Sunday, October 23, 2016
Is our faith awake or asleep?
It’s a question, one for each and every one of us to ponder.
We do this corporately – as a body. Is the faith of HillSong Church awake? As a worshipping community, are we alive and so animated that when people enter our gathering, they know God is here? Are we awake? Or are we so lethargic that someone can come, worship with us, leave, and have it make no impression on their lives? Awake or asleep?
We also deal with this question as individuals. Is my walk with Jesus, my personal faith, alive, vibrant, and palpable? Or is my faith napping, inert, and languid, so lacking in vigor there is hardly a pulse? What about yours?
Awake or asleep?
The faith that is alive and alert is in step with Jesus. We see the Holy Spirit everywhere because the Holy Spirit is everywhere. We see God in everything because God is Lord over everything. We are aligned with God so tightly that even when a word from God seems foolish, we can see how God it as work in it. Or, even if we can’t see it, we can trust because our faith is alive and an alive faith trusts God.
The sleeping faith is like the guy whose faith is like a hat. He keeps that hat on a shelf and keeps it totally clean. It is radiant, such a beautiful hat. On Sundays, he puts that hat on and at church, man, he looks good in his bold-colored, dashing hat. After church, he comes home, puts the faith hat on the shelf where it stays until for next Sunday.
The problem is that faith never covers him anywhere except in church. In the working world, in interactions with his neighbors, at home with his family – in all these places, his faith has nothing to say. He doesn’t have it with him. After a while, he gets a little lazy about cleaning his faith hat. He won’t wear it to church unless it is clean. But he doesn’t want to clean it. So he doesn’t go.
After a month, he looks at how dusty his faith hat has become and he cleans it up, nice and bright. And he’s back in church. Maybe he comes a couple of weeks in a row. But, he is still not at all that jazzed about cleaning that hat, and he still won’t come without it.
Soon, it’s back on the shelf, collecting dust. At Christmas he can feel how sleepy life has become, how distant from God he really is. But when he goes to get his faith hat for the Christmas Eve service, it has been so long and is now so dust-covered, he can’t tell what color it originally was. In him is an impulse to worship because there is an impulse to worship in all of us. It is part of how God created us. We are made to worship. But this guy has now fully bought into the lie that he can only worship God if he’s at church with his faith hat on in perfect form. He doesn’t know that faith is something always with us because his is asleep.
As we go through the book of Jonah, I want each one of us to take a hard, honest look deep into our own souls and into the soul of our church. Are we – am I – awake, or asleep?
The book of Jonah is a story. Critics say it is a fictional story told for theological reasons. There was no historic person named Jonah. Other critics respond, ‘oh yes there was.’ Each side in the conversation gives reasons for their points of view. Our goal is not to resolve that debate.
Rather, we recognize that whichever side is correct, Jonah is told as a story and this story is included in our Bible under the guidance of the Holy Spirit for the purpose of shaping our lives and our faith. From the original writing to the translations to the reading of Jonah down through history from 600 BC to now, the Holy Spirit has formed the worshiping community as the community has met God in this book.
That’s what we want to do. For the next five weeks, we will enter the Biblical book of Jonah. I pray that we will meet God in its pages. I pray that this story will be a mirror. Our lives are like a road. And God’s story is a road. I pray that as we go through Jonah, those roads will merge and we will see that God’s story and our story come together to form one story. When we live that in one story, we can’t help up but wake up and see God in our lives.
From the outset, Jonah wastes what he has. He fails to regard his resources. If God speaks to you, then relationship with God is a resource in your life. You can access that relationship. Jonah does the opposite. The first words are “the word of the Lord came to Jonah.” He turns away from the word of the Lord. When told to go east, he head west, first to Joppa, and then on to Tarshish. He wants an ocean between him and the word of God. He disregards his resources.
He also misuses them. “He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board.” Money is not evil or good. Money is a resource. A millionaire can be a Christ-follower as long as she sees her millions to be in service to God. If she hoards her millions, builds her life around keeping and growing her millions, and makes enemies because she chooses money over relationships, then her money has become an idol that will destroy her life. But, if she manages her money with wisdom and cunning, all the while knowing that the money is in her possession but actually belongs to God, then she will use that money to promote the Kingdom of God by spreading the love and compassion of God. Jonah was not spreading compassion. He was running. He misused his resources.
He disregarded his resource – the call of God. He misused his resource – the money he had that he could have used to answer the call. Finally, he neglected his resource and this brings to the heart of the matter. In the relationship with God, we are invited to prayer. Memorize Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
As the port of Joppa faded in the distance and Jonah looked out over the open sea, he knew he was in trouble. He knew the moment he stepped on that boat. He was in trouble because he knew God. He was in trouble because his faith was very much awake, but he acted as if he could somehow catch God napping. We can’t slip out the backdoor while God’s dozing. God doesn’t doze.
How in the world could Jonah sleep in the midst of a storm at sea that was so violent, the veteran sailors feared for their lives? Jesus did the same thing. He was with the disciples in the middle of the Sea of Gailiee when a storm whipped up and began thrashing the boat. Jesus sat on a cushion conked out while the frantic disciples, many fishermen and experienced boatmen, made futile efforts to gain control.
I thought about these two stories, Jesus asleep in the storm in Mark 4 and Jonah asleep in the storm in Jonah chapter 1. I have been in a boat, below deck, in choppy water. You get thrown up and down without ceasing. There’s no sleeping. It’s all you can do to avoid losing your cookies. Yet, Jesus and Jonah slept as hard as I do when I am in bed. How did they do that?
First, I think both men had something similar working in their favor. Both had a faith that was very much awake. Jonah wanted to leave his on the shelf. He tried. When he packed for Tarshish, he did not put faith in his suitcase. But, we cannot contain or transport God – God is not held by us. Jonah and Jesus both heard God’s voice audibly. Both knew their faith was awake, alive, and at times very loud – even if Jonah pretended otherwise.
The awake faith is why they could sleep in a storm. Each man knew he wasn’t in a tempest. Each knew he resided in the hands of God. The difference is Jesus shared his faith all the time. The gospel of Mark is the most subdued in proclaiming who Jesus was. Some readers describe Mark as keeping a ‘Messianic Secret.’ But even in Mark, Jesus’ identity is obvious.
In chapter 1, the voice of God speaks at his baptism (v.11). In chapter 2, Jesus forgives sins (v.9-10), something only God can do. Mark’s readers knew this, so they knew when they read of him forgiving sins that Mark was associating Jesus with God. And, in chapter 3, demons call Jesus “Son of God” (v.11). These creatures resided in a realm we cannot perceive with our five senses. Jesus is where that realm and our observable universe converge. These demons could see that and they knew who he was.
Jesus, sleeping in that boat, is one instep with God. As if to make the point, when the terrified disciples wake him, he calms the storm. He has authority over the weather. Who but God?
Conversely, when Jonah sleeps on the boat, he is sleeping on his mission. Jesus slept assured of who he was. Jonah sleeps trying to flee who he is. The disciples may have been confused, but not because Jesus wasn’t transparent. Their failure to recognize Jesus was due to how mind blowing it is that the God of the universe was before them in the form of a man, a man they knew. Jesus’ faith never got put on the shelf.
We’ve already reviewed the ways Jonah tried his best to be the opposite of what God planned. He disregarded his resource of call; he misused his resource of money; and now here, in the middle of a storm at sea, he neglects the resource God gives us all – prayer.
Just as the disciples in their panic roused Jesus, the sailors on the Joppa-to-Tarshish line woke Jonah. The captain said, “What are you doing sounding asleep? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps the God will spare so that we do not perish” (1:6). These sailors were truly religious men, real God-seekers. They did not know God, not the way Jonah did. But, they knew there is a god. And they were sure this storm that was about to swallow them had come because God was angry at someone on their boat. They had questioned everyone else. It had to be Jonah. The faith of the sailors was unrefined, but it was real. God would rather we come to Him raw than have us polish our faith up so that our answers are theologically impressive, but then set aside as ornamentation.
The story pivots – for the first time – when Jonah comes clean. He wakes up and just as important as rousing, he tells the truth. More pivots will come as we make our way through Jonah, but the first is crucial for us as we see ourselves in it. Are we truthful about who we are? We do not possess our money. We do not own our own lives. We are God’s. We are His possession. Everything changed when Jonah acknowledged that and our lives pivot when we are truthful about who we are.
“I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (v.9). Jonah’s statement? Yes, but more importantly, this is our statement. When we are trying to navigate the challenges of life, we must recognize that we are God’s. We have to wake up, come clean, and be truthful about who we are. The beginning of a vibrant life is the truth-telling.
When Jesus woke up, he calmed the storm. When Jonah fessed up, shortly after, the storm died down, the sailors were saved, and they worshiped. We’ll get back to the sailors in Jonah chapter 1 next week, but this morning we finish with Jesus and the 12 and with us as we gather under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
At his command, the storm calmed immediately. Before that though, even while it raged, he was with him. That’s why he says, “Why were you afraid?” Our lives are filled with storms. We have individual struggles. And we see big picture problems that affect people throughout the world – in some cases, people we know and care about it. God is with us in the midst of these storms. God loves us as His beloved, precious children. He never abandons us and when it looks bad, we are not alone. The one who loves us is the Lord, the God of heaven.
This week, stay awake, alert, and attentive. Be open to God’s word and to the whisper of God’s Spirit. And if you feel you’ve been asleep, don’t worry. The God of the resurrection can blow away all the dust that has gathered on your sleepy faith and infuse your life with a vibrancy you did not know was possible. God will help you awake and the world will come to life as the eyes of your heart open.