Here’s why I liked what we got to do yesterday:
1. We had a Campaign that had nothing to do with pledging money and everything to do with pledging prayer time; and
2. We rescued Psalm 46:10a from its Hallmark card safety and repositioned it dangerously into the context of Psalm 46; and
3. As a United Methodist pastor, I got to talk about how I pray in tongues when I am away and alone. And the building did not collapse.
The result was the sermon below, which landed at this bottom line:
Your pause proclaims his power.
So I sorta love these commercials: Allstate MAYHEM IS EVERYWHERE.
And mayhem really is everywhere. Hasn’t our national conversation in recent weeks been about keeping the mayhem that we see on the streets of places like Paris & Beirut & Baghdad & Colorado Springs off the streets of Washington & New York & Charlotte?
But that kind of mayhem is also in the bible, in Psalm 46, surrounding one of the most taken-out-of-context verses in the entire library (though we’ll get to that in a bit). But if you doubt me on the mayhem, look at how it begins in 46:1a:
God is our refuge and strength,
OK, “refuge” and “strength,” suggesting there this something going on for which you need a refuge and in which you’ll need some strength!
And then 46:1b removes all doubt: an ever-present help in trouble.
So the songwriter of Psalm 46 is writing/singing as someone who knows what he is talking about; he addresses a troubled time because he has lived through more than his fair share of troubled times.
And he follows that ominous introduction with some of the most cataclysmic, turbulent, mayhemiest words in the whole library in 46:2-3:
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.[c]
(As I read, circle all the disaster-flick verbs). And these words are even more melodramatic when you understand the history in them and the way the ancient mind thought. In those days, people envisioned mountains as these enormous posts that actually held up the structure of the earth which, otherwise, was just floating in thin air (AV?). So if THEY fall into the sea, you know what that means? It’s the end of the world as we know and I DON’T feel fine! Total destruction & devastation.
What Psalm 46 is really addressing is the act of uncreation. Everything that has been made, in the song’s hypothetical situation, is in the process of being unmade. Mayhem, meet Armageddon! Mayhem at its most epic.
You know, we’re coming up on a time of year when you’re gonna feel like things have been uncreated. Where there is so much mayhem, so much hurry, so much turbulence, that you feel like you have stopped being a member of the human race and have instead begun human racing. And in human racing, we all run and we all lose. The mayhem you have in front of you for the next four weeks involves all the stuff you know I’m going to mention: shopping, parties, recitals. But there’s more: travel, in-laws, blown diets, travel, in-laws, in-laws. And it is so easy in the wake of that to feel such mayhem that you lose your head and lose your way. Man, I remember a number of years ago in one such season that my mind was on a church project, but I needed gasoline in my car so I stopped, zipped in, filled her up, and began to drive off. Back to the church project! Except I’d left the human race and joined the human racing . . . and kept the pump in the tank. Not pretty. There was some uncreation, Toyota-style going on. And if you’d heard my language when I realized what I’d done . . . well, in addition to mayhem you’d have been like, “a-hem . . . reverend?”
So in Ps 46, in the middle of the mayhem, there’s a pause:
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
Faith in the city of Jerusalem. The implication seems to be that although wars and turbulence surround it, Jerusalem is essentially beyond the touch of evil. But the effect in the Psalm is like taking a water break in the middle of a long race. You pull to the side of the road, the encouraging fan hands you a cup of water (AV, image), you get momentary refreshment and then VOILA! you carry on. But after catching your breath, the mayhem returns immediately in 46:6:
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
I love that. The waters ROAR but now the nations are in an UPROAR. The same verbs that had earlier been applied to nature now related to the nations. Annihilation is at hand.
And then in 46:8-9, the pause almost returns, but with an edge at hand:
Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields[d] with fire.
So: God’s desire and plan is that wars will cease but look how aggressively he does it. It’s almost like in order to STOP the mayhem he must first cause some of it; in the words of that immortal Southern rockers, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils (AV), “If you wanna get to heaven, you’ve got to raise a little hell.” (Something tells me that in their case, mission accomplished!) So at this stage of the Psalm, you know that God doesn’t want his people causing mayhem in each other’s life, he’s longing for a way for people to stop their human racing and rejoin the human race, but at the end of verse 9 we’re not sure how to do what it appears God is asking us to do.
And then, in a moment, as if in a flash of lightning and a crash of thunder, everything changes. In a verse that is ripped out of context more than any other in Scripture, Psalm 46:10 happens. Be still and know that I am God.
And that’s as far as most people get; that’s as much as most people use. Yet ripping it out of context in that way robs it of its power. Because in its isolated form, it sounds sedate in harmless; you read it in context and it is dangerous, invasive, and triumphant. Because look what really happens in v. 10; instead of a psalm that is about God; it becomes a Psalm from God. God suddenly takes over. He speaks in the first person! Only time in the psalm. With a command! And that be still is more literally cease and desist! Pause! Press pause in your mayhem!
And in the middle of the mayhem, what jumps out to me is not only the God invasion, the first person conversation, but the promise, the CAUSE & EFFECT that is embedded in the whole of 46:10. Look at it connects: READ 46:10b – I will be exalted 2x. Notice where God is exalted – on the two things that were uncreated; nature and nations! But there is this marvelous, mysterious connection between our stillness and God’s greatness. It’s as if when we cease and desist, when we pause, then God’s name, fame, and greatness increase. When we are mayhem people succumbing to the “nobody wins” game of human racing, then God’s name isn’t as exalted, as lifted up, as it could be. There is something in our pause that does more than we think it does; more than we know it does; at preparing us to share him. Or just making us the kind of people who don’t shipwreck our own lives and so that by our life and faith, God’s reputation advances. You only get that when you recognize God’s triumphant invasion in Psalm 46 and read the whole thing in context AND read all of v. 10!!
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
Because here’s the truth, all you only humans who need to get out of human racing so you can re-join the human race: Your pause proclaims his power. Your stillness declares his greatness. Pausing is announcing. Building moments of pause into daily mayhem, building a habit of daily pause into a weekly schedules ins some way beyond our awareness announces to a watching world: God is great. When you are sure enough of God’s ability to protect and preserve you from the forces of uncreation, that speaks volumes to a watching and skeptical world. Your pause proclaims his power.
What I’m talking about is like what happened with an exploration party many years ago, knifing their way through a jungle previously untouched by Westerners. And some native guides were leading the Western explorers at a very quick pace. And then suddenly the guides sat down. “Are we there?” the Westerners asked. “No,” came the answer. “Are you sick?” “Nope.” “Are you tired?” “Not really.” “Then what’s going on?” “Ah, we have travelled so far & so fast that we needed to stop to let our souls catch up with our bodies.” Ah, yes. You take part in human racing and yes, you’ll need to pause so your soul may catch up with your body. Daily. Habitually. The heart of a living relationship with Jesus Christ. And God gets credit. Your pause proclaims his power.
It’s all about those daily moments we call getting away and alone. If you are caught up in human racing, know this: it will exponentially increase in speed during this next month, and if you don’t build a daily pause into your routine, you will live on fumes. And if you’ve ever tried to drive a car below E, on fumes, you know it doesn’t work very well. The same will be true of your life and your work and relationships and personal health will all suffer.
I’m really talking about building new habits for many, many of you. Ten minutes, fifteen minutes, away from people and alone with your Father. Preferably in the morning. Starting the day not in the world but in the Word. The bible open on your lap (or on your phone!) and your time to press pause on the day, reorient your thinking, and allow the bible to read you. Now: I know a lot of you USED TO DO THIS but then it became a chore, you stopped “feeling” it, and so now no more. Well here is your opportunity to kickstart that habit back up. For others of you it will be a first time in your life kind of thing.
Because I am convinced that in the middle of those seemingly mundane habits, those massively small steps of a daily alone time w/ God, supernatural stuff breaks through. Like God does in Psalm 46:10! A bit like the guy who was praying out loud at a very formal church in England and the English he was using was neither formal nor grammatical. And at the close a woman said to him, “That was some of the worst grammar & articulation I’ve ever heard. Shocked that you’d talk like that.” And he answered, “But lady, I wasn’t talking to you.” Touche. I suppose that’s why I really like this headline: (AV): Neuroscience looks at speaking in tongues. READ article. I love that. This is part of the Pause time of a lot of ppl at this church, me included. And in the middle of the pause, God even pauses your brain so there is spirit to spirit communication. Beautiful. Biblical. And now, scientific. Your pause proclaims his power.
Here’s what we’re going to do, starting today. We’re going to have a Campaign! But not a financial campaign (though if you want to give, I won’t stop you!). A prayer campaign. We want you to Prioritize Your Pause throughout all of December. I’m not asking for the rest of your life. I’m asking for the next 31 days. You fill out this Pause Pledge that every day during December – when the rest of the world is caught up in human racing – you’ll pause every day, away from people & alone with your Father, Scripture before your eyes, and you will read, reflect, and pray. Even better? We will send you the Scripture, we’ll send you the prayer exercises, we’ll send you prayers to repeat if you haven’t got the hang of it yet. We’re asking a lot, so we want to give you the start. We’re not making it easy because it’s not. We’re giving you tools to do something vitally difficult.
All that will improve your hectic Xmas relationships, upgrade your own health, give you some structure for serenity, and, most importantly, elevate the fame of God’s name. Won’t it be great, wouldn’t it be marvelous, if 2016 began with a whole slew of people coming into a living relationship with Jesus Christ because of the pausing you did in the waning month of 2015? REFRAIN