Sermons
Jan
22

A Way With Worry

“A Way With Worry”

Reverend Rick Kirchoff

January 18, 2004

 

 

Philippians 4:6-7 NRSV   Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Let us pray. Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove.  Descend on us, reveal your love. Word of God and inward light, wake our spirits; clear our sight. Surround us now with all your glory.  Speak through me that sacred story.  Take my lips and make them bold.  Take hearts and minds and make them whole.  Stir in us that sacred flame.  Then send us forth to spread your name.  Amen.

You have probably heard it said that sometimes God calms the storm.  At other times God calms the child who’s in the storm. (ML)   But the truth is, sometimes God calms the storm! 

That’s what God did for Moses.  As Pharaoh fumed behind him and the Red Sea foamed in front of him, Moses had no where to turn but up.  He lifted his staff toward the heavens, and a way was opened and Egypt became little more than a memory.

Max Lucado says, “Sometimes God does calm the storm.  But most of the time, God calms the one who is caught in the midst of the storm. Rather than quiet the tempest, God calms the sailor.  Rather than still the storm, God is able to still the one who is in the midst of the storm.”   

Like the night that Jesus was in the boat with his disciples and the storm came up, and Jesus was asleep and the disciples were terrified.  They go to Jesus and say, “Wake up, wake up; we’re about to drown. Save us from this.”  And Jesus rubs his eyes and says, “Why are you afraid?”  He gave a command and the winds and the waves grew still.  Now, what is more amazing?  That Jesus calmed a storm? Or that he could be calm in the midst of the storm?  While the boat was bouncing and the winds were howling and the waves were bursting over the boat, Jesus was asleep.  He was calm and confident and at peace, even in a storm.

It sounds nice, doesn’t it?  Wouldn’t we all like to experience that kind of calm and that kind of confidence and peace in our lives?  But for most of us, such calm seems illogical, even incomprehensible. But while this peace is beyond our understanding, the scripture affirms it is never beyond our reach. 

And oh, how we need that kind of peace in our lives!  Because there’s always something trying to upset us, trying to disturb our peace, something to worry about — something on the outside coming inside and disturbing our peace.  Since Sept. 11, we have added a whole new lexicon of worry words: increased threat-levels, Al Qaida and bio-terrorism.  There are smart bombs, letter bombs, shoe bombs, dirty bombs and the mother of all bombs.  For awhile, even a common substance known as “duct tape” took on a new, more sinister meaning. 

Then, there are the everyday worries that you and I have about family and friends, and losing jobs, aging parents, wayward children, unexpected illnesses, and financial struggles.  And what does the media tell us? We watch the news and we have something new to worry about.  They say you step outside, and the sun’s rays are going to give you cancer.  You stay inside and you have to be careful about breathing because your house probably contains the dreaded black mold.  They say watch those carbs; check that cholesterol.  And now, we hear even the cows have gone mad! 

So, we worry.  We have this “thin stream of fear trickling through our souls.”  Some of us in this room have advanced degrees in worry. We could teach seminars on how to worry because we do it so well.  We worry about getting enough sleep and then we worry that we slept too late.  Some of us worry that someday they’re going to discover that lettuce was really fattening all along and that donuts were really health food!  And some of us worry what the dog thinks when he sees us step out of the shower. (ML)

We worry about all kinds of things!

And behind our worry is a very powerful myth.  The myth is that by worrying, we can somehow control what is otherwise uncontrollable. It is built on the belief that if we worry enough, we can gain control and affect the outcome.  If we worry enough about our kids, our marriage, our job, our health, the economy and the stock market…if we just worry enough, then, we can control what happens. Oh, if only it worked!

Do you want to worry less?  Scripture’s counsel is this: Pray more! “Don’t worry about anything…pray about everything.God’s prescription for less anxiety is more prayer. 

And what are we to pray about?  Paul says, “Pray about everything.” Everything?  Yes, everything!  About dirty diapers, broken refrigerators, conflicts, temptations, traffic jams, economy, retirement investments, job expectations, marriage, children, terrorism!  Don’t worry about these things…pray about them!     

In scripture, in place after place, we’re told to pray without ceasing… to be constant in our prayer…to pray at all times…to continue steadfastly in prayer.  So, when are we to pray?  Always!   What are we to pray about?  Everything! 

Now, as I say this, and as I look into some of your faces, I know some of you are saying to yourselves: “There he goes again!  He’s always saying we should pray more.  But now, he’s really lost it. He’s gone off the deep end!  He wants us to pray all the time! Doesn’t he know that I have to get up at 5:30 every morning and get dressed and prepare breakfast for the children, and then I have to take the kids to day care and then go to work and try to satisfy my grumpy boss, and then get my job done in time so that I can go to the gym and get a little bit of exercise?  And then after I exercise, I have to run by and pick up the kids and make my way through all that traffic, and then get home in time to have a little bit of life of my own?  What does he think?  Doesn’t he know I’m overworked and overstressed?  I’m worn out.  I am too busy for this!” (ML)

 

Well, I want you to know that if I have ever left you with the thought of prayer as a burden, then I apologize.  I have miscommunicated, because the heart of God that calls us to prayer is not a heart that calls us to have more burdens in our life, but wants to alleviate the burdens that we carry.

 

To say that prayer is just another burden in our lives would be like a bride or a groom going on their honeymoon and saying that time spent with their beloved is a hassle.

 

How would you like it if your mate said to you, “I can give you twenty minutes, but that’s it!  Don’t ask for anymore.  I need my time!” How many of you would like to have your spouse show up and say, “I want something today!”  You look at them and wonder what it is they are wanting.  You say, “Oh, here he comes again.  What does he want this time?  A clean shirt, a hot meal, a little romance?” You wouldn’t put up with that!  (ML)

 

And I need to say a stern word.  Neither does God!  God “aches” for more than that.   Jesus says, “How often have I ached to do more for you”…than just a few favors, “but you wouldn’t let me.” God aches to be in an intimate relationship with you.  Not just a here-and-there relationship, but a lifelong, life-giving, everyday, moment-by-moment, soul-nourishing, power-infusing, peace-imparting relationship!  God wants there to be not one moment of your life that you will be out of touch or on your own.

 

You might ask, “What does that mean?  What would that kind of prayer look like?  Does it mean walking along and just suddenly stopping on the street and bowing your head in prayer?  Is it like the Muslims who set aside five times a day to pray?  Is it constantly muttering under your breath like someone who is insane?  No!  It is none of these.  It is simply this: living your life in the constant, conscious awareness that in every moment, you are in the presence of God.

 

It means making the choice to become more aware…aware of four realities.  (MD)

 

First, it is the choice to say that from this moment on, “I’m going to live my life in the constant, conscious awareness of the presence of God.” That the old divisions between secular and sacred are no longer real because all of life is sacred because God is there.  It is living each moment in the knowledge that you are not alone…for if the Gospel is real and God’s promises are true…then you are surrounded with the mysterious, unseen, yet wonderful presence of the living God. 

 

This means dismissing any concept of prayer as a “now and then nod to God!”  In this kind of prayer, you never hang up.  You never disconnect.  You never log off.  You never shut down! You never say “Amen,” that’s it — I’ll be back later.  Rather, you make the choice to live all your life in the presence of God. 

 

Then, second, it is asking God to help you to be aware of yourself — to be aware of your moods, your feelings, your fears, your temptations, your sins, your habit patterns, your prejudices, your pride.  But not just your flaws and weaknesses, but also to be aware of your gifts and your strength and seeking guidance in how to use them. 

 

Then third, ask God to help you in every moment of your day,to be more and more aware of the people that you encounter during the day and to intentionally relate to them as persons of sacred worth. 

 

Finally, it is to live your life, moment by moment, more and more aware of the world — the world both as it is and as God wants it to be.

 

Now, that kind of awareness is not natural for any of us.  It is something that has to be cultivated.  It requires discipline.  But it is worth it!  For the outcome is nothing less than the peace of God!  A peace far more wonderful than the mind can comprehend.  

 

But is it possible?  Is it really possible to live this way? 

 

Frank Laubach asked that question.  He was born in 1884.  He became a missionary and was called God’s ambassador to the illiterate.  He set about the task of teaching people all across the globe how to read.  He was not a monk isolated from people; he was perhaps the most widely traveled man of his day.  But though he was a devout Christian, at the age of 44 he said that he felt distant from God. So, Frank set out to answer a question: Can we have contact with God all of the time?  All the time when we are awake… awake in his presence and then fall asleep in his arms?  Can we attain that?  Can we do God’s will all the time?  Think God’s thoughts all the time?  Can I bring the Lord back into my mind flow every few seconds so that God will always be on my mind?  And then Frank said, “I choose to make the rest of my life an experiment in answering this question.” 

 

That experiment began in January of 1930.  In his journals he recorded his experiences with God up until his death in 1970.  I want to share a few of them with you this morning. 

 

There is a sense of being led by an unseen hand which takes mine…and grows upon me daily….

 

Oh this thing of keeping in constant touch with God, of making him the object of my thought and the companion of my conversations, it is the most amazing thing I have ever run across.  It is working.  I cannot do it even for half a day, not yet, but I have come to believe that I shall someday be doing it for the entire day.  It is a matter of acquiring new habit of thought.

 

I find that I like the Lord’s presence so much that when for half an hour or so he slips out of my mind, as he does so many times a day, I feel as though…I’ve lost something very precious.

 

This concentration upon God is a strenuous thing, but everything else has ceased to be so.  I think more clearly, I forget less frequently, things which I did with a strain before, I now do easily and with no effort. I worry about nothing….  I no longer feel in a hurry about anything….  Nothing can go wrong except that God may slip from my mind if I do not keep on my guard. 

 

I don’t know how that strikes you, but I hope that it causes an ache in your soul, an ache for what can be…an ache for what is possible. It struck a place in me and as I’ve begun this new year, I’ve made a resolution…a faith promise to God…to make it my goal to live as many minutes as possible each day consciously turning my mind toward God. 

 

And I’ve begun that.  I feel like a kindergartner in this discipline. Yet, already, I find I’m growing more comfortable in places that used to overwhelm me.  You’ve heard me talk in the past about how I hate traffic jams.  But now, amazingly, I find myself looking forward to traffic jams!  That’s a miracle in itself!  Because for a few moments, as I wait in traffic, I have a time that I am undistracted and I can be in a time of worship.  I find that when I am overwhelmed with some problem…some burden or worry that comes into my life…I am able to stop and focus not on the problem, but on God.  And when I put the focus there, an answer usually begins to come.  I’m just beginning in this, but I am convinced that if I were to continue this…if you were to continue this…if we as a congregation would step into this stream of spiritual formation, that an amazing thing would happen.  And I would say that some of you would say, in a year from now, “We don’t have the same preacher that we used to have, because something has happened to him.  God is doing something in his life that is new and different.”  My life will, little by little, day by day, be reshaped by a discipline that brings a growing sense of the presence and peace and leadership of the Spirit of God.

 

There is power in the inner disciplines of our life. 

 

Paul Harvey, the master storyteller, tells a story that’s one of my favorites.  I’ve shared it with you before.  It is a story that is so shaping my life at this moment and I invite you to hear it once again. 

 

In 1958 Liu Shih-kun was 19, and he won second place in the First International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition.  Van Clyburn won first place and went on to international fame.  Liu returned to China, largely forgotten by the rest of the world, but recognized in China as an established concert musician.  And then came the Cultural Revolution.  He was imprisoned for refusing to renounce the music of the East.  While imprisoned, he was savagely beaten.  His arm was broken.  For six years, he sat in a tiny cell, with nothing except the teachings of Mao, no paper on which to write, and certainly no piano. 

 

Then, amazingly, President Nixon built that diplomatic bridge to China and the  prison door opened for Liu.  An imprisoned concert pianist would have been an embarrassment, so Liu was released from jail.  They asked him to play in Peking with the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra. Liu played flawlessly.  After the concert he was again imprisoned for eighteen months.  He was then released to play one more time. Again, he played brilliantly. 

 

Liu never returned to prison after that.  He was finally recognized in his homeland as a gifted musician. 

 

But the fact that he had played flawlessly is astounding.  For while Liu was in prison, everything musical had been taken away from him.  Not even paper and a pen to be able to write and to remember his music. Yet something was left in Liu that the guards could not take — his reason for living, his love for music.  For 7½ years, in that tiny prison cell, Liu Shih-kun practiced his beloved music in his vivid imagination on a piano that no one could see.

 

You and I never know what challenges are going to come into our lives, or when they will come, or what worries will overtake us and try to shake us.  But it is through the quiet, inner discipline of prayer as we pray about everything, as we practice the presence of God in prayer without ceasing, that we experience a peace that will keep us, and keep us strong.

 

So the Apostle is right when he says: “Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything…and the peace that passes understanding will guard your hearts and your minds.”

 

Thanks be to God.

 

Let us pray.  O God, we cannot even begin to imagine the riches that you would open to us through prayer.  We see only duty and burden, but you would liberate us and free us.  O God, help us always to remember and to be passionate about time with you.  Amen.

 

————————–

 

Endnotes: This sermon is based, in part, upon material from the following sources:

 

  1. Rodney Buchanan, “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living”
  2. Maxie Dunnam, “The Workbook of Living Prayer”
  3. Paul Harvey, “The Rest of the Story”
  4. Max Lucado, various writings and sermons including “Held By An Unseen Hand” and “Worry? You Don’t Have To”
  5. John Ortberg, “Truths that Transform: Don’t Worry — Pray”