If You Have No Time For God, Time Is Your God!
It goes without saying, I suppose, that we are living in tense, trying, highly pressurized times. If I were to choose a word or two to try to describe the state of so many people’s minds and hearts these days, I think I would choose the words “stretched almost to the breaking point.”
Just in this last week I visited with a young teenager who claims that her faith is being tested and even attacked by both Christians and non-Christians alike; supposedly Christian young men trying to tempt her to use alcohol or to engage in an intimate physical relationship and she is struggling to find the strength to maintain her standards. And I had a phone call from a magnificent Christian woman who is being ripped apart by having to make disastrous medical decisions with regards to her mother. She wonders how in the world she can stand up under the relentless pressure of it all. And then I got a letter from a middle-aged business executive sharing with me the fact that his business obligations are more and more demanding, pulling him more and more away from time with his family and even away from his service to Christ in the church, and he wonders what in the world he can do about it. Then I sat with a dynamic, significant leader who proceeded to share with me about his marriage which has meant so much and which now is in danger of crumbling. He cannot seem to understand how and why it is all happening and furthermore, he does not know what to do about it all.
Every single one of those persons is stretched to the breaking point. They are not alone. These tense, trying, highly pressurized times are producing more and more people stretched to that point. Sometimes the results are disastrous. Witness Mark Barton-stretched to the breaking point- who then snaps and proceeds to slaughter innocent people in the city of Atlanta. Maybe the results are not always so calamitous, but the reality is that more and more of us are being stretched almost to the breaking point. How do we find peace and power for our living in the midst of these tense, trying, highly pressurized times?
Well, that’s precisely where this passage from Isaiah chapter 30 comes in. You see, I want you to understand that when Isaiah wrote the words, the words were written to the people in the land of Judah and it was a terribly intense and pressure-filled time for those people. Their country was under attack by the Assyrians and the people of Judah had mobilized themselves into a frantic effort to try to build up their military forces and solidify their country’s defenses. In fact, the whole effort practically consumed them. The pressure was so intense that the people were, quite literally, breaking under the strain of it all. It was at that point that Isaiah, the prophet, spoke very pointed words to them, reminding them that for all of their frantic activity they had forsaken their first priority in life. They had refused to make time to tend to the most important relationship they had- their relationship with their God. So Isaiah said to the people of Judah: “The answer to the pressure you are feeling is not to be found in activity, but in attention. Pay attention to what the Lord is saying to you. Listen to God’s Words to you”, Isaiah said. “In returning and rest you shall be saved. In quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” Right there Isaiah gave to the people of Judah and Isaiah gives to the people here the formula for finding peace and power in the midst of these tense, trying, highly pressurized times. He says: “Return to the Lord. In returning and rest you shall be saved.” He says: “Rely upon the Lord. In quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
The first thing that we must do to gain peace and power in life is to return to the Lord.
So many people I see today searching for peace and power in their lives are giving themselves to even more frantic activity in an attempt to gain that peace and power. They are pushing themselves, demanding more and more of themselves all of the time. It troubles me.
By the way, there was a great horse race some years ago at Aqueduct Park in New York. The horse race featured Man O’ War, the greatest race horse of his time. And he was matched in that race against an up-and-coming younger horse named John P. Greer. The race attracted enormous attention. The stands were filled with people to watch this match race between the great Man O’ War and John P. Greer. At the start the horses broke cleanly. By the time they reached the quarter pole they were neck-in-neck. But then, midway through the back stretch, suddenly, John P. Greer began to move into the lead and people wondered if the great Man O’ War was going to be defeated. He had never lost a race. They wondered if this might be the time. Now no one understood Man O’ War better than his jockey. The same jockey rode him in every race he ever ran. That jockey understood the spirit and the stamina of the great horse. And that jockey also knew that never once in all of the previous races, never once had he taken the whip to Man O’ War. This time, as they rounded the final turn and headed toward the stretch, John P. Greer was still in the lead. And it was at that point that the jockey took the whip and struck the great horse on the flank. Suddenly there was this enormous surge of power that came rolling up from inside that magnificent animal and his hooves began to pound like pistons and he began to overtake John P. Greer and just before the end of the race Man O’ War thrust his neck over the finish line first.
I don’t tell you that story because it was a great horse race. I tell you that story because Man O’ War had to be whipped to win that race. Man O’ War was a horse. You and I are not horses. When I see people whipping themselves, driving themselves and pushing themselves and demanding more and more of themselves and throwing themselves more and more into frantic activity in a desperate search for peace and power and light it troubles me. You see, all of that activity simply winds tighter the taut strings of their spirits and look at the effect that is having on the society of which you and I are a part.
We are living now in a time where we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, where we have wider freeways but narrower points of view, where we have fancier houses but broken homes, where we have higher incomes but lower morals. We have more knowledge, but we have less wisdom. We have managed to conquer outer space but we haven’t even come close to conquering inner space. We’ve learned only too well how to make a living, but we seem to have no clue about how to make a life. We spend too recklessly, drive too fast, laugh too little, anger too quickly, chastise too severely, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much and pray too seldom. As a result, the society in which you and I are living is quite frankly in danger of coming apart at the seams. The answer, Beloved, is the answer given by Isaiah. The answer to the pressure we feel is not in activity but in attention. The answer is in paying attention to what the Lord is saying. The answer is in making and taking time to focus attention upon the Almighty. The answer is in returning to the Lord.
And Isaiah says that the next thing we need to do is to rest in the Lord.
Take the case of the great Apostle Paul. Paul went to extraordinary effort in his own life to gain a sense of peace and power. He gave himself to an almost obsessive intellectual pursuit so that he became known far and wide for his intellectual brilliance. He kept every letter of the law. He sought to corral to himself whatever meager earthly power he could find. He relentlessly sought to destroy anyone who held a different view or a different value from his own. He gave himself without reserve- heart, mind, body, and soul to try to find peace and power in his life. It didn’t work. And then there came a day when Jesus Christ knocked him off his horse into the dust on the Damascas road, and there, Jesus said to him: “Pay attention to me.” And it was then that Jesus lifted him up, dusted him off, and sent him off into the Arabian Desert for a period of years so that there he would have and make and take the time to focus on God and what God wanted him to do in the world. And it was only after that time when he returned to the Lord that Paul then was ready to come forth, and in the name of Jesus Christ, to help to turn the world upside down. He is calling us to do what Paul did- to offer our hopes and our dreams, our hurts and our bruises, to offer every dimension of our human experience to God to take and make the time to focus our attention on the Almighty. “For it is,” Isaiah says, “in returning and rest that you shall be saved.” The first thing that we have to do to gain peace and power in life is to return to the Lord. But not only are we to return to the Lord,
Isaiah says that we are to rely completely on the Lord.
“In quietness and trust shall be your strength.” Isaiah says: “Trust in God.” It is a theme that is repeated constantly throughout the pages of Scripture- “Trust in God.” “Trust in God.”
Interesting, the Bible never debates that, never argues about it, never even tries to explain it. It simply says: “Trust in God. Rely completely on God in your everyday experience.” It’s a lesson we haven’t learned yet, have we?
I have a friend who says: Technology has made dentistry painless, and bicycles chainless, carriages horseless and laws enforceless, cooking fireless and telegraphy wireless, coffee caffeinless and birth weanless, oranges seedless and putting greens weedless, roads dustless and steel rustless and tennis courts sodless and your life and mine Godless. YIKES!
It is true, isn’t it? Oh, I love what technology is doing for life in our world, but the fact of the matter is you and I will not be saved by technology. Only Christ can do that. I have a plaque in my office in plain view. It serves as a daily reminder to me. The plaque reads: “Only one life, twill soon be passed. Only what’s done for Christ will last.” Only what’s done for Christ will last.
It has been my privilege over the years to see the ruins of some of humanity’s greatest achievements- the Temple at Jerusalem, the Coliseum in Rome, the Egyptian pyramids, the temple of Diana at Ephesus, the Parthenon at Athens. I could go on and on. Magnificent human achievements now ruins- masses of crumbling rock. Just last spring a group of us visited the city of Caesarea in Israel. Did I say city? The ruins of the city of Caesarea. You see, Caesarea was built by Herod the Great- the very same Herod who sought to kill the baby Jesus. Herod intended for Caesarea to be his crowning achievement in life. He wanted Caesarea to be the best-known and the most glorious city in the world. For a time, that is exactly what it was. In 12 BC King Herod invited the world to come and view the spectacle of Caesarea in the Olympic games of 12 BC, and the world came and people were astonished at what they saw. And for years Caesarea was the envy of the ancient world- a magnificent human achievement. Today, just ruins and a tourist site. Only what’s done for Christ will last.
We are to rely upon God every day of our lives. The reason we cannot find peace and power in our experience is that too often our will is at cross purposes with God’s will. We are relying upon all kinds of other things in life, but not upon God. Just recently, Jack Anderson, the syndicated columnist addressed the Washington Press Club and in his address he noted that the vast majority of people in America claim to have a religious belief. “But then,” he said, “the problem is that more and more Americans are acting as if they do not believe.” He then said the greatest danger facing this nation today is moral decay. We have forgotten how to trust in God. After his address, someone asked him if he had a suggestion about ways to reverse the moral decline. He delivered of himself an amazing response. He said: “Yes, the place to start is to start living by three very simple rules:
Rule number one: IF IT ISN’T RIGHT, DON’T DO IT.
Number two: IF IT ISN’T TRUE, DON’T SAY IT.
Number three: IF IT ISN’T YOURS, DON’T TAKE IT.”
Those rules are easy to remember, and I want you to remember them and I want you to say them right out loud after me:
Number one: If it isn’t right, don’t do it.
Number two: If it isn’t true, don’t say it.
Number three: If it isn’t yours, don’t take it.
Live by those three rules. Trust God completely. Rely on God’s will in your everyday life and live by those rules and I promise you it is going to make a difference in the style of your own living. And then you, in your own living, are going to begin to make a difference in the world around us. Isaiah says: “In returning and rest you shall be saved. In quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” We are to return to the Lord. And we are to rely completely upon the Lord.
You know, there’s nothing quite so wonderful as a heart-to-heart conversation between friends. We are friends, aren’t we- you and I? I mean, I’m in my eighteenth year of standing in this pulpit and sharing with you my mind and my heart and my faith and my life. There is a bond between us, isn’t there? Out of the strength and power of that friendship I want to say to you that if you are seeking peace and power in your life, the answer is to be found in taking and making time to focus your attention upon the Lord. The answer is to be found in returning to the Lord in your own spiritual life. The answer is to be found in relying upon the Lord every single day that you live. From my heart to yours I say: That is the way to find peace and power in the midst of these tense, trying, highly pressurized times. You can believe me when I tell you that because you see, I love you way too much to ever tell you anything that is not true.