October 18, 2009

Slow It Down

Now many of you know that I am a big fan of superheroes and cartoons and the like. Well, there.s pretty much no question in my mind that Superman is the greatest superhero out there. But the problem with Superman is that he.s an alien. Though he spent nearly all of his life on earth, he can never really know the full human experience. There.s another superhero, though, who is every bit as fast as Superman, but is at the same time fully human. This particular hero is a guy named Wally West, more familiarly known as the Flash. I can tell you, I wanted to be the Flash when I was growing up. His super power was so cool: he could move ultra fast. If he needed to run to the store he could be there and back in a matter of seconds. He could be ready to go in the mornings in milliseconds. Doing chores around the house took barely the amount of time necessary to think about them. Think about how cool it would be to be able to move that fast. Think about how much more we could get done every day. And considering how much we try and cram into our lives, being able to move a lot faster would be really nice so that we had more time…to do more things. Alright; fess up: how many people thought I was going to say “rest” there? How many of you have ever wished that you had more time in your lives for rest? How many of you would really rest if you had that time? If I were suddenly able to create a ton of more time in my life I would more than likely fill that time with a bunch more things to do in order to really “maximize” my time. And make no mistake: I would wrap this in holy language. “I have this gift of time, I need to use it as effectively as I possibly can in order to get the most done for the kingdom that I can.” Ever had that thought when you were surprised with an unexpected gift of time? Ever take time to rest and then felt guilty afterwards? Anyone wondering where I.m going with this yet? We live in a fast-paced world and have fast-paced lives to match. Yes, even out here in the country we still fall victim to a speed-obsessed culture. Yet we do not often stop and really think about the effect of all this on our lives. For example, hurrying is a sure way to miss things that require patient observation to catch. I wonder what we miss in all this hurry. Perhaps an even better question, though, is why. Why do we hurry so much? What are we afraid of missing as the expense of a slower pace? It is these and other similar questions that I want to seek to answer with you this morning, because the temptation to a life of hurry is always before us. Many of us fall hook, line, and sinker to this temptation and spend our days tired, stressed out, and afraid that we are going to let someone down if we don.t maintain the level of activity we are currently at or more. In the end, though, this pace burns us out on life and doesn.t leave enough to be good for anyone, let alone God. So this morning as we go forward, I want you to know something important right up front: this is a lie. The driving force behind this life of rushing around like a squirrel with winter fast approaching is one big lie. It creates a crazy cycle that keeps us too dizzy to see the exit. Yet know well that there is rest in Christ and we can jump off this not-so-merry-go-round anytime we want to embrace the truth. If the pace is too quick, then slow it down.

As an example of how to avoid this dizzying spin cycle and as a reminder that we simply cannot sustain such a pace for long, we are going to take a look this morning at a couple of episodes from the life of Christ. There are certainly more of these episodes than we are going to investigate together this morning and these may not even be the very best of those available to discuss, but they are intended to serve as an example for us of this morning.s spiritual discipline: slowing. The spiritual discipline of slowing is a discipline of abstinence in which we intentionally remove from our lives things which keep us running around too fast to really enjoy our lives and connect with our God. This discipline, perhaps more than any of the others we have or will talk about this month is one to which many, many people give active lip service, but also one which an inversely proportional few ever really do anything about incorporating into their lives. The discipline of slowing is also one which, as we will see more clearly in a few minutes, is pretty difficult to make a regular practice in our lives because of the twofold problem of our addiction to speed and our society.s infatuation with deadlines. Yet practice we must if we hope to have any of ourselves left to really enjoy the life we have ahead of us in Christ. If the pace is too quick, then slow it down. And the pace for many of us is in fact too quick.

Let me ask you a question: how would people respond today if someone turned up who was not only a powerful speaker and teacher but could also heal people of any and every disease? Well, as some indicator of this situation, look at the crowds great teachers or motivational speakers in our day draw to themselves.
Furthermore, look up when the next Benny Hinn rally is going to be on television and try to count the number of people who are there. Now change the context of this teacher and healer to a culture where people are generally much more open to the idea of miraculous healings than ours is. Jesus was swamped with people like you wouldn.t even believe all the time. It would have been easy for Him to be constantly on the run trying to make all these people happy. For those of you who feel more temptation to hurry based on the number of people you feel like are depending on you, up that number to thousands upon thousands everywhere you went and you will have an idea of the temptation constantly before Jesus. The passages that we are going to look at this morning demonstrate pretty clearly the constant pressure placed on Jesus to interact with the crowds regardless of His own needs. What we will also see is Jesus. commitment to seeing His spiritual needs met regardless of the pressure from the crowds. There are times when life itself seems to hold us to the grinding stone of hurry, but as we see modeled brilliantly by our Savior here, if the pace is too quick, then slow it down.

Our first passage is found early in Luke.s Gospel—5:15-16 to be exact; turn there with me. In Luke.s chronology Jesus had fairly recently blown open the doors on His healing ministry and word had spread. People were searching for Him so that they might experience some of this healing themselves. Yet Jesus knew that if these crowds dictated the pace of His life He would have no rest. As a result, He constantly sought time by Himself in order that He might take a minute to breath and pray and rest in a moment of slow amid the fast of His environment. Check out these words with me: “But the news about Him spread even more, and large crowds would come together to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. Yet He often withdrew to deserted places and prayed.” There are forces in this world that work hard to keep us beholden unto them. Their methods are to play off our senses of charity and duty. Because of the image of God residing in us, we naturally have a sense of compassion on other people and situations in our lives. These forces use this compassion as a tool to get us to commit our help to them. Sometimes these are wise commitments to make, sometimes they are not. But either way, once these commitments are made, they use our sense of duty to guilt us into giving far more of ourselves to them than we should.

Let.s talk concretely about this. Let.s say you get an offer to help a missions organization with a big project during the holiday season. You know you.re probably too busy and that you don.t really fit there, but it.s a good cause and they really need help so you help. Knowing that you helped that one time, the next time they need some help with a project they call again. And again, you.re pretty busy, but you don.t want to leave them hanging so you agree again. Well, before you know it they are calling monthly with opportunities to be involved and eventually ask you to serve on their board. You were too busy the first time but your sense of duty has driven you to stick with it until your other commitments are suffering because you are spread too thin and are constantly exhausted from running around all day. You need to slow down, but feel trapped. You look really good in the community for all this, but at what cost? Listen, if the pace is too quick, then slow it down. Does this mean either you or the organization are bad. Of course not, but there are forces in this world that have successfully kept you from giving yourself fully to the most important things. Well, what does this have to do with Jesus? Jesus was a compassionate person. The Gospels are clear on that. There are few things more difficult for compassionate people than an overwhelming amount of need. If entire crowds in need of healing didn.t represent an overwhelming amount of need I don.t know what would. Jesus saw this need but never committed Himself to it because it was not His main purpose. Our mission and vision here at Central are all about figuring out and setting ourselves to accomplishing our main purpose. These define this main purpose and keep us on track by setting boundaries which allow us to say no to things that don.t fit. We have to let God set our pace, not the world around us. Jesus mastered the art of letting God stay in control of the pace of His life. Furthermore, this passage is clear that He took active steps to slow down His pace. The grammar here indicates that this withdrawing to deserted places and praying were regular features of His life. If Jesus couldn.t get by without slowing His pace down at regular intervals, how can we expect to do so? If the pace is too quick, then slow it down.

In the same vein as the passage in Luke, turn with me back a few pages to Mark 1:35-38. Here, Jesus has just spent the previous day healing as many as He could in the town of Capernaum. Such a day would have wiped out anyone so Jesus looks to take some time to rest before moving on. But this time, when the temptation came to keep up the frenetic pace of the previous day, the source of the temptation is not what we might expect. Follow along with me as I read: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, He got up, went out, and made His way to a deserted place. And He was praying there. Simon and his companions went searching for Him. They found Him and said, „Everyone.s looking for You!. And He said to them, „Let.s go on to the neighboring villages so that I may preach there too. This is why I have come..” Sometimes this temptation to busyness comes not from general sources that could affect anyone, but from close friends or family. This was Simon Peter, the disciple closer to Jesus than just about any of the others, coming to pull Him back into the crazy pace of life of the day before. Sometimes in our lives, it is a close friend or family member that calls us to maintain a hurried pace when all we want to do is rest. We could debate all day without coming to any helpful conclusions the reasons for this, but the point is that there are no off limits for our Enemy to use in his attempt to keep us running. Yet look how Jesus responds to Peter. He announces that they are going to the next town to preach. You see, Jesus came here with a clear purpose: to proclaim the advent of the kingdom of God. He healed people to be sure, but only when it helped Him fulfill His larger purpose. Had Jesus let Himself be swept away by the disciples. compassionate desire to see Him continue healing all the people who had come to Him, there would have been no time left for Him to get His real mission accomplished. In the same way, if we don.t know our own purpose it is easy to be kept running around all the time trying to keep everyone and everything around us happy. This will ultimately be a futile endeavor, however, because we will burn out and we will never accomplish the work God really has for us. In case that was too subtle, excess busyness in our lives is a good indicator that we don.t know who we are. The problem is, the busyness will keep us from knowing who we are because it doesn.t leave us time to ever stop and think about it. Our Enemy in this world loves this fact and works to exploit it in every way. Yet make no mistake, this is not a call to avoid all busyness like the plague because there are times in our lives when we need to be busily about the work God has given us. This is instead a call to make sure that we are busy doing the right things; not merely the good things, but the best things. For if we keep running around, we.ll never get the best things done. If the pace is too quick, then slow it down.

Have you ever thought about the effect this has on our lives, though? What are some of the fruits of busyness in our lives? Let me say before I get into this that I draw many of these examples from the wisdom of pastor and author John Ortberg and his book The Life You’ve Always Wanted. One of the first fruits of busyness in our lives is multitasking. Now, what.s wrong with multitasking, some of you are asking yourselves. Few of us go through a day, or even part of a day, without multitasking. I mean, I rarely brush my teeth without doing something else. Some of you still laugh at the fact that when Noah was in his early months I would feed him and play the Wii. Who in this room hasn.t done something else while driving: eat, talk on the phone, do your hair or makeup, read a book or the newspaper, or just about anything else. We multitask because we want to be able to get more things packed into our day. But what happens when we do this? Well, usually none of the things we are trying to get done at the same time are done as well or as fast as they could be done on their own. And all the things we listed before were kind of silly examples, but what about for more important things. What about if we try and work on a project under deadline while trying to engage meaningfully with our spouse or our kids. The fact is that we weren.t made for multitasking. When we multitask we aren.t fully present for any of the things we try to do. In this sense, we are stealing time from important people and things around us. I seem to remember something about an eighth commandment, but maybe I.m just crazy like that. Multitasking means that we have too many things going on than we can accomplish one at a time. It.s symptomatic that our pace of life is faster than it should be, and if the pace is too quick, then slow it down.

But multitasking isn.t the only symptom of a hurried life. People whose lives are hurried often have lives filled with clutter. Keep in mind that clutter can take many different forms: physical clutter lying all over our houses from projects unfinished and under deadline; spiritual clutter from all the different attempts we.ve made at slowing our lives down apart from God.s help; or emotional clutter left behind from all the emotionally challenging circumstances we.ve faced without taking time to process through them. There is a saying that clutter is the sign of an active mind, but I think we need to emend it to “clutter is a sign of an over-active mind.” While there are certainly exceptions to this saying, a lot of clutter in our lives is generally a sign that we are moving too fast to really engage fully with anything. As an off-shoot of this not being able to engage fully with anything, too much hurry in our lives contributes to what one author calls “sunset fatigue.” Sunset fatigue is that feeling we have at the end of the day when we don.t have anything left to pour into the things in our lives that really matter like family. Rather than engaging with the important relationships in our lives, we give over our humanity for a time and become a vegetable. Now this doesn.t mean it is bad to take the luxury of rest at the end of a long day at work, but it does mean that if we are too tired every night when we get home to engage with our families because we are so busy during the day, we might have too much going on during our days. But wait, there.s more. People whose lives are marked by hurry tend to be more superficial. If we are running around in circles all day long then we really don.t have time to get to know anyone, nor anyone else us. The problem with this is that we need to be known. Being known is one of our most fundamental spiritual needs. Yet the hurry in our lives allows us time neither to reflect on our identities nor to invest ourselves in other people, thereby fostering a sense of belonging. This all plays into a final effect of hurry: an inability to love. You see, love takes time. It takes time to start, time to build, time to grow, and time to maintain. If all our time is filled up with busyness, then we necessarily aren.t taking the time we need to spend with and on the people in our lives we are supposed to love; on the God in our lives we are commanded to love. All of this is indicative of a pace of life that has progressed beyond our ability to keep up. If the pace is too quick, then slow it down.

So what can we do about this? Well, let.s start with some sillier (though no less helpful) examples and then move on to the tougher ones. When we find ourselves feeling hurried through life, one of the best things we can do is to intentionally look for ways to slow ourselves down. Given that one of the outlets for our hurry is on the road, we can try driving the speed limit or a mile or two below it everywhere we go for a week (use your cruise control if it proves too difficult to do without it). When we are at a store ready to check out, we can get in the longest line available and even let a person with more items move ahead of us in line. If there is both a long and a short way to do something, take the long way. Try not wearing a watch for a day or even a week. I.m particularly bad at this next one. When eating a meal, take smaller bites and chew each bite longer than normal. Whenever we catch ourselves multitasking this next week, let.s agree to stop and finish one activity before pursuing the second (and third, fourth, fifth, etc.). I know all these examples seem a bit silly, but really try them this next week. When you find your mind reacting to the slower pace, take a minute and ask why. Why is it so bothersome to have to wait? Why is it so difficult to do only one thing at a time? What drives us to obsess about deadlines? From whence came this addiction to hurry? Perhaps our reaction to these intentional acts of slowing indicates that our pace has been too quick for too long and it.s time to slow down.

Now to the more difficult suggestions. Following in the footsteps of our Savior we can pursue times of solitude and prayer in order to recharge our spiritual batteries and reflect on our purpose and identity. If being surrounded by people tempts us to hurry in order to please all of them, then we need to get off by ourselves on a regular basis and take time with just us and God. There is some overlap here with the discipline of silence to be sure and that.s okay, the ultimate goal is the same for both. The final challenge here is the most difficult and it is the one that I call you to take up this holiday season—a time when more and more busyness seems to rob people of the joy season. Think through your lives over the next couple of weeks and pinpoint the things that are adding to the busyness in your life but don.t fit in with God.s purpose for you. Once you have compiled a pretty good list of these, ruthlessly eliminate each of them from your life. Don.t rest until not a single one of them are left. These are the things that are keeping you from God and they have no place in your life. These are what are contributing to a pace that is too quick and it.s time to slow down. Let us let go of the busyness and immerse ourselves in the beautiful pace of life of the kingdom of God. There we can all truly belong to one another as we learn from our Savior our unique design and calling. And with the unnecessary activity out of the way we will have time to serve in the areas to which God is truly calling us. If the pace is too quick, then slow it down.

Each week we have been practicing our spiritual discipline together during the service. I admit that it was tough thinking up an activity that would allow us to practice the discipline of slowing together. What we are going to do this morning might seem similar to the time of silence from a couple of weeks ago, but rest assured, the intention is to lead to a different place. I am going to lead you through a guided meditation this morning using some holy imagination. With your eyes closed, I am going to guide on a mental journey focused on helping you release some of what makes you too busy. So close your eyes, and take three deep breaths. Imagine that you are walking through the woods with a heavy pack on your back. Take your time and notice all the sights and sounds and even the smells of the beauty that surrounds you. When you look to your side you see that Jesus is walking with you. As the two of you slowly walk together, He begins talking to you about your life. What does He say? Gradually the conversation turns to how busy you have been lately. Jesus begins to point out some areas in your life that are getting in the way of your relationship with Him because they are causing you to rush through things, not taking time for the most important things. What are some of these? What does Jesus tell you that you need to do about them? Now Jesus takes the pack from you and inside you find all of these various sources of busyness in your life. One by one take each of these things out of the sack and give them to Jesus. Feel Him put His arm around you and encourage you as you do this difficult thing. Feel the weight of the pack gradually lighten as you give up one thing after the next. Do you hold any of the things in the bag back? How come? Talk with Jesus about why you can.t give these particular things to Him just yet. When you have finished giving Him everything you are going to drop the bag, and slowly walk away with Jesus, leaving the pack behind.