The Scripture for this Sunday’s Sermon was James 3:13–4:10. Preaching continues to be a new experience each and every time I step to the pulpit. This Sunday, the Holy Spirit was doing more work than I was, and for that I am wholly grateful.
So, y’all know that I’m still learning how to be a good minister. This will probably be true for the entirety of my ministry. My entire life.
We all continue to learn, or at least, we have the opportunity to learn from everything that we do and experience each day.
Everyday there is something new to be learned.
And, along with learning something new each day, no matter how long or how continually we’ve been learning, is knowing the right questions to ask.
It’s something that I learned when I lived in Kenya.
It’s easiest to see when you are outside your own culture, but especially outside of the country in which you live.
The kind of questions you ask matter.
Because you can ask something one way until you are blue in the face, for instance, “where is the bathroom” but until you figure out that you don’t need to say that you are taking a bath, you may only ever be sent to a room with a tub of water and a bar of soap!
It’s not until you ask: “Choo iko wapi?” that you figure out where to take care of the call of nature.
Likewise, there are more important questions that matter as well.
Peace Corps Kenya has the only program for volunteers who are Deaf and Hearing impaired.
One of my colleagues who was part of that program was asking me about my site and my placement.
And she was asking me if I had Power.
She was signing it in a sunburst above her head, and my first thought was: Power. Capital P.
So I was going into how I was a woman in a very traditional male dominated area, and that it was interesting to see how as an American they saw me as different, and I only spoke one and a half languages to their four or five, and so, I was like, no, I really don’t see that I have power where I am, my leadership is not really what I’m there for anyway, and you know…. And so on.
I’m embarrassed to say, she was only asking me if I had electricity at my house or not.
You know, “power” like a sunburst above your head.
I think she had to simulate an electrical shock before I got it.
You could probably analyze how I responded to such a simple question with such a complex answer, but it also shows how differently we were trying to communicate.
We had different questions in mind. And since we were on different pages, we ended up in two very different places.
This kind of disconnect happens when we try to be wiser than God as well. We can be asking the exactly right questions, even with the exactly correct words, but we’ve got to be on the same page with God, too.
We ask for some pretty interesting things.
O God, please give me a car.
O God, please give me a boyfriend/girlfriend.
O God, please give me a job.
The list goes on.
Now, none of these questions is wrong. You might have been thinking it, but, what if they went like this:
O God, please give me a car, I’m a bishop in the Methodist church in Kenya and I have no way to get around besides public transportation.
God answered that specific prayer with a partnership between the South Georgia Conference of the UMC and the Kenyan UMC.
The South Georgia Conference literally donated enough money so that the Bishop could purchase a car that was tough enough for the toughest roads that Kenya had to offer.
And lemme tell you, you ain’t been on a bad road until you’ve been on the road in Kenya. That road knocks your hips a foot off the seat, and makes you glad when you have a handle to hold on to.
Or, what if the person asking for a boyfriend or girlfriend feels called to be in a relationship?
Now, asking God to make today’s crush your special someone may just be raging hormones, but faithfully seeking discernment in relationships, both romantic and platonic, can be exactly in line with what God desires for you.
Or asking for a job. It is not a small thing, having a job, and especially for those who are supporting families, having a job can make the difference in so many things.
I know that during the recession, there were many who prayed for God to provide their daily bread, and I hope that as a community of faith, we were able to respond with grace and generosity.
So, we ask, not with the wisdom of the world, but with the wisdom that God give us.
This wisdom is pure, peaceful, gentle, full of mercy.
Now, guys, don’t lose me here.
This wisdom is not passive. It is not delicate.
It is not a something that gives in to first thing that tries to oppose it. Ghandi and the Civil Rights movement changed the world using this wisdom of peace and gentleness.
We don’t just pray asking God to do stuff for us. We don’t pray hoping that God will snap fingers and make our lives easy. That would be the way that the world wants stuff to happen.
Instead, we pray with audacity. We dare to pray to God that his will be done. That what is of heaven will also be on earth.
We pray not only for our own benefit, but also for the good of those around us, for our neighbors.
We pray these things, we talk to God this way, because we have wisdom that comes from God.
The words we use matter. The way that we use the tongues that God has given us to speak matters.
The humility of our hearts is to be placed within god’s will, so that we can ask rightly for the things that God wants for us.
When we were kids, it was so simple,
“Ask nicely, and say please.” … “Now say thank you.”
It’s not so simple.
As my husband, John, said, God is not a candy dispenser.
You can’t put in a holy quarter and turn the crank hoping for the best.
Asking just for the best for yourself will get you nowhere fast. Instead, God wants the best for us. God jealously yearns for the best for us.
God wants all of us, not just the leftover parts. All of our time, all of our hope, all of our energy, is to be directed and focused on God.
Especially in prayer.
Now, that is something that we are all still learning. And it is something that we will be learning for the rest of our lives. John Wesley called it going on to perfection. This learning at which we have to keep working.
It is a continual lesson to humble yourself and make yourself available to God’s purposes.
Sometimes, though, the hardest thing that we hear from God is a no. this is not a No, because of unfaithfulness, instead, it may be a no of not yet, I have something better planned and in store for you. This No does not get any easier to hear, but it is still a true word from God.
As Eugene Peterson paraphrased in The Message at the end of this passage: Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet.
As we humble ourselves before God, we pray that God will be the one who will direct us and guide us through all our difficulties.
We get caught up in the world, and what the world says we should want and do. The world is focused on itself.
We have a better focus. We get to focus on God. We have the honor to align our prayers with God’s will. And as we do this, as we align our hearts and our prayers along with God’s will, amazing things will happen.
We will see glimpses of God’s glorious Kingdom here on earth. As it is in heaven. Amen.