Here are several things to keep in mind when you’re comparing life and work on the outside to life in the big house.
In prison, you spend the majority of your time in an 8×10 cell. At work, you spend most of your time in a 6×8 cubicle.
In prison, you get three meals a day. At work, you only get a break for one meal and you have to pay for it.
In prison, you can watch TV and play games. At work, you get fired for watching TV and playing games.
In prison, they allow your family and friends to visit. At work, you cannot even speak to your family and friends.
In prison, all expenses are paid by taxpayers with no work required. At work, you get to pay all the expenses to go to work and then they deduct taxes from your salary to pay for prisoners.
In prison, there are wardens who are often mean. At work, they’re called managers.
Perhaps prison isn’t so bad—obviously this is very tongue in cheek.
Multitudes of people never fulfill the call of God in their lives simply because every time they try to go forward, fear stops them. What I mean is fear imprisons us in lives less than full, as individuals smaller than we wanted to be, in identities not as sharp or similar to what we thought we might become.
The thing about fear is that it is the archenemy. The thing we fear may be a problem but if you really think about it—it’s fear that makes us not take that step. Not the thing itself, not the result we fear might occur—because we never meet it. It’s the fear of making the wrong decision, of losing one income, not actually it happening that stops us.
And then we double down on not facing our fears. We avoid even feeling fear, avoid coming to something in our lives that would even raise the possibility of fear altogether, so that we don’t have to face the moral quandary of should I leap or should I turn back?
And what is fear’s ultimate power? Its ultimate weapon? It speaks to us saying, “Here you are all by yourself, just you, and nobody coming to help. And what, dear friend, can you do all by yourself?” And of course fear isn’t your friend most of the time.
C.S. Lewis is right when he says hell (or our prison) is locked from the inside.
But faith tells us the truth when it says, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God…, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” 2 Tim 1:6-7
Do we really believe the Lord is for us? Do we really believe the Bible is telling us the truth when it says, “God is not a man, that he should lie…. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” Nu 23:19
There’s a short story that goes: “Once the Creator had a dream. He dreamt that only he knew the secret to the universe. What was to happen, if he were to die? This worried and troubled him. He awoke and decided to make man and woman. And then he made a further decision: to throw away the keys to the universe. So that now every man and every woman has to create the world anew.”
As Meister Eckhart put it, “We have not been created for small things.”
This is the same sense of things when we hear the fourth and final quote of our teaching series, Incredible Quotes: “Why, when God’s world is so big, did you fall asleep in a prison of all places?”
I love this quote. Talk about a mind-expander, a mind-blower. First and front and center it pushes you to remember this world is God’s world and God’s world is so big–not merely the tiny thing we inhabit and think about. And then that double layering of not just falling asleep, which is bad enough, nor not just being in prison, but putting both of them together–falling asleep in prison.
And then, the piece de resistance, the idea of choice, as if we’re choosing to fall asleep in prison, as if it’s a selection we made. Perhaps we didn’t recognize our way of life completely as a prison, we might have been a little groggy or tired when we wandered or stumbled into it, but there’s no doubt we basically knew where we were and we even closed the door behind us.
The man who said this was named Jelaluddin Rumi. Rumi was a 13th-century Persian or Iranian poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and celebrated Sufi mystic and saint. His major work is the Masnavi, a six-volume poem regarded by some as the Persian-language Qur’an. It is considered by many to be one of the, if not the, greatest works of mystical poetry. The Masnavi is a series of six books of poetry that together amount to
around 25,000 verses or 50,000 lines, teaching Sufis, Sufi Muslims, how to reach their goal of being in true love with God.
According to Professor Majid M. Naini, “Rumi’s life and transformation provide true testimony and proof that people of all religions and backgrounds can live together in peace and harmony.”
(If someone has a problem with me quoting something from a Muslim poet, I would love to talk to you about your view and my view of the important issue of Christian-Muslim relations.)
Peter’s great escape from prison in our scripture this morning says he didn’t lock himself into a prison. He was thrown in there.
But what it does tell us is that we have a tool to free us from prison. Prayer is that powerful tool, powerful weapon, the powerful gift to free us from even the worst places. If you want to get out of the prison of your fears, to wake up from the sleep of little hope, the key is in your prayer. And what is prayer? Prayer is the time you spend turning from doubting and fearing in your mind and heart to believing and trusting in your heart and mind that God is opening a new door, lifting up the gates, and leading you out.
Prayer is the quiet act of waking up and unlocking the prison door.
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a cow pasture but if you have then you know they’re often very green with thick grass in certain places. But if certain areas of the pasture aren’t safe things are quite different. If there are any bumps or holes in that part of the field, the cows avoid it.
How do they avoid the little dangers they fear? By walking in a single file line from safe spot to safe spot. They walk head to tail like this so many times a path is worn into the grass, a path only four or five inches across many times, just wide enough for their hooves to step on. They have their rut, and they stick to it.
You’re not going to get a cow get to leave their rut—not when they feel they’re might be a danger. The same shouldn’t be said of us.
Did you know that there is something called phobaphobia, which is the fear of being afraid? Comedian Jerry Seinfeld observed, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that seem right? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
Scripture says, “Fear not, for I am with you.” Is. 40:1
Battling our fears is a lifetime task. Actually for most people it starts after the age of ten or so.
One of my favorite poems is On Turning Ten by Billy Collins. Have you ever read it?
“The whole idea of it makes me feel like I’m coming down with something, something worse than any stomach ache or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–a kind of measles of the spirit, a mumps of the psyche, a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.
You tell me it is too early to be looking back, but that is because you have forgotten the perfect simplicity of being one and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit. At four I was an Arabian wizard. I could make myself invisible by drinking a glass of milk a certain way. At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.
But now I am mostly at the window watching the late afternoon light. Back then it never fell so solemnly against the side of my tree house, and my bicycle never leaned against the garage as it does today, all the dark blue speed drained out of it.
This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself, as I walk through the universe in my sneakers. It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends, time to turn the first big number.
It seems only yesterday I used to believe there was nothing under my skin but light. If you cut me I could shine. But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life, I skin my knees. I bleed.”
How do we keep from locking out the dream, falling asleep, and locking ourselves in behind the prison doors? Or rather, how do we let ourselves out again?
If you think this is all only for younger people, try again. Listen to these: The oldest blogger is a 109 year old woman, the oldest scuba diver is a 93 year old man, probably the oldest skydiver is 101, and the oldest college graduate is a 95 year old woman.
Don’t let your fears hold you back. Learn to pray through them. God’s world is big, but it’s not so big that you are forgotten. Don’t listen to a fear that says you’re in this all on your own. You’re not alone. Good things, God’s things, are happening.
Trust in the Lord and wake up. Believe instead of fear and see the door. Pray for strength to open the door and let yourself out.