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Check Your Oil
November 9, 2008

Wesley United Methodist Church

MATTHEW 25:1-13

Five were foolish and five were wise. In Jesus’ parable, there were ten bridesmaids waiting for the groom to come. We are not sure about the wedding customs of that day, but we think that at some point in the ceremony (which probably took days), the groom came to the bride’s home, and a feast was held. The bridesmaids would greet the groom with lamps.

What made five foolish and five wise was not how they were dressed, or their lamps. What made the difference is that five had oil in reserve, and five had come unprepared. The groom was late. They fell asleep, and five were not prepared for the long wait. They ran out of oil. Five were prepared, and five were dim wits!

Be prepared is the theme of this parable. Be prepared so you can live without anxiety knowing that you have enough oil in your lamp. When I was a child, my grandparents did not have electricity. They used kerosene lamps. So, check the kerosene supply. Check your oil. Check your spiritual resources.

Be prepared. How can you keep your lamp full so you are prepared to live each day without anxiety, without worrying about your lamp running out of oil, with having enough spiritual reserves to see you through? Let us look at some suggestions to help us live our lives each day to the fullest, with a lamp full of oil, full of spiritual reserves.

Undergird each day with prayer. Give the day to God. Ask for the Holy Spirit to lead and guide you. Breathe deeply. Throughout the day, I have learned to take deep breaths and pray, “Fill me with your Spirit, Lord.” Take moments throughout the day to get in touch with God, to take yourself out of the stress, away from the problems, away from the busy-ness of the day.

Richard Carlson, author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, a book which inspired this message, has discovered a ritual that helps him. He wrote, “On my way home from work, as I get close to my driveway, I pull my car over and stop. There is a nice spot where I can spend a minute or two looking at the view or closing my eyes and breathing. It slows me down and helps me feel centered and grateful.” Instead of speeding into his driveway with the radio blaring in his ears, he enters his home feeling much more relaxed. 

Pascal, French philosopher, mathematician and physicist, said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Perhaps he exaggerates, but he makes a valid point. Take time to sit quietly. Take time to breathe. 

Breathe “Fill me with your Spirit, Lord” before you speak. Usually, we listen with half an ear to what the other person is saying, forming our response, and sometimes even interrupting before the speaker finishes. Breathe before replying. The speaker will be surprised to be able to finish his/her thought. The speaker will feel listened to, and you will not be as rushed. You will have had a moment to formulate your response, and you will be much more relaxed. In fact, go further and give up your turn. Don’t grab the spotlight; don’t demand attention on you and your ideas. Don’t compete. Instead, say, “How interesting. Tell me more.”

Instead of worrying about your response, expect to learn something from the other. You’ll be far less annoyed and frustrated by the actions and imperfections of other people. Do you get annoyed? Rather than asking, “Why is she doing this?” ask “What can I learn?” Do you get annoyed with a slow checkout clerk in the grocery store? While you are waiting, learn to be patient. Breathe deeply. Maybe the clerk is having a bad day. Maybe her feet hurt! How would you like to stand all day long?

Seek first to understand. A couple spent the first ten years of their marriage arguing about their finances. He couldn’t understand why she wanted to save every penny they earned, and she couldn’t understand why he wanted to spend and spend. Then they learned to stop interrupting each other, and to listen to what the other was saying. He learned that she was saving to avoid her parents’ financial disasters. She was afraid of going broke. She learned that he bought things because he was afraid he couldn’t take care of her as well as his father took care of his mother. He wanted to buy her things. He wanted her to be proud of him.

Keep your lamp full of oil by living in the moment. Don’t deplete your spiritual reserves by wringing your hands over yesterday, or by worrying about tomorrow. Jesus said, Matthew 6.34, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” When you focus on past problems and future concerns, you will be anxious, frustrated, and depressed; depleting your spiritual reserves. Live in the present. Mark Twain said, “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” Don’t make up worries.

Don’t deplete your spiritual reserves by trying to be perfect. Live with your imperfections. Do you know any perfectionist who has inner peace? Perfectionists fret, fume, worry, and drive you batty as well as themselves. When my wife is concerned with her hair, or a wrinkle in my shirt, or a spot on the rug, we remind each other of the old saying, “If you can't see it while riding by on a horse, forget it!” Don’t fret yourself into a stew. Instead, ask yourself, will this matter a year from now? Is this situation really as important as I’m making it out to be? 

Speaking of getting yourself into a stew and becoming anxious, have you heard the saying, “Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today?” What a bunch of nonsense. Too many stressed out Americans frantically push themselves. Keeping oil in your lamp doesn’t mean getting everything done in a day. It isn’t as important to get it all done, as it is to enjoy each step along the way! Be patient. Prioritize.

In fact, allow yourself to be bored! I recall how as a child I was often bored. There were no children my age in the neighborhood. I would swing, make up stories, and then act them out, all by myself, playing all the characters. Productive, creative boredom. We Americans have a difficult time accepting boredom. We keep children and youth so busy it seems as if we think it is a sin to be bored. When a child does say, “Mom, I’m bored,” don't find something for him/her to do, but say, “Be glad. Enjoy it.” Someone said, “People are no longer human beings; we are human doings.” Take time to be; don’t do all the time. It is okay to just sit. It is okay to be bored. It is okay to be quiet. It is good to meditate. It is good to sit, breathe, and pray.

Let God lead. Keep your lamp full, replenish your spiritual reserves by depending on God. Give your life to God. Give God your problems, worries, concerns, all that makes you anxious. Let God solve the problems. Put the problems on the back burner, so to speak. Let them sit on low heat for awhile. Let God work on the problems; you don’t have to do it all by yourself. I have gone to sleep many nights to wake up in the morning with an idea or a solution. God and my sub-conscious mind did the work. A few weeks ago I was struggling with the Sunday message, and decided to get my mind off it. I went for a walk and two blocks away, the message fell into place. I suppose you think I should have kept walking!

Keep your lamp full of oil by being alert for opportunities to do God’s work, without fanfare and the need for recognition. A popular saying a few years ago, and a friend gave us coffee mugs with the message, was, “Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.” Get in touch with the joy of giving without expecting anything in return. Some people began paying the bridge tolls of the cars immediately behind them. The driver would approach the ticket booth with outstretched bills only to be told, “Your toll has been paid by the car ahead of you.” Imagine the impact—the surprise, the joy, the gratitude, and perhaps the desire to do something likewise. Mother Teresa said, “We cannot do great things on this earth. We can only do small things with great love.” Spread cheer, warmth and love wherever and whenever you can. 

Another suggestion, once a week write a letter of appreciation. I have received such letters and they truly make my day. The letter doesn’t have to be long or a work of art. Write it from your heart. For example, “Dear So and So, I woke up this morning thinking of how blessed I am to have you in my life. Thank you for being my friend. I wish for you all the happiness and joy that life can bring.” Write to a relative, a former teacher, a neighbor, an elected official. I wonder how many letters of thanks our politicians receive! Not only write letters, but tell people how you appreciate them—clerks in stores, policemen, fire fighters, custodians. As I thought about this, I told myself to write a letter to the custodial service that cleans the church facilities. I am impressed with the good job they do. I wrote the letter and mailed it.

Finally, imagine yourself at your own funeral. What will be said by your family and friends during the time of sharing? What will the pastor say about you? What would you like to be said? Look back at your life while you still have time to make some changes. In the final analysis, what is really important? Then, check your oil. Are you doing what you think is important? Are you replenishing your spiritual supply, your oil, by taking time for prayer, quiet time, breathing time, even boredom? Are you letting God help solve your problems? Are you generous? Have you quit trying to be perfect, trying to do everything asked of you? Are you living in the moment? Are you practicing random acts of kindness? 

Check your oil.

© 2008 Douglas I. Norris