Monday, July 11, 2011

The Best, The Stressed and the Rest

This a re-constructed version of a message I gave yesterday at Allentown Presbyterian Church. It's based on some rough notes. The scripture passage was Mark 6:7-13, 30-44.

Many of us are overstressed. We are frazzled. We need drugs to put us to sleep. We need coffee to wake us up. We break down crying because we are overtaxed and tired. We don’t see our children, don’t spend time with our loved ones, because we are too busy. My friends, this should not be!

And I am the worst offender. Just this week, I stayed up until 4:30AM working on a project. You see, I only point this busy-ness out because I see it in myself.

Why do we do this?

Some people do it so that they can be the BEST. They want to be at the top of their field. But when they get there they find that being the one person at the top means being there alone.

Some people do it for money. Or for the approval of others. Or because they don’t want to disappoint others. But when we work for wealth, or for the approval of other human beings, we just find ourselves stressed. We work and work, and nothing satisfies.

Now, there are some people who aren’t either working to be the BEST or working until they are STRESSED. These people might be simply lazy.

Or, maybe, they’ve found a different reason to do work.

I’d like to think that, as followers of Jesus Christ, we aren’t called to be lazy. And we are not called to spend our lives striving to be the best. And I believe that God doesn’t want us to be stressed.

No, as followers of Christ, we work because we love the one we work for. When we work for God, we work for the one who created the stars in the sky and the earth under our feet. We work for the one who loves us enough to save us. We work for the only one who can really fulfill all of our needs.

When we follow Christ, we are working for God’s kingdom. And that means that we aren’t working to be the BEST, and we aren’t working until we’re STRESSED, but rather, we’re working for the only one who can truly give us REST.

Friends, I think that we need to all take a hard look at everything we do. Are we doing everything for God’s glory? Are we working for God? Or are we working for things or for people who, ultimately, cannot satisfy us and cannot bring us true rest?

We need to make some hard choices. We need to encourage one other—adults, youth and children—to make the choice to cut things out of our lives that are making us stressed or making us too busy, but aren’t things that GOD has called us to do.

We need to rest. We drive ourselves and each other too hard. This year I’ve seen so many kids in my Youth Group overwhelmed, exhausted. They tell me that they find themselves on their floor crying. They fall onto the couches in the youth room, instantly asleep. And I see in them the same odd drive that finds me crying for no reason, falling down exhausted. We need to make choices about what is important and to teach our kids how to make choices. They (and we) cannot do everything.

This isn’t an “ANTI-WORK” message. And it isn’t an “ANTI-FUN” message. God calls us to do many things. And many of those things will make us tired. God can call us to be nurses and doctors. God can call us to be teachers and construction workers. God can call us to be mechanics and farmers. All of the people in these jobs work long hours. Many of them come home tired.

And God does call us to do fun things to, to spend time with people, to fellowship, to enjoy the creation God has given us. We can come home from running around with friends and a full day of work ready to fall asleep instantly.

But there is a difference, I believe, between being tired and being absolutely exhausted. If you’ve felt the difference, you know what I mean.

We have to be asking ourselves – am I doing this because, through this work, I am working for GOD? Am I working for God to help other people, not just for other people’s approval? Am I working for God to serve other people, not just because I want to be the BEST at what I do? Am I working for God to make this world a better place, not because I want prestige, or need money to buy things that I don’t need? Why am I doing what I’m doing?

If we cannot say that we are working for God, then we might need to reconsider with what we are filling our time.

Of course, it’s not this clear cut. I have found myself many times doing things that I originally knew were for God, but that turned into jobs for my own self-interest or for the approval of others. And in this down economy, I am not saying that we should all go out and quit our jobs. Perhaps the truth here is that working for God is not about what job you do, but how you perceive that job. Working for God involves embodying a model of success wildly at odds with some core beliefs that I know I have held, and continue to hold, even though I know better.

So what does it look to work for God? What is God’s model of success?

Let’s look at Mark 6:7-13, 30-44. Here, Jesus gets his disciples involved in the work he is doing. Here, I think, we can find an example of what it is like to work for God. I think this passage tells us FOUR THINGS about what it means to work for God.

When we work for God, we work together.
When we work for God, we work for others.
When we work for God, God provides for us.
When we work for God, God gives us rest.

1) When we work for God, we work together. This means that we aren’t working for individual promotion. This isn’t working to get to the top. But it also means that we don’t work alone. When Jesus sends out the disciples, he sends them out two by two. So that they can support each other.

Ask yourself, when you are falling down exhausted: Am I working alone? Am I trying to do this all by myself?

It’s very tempting to be self-reliant. One firm tenet of the American Creed is the ideal of the autonomous human being. The person who needs no one’s help. It is a good thing to not be only relying on others. It is good to be responsible for your actions. And this idea lies at the core of the autonomous person. But, as John Donne once wrote, “No man [sic] is an island.” We are not meant to work by ourselves. There’s a difference between responsibility and autonomy. And we’ve confused the two.

So, if you find yourself absolutely exhausted and you realize you’re doing it all by yourself, ask God to help you find someone to work with you. Ask God to bring you someone to work alongside you. Someone you can trust.

2) When we work for God, we don’t work for ourselves. There’s this confusing list in Mark 6. Jesus tells the twelve to go out with a staff, but no bread, no bag, no money. They should bring sandals, but not an extra tunic. When they go into a city, they should stay in the first house that welcomes them and not leave.

This seems like a set of strange, arbitrary rules. While I was reading about this passage in several commentaries, quite a few of them mentioned the possibility that this list is an indirect reference to some of the Greek philosophical schools who were roaming about at the same time as Jesus. Some of the members of these schools would sit, pontificating about their philosophy, then beg for their pay. They expected people to pay them for their word of wisdom. They had money to change, just in case someone only wanted to pay them so much or needed to change a denarii or so. Sometimes they stayed in people’s homes. But if another person, with a more luxurious home asked them to stay, they would leave the other home behind. In these and other ways, their actions were meant to make sure that they were provided for. And not just provided for, but, possibly, even that they might become wealthy through their work.

Jesus is going directly against this message. It is not that Jesus does not want the disciples to be taken care of. Rather, he is asking them to trust that God will provide what they need and to not be concerned about getting more than they need. Instead of focusing attention on themselves, they were supposed to go out to heal others, and to preach the message that had been given to them.

So, when you fall down exhausted, ask yourself: am I working for myself? Am I just fighting and fighting to fulfill my needs and wants? Am I content with what I have?

This is not a message to discourage those who are living in real poverty, who cannot put a penny together, who cannot feed themselves or their families. Rather, this is a message for those who work for above what they need, while ignoring the needs of those around them. We have been sent into this world to bring healing and the message of God’s salvation. And we are called to do this no matter what job we find ourselves in.

When we fall down exhausted, we need to figure out if we are only working for ourselves. And we need to ask God to help us to find those who need help, those crying out from a place of poverty – spiritually, physically, financially.

And here’s the real crux of the issue. The model of success here, the organizational model of the kingdom of God calls for everyone to take care of each other. Not in a strictly socialist or communist way. No. This is a model in which we all rely on God and look out for each other. And I truly believe that we should be looking for the best for others. Read Philippians 2 sometime again soon. God is calling us to look for the best for others. And this should mean that we want the best for them, not just mediocre for all. And, the hope is, when everyone else is focusing on taking care of others, then that means that SOMEONE, or maybe A LOT of people are working to take care of you. So, ask God to help you to find those people who need your help. Ask God who out there has no one looking out for them. And ask God to help you find people who will look out for you.

3) When we work for God, God provides for us. So, here, in our stories, the disciples have been out preaching and teaching and healing. And Jesus sees that they are tired and tells them to go rest. Well the disciples are resting, and then people come up and Jesus starts teaching them. Then the people start to look hungry. “O Great,” the disciples think, “now they’re going to look to us to feed them. We have to get to work again.” So they go to Jesus and say: “look, send them away, we don’t want to deal with this.” But Jesus says: “You give them food.” And they say: “WHAT? How? We don’t even have any money. How are we supposed to do this?” But Jesus tells them to look at what they have. What resources do they already have? And out of scarcity, Jesus brings abundance.

When we fall down exhausted and we look around us and we are completely empty, we need to ask: Am I truly out of resources? Have I given what I do have to God? Do I trust God to transform these meager resources? What resources do we already have? When we are at the end of our rope, and can’t see where our resources are going to come from, we need to offer up whatever we have to God. God will give us the resources we need. And sometimes those resources will be right around us, in the least expected places. So, ask God to help you to give what you have to him. Ask God to help you to trust that God will provide. And make sure to look around for those people or resources that God has already put in your life.

4) When we work for God, God gives us REST. This is the most important part. God created the world in six days. God rested on the seventh. God did this, it says in Genesis, to provide us with an example. When the disciples return, Jesus sees them and how tired they are and tells them to go to a deserted place to rest. Jesus does this himself a lot of times in the gospels. He often goes off to rest and pray. When we work for God, God gives us REST.

So, when we fall down exhausted, completely empty, we need ask: Have I rested? Because God is not the type of taskmaster who drives us 24/7. God’s yoke is easy; God’s burden is light. Jesus sent out an invitation: come to me, all you who are burdened and heavy-laden, God will give you rest. Ask God to help you to remember to find times to pray, to find times to rest, to find times to play and spend with friends and family. Ask God to help you rest.

Friends. Don’t work to be the best. Don’t work until you’re stressed. No. Work for the only one who can bring you rest. Work for God.

Because when we work for God, we work together.
When we work for God, we work for others.
When we work for God, God provides for us.
When we work for God, God gives us rest.


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