Friday, April 29, 2016

When Things are Out of My Control

The Serenity Prayer is the common name for a prayer authored by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971). The best-known form is:


God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,       

Courage to change the things I can,

            And wisdom to know the difference.


The Serenity Prayer is one of my favorite prayers. If we could master the concept of this prayer, we would become close disciples of Solomon’s wisdom and Jesus Christ! Each one of us needs the courage to change the things we can. We all need wisdom. However, the first part of the prayer gives me the most trouble. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”


I don’t like to believe that certain things are out of my control. Honestly, I had more trouble with this early on. I find myself getting used to the idea that certain things are beyond my ability to change. However, I still have difficulty believing that I cannot fix everything that is broken around me. I would love to think that “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”[1]Even when we are living in God’s will and trying to serve him, things can go wrong.


When I was a kid, we had four television stations to watch: ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS. On occasion, the television station would interrupt the broadcast. You would hear this high-pitched tone that would sound. An announcer would begin to speak, “This is a test of the emergency broadcasting system. This is only a test.” After the test, the station would resume the ordinary programming.


Often, our usual program is interrupted by a test. At best, we are annoyed. In the worst case, we go through tremendous pain. All of us desperately want life to go back to the ordinary program. Jesus had something to say about the tests we face.


John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”


When you soak a sponge in water and press down on it, what’s inside comes out. A test or trial is an opportunity to see what we have been soaking up on the inside.


David wrote many things in the Bible about his struggles with feeling victimized by circumstances and enemies. In his writings, he always found an audience with God. When David was nervous, sad, anxious, angry or overwhelmed, he turned to God for direction and support. David humbly admitted that he needed God to teach him to do his will in difficult times when things seemed out of control.


Psalm 143:1-12 Hear my prayer, O Lord;
    give ear to my pleas for mercy!
    In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness!
Enter not into judgment with your servant,

    for no one living is righteous before you.

For the enemy has pursued my soul;
    he has crushed my life to the ground;
    he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead.
Therefore my spirit faints within me;
    my heart within me is appalled.

I remember the days of old;
    I meditate on all that you have done;
    I ponder the work of your hands.
I stretch out my hands to you;
    my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Selah

Answer me quickly, O Lord!
    My spirit fails!
Hide not your face from me,

    lest I be like those who go down to the pit.
Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,

    for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,

    for to you I lift up my soul.

Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord!
    I have fled to you for refuge.
10 Teach me to do your will,

    for you are my God!
Let your good Spirit lead me
    on level ground!

11 For your name's sake, O Lord, preserve my life!
    In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble!
12 And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies,

    and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul,
    for I am your servant.


In the heart of this psalm, David gives us wisdom for responding in those moments when things are out of our control. Look at verses 5 and 6.


Psalm 143:5-6 5I remember the days of old;
    I meditate on all that you have done;
    I ponder the work of your hands.
I stretch out my hands to you;
    my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Selah


Four responses to the things we cannot change:


1. I remember God’s faithfulness in the past. God is faithful.


When we reflect on God’s deeds in the past, it helps us to find God in the present. God may seem to be silent as we cry out to him with a fervent, sincere request. Remembering God’s goodness to his people in the past reminds us that he is faithful in the present and will be faithful in the future.


I’m glad that God is more faithful than we are. Many will show up to church when nothing is expected. Many will follow a version of Jesus, who doesn’t demand any life change. However, God is truly faithful. He has proven his faithfulness to us. We can remember his faithfulness from days of old. God has never quit. He will never quit. He is faithful.


Sometimes we feel distant from God because we relegate him to the outskirts of our lives. Interstate 459 is the beltway around Birmingham. You can circle around part of the city on 459. It is on the margin of the city. It is far enough to keep you from getting caught up in some of the traffic through Birmingham, yet close enough to give you access to certain areas.


Most people treat God like the beltway. We keep God close enough to get us where we want to go in life, but far enough away to keep him out of the center of our lives. God intends to be in the middle of our lives, not on the outskirts.


God is faithful to us. You can look back at history and see the dependability, loyalty, and stability of God. David said, “I remember the days of old.” The faithfulness of God is a constant theme in the pages of the Bible. God is the faithful God who keeps his covenant.


Deuteronomy 7:9 Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.


When we are tempted, God is faithful to deliver us. When we need assurance of salvation, God is faithful to comfort us. When we need forgiveness of sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us.


2. I meditate on all God has done. God is loyal.


The implications of being a child of God are staggering. If Bill Gates were to adopt a son, that would be staggering. If the president of the United States of America were to adopt a child, the implications of that are staggering. Because we have been adopted into God’s family, the implications are staggering.[2]


We are children of God. He does not abandon or forsake his children. The implications that we are his children are staggering.


I remember telling God as a young man, “God, I will do anything you want me to do, but I will not be a pastor.” I’m sure God smiled. God is full of surprises. His ways are not our ways. However, God is not going to leave us hanging. God is loyal.


3. I ponder the work of God’s hands. God is powerful.


There is great power in an intimate relationship with God. When Lauren was a toddler, she was afraid of dogs. She did not want anything to do with them. She went to visit her grandparents. They had a yappy little west highland terrier. He could get stirred up. When she was on the floor playing, the dog came up and let out a shrill bark and snapped at her. Lauren cried. She ran to me.


When Lauren was safely in my arms, I looked at the dog, and I said, “Mean dog!” I shook my finger at him. Lauren, now with daddy was no longer afraid. She looked at that dog with authority and shook her little finger at him. Her closeness to her daddy gave her confidence.


When we are near to God and sense his power, we can face the enemy. We can be confident in an anxious moment. We can shake our finger in the face of trouble knowing we are in the Father’s arms.


David said, “I ponder the work of his hands.” Think of all that God has made! Consider that great power of God.


I recently heard a photographer say that he believed that cameras using 35-millimeter film produced better, more authentic photographs than digital cameras. I have seen photographers carefully develop the film in a darkroom. When we go through the darkroom of life, we can often see the most beautiful image of who Jesus Christ is in us.


4. I stretch out my hands to God in prayer. God listens to me.

When things are out of control, God can work in our prayer life. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Pain is God’s megaphone.” We get hungry for God when things are not going the way we had hoped.


When Carol and I lived in Roebuck, you could get off of the interstate and find panhandlers under the overpass on the way into our neighborhood. Sometimes they would hold up signs that read, “Hungry. Please help.” One way you could discover if the person was hungry was to offer them food or something to drink. It was possible that they were hungry.


It was also possible that the panhandler wanted a bottle of Thunderbird or Jack Daniels from the liquor store a block and a half away. By the way, the liquor store was a converted Omelet Shoppe. The new owner changed a few letters in the sign and it now reads, “Bottle Stoppe.”


A lot of people are hungry for the wrong things. Difficulty has a way of fine-tuning our spiritual hunger. Only God can satisfy our deepest hunger. The great news is that he will satisfy our hunger if we stretch out our hands to him in prayer.


The most powerful prayer comes from a heart that places its trust in God who has acted and spoken in the Word of God and Jesus Christ. A confident, effective prayer life is built on the foundation of Jesus Christ’s work and the promises of the Bible.


When we stretch out our hands, as David did, we discover that God, for good reasons, does not answer every petition just exactly as we see fit. Some things will inhibit our prayers such as sin in our heart, stubbornness, lack of generosity, pride, and doubt. However, God does answer our requests as we pray in his will and trust in him to do as he knows best.


Hands lifted in prayer form a powerful spiritual symbol. Prayer is the way we find freedom from fear, strength for our souls, guidance and peace, wisdom and understanding, and deliverance for our souls. When we lift our hands in prayer, we are admitting to God that we need his power and wisdom in our lives.


In the Bible, prayers enlarged Jabez’s influence, delivered Jonah from the belly of a great fish, caused the ground beneath the early Christians to tremble, and opened the doors of the prison to free the jailed apostles! Our prayers do make a difference in how God works in our world! Stretch out your hands and pray!


Are you up against a situation that you cannot change? Remember God. Meditate on his works. Ponder his power. Stretch out your hands and pray.


God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,       

Courage to change the things I can,

            And wisdom to know the difference.


[1]William Ernest Henley, “Invictus.”  
[2]Tony Evans, Tony Evans Book. . ., (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2008), 104.