Do Not Leave God Alone

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Luke 11:1-11
Exodus 32:7-14

Craig and Victoria and Melanie are offering a class on Leadership as a Spiritual Practice. There are some great topics that can help anyone in leadership—both inside and outside the church. Everyone should check it out.

I hope they will take a look at Aaron and Moses as examples of leadership –  and learn both from their mistakes and from their successes.

It is clear that in our passage, Aaron has made a mistake: being a practical leader who caves in to the wishes of the crowd…  But who doesn’t understand Aaron? I want to go easy on him. What are you to do with an angry mob who is tired of waiting and waiting and waiting for Moses to return with a word from the Lord?

Sooner or later people take matters in their own hands. They look for leaders who will do what they ask them to do. This happened then, it happens now.

Then there are leaders like Moses… reluctant at first but who finally says “yes”—even though he felt unqualified to lead. And he was a leader in the rough at first. Couldn’t speak, he said.  But over time— perhaps by spiritual trial and error—perhaps learning from his own mistakes… his leadership improved. Today I think we see Moses at his best as a spiritual leader. He does a lot of talking!

So when our Leadership team looks at leadership, I hope they will look at Aaron (learn from his mistakes) and Moses as a model of leadership… and I especially hope they will look at his prayer life. A healthy prayer life seems essential to his development as a leader.

One of the things I admire about Warren Bock… is that he is serious about his life of prayer… contemplative prayer… weeks at monasteries praying… this man is serious about prayer. We’ve learned a lot about prayer from Warren. Prayer is something that has made him an effective pastor and leader.

Learning to pray for leaders is not easy, of course. It may be the hardest thing to learn how to do as a leader.

I know of few things that frighten lay leaders- elders or team leaders or teachers—any leaders-  more than these simple words: “Would you offer a prayer?”

And let’s be honest, if there is a preacher in the room, we often turn to the professional, the pastor, for prayer.

There is a hesitancy in most people to lead prayer. Why? Maybe we are not simply sure HOW to pray. Someone asked me to put together a resource of prayer for leaders and I was glad to do so.

And I understand. It has taken me years to reach a level of comfort with public prayer. Even now, when I am asked to pray—especially in strange circumstances… there is this feeling that I want my prayers to be appropriate, beautiful, and all of that. As if, after the prayer everyone in the room is going to hold up cards with a ranking of 1-10 on them. But if we are going to be spiritual leaders—whether it be at church or even in your home as a parent… then we might do well to learn how to pray.

Today, as I read this story of a conversation (prayer) between Moses and the Lord… I realize that we make praying so much more complicated than it has to be. I love this dialogue with Moses and the Lord.

Remember the scene… the Lord is ticked off (to put it nicely) after the Golden calf incident… these aren’t his people anymore, they are Mose’s people. God has disowned them! God is ready to start over once again (he had already done it with Noah once –), He offers to start over with Moses so that Moses will take the place of Abraham as a great nation. Time to reboot.

My favorite part of this whole conversation is this: “The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation”

Let me… leave me alone! Now, I don’t know about you, but when a friend or Sharon says, “Leave me alone…” Do you know what I do? I leave them alone. 

And if the Lord God Almighty who had just performed signs of power to defeat Egypt, if that Lord says, “Leave me alone” Do you know what I do? I leave the Lord alone!

But not Moses. Moses implores, pleads with the Lord to change his mind—to not give in to his anger … reminding God that his reputation is at stake… You don’t want those Egyptians saying bad things about you… Reminding God of his promises to Abraham, Isaac and Israel …

And then the text says an amazing thing: That the God we think of as immovable, unchangeable, this God changed his mind about the disaster… and remained faithful to the promises he had made.

There is another sermon to be preached about God changing his mind… and  that seems to happen more often than we remember in scripture, but today, I want to lift up the prayer of Moses… and what we as God’s people can learn about prayer… especially what our leaders can learn about prayer.  

Prayer is not as complicated as we make it to be. At it’s heart: prayer is about an honest, conversation with God… rooted in a close and ongoing relationship with God.

Sure, when we are young, or learning how to pray, we may have to practice prayer by using the prayers of others as models… That’s okay, especially if you are using prayers that are able to speak for you in a way that you have not yet learned to speak to God for yourself. As you learn to pray, I encourage you to read the prayers of others as models of prayer. I still do today. They feed me and often put in words something I would like to say. 

But one hopes over time, through an ongoing relationship with God, what you might come to understand is that the most effective prayers you pray are those that are honest, from the heart… that reveal a relationship with God that is dynamic.

At its full maturity you might even argue with God and ask God to change God’s mind.

I love the story of the Rabbi (Levi Yitzchak) who was praying on the eve of Yom Kippur (the days of repentance and atonement). Hundreds of people were waiting for him to begin the prayer… the congregation waited for more than two hours. When the people began to grow restless, the rabbi turned to his congregation and explained:

“I want to bring you into the conversation I was having with God. I said to God,

 “I come here before you on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement to ask that You atone for my sins.” But then it suddenly struck me that in the past year, I haven’t brought my plagues upon any part of the world. Nor have I made any woman a widow. Nor have I made any child an orphan. Nor have I caused anyone to go bankrupt and thereby not to be able to sustain and support their children.

Yet, God has done all these things. And then it struck me, why isn’t He coming to ask us forgiveness.

So I said to God “In the past year, I have caused no death. I have brought no plagues upon the world, no earthquakes, no floods. I have made no women widows, no children’ orphans. God, you have done these things, not me! You should be asking forgiveness from me. So I’ll make a deal. You forgive us, we’ll forgive you, and we’ll call it even.”                                                    

“You’ll forgive us, we’ll forgive you, and we’ll call it even.” If I had said that, I’d be looking for the lightning strikes to come! 

It is only a story of course, one of the many delightful if not unsettling legends of the rabbis. It may sound irreverent or blasphemous… but then again, the honesty and tone of the prayer sounds a lot like Moses’ prayer to me. Honest, real—rooted in a relationship that trusts God—I mean really trusts God to listen and to hear and even to respond. 

My favorite definition of prayer is this: conversation with God. 

If I had one book to suggest to you on prayer this year it would be a book written by Anne Lamott: Help, Thanks, Wow. 

Anne knows how to pray! She says, 

“I do not know much about God and prayer, but I have come to believe over the past 25 years, that there’s something to be said about keeping prayer simple.

Help. Thanks. Wow.” 

We can make prayer too hard. We have our formulas, postures, language (thees, thous are preferable to some) some worry about language being inclusive or exclusive and that is a good thing… but the danger is that we may think that if we can get a handle on these things that the prayer is somehow more acceptable to God. And we make it more complicated than it needs to be. 

Prayer is actually very simple when seen as a conversation with God. Anne Lamott says, “Prayer means, that in some unique way, we believe we’re invited into a relationship with someone who hears us when we speak in silence. Prayer is talking to something or anything with which we seek union, even if we are bitter or insane or broken. (In fact, these are probably the best conditions under which to pray). Prayer is taking a chance against all odds and past history, we are loved and chosen, and do not have to get it together before we show up… We can say anything to God. It’s all prayer… God can handle honesty and prayer begins with honest conversation. My belief is that when you are telling God the truth, you are close to God! 

That must have been true for Moses. Moses was so close to God that when God said, “Leave me alone”… Moses kept talking.

Interesting thing: God didn’t smite him down. God listened. I think God may have loved him for it. And Exodus says, God changed his mind. He didn’t let his anger get the best of him… and the people were given another chance.

So next time you are in distress… and maybe you are in distress right now…next time you are in a crisis or a decision or something near and dear to you is keeping you awake at night, Here is what I say: tell God about it. Don’t leave God alone. Have a heart to heart with God. I think the Lord will love you for that more than anything else. Amen.