Tuesday, July 28, 2009

"This Ain't Happen'in"

Today's readings:
Morning Prayer: Psalm 119:1-24
Acts 16:6-15
Mark 6:30-46

At some point our relentless commitment to a goal can become a stubborn refusal to be led by the Spirit. I wonder how often I've prayed for guidance that I really didn't want? Two of the lectionary readings this morning had this idea as a subtext, a drama working quietly beneath the real action of the story.

Paul wanted to go back and visit churches that he had planted on an earlier missionary journey. A good idea, sensible and right, worthy of faithful church planter. You can read Acts 16:6-10 and get the story of how that plan was tanked.

In Mark 6, Jesus had sent out the twelve to preach and heal and cast out demans - and they did it. They had stories to tell and experiences to reflect on and learn from. They needed time away, and that's exactly what Jesus suggested. The only problem was that people wouldn't leave them alone. The planned retreat was ruined - but in the midst of that, a miracle took place (Mark 6:30-44).

At what point do you stop pushing the plan? It's an admirable thing to be commited to a task and to not be easily discouraged. Remember the movie Rudy? Have you heard how John Grisham's first novel was rejected by more than 30 publishers? They didn't quit. They didn't stop after two or three polite "no thank-yous." But at some point it seems that you just have to come clean with yourself and with God and step back and say "this ain't happn'in."

Sometimes we push the plan in ways that are aggressive and driven. We will make it happen. All the while we're doing this prayerfully, looking to God for the strength we need to do what we know God has called us to do. The resistance we encounter is nothing more than God's way of testing us and in so doing making us stronger.

Sometimes we push the plan quietly. We take to heart the frequent biblical admonitions to "wait upon the Lord." We preach to ourselves a familiar sugar-stick sermon, remembering that our timing is not God's timing. We resolve to wait on God to act, taking as our model Abraham and other giants of the faith who persevered in hope. We wait and wait and wait.

This is not a theoretical question. It is real and painful for many today: for applicants seeking a job, for couples trying to conceive, for patients going for yet one more round of chemo, for single people who always planned to be married, for writers who dream of being published and students whose career plans depend on acceptacnce to a school.

There's no formula that answers this. There's no magic eight-ball to shake that will tell you to "hang on a little longer" or "hang it up now."

When Jesus taught us to pray, he gave the words "thy will be done." He did not teach us to pray "thy will be known." Maybe the best answer is nothing more than prayer - prayer for what we want and for guidance and all the usual standard requests, but also prayer as Jesus taught us to pray. And then we trust God to do what God wills to do.

We pray with confidence because we know that with God there's always "somethin' happen'in." And we will not be left out.

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