t you make it go away, instead of just sit beside me in my pain?
But it’s in that waiting with God that WE change.
It’s with God’s presence, when the grasping for answers and solutions and the blaming stops…it’s then that God does the most difficult work: it’s the waiting in God’s presence that changes our heart.
It’s all through the Bible. In the book of Job, we learn about Job the righteous man, Job the one in whom God brags and shows off and says “you can’t find fault in this guy!” But Job loses everything. Wealth, livelihood, respect, family. All of it is gone. He sits in mourning, and his friends do all the grasping for him, all the searching for answers. “You must have sinned. There has to be a reason for this.” “Why don’t you give up and just curse God and die?” None of the blaming and grasping does anything. It’s only when God shows up…it’s only when the presence of God comes to Job, without any answers or solutions, that things change. It’s when the friends shut up and stop the grasping that God can speak out of the silence.
It’s like the prophet Elijah in the book of 1 Kings in the Bible.
Elijah has this great moment, where he defeats all the prophets of Baal the false god. But the Queen wants to kill him and he gets scared and he runs away, depressed in the desert, and just wants to die. He’s angry at God. “I did all this good stuff for you, and what good is it? I’m running for my life in the desert. Just kill me.”
But God doesn’t. God lets him sleep, sends an angel to wake him up and feed him a few times, and then after taking care of the needs, God asks Elijah, “What are you doing here?” Elijah sort of blows a gasket he’s so mad. “What am I doing here? I’ve been your number one guy against all odds. I totally embarrassed 400 prophets of Baal so people would see how great you are. And look! I’m out here now running for my life because Queen Jezebel wants to kill me, that’s what I’m doing out here! I’ve had it with you.”
Here’s God’s chance to fix everything, to wipe out Jezebel or make Elijah king or do something to fix things. But no. God just promises to show up. “Go outside, Elijah, I’m going to pass by.” Presence. God’s presence is the promise.
And what a perfectly symbolic experience comes, one that had to speak to Elijah and definitely speaks to us.
Because when Elijah goes outside, the first things that come are the big things we want from God, the action, the vindication, the power. Listen:
“Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord…but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came…..a gentle whisper.” (1 Kings 19:11-12, TNIV)
See this is how God works. Not with the wind that immediately blows down our enemies. Not with the earthquake that immediately fixes injustice. Not with the fire that makes everybody burn and pay for the pain we have.
Nope. It’s in the silence. It’s in the waiting that the gentle whisper of God comes.
In Elijah’s case, the whisper actually told him he had more hard work to do. But it also reminded him he wasn’t alone; there were 7000 other people who followed God too, and God would always be with Elijah. God does act for healing and justice, but first we must wait for God’s presence to clear out our anger, blame, and vindictiveness. First we must let God change us from the inside out. Then God can take us by the hand and lead us!
The writer of Psalm 73 gets this, too:
When I was beleaguered and bitter,
totally consumed by envy,
I was totally ignorant, a dumb ox
in your very presence.
I’m still in your presence,
but you’ve taken my hand.
You wisely and tenderly lead me,
and then you bless me. (Psalm 73:21-24, The Message)
Now God’s presence has brought change! Now the writer can see her or his own bitterness, envy, ignorance. The grasping for answers and solutions has stopped. The waiting in God’s presence has brought a change of heart. Now, the writer can see…God has grabbed her hand.
So my encouragement, my challenge today is simple: fight your natural tendency to want to bring others down to make yourself feel better. Fight the tendency to blame someone else instead of look at your own stuff. Fight the tendency to have your solution happen right now. Instead…learn how to wait, stop grasping, and be in God’s presence. Listen for God’s quiet voice and experience God’s transforming presence.