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Changing God's Mind
Can you change God's mind? Is it possible to change God's will? Is it possible to alter circumstances and situations? Can the irrevocable become revocable? Can the given become a beginning rather than an ending?
Too many answer, "No!" A sense of hopelessness is widespread. So many people say, "This is the way I am. I can't change. It's hopeless." Even teenagers, with their entire lives ahead of them, sometimes give up, and feel, "This is my personality. I can't change. I can't get out of this hole." Addicts to drugs and alcohol feel hopeless. People who feel the world is against them think things can't change.
There are hopeless Christians who feel that God has already decided how things will be, and that it is hopeless to try to change God's mind. Many believe the will of God is immutable, unchangeable. Some even believe that God's will was set in concrete eons ago, and that we are all predestined to be who we are and do what we do. With such a belief, then, the believer's lot in life is to accept the inevitable, be content with what happens, acquiesce, surrender, submit, don't complain, and be quiet! Prayer, to them, is surrender, rather than asking God to change things.
A century ago the frontier of America witnessed blazing debates between those who believed in predestination and those who believed in free will. Those who believed in predestination believed that everything which happens is part of a divine plan, and that we act out that plan. We are predestined to act out the plan. Those who believed in free will, however, believed that humans can exercise freedom of choice, and by making choices, determine what happens, determine their destiny.
At that time, Protestantism was essentially divided into two camps: Calvinists who preached predestination and Arminians who preached free will. Don't confuse Arminians (spelled with an "i") with people who live in Armenia (spelled with an "e"). Arminians were named for Jacob Arminius who preached free will. At that time Presbyterians were in the Calvinist predestination camp, and Methodists were in the Arminian free will camp. Did you hear about the Presbyterian who tripped, fell down the stairs, picked himself up, brushed his clothes, and sighed, "Thank God that's over!"
I find myself in the free will camp, along with the Methodists, believing that destiny can be changed. Few things are so unchangeable they can never be changed. Few people are predetermined to be who they are.
Jesus taught us to persist. Jesus taught us not to acquiesce and surrender to what happens to us, but to persist in determining what happens. In the Gospel lesson read this morning, the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. Jesus taught them what we now call the Lord's Prayer. Then he gave an example of prayer. What do you do when friends from far away land unexpectedly in the middle of the night, and you have no food in the house? Remember, when Jesus told this story, there were no convenience stores open 24 hours a day.
What do you do? You go next door, pound on your neighbor's door and ask to borrow some bread. The neighbor hollers, "Hey, are you crazy? It's in the middle of the night. My kids are asleep. I'm trying to sleep. Come back in the morning."
So, now what do you do? Should you accept the situation and send your guests to bed hungry? Should you accept the given? Should you acquiesce to the will of the neighbor and give up?
Not according to Jesus. Do you know what Jesus' advice is? "Keep pounding on the door!" Keep pounding, until the neighbor, in exasperation, gets out of bed and loans you some bread. And, Jesus said, the neighbor will give you the bread, not out of friendship, but in order to shut you up, so everyone can get to sleep. And, Jesus says, that is what prayer is!
Jesus also told about a woman who kept pleading with the judge for her rights, pleading with the judge to grant her plea. The judge ignored the woman, but she kept coming, and kept pleading. Finally, the judge granted her request because, he said, "She will wear me out." Jesus said that is prayer. Prayer is hounding God until God relents and grants the request, saying, "She will wear me out."
Yes, God's mind can be changed. Yes, God's seemingly immutable will can be altered. Yes, situations and circumstances can be changed. Continuing in this morning's Gospel lesson, Luke 11:9-10, Jesus urges, "Ask, and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, it will be opened."
Ask, says Jesus. Ask, and it will be given you. Do you believe God not only hears our prayers, but answers them? Two weeks ago, Ellie was bringing my mother home from her radiation treatment. While driving on the freeway, Ellie was praying that my mother would not get sick. As she prayed, suddenly a feeling of deep peace, and a burst of energy came over her. Later in the day, Janet Logan, our Administrator, called Ellie and asked if she could do anything. Ellie said, "Just pray." Janet said, "Oh, we did pray for you in the staff meeting this morning." Ellie asked, "Was that about ten to eleven? I knew someone was praying, and it felt like more than one person." Coincidence? Or, did God gather each of our energies, together with the Holy Spirit, and focus his healing spirit on Ellie at that time? Prayer changes things.
Miryl Morris has a chronic arthritis condition. Two weeks ago, she had unbearable pain. Nothing would touch it. She couldn't sleep for seven straight nights because of the pain. Sunday noon she was sitting on her patio when she felt the pain lessen. It gradually faded and proved later to be a turning point. She began to sleep at night, and last Sunday worshiped with us. Was it a coincidence that at the time her pain lessened, several of us, including her daughters, Margaret Straka and Harriet Howell, were gathered in the chapel for the monthly healing service, praying specifically for Miryl? One of her daughters has since said, "I don't know if Mother's recovery was due to the prayers or her medicine, but let's not give up on either one!"
Ask, said Jesus. Pray. You are not necessarily stuck with your circumstances, your life, your relationships, or your personality. Don't surrender to hopelessness.
Ask, said Jesus, and seek. Seek and you will find. Persist. Don't give in. Keep struggling. Seek. Last week's newspapers were filled with examples of persistence, of people determined to change God's mind, to change and overcome their situation. Last Sunday Greg LeMond won the world's most prestigious cycling race, the Tour de France. Two years ago he was almost dead. He was accidentally shot in the back and side. Even now he still has some 30 shotgun pellets in him, including two in the heart lining. Besides that tragedy, he had an emergency appendectomy and a shin operation. But Greg refused to surrender to his handicap condition, and last Sunday he again claimed the world cycling championship.
Also, last Sunday in Stockton, Dave Dravecky pitched a seven-inning shutout, establishing him well on the way back to the Giants as a starting pitcher. Last October, Dravecky underwent nine hours of surgery to remove a malignant tumor from his pitching shoulder. The surgeon told him he had a zero percent chance of ever pitching again. Dave Dravecky refused to accept those terms, refused to surrender to cancer, and last Sunday he pitched a shutout.
And Wednesday, the nation cheered when Palo Altan Mark Wellman hoisted himself over Yosemite's El Capitan's final ledge, and became the first paraplegic in history to conquer the largest monolith in America. Paralyzed from the waist down, he did the equivalent of 7,000 pull-ups to climb the 3,569 feet.
When you feel discouraged, when you feel life is dealing you a raw deal, when you are unhappy with your circumstances, your situation, when you feel you can't change your life, remember a bullet-ridden cyclist, a cancer infected pitcher, and a paralyzed rock climber, and, in the words of Mark Wellman, "GO FOR IT!"
Sometimes we get discouraged with the slow speed of social change. Will the arms race ever stop? Will people of all colors and national origins be given fair chances? Today, with the rise of conservative reaction, with the onslaught of skin heads, neo-nazis, and ultra right wing movements, the advances made in civil and human rights might be lost. When you get discouraged and are tempted to give up your social causes, remember the dogged persistence of the neighbor knocking for bread, and the woman pleading with the judge, and take Jesus seriously and literally, "Seek and you will find."
Now, I'm not saying there are no limitations. The famous serenity prayer which Alcoholics Anonymous has adopted to inspire its members, reads,
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Yes, there are some things that cannot be changed. But, my plea this morning is to not give up too easily. I'm not preaching this morning to those who need to accept the things they cannot change. Many of us acquiesce, and decide too soon to accept. I'm preaching to those who need the courage to change the things they can. Don't stop pounding on the door too quickly. Don't become discouraged too quickly.
Jesus did not say life would be easy. It was not easy for Greg LeMond to ride the bicycle again. It was not easy for Dave Dravecky to pitch again. It was not easy for Mark Wellman to climb El Capitan. Can you imagine the discipline and training those men endured? No, overcoming handicaps, overcoming disappointments, overcoming setbacks and failure, developing your skills, changing poor attitudes, keeping your eyes on your goal are not easy. But, don't give up too soon.
Ask; pray with all your might. And seek. Pray and work. You shall overcome.
© 1989 Douglas I. Norris