November 29, 2009

Livin’ Large…in lean times

Part 2: The tranquility of trust

 

Opening:

ILL:  Pastor Francis Vishky of Romania was sentenced to 22 years in prison because his sermons displeased the communists.  His wife and seven children were deported to a desert where food and water are scarce.

          When they came to arrest him, his whole family was at the breakfast table, where they were reading Psalm 23:4-5 “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.  5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

          Without knocking, three officers of the secret police broke into the house.  “This is a search,” they said, but everyone knew that after the search, the father would be taken to prison.  The family continued to eat quietly.  The police wondered that they still had an appetite and remained calm.

          Vishky later said that they understood the Psalm better under those tense circumstances than they ever had before.  God had not promised that they would never go through the valley of the shadow of death, but He had promised that they would fear no evil.  Why?  Because “You are with me.”

We’re talking about living large in lean times.  Many of us are going through lean times, but probably not as bad as that!  What was Vishky’s secret?  He trusted God in the midst of trouble.  “You are with me…in the valley of the shadow of death…in the lean times…you are with me.”

 

Introduction:

          I don’t think I’ve ever been destitute—I’ve never had a day when I didn’t know where my next meal was coming from.  I’ve never been starving, or homeless, or penniless.  And none of you are penniless—did you get your penny when you came in?  We went all out on that!  Hang on to it—I’ll get to the penny in a few minutes.  I’ve never been destitute, but I’ve had lean times, when I didn’t know how I would pay the bills. 

ILL: Shortly after I graduated from college, I lost my job as the youth pastor at a church.  I had been making the whopping salary of $60 a month, gross.  I could live on that because my needs were small: I lived rent-free in a studio apartment in exchange for doing yard work and maintenance for the home owner.  I ate at Noel’s house—which is amazing when I look back on it.  Noel was a widower raising six kids by himself, and he fed me and a half dozen others, and never asked for money, and never complained that we made ourselves at home.  So food and lodging were taken care of; all that was left was insurance and gas for my van, which used up most of that $60 a month.  Now that was gone—I was making zero, zip, nada.  That’s lean.

I had a bachelor degree in theology from the denomination that had just fired me.  My prospects with them weren’t great.  Besides that, the youth ministry was still booming.  It was centered at Noel’s house on Tuesday nights, and on a dozen high school campuses throughout the county.  So getting a normal 8-5 job was out, unless I just abandoned the youth ministry.  So what did I do?

I worried.  “What am I going to do?”  What did that get me?  A stomachache.  So I decided to pray.  And as I prayed one afternoon, a thought came to my mind.  A friend of mine used to work at Campus Shoe Shop, right next to my college campus—I wonder if they had any openings?  So I jumped on my bicycle and rode down there.  I walked in and introduced myself to the owners, Vic and Pearl.  I told them that I had just graduated from Northwest Christian College next door, and wondered if they had any job openings.  They looked at each other incredulously.

“Our help just quit yesterday,” Vic told me.  Pearl chimed in, “And we were just saying last night that we wish we could hire a nice boy from the Bible college.” 

“Here I am.”

“Are you good with your hands?” Vic asked.

“Sure,” I lied.  And Vic hung an apron on me and put me to work on the spot, finishing shoes—which is a nice way of saying that I shined shoes.  It was perfect!  First, I was still working on soles!  Second, the hours—1-5 each afternoon—left me free to do the youth ministry the rest of the day.  And, third and best of all, I was making over $100 a month!  I was phat baby! 

At the top of your outline, I wrote: In lean times, you can worry and be miserable, or you can trust the Lord and be at peace.  You can experience the tranquility of trust, and live large in lean times.  The Bible often links trusting God to peace—those who trust are filled with peace, even in the midst of difficulty.

Isaiah 26:3-4 You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. 4 Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.

God will keep us in perfect peace when we trust Him, even in lean times.  It’s the tranquility of trust.

Our primary text today comes from the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus said the words we’re about to read to people who were living day to day.  Here’s what He said:

Matthew 6:25-33 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

What are the big ideas here?  Don’t worry.  Trust God.  He is a Father who cares for you.  He will provide. 

 

1. Don’t worry.

          Jesus said, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.   Don’t worry about food, drink or clothes—the necessities of life.  Jesus said these words to many people who would have been living day to day—a subsistence lifestyle—they were living in lean times.  Don’t worry about food, drink and clothes—the necessities of life—because your Father is caring for you, even in lean times. 

          How many of you are worry warts?  Some of us are more prone to worry than others.  All of us worry sometimes; but some of us worry all the time.  What is worry?  It is to feel anxious about something unpleasant that has happened or may happen.  We fear, we fret, we fuss, we dread, we’re nervous, we worry.  Worry occupies our mind.  That’s a good word to describe worry—it occupies our minds like an invading army occupies another country.  It moves in, sets up camp and takes over.  It occupies our mind.  Sometimes our worry keeps us awake.  Have you ever been unable to sleep because of worry?

ILL: Recently, I had a few nights when I couldn’t get to sleep.  My mind was racing.  I was feeling anxious about a couple situations.  It was so frustrating because I was tired and wanted to go to sleep, but couldn’t.  And the harder I tried not to think about it, the more I thought about it, and the wider awake I was.   

Worry can rob us of sleep.  Worry can ruin our health.  Worry can make us miserable.  But the one thing worry can’t do is change anything.  Jesus said it:

Matthew 6:27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

It’s a rhetorical question: no one.  Worry is wasted energy; it doesn’t change a thing.  All it does is wear us out.  It won’t add hours to your life; it will take them away.  So Jesus said, “Don’t worry.” 

          Well, fine.  It’s easy to say “don’t worry” but it’s pretty darn hard to do.  Do you know where worry comes from?  It comes from the misguided idea that I’m actually in control.  How many of you have learned that you’re not really in control of much?  There are a few things I can control, but most everything is way beyond my control.  So if I’m not in control, who is?  God.  Maybe, instead of worrying like we’re in control, we should talk to the person who is in control!

Philippians 4:6-7 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Here is great advice: don’t worry about anything, instead, pray about everything.  Let your worry be a catalyst to prayer.  Every time you worry, take it as a reminder to pray.  “I’m worrying; I need to pray about this.”  Worrying is wasted energy; it changes nothing.  Prayer is a great use of your energy, because it changes you. 

          Prayer also may result in changed circumstances.  God answers prayer, and while worrying changes nothing, God may change things dramatically when we pray.  But the one thing that is sure to change when you pray is you.  Notice that Paul doesn’t say “tell God what you need and you’ll get it.”  Paul says, “Tell God what you need…then you will experience God’s peace.” 

Have you ever prayed about something, but didn’t have peace?  Is it possible to pray about something, but not really surrender it to God?  Not really connect with God?  My pastor told me that you know you’ve really prayed about something when you stop worrying and feel peace about it—you’ve connected with God.

ILL: Recently, I was overcharged on some medical bills, and I was concerned about getting reimbursed.  So I called our insurance and talked with a very nice service representative.  I carefully explained the situation to her; she put me on hold and made a phone call to the doctors’ office and then came back and told me it was taken care of.  A check was in the mail.  I thanked her and hung up the phone feeling good.  It was taken care of; I wasn’t worried about it anymore.

          That was a good call to our insurance carrier.  I’ve had some other calls that didn’t go so well.  The problem wasn’t resolved.  No one said, “It’s taken care of.”  Instead, I hung up feeling as concerned as when I started.

Prayer can be like that.  I can mention my situation to God, and still feel worried.  I can worry in prayer.  Or I can pray until I hear God say, “It’s taken care of,” or, “I’m taking care of you.”  I had to trust the service representative; I had to believe that she really had taken care of it.  But after talking with her, I was convinced she had, and I had peace.

Here’s a suggestion for the next time you’re worried.  Pray.  And pray until you feel that peace that passes understanding.  Take some time to really connect with God.  Pray until you’re convinced that He’s taking care of you.

1 Peter 5:7 Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you.

When I know that my Father cares for me, I can trust Him and stop worrying.  I feel peace.

          First, don’t worry.  Instead of worry, trust God.

 

2. Trust God.

          The opposite of worry is trust.  Worry leaves us anxious and uptight; trust leaves us peaceful and secure.  Rather than worrying about food and drink and clothes, Jesus calls us to trust our Father who knows what we need and will provide for us. 

          I need to add a qualifier here.  Trusting God doesn’t mean that we do nothing, that we recklessly abandon all personal responsibility.  Someone said, “Trust in God but lock your car.”

ILL: Maybe you’ve heard the story of the two kids who were late to school.  They were a block away when the bell rang.  One of them dropped to his knees and began to pray, “Oh God, don’t let me be late.”  The other one took off running, and shouted back at his friend, “I’m going to pray while I run.” 

We do what we can, and trust God to make up the difference.  If you’re out of work, you look for work, and trust God to provide a job.  If you’re low on money, you budget carefully and trust God to provide what you need.  You do the right thing and trust God to make up the difference. 

ILL: Here’s a scenario.  Let’s say you’ve got a kid in college, and you’ve promised to help with college expenses. 

          Scenario one: your kid has a job and is working hard, he is frugal and saving as much as he can and contributing that towards his college expenses.

          Scenario two: your kid knows you have promised to help, so he quits his job and blows all his savings on a cool new stereo for his room.

          Both are trusting you to make up the difference, but it’s two different kinds of trust.  Which one will you help?  I’ll tell kid two, “Sell the stereo and get a job and I’ll help you.  Otherwise, you’re on your own, bozo.” 

In the same way, when Jesus says “Don’t worry about food, drink and clothes, but trust God,” He is not suggesting that we quit our jobs, or spend recklessly, because, after all, God is going to take care of us.  We trust and obey God and do what we can, and He makes up the difference.

Let me give you five things that we should all do with our money, whether the times are lean or fat (these are all from the Bible).  We should

  • earn honestly,
  • spend wisely,
  • save steadily,
  • give generously,
  • and stay out of debt. 

This is wise resource management.  Trusting God doesn’t mean that we ignore these things and hope God will pick up the pieces.  For example, if you recklessly rack up credit card debt and then trust God to bail you out, you will find yourself holding the bucket and doing the bailing.  Trusting God means we do what He says, and then we know He’ll take care of us.

          Ok, so let’s assume that you are doing your best, and it’s still lean times.  Jesus tells us not to worry, but to trust God.  Remember, the passage in Matthew 6 was spoken to people who were living day to day.  God takes of those who trust Him, even in lean times. 

Jeremiah 17:7-8 “But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. 8He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord.  Notice that the man who trusts in the Lord is like a tree planted by the water.  He has no fear when the heat comes, and no worries in a year of drought.  His leaves are always green and he never fails to bear fruit.  The man who trusts in the Lord lives large even in lean times.  He is drought-resistant, green and fruitful when others are wilting and dry.  

ILL: There is a great story in Rich Stearn’s book, The Hole in our Gospel

          In 1987, on Black Monday, the stock market crashed.  In one day, Rich and Renee lost more than one third of their life savings and the money they had put aside for their kids’ college education.  Rich panicked, and became obsessed with preventing further losses.  One night he was up late obsessing over this, and Renee came in and sat beside him.

          “Honey, this thing is consuming you in an unhealthy way.  It’s only money.  We have so much to be thankful for.  You need to let go of this and trust God.”  Then she suggested that they pray about it—which hadn’t occurred to Rich yet.

          At the end of the prayer, Renee said, “Now I think we need to write some big checks to our church and ministries we support.  We need to show God that we know this is His money, not ours, and that we trust Him.”  Rich was flabbergasted!  But they did it, and he felt a wave of relief, and then giddiness.  He was freed from the worry…by trusting God in a tangible way.

This is how you live large in lean times.  You trust God and know the He is looking out for you, and you experience peace when everyone else is panicking.  You stay green and fruitful in the drought—you are blessed, even in lean times.

ILL: It’s penny time!  Would you take out your penny?

          A woman was invited with her husband to join her very wealthy boss and his wife for dinner at a very expensive restaurant.  They were picked up in the boss’s limo.  As they walked into the restaurant, her boss spotted a penny on the ground and stopped to pick it up and put it in his pocket.  Later, over dinner, the lady had to ask, “Why did you pick up the penny?”  His answer surprised her.

          “What does it say on the penny?”  Look at yours.  What does it say?  “In God we trust.” 

          He told her, “Every time I see a penny, it’s a reminder from God that I’m to trust Him.  I use that moment to ask myself if I’m really trusting God.” 

So here’s what I want you to do with your penny.  Put it in your pocket this week, and every time you touch it, let it be a reminder to trust in God.  Ask yourself if you’re worried about anything; if you are, pray about it; and trust God to take care of you.  Those who trust God live large in lean times!

 

3. Why?  You have a Father who cares for you.

          Don’t worry.  Trust God.  Why?  You have a Father who cares for you.  This is what Jesus said in Matthew 6.  Jesus said don’t worry about what you’ll eat. 

Matthew 6:26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

Don’t worry about what you’ll eat because you have a Father who feeds the birds of the air, and He’ll feed you too.  Aren’t you more valuable than birds?  Your Father feeds them; He’ll feed you too.  Trust Him.

          Jesus said don’t worry about what you’ll wear.

Matthew 6:28-30 See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Don’t worry about what you’ll wear because you have a Father who clothes the grass of the field, and He’ll clothe you too.  Aren’t you more valuable than the wildflowers in the field?  Your Father clothes them; He’ll clothe you too.  Trust Him.

Matthew 6:31-33 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Don’t worry, because your Father knows what you need.  Would you say this with me: “My Father knows what I need.”  Your Father knows what you need.  Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you. 

1 Peter 5:7 Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you.

Don’t worry, but trust God.  Why?  Because your Father knows and your Father cares.  Your Father will take care of you.

ILL: I have a friend who is out of work right now.  He’s married, with kids.  Here’s the deal: he and his wife may worry about paying the bills and putting food on the table, but his kids don’t.  I’ll bet they haven’t worried one bit about it.  Why?  Because they have a father and mother who cares for them.  Mom and Dad will take care of it!

You have a Father who cares for you.  So don’t worry; trust Him.

ILL: My daughter Amy, and her husband Zac are in the process of adopting two children from Ethiopia.  It’s a process that can go sideways real easily—there’s lots that can go wrong.  The other night, we were talking about it, and Amy asked, “What if…what if this happens, or that?”  They were very real possibilities.  I was so proud of Zac.  He said, “Amy, I’m not worried.  God is in charge.  He has already picked out two kids for us, and knows who they are.  He’ll make it happen at just the right time.” 

Don’t worry.  Trust God.  You have a Father who cares for you.