January 21, 2001
A couple had two little boys, ages 8 and 10, who were
excessively mischievous. They were always getting
into trouble and their parents knew that, if any mischief
occurred in their town, their sons were probably involved.
The boys’ mother heard that a clergyman in town had
been successful in disciplining children, so she asked if
he would speak with her boys. The clergyman agreed, but asked
to see them individually. So the mother first sent her 8-year-old in the morning, with the older boy to see the clergyman
in the afternoon.
The clergyman, a huge man with a booming voice, sat
the younger boy down and asked him sternly, “Where is
God?” The boy’s mouth dropped open, but he made no
response, sitting there with his mouth hanging open,
wide-eyed. So the clergyman repeated the question in
an even sterner tone. “Where is God?”
Again the boy made no attempt to
answer. So the clergyman raised his voice even more
and shook his Finger in the boy’s face and bellowed,
“WHERE IS GOD?”
The boy screamed and bolted from the room, ran
directly home and dove into his closet, slamming the
door behind him. When his older brother found him in
the closet, he asked, “What happened?”
The younger brother, gasping for breath, replied, “We
are in BIG trouble this time, dude. God is missing –
and they think WE did it!”
Where is God? That’s a question that many people are asking today. And not just people who are ‘out there’ but also those who are ‘in here.’ Today, in spite of all of the wealth and opportunities, options and abilities, there is a searching for an inner peace; an inner hope and assurance. People are looking for God or some spiritual experience to help them deal with the inner aspects of life that none of our modern conveniences and technologies offer us. How then, do we find and see God today?
Today is the second of an eight Sunday study designed to help us overcome the barriers and obstacles that keep us from possessing and experiencing the future that God has for us. We began our study last week with perhaps the hardest barrier to overcome – a painful past. We reviewed the story of Joseph and his brothers and looked on as we saw how they dealt with their past and its pain. We also saw them make a decision to let go of that pain and embrace one another and move into the future that God had for them.
Today we look at another barrier or obstacle that I would also call a challenge – tracking God’s involvement in the everyday. I don’t know about you, but there are days I find it a challenge to see God’s involvement myself. There are bills to pay, kids to feed and clothe, conflicts to resolve, decisions to make, a schedule to keep, and on and on and on. It is easy to loose sight of God, isn’t it? And our culture sure doesn’t help us keep track of Him, does it?
And yet at the same time we live in a culture that is so hungry for a spiritual experience. Just look at some of the TV programs that deal with the spiritual dimension of life – Touched By Angel, X-Files, Dark Angel and others. Some look at the dark side others look at the light side. Books on various spiritual issues are the hot items. There is a great interest in spiritual matters that we cannot ignore.
But the Christian faith offers not just a spiritual experience or a spiritual solution but a hope. A hope in a God that cares, that is personal, that wants to have a personal relationship with us, and who has a future for us. But, the challenge is to have faith and hope in this God that we cannot see or touch or smell. How do we experience, how do we encounter God? How do we ‘track’ God in the everyday experiences of life?
We really can’t ‘track’ God per se. God is spirit and He simply does not leave physical evidence lying around that says, hereeers God.
And yet there is evidence of God all around us isn’t there? Evidence that makes God credible in the everyday events of life in ways that assure us of God’s presence and work in the world. It’s spiritual evidence. We see it in a life that has been changed in a way that cannot be verified any other way other than God has been invited in to do some important interior redecorating and redesigning.
There is also the evidence of circumstances that cannot be described any other way such as a financial gift from an unlikely source that provides help in a critical time. Or an unsolicited offer for help during a critical time crunch. Or have a coming together of thoughts and ideas during a time of planning and dreaming without conscious effort.
But, what keeps us from seeing God at work and tracking his involvement in the everyday? What are the barriers to clearly comprehending God’s movement and action in our lives and the lives of those we care about? That’s the question I think a lot of us are asking these days. We don’t have difficulty accepting the reality of God. We have difficult accepting the reality that God cares for and works in, through, and around us on daily basis.
I am currently reading a book that touches on this barrier to dreaming God’s dreams and possessing the future that he has for us. Written by Philip Yancey, it is called Reaching For The Invisible God: What Can We Expect To Find? . I recommend it for your reading and growth.
On the back cover is this statement, “Life with God doesn’t always work like we thought. High expectations slam against the reality of personal weaknesses and unwelcome surprises. And the God who we’ve been told longs for our company may seem remote, emotionally unavailable.
Is God playing games? What can we count on this God for? How can we know? How can we know God?
This relationship with a God we can’t see, hear, or touch – how does it really work?”
We can resonate with those thoughts can’t we? We often, perhaps more than we care to admit, have doubts not about God but about His ability to work on our behalf. We also have doubts about our relationship with God. Is it working? Does it work? Is it making a difference? Some of us often wonder, is this all of this believing, praying, serving, giving, worshipping, doing, and going that we say is a part of Christianity, is it really true? Does it work? What good is it?
Now you might be shocked that I, a pastor, would say such things from the pulpit and admit to the existence of such things. But they are there, they lie just below the surface and they will rise up every now and then and block us from tracking God’s involvement. I think that before we can make the decision to track God’s involvement in the everyday we need to address a few of these barriers that make it difficult to do so.
One of these barriers perhaps is one that we may have admitted to privately, perhaps to another person, but never out loud in public. And yet it is one that we wrestle with, feel guilty and ashamed about, and may be even fear that it is a terrible sin.
It is the barrier called disappointment.
Have you ever experienced disappointment in your life? I don’t know too many people that have avoided disappointment. In fact, I don’t know anyone who has. We are disappointed on many fronts in life – with family, friends, work, our favorite sports team, government, the church, and, if we are really honest, sometimes we are disappointed with God.
Disappointment is one of the issues in the life of Jonah the prophet. Jonah was told by God to go to Nineveh and preach the message of judgment to its residents. He, of course, tells God no by running in the opposite direction. Well, as the story goes, Jonah becomes fish bait when he is thrown overboard from the ship he is on during a violent storm that he says is evidence of God’s displeasure with his disobedience.
He survives this situation and lives again to see dry land. Again God tells him to go to Nineveh and this time he does. He delivers the message, and as we read in chapter 3 they repent. This is much to the disappointment of Jonah who by his comments in chapter 4 feels that the Ninevites deserve the punishment of God.
Listen to the opening verses of chapter 4: “This change of plans upset Jonah and he became very angry. So he complained to the Lord about it. . . . Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive because nothing I predicted is going to happen. The Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?”
Jonah expected God to act a certain way. He admits in 4:2 that he knew God could easily change His plan of sending judgment and destruction because of His love and compassion. But then he says, ‘nothing I predicted is going to happen.’ He predicted and expected destruction. But the people earnestly repented of their ways and so God did not send judgment and destruction. Well Jonah became angry at and disappointed with God. And Jonah was a prophet of God. Who else besides a prophet would have such a clear ability to track God’s involvement in the everyday affairs of life?
If we are going to track God’s involvement in the everyday of life, we have to acknowledge and let go of our disappointments. Our disappointment affects and influences our ability to track God because our spiritual vision becomes blurred by disappointment. We begin looking at the disappointment rather than at God.
The solution? Take a long, hard, and prayerful look at your expectations. This will take time. It will be a challenge. Some expectations will have to go. Some will have to be lowered. Some will have to be raised.
Don’t do this alone. Find someone who can help you process this area of your life and can hold you up in prayer. The value of a partner in this regard is invaluable.
There’s another barrier that we need to examine that can keep us from tracking God’s involvement in the everyday. It too is just below surface. It too ties in with expectations and disappointments, but from a slightly different angle. This barrier is the unwelcome surprises spoken of on the cover notes of Yancey’s book that I have mentioned.
What are unwelcome surprises? An unexpected or tragic death. Cancer. A chronic illness that comes out of nowhere and slows us down. Divorce papers in the mailbox. A sudden injury that seemed preventable. An angry outburst that quickly shatters a friendship. A revelation of a secret life that affects the physical, spiritual, mental, and social health and well being of others.
They are the landmines that can lame us for a short and intense period of time or for the rest of our days on earth. They are unexpected and they challenge our faith and our assumptions about God and His character. The tempt us to look down at the raging waters, like Peter did, and start sinking into fear, anger, and bewilderment when we see them rise up around us.
These unwelcome surprises can, and do, create barriers that make it hard for us to track God in the everyday. They force us to ask the ‘why’ question. ‘Why God did this have to happen to me?” “Why God did you allow this to happen?” “Why God didn’t you stop me from doing this?”
The book of Job is a book about unwelcome surprises and our responses to them as well as other important life issues. Job is hit with the loss of his family, his possession, and his health in quick succession.
Then he has friends who sit with him and tell him, and we need to have some respect for these well-meaning friends, that he, Job, has done something wrong to deserve this punishment. Tell us what it is and confess it to God!
But, Job has not done anything wrong. He maintains his innocence. But, depression sets in and Job laments his life. In the end God speaks and neither Job nor his friends, can answer God’s questions that He addresses to them. God is behind it all. He allows it for some purpose.
Like Job, his wife, and his friends, unwelcome surprises in life come quickly and suddenly and we begin to make all sorts of assumptions about life, good and evil, personal choice, and God. Assumptions that make it hard to believe that God is good and fair and just and available to us at a moment’s notice.
What is the solution to this barrier? Passion.
Passion Jim? Passion.
Listen to Philip Yancey explain why. “As I look back over the giants of the faith, all had one thing in common: neither victory nor success but passion. An emphasis on spiritual technique may well lead us away from the passionate relationship that God values above all. . .the Bible emphasizes a relationship with a Person, and personal relationships are never steady state.
God’s favorites responded with passion. . . Yet never did they wholly give up on God, and never did God give up on them. God can handle anger, blame, and even willful disobedience. One thing, however, blocks relationship: indifference. . .
From the spiritual giants of the Bible, I learn this crucial lesson about relating to an invisible God: What ever you do, don’t ignore God. Invite God into every aspect of life. For some Christians, the times of Job-like crisis will represent the greatest danger. How can they cling to a faith in God who appears unconcerned and even hostile? Others, and I count myself among them, face a more subtle danger. An accumulation of distractions – a malfunctioning computer, bills to pay, an upcoming trip, a friend’s wedding, the general busyness of life – gradually edges God away from the center of my life. Some days I meet people, eat, work, make decisions, all without giving God a single thought. And that void is far more serious than what Job experienced, for not once did Job stop thinking about God.”
Busyness – a big barrier to tracking God in the everyday of life. Maybe, the biggest barrier of all. We do get too busy for God and like a submarine that ends up in the deep beyond what it’s hull is designed for, we collapse upon ourselves and our dreams and hopes are crushed beneath a weight of care and worry that we do not need to bear.
Solution? Let go. Simplify your life. Let Christ, not your social calendar or community expectations or your family history, shape your identity. Ask God to help you develop a passion for Him that exceeds any other passion in your life.
God is present in the everyday. Don’t let your disappointments, those unexpected surprises, or the busyness of life keep you from tracking Him. He wants to be found and He wants to find you. Look for God in the disappointments of life. He is there. The disappointment may be a detour in a new direction – His direction, His dream, His future for you. Look for God in the unexpected surprises of life. He may be right in front of you waiting for you to stand still long enough so you can hear Him whisper your name and know that He is God and cares for you. Look for God in the busyness of life. He maybe in the person you sit across the dinner table from or the co-worker in the next cubicle or in the driver in front of you, or the neighbor who is trying to get rid of the ice on the roof.
He is there even when we cannot see Him or when circumstances challenge not just our faith but also our assumptions about Him. For as it is written in the New Testament, we walk by faith and not by sight.
When the Israelites crossed the Jordan River to possess both the Promise Land and the Promised Future, something interesting happened. In Joshua 5, we read that manna, a daily source of food in the desert provided by God, stopped coming. Why? Because the Israelites were now able to grow food or gather adequate supplies and not have to depend on manna.
As I pondered that passage, I wondered if the cessation of manna created a crisis for some Israelites. They had relied on the manna for 40 years. Every morning when they awoke, there it was. Now, it was gone; never to return.
They were in new territory; they were experiencing a new history. They had to create new ways of daily living. They were out of their comfort zones. How would they deal with their anxieties in this new place?
We will look at the challenges of leaving our comfort zones next week. But, let me suggest this to you this morning: all the Israelites would have to do is look around at what God had given to them, what He had promised them and what He had delivered to them – and let Him open their eyes to see the bounty before them – and they would then know that God was present right there with them.
This morning, maybe you are looking for God because of a situation that you don’t know how to handle or have the resources for. Maybe you are looking for God because of an unwelcomed surprise that you are not sure is going to turn out well. Maybe the failures of the past have caused you to look down and not around and not up. God wants to be found by us. He wants to find us. He wants to have a personal relationship with us.
Take a look around. Go ahead; look around, . . . do you see God at work? I do.