Finding Burning Bushes When You’re Burned Out And Bushed!
I want you to know that in preparation for this sermon, I did some heavy-duty theological research. I immersed myself in some deep intellectual writings, and you’ll be happy to know that I found something in the classic works of the distinguished theologian, Dr. Seuss! It’s called “0 The Places You Go!” In his inimitable rhyme and meter, he writes:
You’ll be on your way up
You’ll be seeing great sights
You’ll be joining the high flyers
Who soar to great heights.
You can’t lag behind
Because you’ll have the speed
You’ll pass the whole gang
And soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly
You’ll be the best of the best
And wherever you go
You will top all the rest.
Except when you don’t,
Because sometimes you won’t!
I’m sorry to say
Because sadly it’s true
That bang-ups and hang-ups
Can happen to you.
You can get all hung up
In a prickly perch
And your gang will fly on
You’ll be left in a lurch.
You’ll come down from the perch
With an unpleasant bump
And chances are
You’ll be in a slump.
And when you’re in a slump
You’re not in for much fun
And unslumping yourself
Is not easily done!
If you don’t believe that, then you’ve never been in a slump in your life. If you don’t think it’s hard to “un-slump” yourself, then ask Anthony Young. Some of you know who he is. This summer he set the major league record for most consecutive losses by a pitcher-27. The record had stood since before the sinking of the Titanic! And to add insult to injury, not long ago, as the losses continued to mount up and his frustrations followed suit, he came into the locker room and tried to kick a roll of toilet paper. He missed, and struck the commode instead, nearly breaking his toe. Now that’s a slump!
But you know, I can relate to a guy like Anthony Young. Forget this “Be like Mike” stuff. None of us will ever be like Michael Jordan, but all of us are like Anthony Young. All of us know what it’s like to hit a slump in life, and all of us know how hard it is to “unslump” ourselves. But there’s help to be found on the pages of the Bible. It’s the story of Moses and the Burning Bush. We remember it from childhood. Moses’ life was in a deep slump. He had lost everything. All his dreams had evaporated. All the idealism of his youth was gone. One day he was on the top; the next day he was on the bottom. No longer was he a prince in Pharaoh’s court; now he was tending a bunch of miserable goats in a miserable wilderness, and he was miserable. He was burned out. He was bushed. He had had it. He was in a deep slump, and he couldn’t “unslump” himself. But with God’s help, he recaptured his dream. He found the burning bush when he was burned out and bushed! And what happened to Moses can happen to us. It’s in the Book. Exodus 3 and 4. Moses did four things. And, by the way, they were all the very opposite of what most of our “lubricate-your-personality, rah-rah self-improvement seminars” try to teach us. Four things. Note them down:
The first thing Moses did was to go where the action wasn’t.
He didn’t go where the action was-he went where the action wasn’t. It says in Exodus that he went to the “backside” of the desert- and in the Hebrew, it literally means “backside”. You’ve heard about places being called “the armpit of the world”. Well, Moses went to “the backside of the desert”. Enough said. However, I must tell you that several years ago, I went to that place on the Sinai Peninsula! It was, without any doubt, the most desolate, the most forbidding, the most miserable, the most God-forsaken place I have ever seen in my life. That’s where Moses went. He went where the action wasn’t. That means he went to a place where there were no other distractions, and where he could hear God speak. Ironically enough, it was in the most God-forsaken place you can imagine that Moses actually encountered God.
Thomas Merton was a great Roman Catholic mystic. I was reading him the other day, and stumbled across these words from his pen: “All significant religious experiences with God occur when you break the routine of your regular life.” Merton must have learned that from Moses.
Therefore, when we are in a slump and our dreams are in a shambles, when we are burned out and bushed, the first thing we need to do is to break our regular routine. We need to get to some place where nothing will distract us from contact with God. We need to get away from life’s incessant crush to find some place filled only with the sound of hush. How did Thomas Carlyle put it? “It is in silence that great things fashion themselves.”
That’s the first thing to do when your life’s in a slump. Break the routine. Go to the backside of the desert. Get out of the rat race long enough to hear the whispers of God in your soul. Go where the action isn’t!
The second thing Moses did was to wander without losing his wonder.
He didn’t quit. He didn’t give up. He didn’t run away. He didn’t throw up his hands in despair. He didn’t know where he was headed, but he kept moving and he kept looking. He was wandering, but he didn’t lose his sense of wonder. For Exodus tells us that Moses “turned aside to look at the burning bush.’ He was looking. He was curious. He was wide open to catch any signal God might wish to deliver.
Understand, please, that in that part of the world, burning bushes are relatively normal. In the blazing heat of the Sinai, the dry branches of desert bushes will experience “spontaneous combustion.” They will quite suddenly burst into flames. Most people in the Sinai have seen it often enough to be unimpressed. Not a big deal. But Moses was always alert. He kept looking for God in the ordinary things of life. So when he saw this burning bush, his curiosity caused him to see something quite unusual. This particular bush was not being consumed by the fire. It was burning, but it wasn’t burning up! And so he turned aside to look. And when God saw that Moses, for all his wandering, still had his sense of wonder, God spoke to him.
Let me ask you: How long has it been since you thought a new thought, took a new risk, did something different, dreamed a new dream? So many people today are caught up in the tiresome pursuit of secular perks and pleasures and possessions. Did you hear the story about the yuppie who was at the wheel of his sleek BMW, tooling along a bit too fast for an oncoming curve, and rolled the car over the side, and down into a ditch. When the police arrived, they found him sitting in the ditch all bloody and mangled. He was moaning and crying; “My beautiful BMW! My Beemer! My Beemer!” The policeman said, “What’s wrong?” He said: “Look what’s happened! I’ve totalled my greatest treasure.” The policeman said: “Well, man, haven’t you noticed that your arm is barely hanging from your shoulder?” He looked at his arm and cried out: “My Rolex! My Rolex!”
Dear friends, when your life hits a slump, then redraw your dreams. Look for something new. Look for God in the simple, ordinary things of life. You might ask Henry Ward Beecher about that. But wait, you can’t. He died a long time ago. Henry Ward Beecher preached in the 1800’s in New York City. Early in his ministry-he was 27 at the time-he agreed to exchange pulpits one Sunday with a country preacher. On the appointed Sunday, Beecher headed out to preach in that small rural church. There was a terrible snowstorm. When Beecher finally arrived at the church, there was only one person there-a young man. Beecher thought to himself: “Am I going to preach to just one person? I guess I should. I mean God brought the two of us here.” And so Beecher shook off his discouragement, and he climbed up into the pulpit, and he proceeded to preach to that solitary listener, and he preached as if the place had been packed. And then he headed back to New York. Beecher forgot all about it, but the young man never forgot about Beecher. Twenty-five years later, Henry Ward Beecher, now a nationally- known pulpiteer was speaking in Cleveland, Ohio. Afterwards a man approached him and said: “Dr. Beecher, you will not remember me, but twenty-five years ago we shared a country church in a snowstorm. You need to know that that day I chose to be a preacher too. And as a result, now, converts from your sermon are all over Ohio.”
When your life hits a slump, open your wondering eyes and look for God in the simple, ordinary events of everyday life. Moses, for all his wandering, never lost his wonder.
The third thing Moses did was to develop a “can’t do spirit.”
You heard me right- a “can’t-do” spirit. All my life, I’ve followed a “can do” spirit. I believe in positive thinking. I believe in having “possibility thinking” as a mental attitude. But I also believe in “impossibility management” for my life. You see, I’ve learned the things that I can’t do in life, and I entrust those things to the power of God. Like Moses. When God told Moses to go to Egypt, Moses said: “Lord, I can’t do it. I’m a nobody.” Quite a change for Moses. Earlier in his life, he was going to change the world all by himself, but now he understood that he was not in control of things. He had learned that there were some things he couldn’t do, and frankly, I think that is why ultimately he was victorious.
I have a book to which I refer frequently for inspiration. It’s called One Day at a Time. It’s from the twelve-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous. Alcoholism is not a part of my life or my family, but I love the book. The twelve-step program works, and the reason it works is because of the first step. The first step is to say: “We admitted we were powerless and that our lives had become”- what?- “unmanageable”.
I believe in a positive mental attitude, but I also believe in impossibility management for my life. There are some things I cannot manage in my life, and when I try to manage them, the results are always disastrous. Moses rekindled his dream in life, and emerged from his slump because he was willing to let God take over in his life. He said: “Lord, there are some things I can’t do, so I am going to depend completely on you.” What a wonderful freedom that affords!
The last thing Moses did was to speak loudly and carry a small stick.
We are taught the opposite: ” Speak softly and carry a big stick.” But it says in Exodus that God gave Moses two things. He gave Moses a word to speak. He said: “Moses, you say to Pharaoh, ‘Let my people go’ and you say it loudly.” And then God gave Moses a rod, a little walking stick. And God said: “Moses, carry this stick as a reminder that I will be with you.” And you know what Moses did with that stick? He turned the Nile River blood red, and covered the place with locusts and frogs and flies, and he broke the back of the strongest king in the world. He spoke the word of God loudly, and he carried a little stick to remind him that God was with him.
Darrell Porter was a catcher for the Kansas City Royals baseball team, but his career was jeopardized by a drinking problem. He was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. He finally confronted his alcohol problem and sought help. In the midst of his recovery, he met the Lord, and committed his life to Christ. His life and career were restored, and he had a new purpose in his life. But then, like the best of athletes, he slipped into a batting slump. One day Whitey Herzog, the manager of the Cardinals, went to Darrell Porter, put his arm around his shoulder, and said: “Darrell, we’ve got to work on your hitting. I don’t want you to get down on yourself.” Darrell replied: “Don’t worry, Whitey, the Lord is on my side.” And Whitey Herzog said: “Well, I’m sure the Lord’s on your side, but you’d better listen to me because the Lord doesn’t know much about hitting a baseball!”
I understand Whitey Herzog’s point, but Darrell Porter was actually closer to the truth. You see, God is always with us. While he may not know much about hitting a baseball, he does know a lot about us. And he has made it plain that the more we trust him with our lives, the more he will provide. Moses took God at His word. He spoke loudly the word God had given him to speak-and he carried a little stick to remind him that God was with him- always. And that was enough.
And so, that distinguished theologian, Dr. Seuss, writes:
When you’re in a slump
You’re not in for much fun
And un-slumping yourself
Is not easily done!
When your life is in a slump, and you’re burned out and bushed, it’s not easy to get out of that slump, but it can be done. Remember Moses. He went to where the action wasn’t-he broke his regular routine so he could hear God speak. He wandered without losing his wonder- he looked for God in the ordinary things of life. He developed a “Can’t Do” spirit-he trusted the power of God to overcome his own weaknesses. And he spoke loudly while carrying a little stick-he knew that God would be with him, no matter what.
That was enough for Moses.
And it can be enough for you and for me….