Series: Stuck: Gaining Spiritual Traction

 “Wonderstruck” // Isaiah 29:13-14

Sunday, May 5, 2013 @ Jericho Ridge Community Church

New Series: Stuck


Good morning everyone!  My name is Brad Sumner, I’m part of the teaching and leadership team here at Jericho Ridge and I want to invite you to come in and take you seats.  If you are new or visiting with us, today is a great day to jump in because we are beginning a brand new teaching series this morning which is based around the answers you gave to the question “In what area(s) of your life do you feel stuck?”  The image for this series captures that concept of being stuck perfectly for me – sometimes you just feel like a turtle that’s upended on its shell and no matter how hard your little legs are working, without some assistance, you’re unlikely to get back upright and on track.  So for the next 7 weeks, we’ll be looking at the topics that you proposed and looking into the Scriptures to hopefully give you a sense of what God might want to say and do in your life to help you get some traction. 


A few weeks ago, we asked you to write out or to post on our Facebook page your answer to the question “In what area(s) of your life do you feel stuck?” and so based on your contributions, the topics include:

Laziness – I know what I should do but I don’t do it. In a rut, lost my sense of wonder, I feel like I’m stuck just going through the motions of my life…

May 12 - Too busy – I feel stuck in a cycle of frenetic rushing & busyness.

May 19 – What do you do when your Connection with God feels stale or dry – We’ll explore various spiritual pathways and historic practices that might be of assistance to you and we’ll take communion together

Trapped in a cycle of giving in to temptation – What does the Bible say about your capacity to make a clear break from that hurt, habit or hang-up  

June 2 – we’ll talk about Letting go of control / trusting God with the future as we explore some of the myths and misperceptions around what may be the most misquoted verse in the Old Testament in Jeremiah 29

Then on June 9, we’ll be looking at what the Bible says about debt and speak words of hope and practical advice for all those of us who feel stuck and who Can’t seem to get ahead financially

Then to wrap up the series, Pastor Keith and I will be team teaching a morning helping those who feel Unconnected with a community / with the church explore some different ways of belonging and hopefully explain more about the purpose and vision that JRCC has and why we do what we do around here as a church family. 

So there’s lots there and I invite you to pray with me as we begin this series (pray also for Curtis’ dad, Tawyna’s father, Deb Kaplan in Turkey, for all who are sick or disbursed from this place today).   

You may not have identified strongly with one or more of our topics, but as we begin our exploration of I want to ask you to think about your life and the question “Do you Ever Feel Like you are on Auto Pilot?”.  That the monotony and the routine of your life have taken over and you are just going through the motions in a given area of your life?  Sometimes I find this with driving.  I can remember one time when I lived in Ontario and was a camp counselor in upstate New York and I was to drive to my grandparent’s place, which was up in Muskoka.  I left quite late after an intense week of camp had wrapped up on a Saturday night which should have been my first clue that this may not have been the wisest move.  About 2 AM, I can remember approaching the bridge on the QEW freeway in Hamilton and I was in the left hand lane going really fast.  And I did one of those things when you are really tired where you think you are blinking but you are really closing your eyes for a couple of minutes….  Well, when I opened my eyes, I was way down at the other end of the bridge, on the right hand shoulder and headed for the water.  I panicked and course corrected and got back onto the highway but after my heart rate returned to normal, I realized I had been driving for probably the better part of 5 km totally asleep at the wheel.  Thankfully there was no one else around on the bridge and I am convinced that the only saving grace that night was that that particular stretch of highway was one I took to work every single day and so I knew it so well, that my body just went into autopilot mode. 


Have you ever found that happening to you when you are driving?  It doesn’t even have to be when you are asleep.  Sometimes I’ll drive from the office to our house and I’m thinking deeply about something and suddenly as I pull into my parking spot in front of our house, I’ll realize that I can’t consciously remember making those turns or whether the lights were red or green…  When something is so routine to us to as human beings, we even have an expression for it: “I could do it in my sleep”.  The interesting thing to me is that this sense of being disengaged because of routines or going through the motions can happen to any of us in any area of our life.  Sometimes, we go onto autopilot in whole areas of our lives and we may not even be aware of it.           


Author Margaret Feinberg recently posted this as question on her blog: “Do you feel spiritual asleep?” and she asked people to respond to each of these statements mentally as a bit of an assessment tool.  I’m going to put them up on the screen for us here this morning because I think some of the questions are quite helpful…  Do you find yourself:

___Becoming more task-oriented than God-oriented – kids talked about this last weekend in K@TR with the story of Mary and Martha.  Mid-way through the game one little guy in grade 3 said to Ruth Ellen, our children’s director, “"OH I get it! I get the point of this game and story!  Can I say it?  The point is how we are all too busy!".  (Pastor Keith will deal with Sabbath next weekend and how God has given us a wonderful gift of rhythm & rest) 

___Expecting God only to reveal Himself in ways that are comfortable or familiar to you.  What if God wanted to surprise you?

___Sectioning off areas of your life where you don’t expect God to reveal Himself at all

___Hearing God’s voice and refusing to respond (saying No to God)

___Asking what can I get out of this rather than what can I give into this

___Skipping prayer altogether

___Rushing through Scripture reading

___Unplugging from Christ-centered community

___Giving up on the idea that God can do the miraculous

___Believing God can work miracles in other people’s lives, just not yours

___Harboring anger at God and refusing to talk honestly to Him about it

___Choosing habitual sin rather than pining for freedom in Christ

___Living without a sense of divine expectation

___Convincing yourself that some things are impossible—even for God


Feinberg continues: “You were created and designed to experience wonder. Woven into the fabric of our humanity is an innate ability and desire for the wonder of God. It’s felt in the moments when you watch the sun melt behind the horizon, when you reach out to cradle a baby and smell the sweet scent of new life, when you can’t help but smile as you witness two wrinkled souls renew their vows to each other. Such moments remind us we were made for something more than deadlines and debt, carpools and coffee breaks.  Despite God’s desire to astound us with wonder upon wonder, we are pulled in other directions, distracted by so many other things.


The demand of everyday life, The necessity of paying bills, The pressures of work or church, The need to support our families, The possibility of earning that degree…  All too often we find ourselves head down, pushing ahead, just trying to get through. Somewhere along the way, a gap begins to develop between God and us. A drifting takes place. We become less aware of God’s presence in our lives, and worse, less expectant. Even when God does reveal Himself, we don’t recognize Him. We become spiritually asleep, passing by everyday wonders, and not aware what’s happening all around us.”


The good news is the being stuck on autopilot happens to every one of us at one point or another.  And the really good news is that getting unstuck from this kind of rut is described for us in the Scriptures. 

Turn with me in your Bibles or on your smartphones to the book of Isaiah chapter 29.  Let me set a bit of context for us here…  The book of Isaiah is named after a prophet who came onto the scene in ancient Israel at a very, very low point in their history.  For generations, God’s chosen people had been veering off course – they have been on autopilot in the worst possible way – and finally, in the year 701 BC, the nation of Assyria, one of the most brutal regimes of the ancient world brought their army against the capital city of Jerusalem and laid siege to it.  The narrative of this siege can be found in Isaiah 36-37 you can read that this week at home, if you are interested.  But in Isaiah 29, we hear Isaiah’s message to those who are asleep both in his day and ours.  Read Isaiah 29:13 (1 slides)


The problem that Isaiah is addressing is multi-vailient and it still lives in your heart and mine some 29 centuries later… You see the people of Isaiah’s day think their problem is political and militaristic.  And so they actually reach out to Egypt to come and help them.  But God, though Isaiah’s words, points the diagnostic tool to a very different place…  At their apathy.  You see, they have lost all traction not because of what is going on outside, but because of what isn’t going on inside.  Throughout the whole of this chapter, God says you go on year after year after year and you celebrate your religious observances and feast days, you go through the motions and make a big show of things.  You even verbally affirm your love for me through music and worship but you have removed all sincerity from your heart.  Your engagement with Me, God says, has degenerated into a farce because it is nothing but routines and rituals cooked up to mask the fact that your heart and soul are not in it.  Oh sure, you might show up physically, but mentally, emotionally, spiritually, you checked out a long time ago.  Your heart has left the building and you’ve been on auto pilot, honouring me verbally but not genuinely. 


I think that the troubling reality is that this verse resounds as prophetically and disturbingly true today as it did to the people of Israel in 701 BC…  “There are many whose religion is lip-labour only”, says pastor and commentator Matthew Henry.  You see, the contemporary religious scene in North America has made it all too easy to show up once a week for 90 minutes, look the part, act the part, say your part and then drift off to sleep for the other 10,080 minutes of my week and think that no one is the wiser.  “I showed up on Sunday… what more could God or others want from me?!”  Well, the first part of that verse might give us a strong clue… Don’t pretend that you and God are really chummy if you are only willing to give Him from your neck up.  Isaiah’s scathing critique is reserved for people who say they belong to God.  So one clear distinction is if you don’t mean it, don’t sing it or say it or sign it.  One of things I love about Jericho is that this is a safe place for you to be a seeking skeptic.  To ask good questions and to wrestle with truth.  Process things.  Ask questions.  Observe things.  Explore things but be sure that you know what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and not just a person who says they are a Christian.  Because we have a word for that – it’s called a hypocrite, which we’ll get to in a minute in verse 14. 


This critique, however, is aimed at those who put their lips into service but whose hearts remain closed and off-limits to God.  They are on autopilot and some of them don’t even remember when they flipped that switch.    


And so in verse 14, God lets them know what He is going to do to help disengage this disingenuiness.  He is going to cause them to be wonder struck.  Not the Taylor Swift perfume or the great book by Brian Selznick.  God is going to intervene in their lives and circumstances so that the auto pilot switch gets flipped off.  Look with me at Isaiah 29:14.    


You see, what ends up happening is described in Isaiah 37.  The people of Israel and Hezekiah the king cry out to God for deliverance from their enemies and God responds with amazing wonders.  In Is 27:36 it says that that night, the angel of the Lord went out to the Assyrian camp and killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers.  When the surviving soldiers woke up to find corpses everywhere the next morning, they were so freaked out that King Sennacherib and his troops high-tailed it back to Nineveh and never came back to the city of Jerusalem again.    God’s amazing intervention is described in Isaiah 29:5-8 [read].  Verse 9 continues – you will be amazed and incredulous.  You’ll be wonder struck by what I choose to do.  


And to me, incredible thing about this amazing intervention is that God does this for a people who have, up till this point, been so asleep at the wheel that they are headed for certain crash.  This is God’s grace in action because like you and me, these people are hypocrites. They are spiritually lethargic maybe even totally asleep at the wheel, but God choses to intervene and wake them up from their apathy and sleep.  I love Hezekiah’s feeble but very real prayer in Isaiah 37:4.. It’s not full of much faith at all – he barely mumbles “perhaps the Lord has heard us?”  And God responds in such a powerful and divine way that the wisdom of the wise can’t explain it.  The intelligence of the intelligence leaves them tougue tied.  Why?  Because God intervened in their lives and in their nation in a way that they couldn’t explain by naturalistic mechanisms and it left them wonder stuck.  And did it ever wake them up! 


As we move into a time of response, I’d like to suggest to you that just like waking up in the morning, there are a few key ways that God can use to Wake Us Up


The first way can be circumstances.  Sometimes when we are on autopilot, something happens externally in our lives that flips the switch for us.  Pain comes into our lives.  A sudden loss of a loved one.  A cancer diagnosis. A friend around the same age as us who experiences something significant that shakes us.  A national or international tragedy.  Suddenly, the landscape of our lives shifts and our perspective shifts with it.  It’s not as easy to stay asleep anymore because things have changed.  C.S. Lewis wrote in 1940 in the midst of the second world war “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world." (The problem of Pain).  When our finances or our geography or our relational worlds experience significant disequilibrium, it often wakes us up to the fact that we have been on auto pilot in areas of our lives.  And today that might describe you or someone in your neighbourhood or school or workplace.  You’ve been bumping along merrily until circumstances of life changed and now man-made rules learned by wrote no longer seem quite sufficient to address the challenges you face.  You’ve woken up to the fact that metaphorically, your life is under siege, and that the same of routines just don’t cut it.  When the circumstances in ancient Israel changed, the people experienced a new reality.  Isaiah 29:18-19 rings with hope for those who feel their circumstances are overwhelming: “in that day… the blind will see through the gloom and darkness.  The humble will be filled with fresh joy from the Lord.  The poor will rejoice in the holy one of Israel.”  For you, responding might look like going and engaging with our prayer team.  Kevin and Kristen Klassen will be over on the far side and Meg and I will be on this side, Spencer and Ali Lafleur will be at the back to stand with you in prayer about the circumstances of your life.  Ask God for a fresh touch amidst the circumstances you face today – to intervene in power.    


The second way sometimes I wake up in the morning is by choice.  This would be akin to setting your alarm.  You are choosing to wake up.  Hezekiah made an intentional choice in this instance to turn to God in prayer.  Auto pilot apathy can happens to any of us in any area of our lives…  marriages drift into places of routine and complacency, our work drift into mindless autonomy, our parenting strategies fail to shift as our kids move towards teenage years and suddenly we realize that unless we make a different choice, we are going to get the same soul numbing outcome again and again and again.  Psychologists tell us that this kind of auto pilot is often the source of mid-life crisis.  After going through the routines of our lives for years, we wake up and think “I have no friends, I am stuck in my job or career field and I’ve got to do something!”  Sometimes the choices made in these places can be deeply unhealthy attempts to wake up.  Some are mild – you buy a mid-life crisis car or dye you hair a different colour…  But some a deeper and more escapist in nature: some people choose extra-marital sexual activity online or in person that brings deep wounds to your soul, all the while you stay asleep.  Some people escape into fantasy worlds online or offline in an attempt to somehow keep our soul asleep.  If this is you, Isaiah 29:24 invites you the wayward to gain understanding; and complainers to accept instruction.”  from the Lord. You may need to make an intentional choice today to either start something or stop something that will pull you up out of being asleep and back toward vibrant relationship with Jesus.  You may want to choose to get up early and engage on Wednesday mornings with the women who meet for Momentum Journaling and looking into God’s Word.  You may want to make a choice to come early on Sundays for pre-gathering prayer once a month at 9:45 upstairs on the 4th floor.  You may want to choose to take a step out of your comfort zone and offer to pray for a friend that you don’t know as well.  I know for me, I felt like I was on auto pilot just before I went to Guatemala with our team a few years ago.  There is nothing like stepping out in faith cross culturally to wake you up! So maybe you need to talk to our team about setting aside March break of 2014 to join us in Guatemala or a week this summer to serve in Montreal with Spencer and Ali.  I know that going to Africa this summer has certainly kept me wide awake some nights in prayer!  When you make a choice to do something not routine and a bit scary, it can kick start your faith in profound ways.  So why not take a risk in your life today.  What one action could you do this week, what one choice could you make that might help wake you up? 


The final way we often wake up is through catalytic experiences or people.  These catalysts are beyond what happens to us (circumstances) or choices that we make, but unique moments or people that God uses to nudge us off the path of simply going through the motions.  Sometimes a spiritual friendship transforms us over time away from selfishness and hypocrisy.  Sometimes in worship, God can speak powerfully to us in a way that becomes catalytic in our lives.  This is where, for me, the value in our emphasis as a community in 2013 on prayer and Scripture reflection come into play.  I am learning this year to approach that time differently: To ask God to use it as a catalyst to change me for that day.  To strike me again with the wonder and the mystery and the majesty of the notion that the God of the universe wants to speak to me. Wants so much more than just my lips but also my heart engaged.  To take me off auto pilot and to wake me up to Him.  Let’s pray together and we’ll response in song.  

Do you ever feel like you're on autopilot in an area of your life? In Isaiah 29, God speaks to people who are asleep and calls them to wake up. Join us as we explore both the symptoms and some possible cures for apathy.

Speaker: Brad Sumner

May 5, 2013
Isaiah 29:13-14

Brad Sumner

Lead Pastor

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