A man was stuck on his rooftop in a flood. He was praying to God for help.
Soon a man in a rowing boat came by and shouted to the man on the roof, “Jump in, I can save you.”
The stranded man shouted back, “No, it’s OK, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me.”
So the rowing boat went on.
Then a motorboat came by. “The fellow in the motorboat shouted, “Jump in, I can save you.”
To this the stranded man said, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.”
So the motorboat went on.
Then a helicopter came by and the pilot shouted down, “Grab this rope and I will lift you to safety.”
To this the stranded man again replied, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.”
So the helicopter reluctantly flew away.
Soon the water rose above the rooftop and the man drowned. He went to Heaven. He finally got his chance to discuss this whole situation with God, at which point he exclaimed, “I had faith in you but you didn’t save me, you let me drown. I don’t understand why!”
To this God replied, “I sent you a rowing boat and a motorboat and a helicopter, what more did you expect?”
This is a story about a man putting complete faith God. You could call it blind faith. We Christians like to think that we have faith but not blind faith like this man. We like to think that God has a plan for us, we could call it the Divine Plan, no matter what we think God knows what is in store for us. That can be quite dangerous, we could end up drowning like the man in the story.
The early Moravian Brethren had a strong conviction that things were pre-determined by God, they used the ‘Lot’ system where slips of paper were drawn out of a box to answer major decisions for the church.
For example, if someone was suitable to be a minister, if a person could join the church. This excessive use of the lot kept hundreds of potential members out of the church as receiving a ‘no’ slip was humiliating, this resulted in the Moravian church remaining small. The lot process was also used to approve or disapprove of marriages between church members. Luckily this system passed away a long time ago.
To accept your lot in life is mentioned in Ecclesiastes 5:19 “ Likewise all to whom God gives wealth and possessions and whom he enables to enjoy them, and to accept their lot and find enjoyment in their toil—this is the gift of God.” this verse could be the inspiration for the lot system, I’m not sure I need to do a bit more reading about that. But this acceptance of our ‘lot’ is to me a very lazy faith, it almost says we don’t have to do anything but if it goes bad, like the story at the beginning, well that’s God’s plan!
We can sometimes go too far the other way and think that we know best, we know what God has in store for us and what God has planned for us. We can do a better job than God. How wrong we can be!
In our first reading we hear about Job. Job had been through a really tough time, his wife and children were all dead, he had lost his farm and cattle, his whole livelihood gone, all unknown to him, as part of a challenge or game between God and the satan.
Job’s three friends Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar all try to tell him that the catastrophes that have befallen him were his fault, that he must have done something to deserve all his troubles. Have you ever heard someone say “I must have done something wrong to be this unlucky”.
Job then justifies to his friends that what has happened to him was his own doing, that he had done great wrongs to be on the receiving end of all this suffering.
But then in chapter 38 God finally talks to Job. God doesn’t whisper to Job, God doesn’t take Job to one side and have a quiet word in his ear, no God comes in a whirlwind!
I love the way God talks to Job here. I imagine a tv courtroom drama with Job in the witness box and God questioning him.
The whole of chapter 38 is God challenging Job to give Him answers about the creation of the universe, the earth and all the animals in it. (read some of the chapter). God is even sarcastic to Job when he says “surely you know”. Job is made aware of how he had assumed he knew the reason for his pain and suffering, his own human limitations compared to God’s infinite nature and power.
But God is divine and exceeds all human understanding.
This lack of human understanding is reflected in our second reading from Mark’s gospel. Here we see two disciples, James and John, asking if they can sit at Jesus’ right and left side when He sits on His throne in heaven. Jesus knows what they are asking for but challenges them and asks them if they are prepared to ‘drink the cup I will drink’. ‘Yes’ they quickly reply. Jesus however, is referring to the cup described in Psalm 75: “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, he will pour a draught from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.”. This is a cup of suffering and of divine judgement.
Jesus told James and John that they didn’t know what they were asking for. James and John were asking for glory, the easy way. They wanted glory without the suffering. Sometimes we can be like James and John looking for the easy path.
So we have two different angles here. Job thought he should be rewarded for his pain and suffering and on the other hand James and John think they can have glory without the suffering. Who is right? Job? James and John?
Well neither. God is right!
God does not punish us or reward us. God is God. We humans do not determine how God will act, nor are we the sole reason for His actions.
The world is God’s, not ours, we need to learn how to discern what God is telling us and asking of us, but that is not easy.
When I was in Amsterdam I visited a house of a lady called Corrie ten Boom, Corrie was a Dutch Christian who, along with her father and other family members, helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II. They made a secret hiding place in Corrie’s bedroom for Jews to avoid detection. They were imprisoned for their actions and Corrie and her sister were sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. Out of her whole family only Corrie survived the war.
Corrie travelled all over the world after the war and used an embroidery of a crown she had made as talk illustration.
During her presentations she would hold the embroidery, with hundreds of tangled threads hanging from it.
Many wondered if she was holding up the wrong side by mistake. As she held up the messy side of the embroidery she would ask…
“Does God always grant us what we ask for in prayer? Not always. Sometimes He says, ‘No.’ That is because God knows what we do not know. God knows all. Look at this piece of embroidery. The wrong side is chaos. But look at the beautiful picture on the other side – the right side. We see now, the wrong side, God sees His side all the time. One day we shall see the embroidery from His side, and thank Him for every answered and unanswered prayer.”
We need to discern what God wants for us, for this church and this city. This is what prayer is for, we find it easy asking God for help and thanking God but listening to God is much harder.
I will be truthful and admit that I find it hard to sit in silence, I will often find endless jobs to do to avoid sitting in silence, when I do sit down I feel guilty for not being busy!
But it is when we are silent that we can listen to God. Those two words have the same letters: LISTEN SILENT.
Thank you for listening.