Finding Your Way Back to God – Week 1 – Awakening to Longing
Since so many people who had to miss church on Sunday because of the weather have asked me for notes from Sunday’s sermon, I’ve written something up. Here it is:
If you have kids, I want you to imagine what the worst thing they could say to you would be. If you don’t have kids, what would be the worst thing you could say to your parents? Take a moment to think about this.
In our Scripture this morning, I’m going to read you a story from the New Testament about a son who says the worst thing he could to his father. It’s From Luke 15:
11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
Asking for an inheritance while a parent was still alive would have been unheard of in Jesus time. But in our story, a son goes to his father, and says, in effect, “Dad, you’re dead to me. Give me my money. Im out of here.” In other words, I want what’s mine, and I want it now. For a Jewish son in Jesus time, to say this to his father would have been the worst thing he could have said.
When we hear this, it sounds terrible to us, but if we’re honest, I bet all of us have had times where we have felt like life wasn’t bringing us what we hoped for, or even what we thought we deserved.
So like the son, we often set out on our own. Watch out world, here I come. And we say to ourselves, “There’s got to be something more”. (Keith played Sugarland’s There’s Got to be Something More for our offertory song on Sunday!)
Sometimes, even those who are famous feel this way. Watch this short video from 60 minutes about Tom Brady. This video is from when he was 30 years old, had 3 Super Bowl rings, and was married to a super model.
Have you been there? I know you have. Searching, reaching, grabbing, but not finding?
Here’s the really cool thing: when you find yourself searching, and longing for meaning – when you’re feeling empty and realize that there’s got to be something more – when you are seeking answers to life’s most difficult questions, you are trying to find your way back to God, even if you don’t realize it.
I think that’s one of the most powerful ways God works. God creates in us this longing for meaning, for love, for hope – for God, that can only be filled by God. We try all kinds of things to fill that emptiness. But the emptiness itself is a way that helps us begin finding our way back to God.
This is even true for those of us who have done some things in our life that are self destructive. Sometimes, when we hit rock bottom, and have no where else to turn, we are finally open to God’s presence. The disappointment we inevitably feel in cheap substitutes make us wonder where we can find real meaning and love.
One of my best friends in college is a perfect example. “Howard” came from a tough background. His home life was not good and his parents were less than ideal. Howard slept with more women than any of us could keep up with. One day, in our senior year, I finally asked him what he was doing. In a moment of real honesty he said, “I’m looking for love”. He hadn’t yet realized what he was doing was probably the worst way to find it.
We long for loving relationships with others, and when we don’t find them, we feel empty. This emptiness, even if we don’t know it, is a longing for God. It’s God working in us, drawing us back to God. It’s God creating in us a desire for love, and for meaning.
I’ve come to believe that our greatest fears in life aren’t dying or public speaking, they are being unloved, and to come to the end of our days feeling like we never really did anything that mattered. This is what ends up happening to the son in our Bible story. I’ll continue reading from verse 13:
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
At this point, you just know that the son was asking himself, “Why am I so lonely, broke, and empty? Why did this journey end up with me in a place like this?”
The son goes to a new place, sure that things will be better, and their actually worse. He come to the point where’s he’s just ready to throw his hand up and give up.
And so often, that’s when God works.
Finding our way back to God is not about being more religious, or getting our act together, or becoming a better person, or cutting a deal with God. It’s about wanting a Power greater than ourselves in our lives. It’s about wanting Love in our lives. It’s about wanting Something that fills the emptiness in our lives once and for all.
I know that there are a lot of us who are reading this who are in that place. We know there must be something more, but we’re not sure about the whole God thing. If that’s you, I want you to do a simple thing. Every day this week, I want you to pray this simple prayer:
“God, if you’re real, make yourself real to me.”
It’s as simple as that. I believe that God is so powerful, and loves you so much, that if you will pray that simple prayer, God will make himself real to you. It may not be through angels singing, or a skywriter in the sky, but you will encounter God. Keep your eyes open.
If you’re at a place where you’re already believing, but you want your relationship with God to go deeper, then you’re prayer is also a simple one:
“God, since you’re real, make yourself more real to me”.
I want to close with another video. This came from a cheerleading competition I was at recently (no I wasn’t one of the cheerleaders). After all the teams had competed, one last team came out. It was made up entirely of physically and mentally challenged kids and those helping them. Listen to how the crowd reacts to this. This is what I think God’s presence in our lives looks like. In all our brokenness, God is surrounding us, and the angels are cheering. And we no longer feel the need to say, “There’s got to be something more”, because we are so filled.
Next week we’ll continue in our series Finding Your Way Back to God and talk about awakening to regret. We’ll talk about how we can move forward, even when life hasn’t turned out how we thought it might.
Note: I am indebted to Dave and Jon Ferguson for the title of this series and some of the cool ideas in it.