A haggard a young priest recently told me they were run ragged with all the expectations they were trying to fulfill. Flustered when I asked what their prayer life was like, they said that they understood its importance but couldn’t figure out how to fit it in. Ironically, Martin Luther once said I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer. In today’s Gospel we heard that after his healing ministry got off to a great start and helped crowds of people, Jesus needed to go to a secluded spot to pray. Despite Simon urging him to return to Capernaum where folk were lining up to see him, he refused saying he had to proclaim good news throughout Galilee. Jesus wasn’t heartless – he showed compassion for all sorts of people in need, but also had another job to do – to tell people about the Kingdom of Heaven inside them – God’s power working in them that could extend the reach of his healing thro a ripple effect, inspiring physicians like Luke and wise women who’d nursed the sick for centuries. They may not have been able to perform miracles but had effective remedies for treating many ailments. That was just one of the great benefits his preaching could achieve by empowering others to use their gifts too, spreading the word about God’s limitless love and power to help the weary and needy – however and through whomever it worked. That’s the message Jesus passed on, providing hope and help to successive generations thro the reassurance of God’s guidance and loving kindness that we all need,( including caregivers), to carry on – a truly renewable resource!
On the receiving end, prayer (in any form) plays a vital part, opening us to God’s grace and offering us a broader perspective. Maybe surveying the … wonders of His works opens our eyes to the big picture, to wider horizons and brighter possibilities than the hole or rut we sometimes find ourselves in. Worship can work the same way – when we wholeheartedly praise God’s goodness, singing hymns like How great Thou art, we are reminded how infinitely creative and caring God is, and there’s nothing like awe and wonder to make us receptive to resources that can renew faith, flagging energy, our determination, or sheer joy. It’s like having an empty bucket and the choice between trying to fill it from a broken, rusty old well pump at an abandoned homestead or clear rushing stream, which would you rely on? The greater the God we believe in, the easier it is to trust and tap into the power of the Holy Spirit. This morning’s Isaiah passage captured the same idea, painting a cosmic picture of God’s incredible creative power coupled with concern for the weak and powerless, saying … even youths get weary and exhausted, but those who wait for the Lord renew their strength. Feeling abandoned and fed up, the exiles could not sustain hope without such encouragement.
In terms of sustainability we each know what saps our energy and what renews it. Who can sustain anger or bitterness without paying the price in terms of feeling drained, stressed out, or finding it hard to concentrate and cope? Same can be true of nagging criticism, hurt or the desire for revenge. The blame game doesn’t work for me either if I try to offload the cause of my problems onto someone else like the security guards and gatekeepers who should have protected me from the vampire who tried to suck up my time and budget. Despite the interruption, being irritated wasn’t going to solve anything. That’s why I hung a cross on my office wall behind where visitors sat as a reminder to invite Christ into the conversation and pray for whatever grace I felt lacking any time – patience, openness, good judgement, or the right words to explain that our shareholders wouldn’t let us dabble in the black arts – it was bad for business.
Talk about mind over matter – the notion that gold suffering amnesia could be treated by taking it home, was wishful thinking to say the least but we have all come across modern-day magicians who promise us eternal youth from a bottle, or quick fixes for everything from tough stains to relationships, financial woes or other situations. You can see the attraction of instant solutions, like the exiles being tempted to worship Babylon’s idols since YHWH was slow in securing their release, or those who wanted Jesus to keep performing miracles. Was that sustainable? When he died, what then? And today, if one miracle–worker or magic formula does not provide what we want, is it on to the next? Or do we take the long-term approach – letting the Good News gradually sink in through the stories of Jesus being woven into the fabric of our lives, shaping our thinking, or the infinite power of God’s love seep into our hearts through prayer and praise where it can work in us to do far more than we can ask or imagine?
Hopefully each of us knows what drains and sustains us. Kids figure it out pretty quickly, knowing when to cry and why, while keeping their capacity for fun and ability to dream, to learn, to see the wonder and enjoy the great mysteries. However, as adults, folk can forget what feeds their soul, or are afraid to face what drains them. We all have legitimate reasons for feeling sad, tired or down. Sadly, for some it includes being neglected or abandoned, used or abused and feeling powerless. But if we are to help and sustain one another, without burning out, we need to figure out what sustains us, what uplifts us and restores our soul. For Jesus it seems to have been a guiding purpose, good friends and prayer to get in touch with God and tap into the power of limitless love and grace. Magic? No, but it sounds like a great recipe for renewable energy – purpose, people and prayer.