Summer Preaching Series
July 14, 2019
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Tired Mom writes, “Dear Amy, I have an adult son, a college-age son and a teenage daughter. I have been divorced for the last 11 years. I’m finding that, although my daughter still has three years of high school left, I am worn out with parenting! Although it’s not an option, I feel that I could just skip this last stage completely. What can I do to reignite my passion for parenting? It doesn’t help that my daughter is going through a mouthy teenage stage and can be very difficult to deal with.” (Dear Amy, Denver Post, July 3, 2019)
Today is a message for those who are worn out, discouraged, have too much on their plate and have a hard time balancing life with all of its demands. Tired Mom just wants to give up. Raising three kids on your own is no easy task and she doesn’t know if she has what it takes to make it the next three years raising her teenage daughter.
When I got the request to preach on this subject of balancing life’s demands the note said this, “Why do I get over-loaded, discouraged, even burned-out at times, yet I love and want to keep helping others. This is a life-long struggle for me because I don’t have a clear picture of what the Lord wants me to do, or not to do, and is there supposed to be a good balance?”
When I was a kid there were three channels that you got to chose from when you turned on the TV. NBC, CBS or ABC. A show that was on one of them was “The Ed Sullivan Show.” I think they called it a variety show. Some entertainment, some talk. Well, one Sunday evening the show had a man who could spin plates on tall sticks. He would get one going and then he would start another. Then when two were going, he would start a third. But as he was starting lots of plates he had to go back and keep the initial ones going. I don’t know how many he had going at one time – 6, 7, 8? The audience would be watching and worrying when they saw a plate beginning to wobble and was going to fall and crash and shatter. But just in the nick of time he would get over there and get it spinning again.
Well, isn’t that the picture of you and me? We have so many things going at once that we just can’t keep them all going. Eventually something falls and breaks. Or as the one who wrote to me said, “Why do I get over-loaded, discouraged, even burned-out at times…?” It is hard to keep all the plates spinning isn’t it?
I guess I need to be honest with you about all of this. I don’t do this very well – this finding the right balance in life. I’m 62 years old and this has been a struggle with me all of my life. I didn’t balance being a dad and a pastor very well. I don’t balance being married to Marilyn and serving the church very well. So I guess I’m saying – do what I say but don’t do as I do. But I’m still learning. I’m still trying. I live under the grace and love of God. And so do you.
Where should we start with this thought of living a God-directed balanced life – a life where we don’t forget the important things along the way? First, open our eyes and see how difficult it is to make the right choices in life. Know that the life-long struggle of the one who wrote that note, is also mine and yours. It is like Paul in Romans 7:19, “For what I do in not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.” First recognize the reality that life with it tugs on our purpose and priorities and time will always be there.
The Scriptures tell us how broken we are. I selected the Scriptures that we read today and there is a continuing theme to them – we will never find the answer to life and the struggles of life without God’s place in our life. In the first beatitude in Matthew 5 Jesus pours the foundation of all the other beatitudes when He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Verse 3). In the Greek language there are two words for poor. One is a word for the one who has enough for the basic necessities of life but not for any of the extras. All your meals are from the dollar menu. No ice cream comes at the end. You just don’t have that much. That is one word in Greek for poor. The other word, though, is our word. It is for the person who has nothing. They are hungry and have nothing to eat unless someone gives them something. No gas in the car. In fact, no car. So, spiritually, we are blessed when we are that poor in our spirit. We are beggars and God alone can meet our need. He alone can give our soul and our life what we need to truly live. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
In the epistle from II Corinthians the struggle to find the strength of life and the answers to living came to St. Paul. “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me…” (II Corinthians 12:7-8a) Three times. Over and over again. Whatever this thorn in the flesh was was overwhelming his life. It made things all out of balance. Life became more difficult, tiresome, a burden.
I bet you have a thorn in your flesh. I do. A number of them. And those thorns in the flesh, those messengers of the devil, get life on the wrong track. Life loses its focus and joy.
I believe that living with a godly balance in life is like a chair that has three legs. The first leg is knowing the reality of the struggle we have in doing God’s will in our life. The second leg is truly repenting of what is wrong in the choices we make in life and then desiring to live in a new way. And the final leg, the one that holds us up, is the receiving of God’s love and forgiveness and His new direction.
When Paul told us about his pleading with God to take away that thorn in the flesh, that messenger of Satan, this was God’s answer to his prayer, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (Verse 9a]) It is only the one who is empty that can be filled. In our Philippians verse the balance for living, the foundation of life, is spoken of like this, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (4:12-13)
Through Him. Through Christ. The mother with that 16 year-old daughter that proved too much for her isn’t able to raise her by herself. She doesn’t need to. She can find a great help though God. Christ gives His presence and His love to live life, especially the hard moments. For the one who wrote me, and said what we have all said at times, “Why do I get over-loaded, discouraged, even burned out…?” What should we do? The writer to Hebrews reminded the worn-out Jewish Christians of God’s sure promise, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (13:5b) Paul uses these clear words to speak about our resting on God, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.” (II Corinthians 3:5 ESV) In the Old Testament book of Zechariah this word is given, “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty.” (4:6). Through Him, right? Through Christ.
This month in my calls to the hospitals and the homebound I have been sharing the passage that Paul writes to Timothy. If you have been to a funeral you have probably heard the words. “The time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (II Timothy 4:6b-7) Those words are about dying but they are also about living. Balancing life, living life, seeking what God wants me to do and not to do is a battle, a long race. Sometimes we do it well, sometimes we don’t. We fight the fight and we run the race. Love Him. Love our neighbor – that is a good balance to life.
And keep the faith. We aren’t going to do this life thing perfectly. So we look at the love of God that never ends. We trust in Jesus who never leaves us. We treasure forgiveness from God. We get our encouragement from the Holy Spirit who continues to work mighty works in our lives.
Our life finds a great balance, a steadying force though Him – through our Savior and Hope – Jesus Christ. Looking for that which gives life its purpose? “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Amen!!