A couple of years ago, I read John Irving’s
novel The Cider House Rules
. In it, Irving’s narrator describes one of the main characters, Dr. Wilbur Larch, as someone “who occupied his emotions with a task.”
I found that to be a profound thought, so I wrote it down, put it in one of my files, and said to myself, “that’s going to help propel a sermon one day.”
And so it did. Yesterday. We opened a new series Trending with a message called #HidingPlace, drawn from the 32nd Psalm’s memorable declaration of faith: “You are my hiding place.”
So how does John Irving’s character connect with that Psalm? And how does the whole thing lead to our first ever prayer pledge? Read below and you’ll find out:
So we are starting Trending, which is really a way of asking you to ask you “How is my living relationship with Jesus Christ trending? Up or down? Alive or dying? Growing or atrophying? And regardless of how you answer that question, one way I’ve noticed that people’s lives are trending is towards hurry. A lot of you see your lives in this video from Northpoint Church:
We’re like that, aren’t we? In the morning it’s getout getout getout. It’s bang your hands against the steering wheel when the guy cuts in front of you on Carowinds Blvd because that will make you late. Gosh, a lot of you hurried to vacation this summer and now you’ve had to hurry back to get ready for school. To shop for school. To get the last parking spot at the new Outlet Mall. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know . . . because you hurried here today. Right! The least spiritual thing you did all week was getting here on time.
But you know what else I’ve noticed about people? It’s that hurry is a great avoidance technique. The busier you are, the less time you have to reflect on WHO you are. Easier to become a human doing and not a human being. I read this in a book awhile back: we occupy our emotions with a task. Whew! that’s what we do. The hurrier we are the easier it is to hide from stuff we don’t want to face in the first place. Like some of you have that past that you’d really prefer to leave unexplored. Maybe you were a volunteer for it or maybe you were a victim of it, but it was problematic. And you’re on your merry way these days thinking it won’t impact you and it always does. Or that marriage and something inside you is gnawing away thinking maybe something is wrong and needs addressing but it is easier to be busy than to be broken. Or that secret you carry around. The Rx drugs, the eating disorders, the gambling and instead of addressing it, you avoid it.
And grief. What is it that people tell me? I’m going back to work. Gotta stay busy. And that makes sense in the short run but it is disastrous in the long run. And I just want to suggest that when we hurry around like we do – without some kind of daily pause – we are hiding. Hiding from the issues we oughta be facing, but even more hiding from ourselves. It’s like if we keep moving fast enough all day we won’t be able to see ourselves in the mirror and really ponder what’s going on inside. And I so believe that his pattern is behind so many of the symptoms you wrestle with. Anxiety. Sadness. Depression. Over-medication. You’ve hurred through life and in hurrying you are hiding and now hurting. Trending? That’s where things are headed.
And yet we’re not the first ones to go there. Nor will we be the first ones to emerge from there. David, boy giant killer turned man adulterer turned old man family destroyer, has some of that experience in Psalm 32. Is it OK if we don’t start in the beginning? I’ll show you why; take a look at 32:3-4 where David is evidently wrestling with guilt over a sin. Perhaps Bathsheba, though it doesn’t say:
When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.[b]
Look at the verbs! Bones wasting. Voice groaning. Strength sapped. Why? The first line is the clue: “When I kept silent.” He had something he needed to address with the God of the universe – and perhaps with his community – and he was silent. He occupied his emotions with a task! He has avoid God by being busy and in a hurry, he has not had time away & alone with God, and so the result sounds so much to us like depression. He’d done action without reflection and devastation is the results.
So now can we go back to the beginning, where David has laid out what he really believes?
Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
2 Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.
Ah, blessed is the one who uncovers his sin before God and so has them covered by God. Uncovered, covered, forgiven. He starts with that principle, but then moves to 32:3-4 (where we started) as a way of admitting “I don’t spend near enough time in 32:1-2!” The truth is in 32:1-2 . . . our lives are in 32:3-4 . . . and the more we hurry up the more we hide out. From. Ourselves.
But then at 32:5 it all turns:
Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin.
He stops hurrying up, stops hiding out, and becomes honest. He starts getting away & alone time with his Maker and look at the quick & painless result in 32:5c: You forgave the guilt of my sin. No penance. No Hail Marys. No Our Fathers. And because this has been my experience, David says, I want everyone to have it in 32:6:
Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
will not reach them.
Time is short, you run the risk of hiding from yourself so long that God removes his availability. And all of that is to build to my favorite line, the line that formed the basis of what passed early on for a “contemp Xn song,” 32:7:
You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.
Now: notice what that doesn’t say. You builtmy hiding place. You provided my hiding place. You encourageme with a hiding place. Nope, not of that. God’s character, God’s person is itself a hiding place. There is a hiding not in something God provides but in who God is. I’m like, what? How? And maybe it’s like the walls of the Grand Canyon: AV. Massive, intimidating, sheer, death defying. And yet . . . within those walls there are ledges, clefts, nooks, crannies. Place a climber can . . . hide, rest, be. Inthe Grand Canyon. Not its shadow or its rest area. In it. That’s what David is talking about here. And I tie the beauty of 32:7’s imagery with this brief line of 32:2d: in whose spirit is no deceit and I realize that honesty and imagery are inseparable. It all means this, you over-stimulated, over-scheduled, over-medicated Steele Creekers: Hurry makes you hide from yourself but honesty allows you to hide in God.
Would you like to know something so epic, so groundbreaking, so massively small? You and I need to be away and alone every day. Away from people. Alone with your father. And in in that time, we hide not from ourselves and our anguish, but in God. In his nooks and crannies. Very likely the reason your life is so chaotic, why you seem to careen from one disaster to another, why you’re so OVERcrowded, stimulated, scheduled, is because you so rarely stop and spend time with the bible open on your lap, your palms up, praying with God. That may sound not believable, but I am right. If that rhythm is not built in to who you are virtually every day, all other rhythm gets out of whack. It becomes so easily to walk straight past the mirror and right into chaos! Hurry makes you hide from yourself but honesty allows you to hide in God.
What I want for the lives here is so much like what happens with a sheep dog. They are among the most trained dogs in the world, and here’s what they do: they round up the sheep, corner them in the fold, and when their activity is done, go immediately to the master’s feet. Activity. Reflection. Hurry. Rest. Hide. Emerge. What a beautiful pattern, and I want all the sheep dogs of the Good Shepherd to be at their master’s feet. It’s not corny, it’s not trite, it’s not even family friendly radio! It’s the rhythm and sustenance of life. Return from your activity to his feet. Hurry makes you hide from yourself but honesty allows you to hide in God.
And ohhh, in that time, you’re gonna be honest. Pssst: you’re not telling him anything he doesn’t know. That grief. That compulsion. That secret. That realization that I’m the common denominator in all my broken relationships and I need to do something about it. That awareness that I’ve spent my whole life and know almost nothing about the bible; time to change that. That’s why 32:2d is just so great: no deceit. No hiding. Uncovering! And remember: he covers what we uncover. And we have something David didn’t even know about yet: the covering of the blood for that forgiveness. Exposure brings healing.
See, this is an invitation to start a regular pattern of prayer, quiet time, for your life to trend to hiding place . . . and it is NOT so you get more answers to more prayer! In this case, the prayer and the quiet IS the answer! This isn’t to manipulate God, but it’s to establish that daily rhythm where you place this mismanaged world, your mismanaged life, your daily breath, your crummy secrets, into God’s hands and not yours. And only in that hiding will you find the perspective, strength, and wisdom to emerge. Because you combine that bible reading and prayer and in that you’ll be covered in both his forgiveness and his correction. Hide/Emerge. Hide/Emerge. Hurry makes you hide from yourself but honesty allows you to hide in God.
My dream is that we’d gather here on Sundays as a community of people who have spent time hiding in God and when all us hiders get together something phenomenal happens. Look at 32:7c and 32:11: READ. See: you may pray in private but there is really no such thing as private prayer. You take your hiding place and I take mine, and we bring them together as people with perspective, strength, and wisdom and we lift songs up. We hide in those songs! They become the sheer walls of protection that slow us down, gives us pause, make us breathe.
That’s a trend I want here maybe more than any other. A weekly celebration of through-the-week hiders. Where we say no to avoiding and yes to addressing. No to busy and yes to broken. Not to hiding from self and yes to hiding in God. Hurry makes you hide from yourself but honesty allows you to hide in God.
That’s why we’re going to have a pledge . . .
From there, people completed a 30 Prayer Pledge card . . . a promise to “hide in God” ever day throughout Trending. And we will be sending out Daily Scriptures and prayers to help with the task.