How many of you here this morning have ever heard the alarm go off on a given day and said, “I really don’t want to go to work today. I just want to sleep.”? How many of you have sat at work on Monday morning and thought, “I can’t wait for the weekend.”? How many of you have gone on vacation only to return more tired than when you departed? How many of you have ever felt the tinges of burnout? How many of you who are retired find yourself busier than when you were working?
If anyone here this morning didn’t answer yes to any of those questions, I want to offer my congratulations because the reality is, most of us fall into those categories at some point and time. Most of us have felt the tinges of burnout, stress, worry, fatigue, and the like. Most of us are worn to a frazzle and seem to have little energy for doing all the things we are supposed to be doing. I ask you this morning, “why?” Why do we find it so hard to find the energy and drive to do what needs to be done? And if we are finding the energy, why does it seem like we have little or no happiness in doing such things? Why is the mood of our nation and state and county, and perhaps even our church–especially on the denominational level so somber?
You may have started to put two and two together at this point. You may have started thinking about the line of questioning I am offering up and our Gospel lesson this morning where Jesus, after a long night of healing folks in Capernaum, gets up before the first rays of light and heads out to a deserted place to pray. You may be thinking that I am going to put these things together and argue that you need to spend more time in prayer–that you need to take the time to recharge your batteries by connecting to your heavenly Father so that you can find the strength and energy to do everything that you need to do.
I’ve done it before. There are plenty of pastors who do and who continue to do such things. But I’ve realized something. #1. I’ve realized that maybe two or three of you would take such a thing to heart, but you’d basically think to yourself, “Geez, now I have to try and find time to pray. I have to try and carve out another space in my busy schedule to connect with God.” For a time, you might be able to do it, but the odds are, within a couple of weeks, that prayer time will be cut shorter and shorter and shorter until it disappears. The rest of you will either sit happy and content with your prayer lives or won’t even attempt it. That’s the first thing I’ve realized. The second thing I’ve realized is that admonishing you to do such a thing just reinforces the main problem. Telling you, “pray to recharge your batteries so that you can accomplish all you need to do,” does not address the state of your heart. It doesn’t delve down deep into the recesses of your soul to address the real issue. And what is the real issue?
Let me start in a rather intriguing place that doesn’t seem to have much relevance to our discussion so far. I am going to start with the Sealy News’ story from a week or so ago about the Greater Church of Lucifer filing to do business in Austin County. You may be scratching your head right now wondering how this fits. Gimme a minute or so.
In the article, the founders of the “church” wanted to let everyone know they weren’t Satanists and that their intentions were purely benign. They even said, and I quote, “There is a problem in following through blind faith. This is about self -empowerment and seeing oneself in a positive way. The goal is to usher in a new age for the progression of mankind without the slavery of dogmatic thought. We are all gods and goddesses of our own life. We are the captains of our own ship and have the right to control our actions.”
Now, I know that these folks aren’t claiming to be Satanists or anything, but I will have you know this morning that there were some very similar words once uttered, and they came out of a snake. But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ –Genesis 3:4. You see, the serpent says, in not so many words, “Eat of the fruit so that you can be your own god. You will know good and evil on your own. You will have no need of the true God. You can do it all yourself. Be self-empowered. Be self-reliant. Control your own actions.”
We know the man and woman ate of the fruit, and it has been downhill ever since. Be reliant upon yourself. Control your own actions. Do all the things you want to do. Why are you so tired? Why do you burn out? Why do you continually fill your lives with busy-ness refusing to say no to your work; to your family; to advertisers; to friends and others who put demands upon you?
Let me jump in with my own experience here, for it is no secret that not too long ago I faced the reality of burnout. I will not say I wish I never went through it, for it taught me much, and led me to understand the Gospel. However, I know now that it could have been prevented. And no, I don’t mean by carving out time to pray. I don’t mean by making sure I took my day off and used my vacation days. I did all those things. Really, I did. So, why did I burn out?
I remember sitting down with the council during that time. I was asking for a sabbatical, and I can remember plain as day one of the things I said during that meeting. I said, “I feel like I have been carrying this congregation for the past year.” Along with the arrogance displayed in that statement, do you see who I thought was responsible for the life and ministry of this congregation? Do you see who I thought was supposed to make everything work? Do you see who I believed was the one who made or broke this church? It was all up to me. It was all about me. It was all on my shoulders. And if prayer was all about recharging my batteries so that I could keep carrying this congregation and making it work and what have you, prayer was just a means to me doing what I thought I needed to do. Prayer was about me trying to get God to do what I wanted Him to do. Prayer was about me trying to impose my will upon God. And if I stand up here this morning and tell you, take time to pray so that your batteries will be recharged and you can continue the frantic pace you have set, then I am simply being part of the problem. So, this morning, I am not going to tell you to be like Jesus and rise early before you head to work to go get your batteries recharged. That won’t change a blasted thing and you will still be tired. You will still burn out. You will still have no joy in your life, and you will still be somber and angry and upset.
So, what will I do in this sermon this morning? Well, actually, I’m going to press further through this biblical text and show you something very interesting. Jesus goes off to pray, and His disciples have a freak out. Literally, they wake up the next morning to find Jesus gone, so they go hunting for him. Yes, that’s the word that is used. They have to track Jesus down. We get a sense of their motivations when they finally find Jesus, and they tell him, “Everyone is seeking you.”
Now, most of us might take this to be a good thing. Most of us would think, “Man, if only everyone would seek Jesus. If only everyone would search for Him to find Him, everything in this world would work out.” We hear these words of the disciples in a similar fashion to Jeremiah 29:11-13, “11For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.” Who wouldn’t want this?
Well, Mark is actually telling us something very different here. Let me read to you what I found in one of my commentaries, “When the disciples find Jesus, they announce, “Everyone is looking for you.” The language is deceptive. The Greek word behind “looking for” (zetein) occurs 10 times in Mark, and in each instance it carries negative connotations. Its first two occurrences refer to interference of Jesus and obstruction of his ministry (1:32, 3:32); its next two refer to disbelief and faithlessness (8:11,8:12); and the remaining occurrences refer to attempts to kill Jesus. “Seeking” connotes an attempt to determine and control rather than to submit and follow. In this respect, seeking for Jesus is not a virtue in the Gospel of Mark. Nor are clamoring crowds a sign of success or aid to ministry. Here, as elsewhere in Mark, enthusiasm is not to be confused with faith.” (Edwards: Pillar New Testament Commentary on Mark)
Seeking connotes an attempt to determine and control rather than to submit and follow. Isn’t that how we tend to want Jesus? Isn’t that how we tend to want God to operate? Give me strength to do what I want to do. Give me the joys of life and minimize my sorrw. Give me insight to make the right decisions so that life will be wonderful and grand. Prayer oftentimes becomes just this as we go to God and say, “MY will be done.”
But Jesus looks at his disciples and says, “Let us go to the surrounding towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” Jesus won’t be bound by claims on Him. Jesus won’t allow everyone, including us, to determine and control. That is not what He is here to do. He is here to proclaim the Gospel–God’s kingdom is arriving in Him. And He is inviting us to be a part of that Kingdom not by determining and controlling Him, but by following and submitting to Him.
At this point, some of you might be getting a little twitchy. Some of you might be thinking, “Does this mean I have to give up control of my life? Does this mean I might have to change my ways? Does this mean I might have to think and be different?” The answer is, well, yes. It’s nothing less than an entire change of your entire being. It’s nothing less than an entire change of your attitude. It’s nothing less than an entire change of your person and being as you relinquish control. And you may ask me, “Now, why in the world should I do that?”
Here is why. There are three times Jesus prays in the book of Mark. There is this one when the people are trying to determine and control Him. There is the time right after he fed the multitude with five loaves of bread and two fish. And then the final time in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is no coincidence that Jesus faced His final temptation in a garden–just as man faced his first temptation in a garden. It is no coincidence that Jesus prayed, “Father if it is possible, please take this cup from me, but not what I want but what you want.” For it was the same struggle that man and woman faced when tempted to go their own way–to do what they wanted and not what God wanted. But whereas man and woman failed in the first garden, Jesus succeeded in His garden. Jesus accomplished what we could not accomplish by being totally and completely obedient to His Father–and our Father.
And by accomplishing what we could not accomplish, Jesus became spotless, blameless, pure and holy. He was sinless as He gave up control when we seized it. If you read through Genesis chapter 3, you see the punishment man and woman received for seizing control. You see that every good relationship established by God became broken, and the end result was death. The end result of us seizing control of our own lives and our own fates is death. It is grief. It is burnout and weariness and anger and joyless living. And Jesus took all of that upon His sinless self. He took our grief and burnout and weariness and anger and joyless living to the cross where He faced the punishment we deserved. He faced the wrath of God due to us for our desire to be in control of our lives. He took our place because He loved us.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
And to the extent you believe this good news; to the extent you trust in the saving action of Jesus; to the extent you understand what He has done for you, then you will understand the joys of submitting and following. You will understand the joys of allowing Him to be Lord of your life instead of trying to satisfy your own desires. Work will not become a burden. Worship will be a joy. Prayer will be sought after as you continuously seek to submit yourself to the One who died on your behalf to bring you abundant life both now and forever. Amen.