Reach Out and Take God’s Hand

Reach Out and Take God’s Hand

I don’t know about you, but I am not as regular or disciplined in my prayer life as I think I should be. I think I manage to pray just about every day, but never on a schedule, usually in odd left over moments, when the inspiration strikes me. I sometimes chide myself, that if I only give God the odd left over moments I should not be surprised if God gives me her odd left over attention. And yet despite less than a faithful prayer life, God has always been faithful, when I have been in need. Like during the bus accident when the ICE clergy were traveling in India. And allow me to share with you Rabbi Miller’s account of the accident, because he wrote so eloquently.

Today was a bad day. Our mini-bus driver drove recklessly and involved us in a head on collision with a bus. He tried to pass a standing bus on a blind curve, and drove smack into another bus traveling straight at us. Thankfully, none of our group was hurt too badly. I understand that some from the other bus were taken to the hospital, but none in ambulances. We are bruised and cut some. Our entire group has been a comfort to each other. I consider us extremely fortunate. Nothing for us but scrapes. Although our driver was at fault, we were going slowly enough that we saw it coming. The half second of anticipation was the most terrifying half second of my life. And we were going slowly enough that, although thrown from our seats, nobody was thrown from the vehicle.

I have never before been involved in an accident of this type. I don’t want to do it again. It was horrible. After we assessed our cuts and bruises, I sat in the back of the minibus and cried and prayed. I had been delivered from injury and death. I was overwhelmed with emotion and the presence of God. It was not as though God protected me or that God had caused the accident. It was that God was with me, and that I was not alone.

We came to India to study religion and learn how people experience God. Today God was with us. We are not alone. We came to find God. But God found us. God does not leave us, even in our moments of terror. No matter where are, with God there is no exile. God does not leave us. Sometimes we learn blessed things the hard way.

Sometimes we learn blessed things the hard way. God is always with us. All we have to do is reach out and take God’s hand. And that reminds me of something I heard on NPR. The host was interviewing Christine Quinn Speaker of the New York City Council about Faith and Politics. And she was asked about her grandmother who was a survivor of the Titanic.

Her name then was Nelly Shine. She was a teenage girl. It’s not

100 percent clear ’cause she lied about her age most of her life. But let’s say she was 18, but we don’t really know. And she came from a big family in County Cork, Ireland. And her parents were dead and her sister had too many people to take care of and not enough money, and said that – said basically, Nelly, you have to go to America to be with your brother and cousin. So, my grandmother very quickly got a ticket in steerage, third-class, on the Titanic. Story goes she was the last one to get on the last lifeboat and made it off alive. She was quoted as having said when the other girls dropped to their knees to pray, I made a run for it.

I told a priest that story and kind of cheekily said, well, I guess my grandmother knew there was a time for praying and a time for running. And he very wisely responded and saying, no, your grandmother knew you could pray while running. And I think that’s a much better outlook on her and on the moral of that story.

Maybe I need to cut myself a little more slack and think of myself as praying while running. Sometimes, however, we need Sabbath time. We need to stop what we are doing for our own sakes, to rest and breathe and come into God’s holy presence to pray. When we go, go, go all the time, we wear ourselves thin, stress takes over and bad things begin to happen in our bodies. I overeat to compensate – not good. When I don’t reserve some Sabbath time, the stress of too much business overwhelms me, I don’t sleep well, I start forgetting things, and sometimes I even lose track of God in my life. Fortunately God doesn’t lose track of me. Bidden or unbidden God is present, and all we have to do is stop reach out and take God’s hand.

Scott Peck in his book What Return Can I Make suggests we all need to repent, to turn from the business, the self-centeredness, our obstinate insistence on our going it alone, to turn around and walk with God. Peck asks the question, “who were we walking with before we repented?”

“No one, we were walking alone because we liked it better that way.” Because then we were in control, and we didn’t have to listen to anyone including God. One of the problems with pastoring a congregation with really bright people is so many of us subconsciously believe we don’t really need God’s guidance. Proud of how smart we are we don’t pray with any regularity. Don’t call us God we’ll call you.

“Oh send out your light and your truth let them lead me.” Thank you very much God we will lead ourselves. At the age of seven Robert is becoming restive at times about holding his Poppie’s hand. He wants to go where he wants to go, when he wants to go, and do what he wants to do – unless it’s dark, then he’s right beside old Poppie. At some level we are all seven years old. We want to be independent. Holding hands with God can feel like a restraint rather than a support. We are restless with restraint.

While Robert was here in Huntsville we were working on learning to swim and to read. One night down at the pool he was putting his face in the water and kicking his legs in the shallow end, but he was still afraid of the deep end. So, I finally tucked a flotation noodle one under each arm pit, and began to pull him around the pool. At first he was nervous asking me not to let go especially when we would wander into the deep end of the pool. But slowly I loosened my grip on the noodles, and finally he asked me to let go, and soon he was kicking and propelling himself all over the pool without my help. As he was propelling himself on his own, he was yelling, “I’m flying, I’m flying.” Like Robert many of us long to fly. We long to soar with the freedom of our own choices, navigating our own path. And that is O.K. with God. Though sometimes it is good to check in occasionally, and we always need to remember, God’s hand like Poppie’s is never far, when we reach out for support.

Martha Grace Reese who wrote Unbinding Your Heart, serves as a church consultant on evangelism. She describes that most church committees approach evangelism as if it is a problem to be solved. When she meets with a church evangelism committee, they have all kinds of “good ideas,” and they are ready to get started on an action plan. So she asks them to covenant with her to do nothing but pray for three months. The members of the committee are to covenant to pray each day for at least 30 minutes, and then they are to meet weekly to pray together for an hour. She says, that after two weeks she will meet again with the committee, and they thank her profusely and tell her about all the good ideas they have come up with through prayer, and they want to get started implementing them right away. But again she reminds them they have covenanted to do nothing other than pray for three months.

Martha explains that what happens after three months of prayer is the committee discovers all kinds of things beginning to happen around them, they didn’t initiate. In addition people learn that evangelism isn’t a problem to be solved, rather evangelism is a spirit that is cultivated through prayer. I am hoping when Eddie Colf and Jim Norris lead an Unbinding Your Heart group in August, that we at United Church might begin to learn that lesson. We tend to be problem solvers – engineers. But the transformation we need at United Church is a transformation of the spirit, a transformation that comes through prayer. “Oh Lord, send out your light and your truth, let them lead us.”

Remember, no matter how we have neglected the life of prayer, when we reach out to God prayerfully, she will take us by the hand and lead us. And when we allow ourselves to be led all kinds of things will begin to happen around us, miraculous manifestations of God’s grace.

From Psalm 145:   

“God gives a hand to those down on their luck, gives a fresh start to those ready to quit . . . the trademark on all God’s work is love. God’s there, listening for all who pray, for all who pray and mean it.”

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