There is a story of a man who worked for the state highway system. He was hired to paint the lines along the main highway that stretched from one end of the state to the other. (This was at a time before the trucks came along that automatically paint lines – what we are more familiar with seeing today.) On the first day, the man painted 10 miles worth of road. On day two, he painted 5 miles of roadway. By the third day he was fired because he had only painted 1 mile of road the entire day. When his boss presented him with his pay and his pink slip, he had to ask the worker, “How is it you did so well on the first day, but ended up painting so little by the third day?” The man answered, “Well sir, I just kept getting farther and farther away from that paint bucket.”
Today we begin our sermon series based on the movie and book War Room.” We will be introduced to Miss Clara, an older woman who is selling her house and moving in with her son, and her real estate agent Elizabeth Jordan. Miss Clara addresses the issue facing the church in Laodicea – this idea of becoming lukewarm. [Play movie clip]
How easy it is to become lukewarm in our prayer lives. It is not that we do not care about God and others or that we do not believe in God, we are simply apathetic – neither hot nor cold. Our days roll from one to the next, packed with activities, chores, work, not to mention holidays and birthdays, anniversaries or family gatherings. Sure, we think about God from time to time – maybe whisper a prayer here and there for someone who needs a little help, but that’s about it. Its not that we don’t care, its that we don’t have time to care. Yet when we step away from God’s love for us, we are leaving the paint can behind as we try to navigate our daily trials. And like the state line painter, the task just gets harder and harder.
Many of us are facing some pretty significant challenges. We talked earlier this year about things that are preventing us from a closer relationship with Jesus Christ. We discussed things like addictions, fear of the unknown, time juggling, stress, worry. Others barriers may be problems in our marriages, family difficulties, health issues, and heartache over those who have hurt us or have passed away. Our prayers, if uttered at all, are often directed toward the person or situation – God, why can’t you fix my spouse? God, this person needs to be punished for hurting my child. Where is the justice, God, when he gets the promotion and I don’t? God, why did you take my child away from me? Perhaps we are directing our prayers at the wrong target.
The church in Laodicea had a problem many of us suffer from today – they were lukewarm. It is not that they did not believe in God or worship together, it was simply that over time they became less and less concerned for their spiritual health. Sounds like us sometimes. What would it take for us to be so on fire for God that we consider our spiritual health on a daily basis? How is our prayer life? How often do we pray for our spouses, children, coworkers – even when they are driving us crazy? How often do we give thanks to God for the dawning of a new day? How often do we pause in the midst of our children’s games to realize just how truly blessed we are to be able to offer opportunities for our children? How often do we put our faith into action by supporting those in our community who are struggling? How often do we put God first? Can we be souls on fire for God?
Think about this for a second. I have a feeling each of us has someone in our lives that is absolutely toxic to our spirits. This person constantly complains about everything. Ironically, their order is never right when they go out to eat, service is always substandard, when they go to a new place or event it is always a disappointment, and they specifically are looking to you to make them feel better. The favor is never returned.
OK, so you have that person pictured in your mind? Someone like this perhaps? [pick of Walter and/or Scrooge] Now, picture someone that is zealous. Someone so joyful and positive about his/her life that no matter what their order looks like at the restaurant, it will be ok. If service is slow, they simply entertain you with positive stories and encounters with others that are intriguing and hopeful. These folks are supportive, encouraging, dedicated to their beliefs, yet exude a joy that just draws you in. Someone like these fans, perhaps. [Show fan pics]
Do we prefer to be toxic or zealous when we talk about our Christian beliefs? Too toxic, and we turn people off. Too zealous and we could be doing the same. Yet Jesus warns us about being satisfied with our lukewarm attitudes toward our faith. Is is possible to be zealous but in a way that draws people in rather than pushes them away? I think so. I think if we are working toward a closer relationship with God, we will find a level of peace that simply eluded us before. That peace reveals itself – through a brightness in our overall outlook, a clarity that we are loved by God, an assurance that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, a compassion for others as we see the world through eyes that truly see the needs around us. None of that will ever become a part of our being while we insist on remaining lukewarm.
The area of Laodicea did not have a direct water supply, so aqueducts would carry in water from quite a distance away. Often when the water arrived it was lukewarm and not very useful. Hot water was used for washing and cleansing. Cold water was good for drinking and cooling. Lukewarm water had little use at all.
This week we are hosting a Cluster Charge Conference here at Mayo, which is our opportunity to highlight all the activities and programs and ministries in which we participate. We could have the greatest Sunday School with an impressive growth rate, the most comprehensive and intricate music program – varied in style and age groups, the best church suppers and fellowship times, working technology – we could have all of this. But if we are lukewarm in our relationship with God, none of this will matter. Paul notes it best in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3:
“If I speak with the tongues of men and angels, but I do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have prophetic powers, and fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith, so that I can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor, and if I give over my body to hardship so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
So what? We are at that point today. So what? How are we to get rid of this lukewarm nature? We commune with the source of light. By taking a closer look at ourselves and being honest with where we are in our relationship with God, we can speak to God through prayer. We can build a relationship with our Maker by making communion with God a priority. But it first takes a desire for change.
Is your life already perfect? If there was one thing you would change, what would it be? Have you prayed about this? If your relationship with your spouse is not so great, when was the last time you prayed for your spouse? If your coworker is driving you crazy, when was the last time you prayed for your coworker, not just complained to God about him/her? If your children are stressing you to the max, when was the last time you held them in prayer?
Prayer is our direct line of communication to our Heavenly Father who is absolutely crazy about each of us. Have you ever been caught in a phone tree where you are stuck taking to a computer until you could scream, and often do because all you want to do is talk to a human? Prayer does one better than this and puts you directly through to the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.
Jesus instructed us to pray, and when we do, we are to go into our quiet place and find rest for our souls. Throughout this series we will discover Miss Clara’s War Room – her prayer closet. This is her place of strategy. This is her place of solace. This is her place to lay out her petitions and concerns, give thanks to God for what God is already doing. This is her place to listen for God’s message of love and blessing.
Some may think it is odd that Miss Clara refers to her prayer room as a war room. But make no mistake about it, we are in an epic battle of good versus evil. And evil seeks to kill and destroy everything that is good in your life. But also know this – Jesus the conqueror has already sealed the doom of evil through his death and resurrection. Draw closer to the winning team. Get on fire for God like never before. Find ways to use prayer as the powerful weapon it is. Take the blessings God gives each of us – the blessings of the Rock of Ages helping to shoulder your burdens and see you through the battle. Amen.