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Lord, Teach Us To Pray: The Prayer of Relinquishment

January 15, 2006

Philippians 2

Have you ever changed your mind about anything? Before our third son was born, I thought we were going to name him Kristopher Mitchell Neely. The nurse came into the room and asked, “What is this child’s name?” I answered, “Kristopher Mitchell Neely” but Clare said, “No, this isn’t Kris. This is Scott. Kris is not here yet.” I knew right then that I did not need to argue with Clare and that we were probably going to have a fourth child.

When you pray, you change your mind. I had that very experience early this morning. Today’s sermon was to focus on Psalm 22 and the prayer of suffering. When I outlined this series of sermons on prayer, that concept was the third on the list. The sermon topic I am going to address today appeared at the end of the series. This morning as I prayed about the service, I felt a sermon on the prayer of relinquishment would be more appropriate today, especially since Nathan and Ashley are here.

On New Year’s Day, I told you that I did not feel inclined to make resolutions this year but that I felt more inclined to make decisions about what I needed to cut out of my life. My decision was a matter of subtracting activities that really were interfering. When I made that decision, I had no idea just how profound that might be, how deep I might have to look into the aspects of my life. I have started seeing the importance of relinquishment.

I want you to take part in a little experiential exercise. Take your hands and make two fists. Grip tightly until your knuckles turn white, the way you would if you were on an airplane flying through turbulence. Hold those fists for a moment. Most of us live this way. We have a clenched mindset. When we talk about how we are doing in life, we make comments like, “I am just trying to hold on.” “I am just trying to get a grip.” “I am hanging in there.” When we perceive life as a struggle, we lift our fists, ready to fight, ready to defend ourselves.

Now, very slowly, I want you to open your hands. Releasing your hands hurts almost as much as clenching them. As the blood rushes back into your fingers, you have a great feeling of relief.

In the life of prayer, we have to learn to unclench, loosen up. We have to come to a point in the life of prayer in which we are able to release, to relinquish, to let go. When we assume that posture, we find that we are no longer in a fighting mood. Our mood is more peaceful, calmer.

Can you call to mind the commercial on television for Nestea? A person sweltering in the heat takes a drink of iced tea and then falls backwards into a pool of water. That cool water becomes quite a relief to the person. A part of prayer is like that. We must let go and fall backwards. In some group-building exercises, individuals are required to participate in what is called a trust fall. One person falls backwards toward a group, believing that the group is going to catch them. The purpose of the exercise is to create trust among the group members. That kind of trust fall is a part of Christian life.

Think of a climber who slips off the side of a mountain and clings desperately to one small tree. The mountain climber prays, “O God, help me.”

God answers, “Let go.”

The climber then questions God, “Lord, isn’t there another way? Can’t you rescue me some other way?”

God replies, “You must let go.”

In the life of prayer, we simply must let go at times. This kind of praying is not easy. Letting go is not easy at all; it is contrary to our nature.

For the last several years, Clare and I have found great comfort in a passage of scripture from Deuteronomy 33:27: “The eternal God is your resting place and underneath are the everlasting arms.” Imagine those everlasting arms waiting to support you, to catch you; but you must first let go.

Years ago early in my ministry, I was working as a chaplain in the emergency room at Louisville General Hospital. A car hit a twelve-year-old girl who was riding her bicycle. When the ambulance arrived at the hospital, she was already dead. Her father, a very prominent and influential man in Louisville, came rushing into the emergency room, demanding to see his daughter. The police officer who had investigated the accident blurt out to the father, “I guess you heard it was a DOA.” What a harsh way of announcing the daughter’s death. I stepped forward to introduce myself as the chaplain. This man turned, grabbed me by my lapels, and yelled, “Do you know who I am?” I answered, “Yes, I do. You are a daddy who just lost his daughter. I would like to try to help you.” He fell into my arms, weeping.

Sometimes the events of life force us to let go. At times, we do not have a choice. We are all similar to Linus in the Charles Schulz cartoon Peanuts. Linus seems so grown up; he even dispenses words of wisdom. His weakness, though, is that he must have a security blanket, which he holds onto for dear life. Occasionally, Snoopy yanks the blanket out of Linus’ hands, leaving Linus in an emotional heap. Things that we hold so tightly are taken from us.

Clare has been reading Joan Didion’s book entitled The Year of Magical Thinking. The author writes about one incredible year in her life when her husband died suddenly. Then just a few weeks later, her daughter, who had already been quite ill, suffered from a brain hemorrhage. One of the main points Didion makes in her book is that she had to learn to let go. She had to learn to make a distinction between the things she could control and those she could not.

Most of us have a steep learning curve on learning to release, learning to relinquish. One place we might go to learn is The School of Gethsemane. Our battle cry is, “My will be done.” We learn entirely the opposite from Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Not my will, but Thine be done.” Making that statement is easy, but doing it is very, very hard. This kind of praying will make you sweat as if you were sweating blood, as Jesus did on the night he prayed these words in Gethsemane.

This prayer is difficult, but we read accounts of people throughout the Bible who had to learn to relinquish. Abraham took his son Isaac to the top of Mount Moriah to let him go. Of course, God made provision for Abraham. There, Abraham learned that his son did not belong to him. Moses had to learn that his arguments were not going to change God’s mind about how the people of Israel were to be delivered. Only after Moses released his ideas and complied with God’s ideas did he become the servant God wanted him to be. Think of Mary, the mother of Jesus. She relinquished her entire future, the future she had probably imagined since she was a little girl, to adopt God’s plan for her. Paul not only left behind status within the Jewish community, but he also gave up the idea that God might miraculously heal his “thorn in the flesh” (II Corinthians 13:7). These people were not exempt from the need to let go.

We have dedicated two children this morning. Parents, you have learned that every day begins with a prayer of dedication. You put your children in an automobile and watch them drive out of your driveway. You are letting them go. We must remember that our children belong to God, not to us.

We can learn to relinquish by praying a kind of five-fold prayer modeled for us in the passage Jack read from Philippians 2. The first part is the prayer of self-emptying. Jesus emptied himself, not considering equality with God a thing to be grasped.

The prayer of surrender is evident in the life of Jacob, wrestling with God by the River Jabbok. Jacob actually thought he could win that battle. He wrestled all night long and was finally defeated. Only after he surrendered could he actually achieve the victory he desired. We might wrestle with God for a long time, more than one night; but until we finally decide to surrender and do it God’s way, we will never experience the victory.

The prayer of abandonment involves giving up our plans. So often, we make a plan and then ask God to bless it. “Lord, here is the plan. Now, work it out.” Henry Blackaby, in Experiencing God, says that we ought to approach it the other way around. Instead of making a plan and asking God to bless it, we ought to ask, “Lord, what is Your plan?” “What are You doing in this world?” “How do You want me to be a part of that?” When we abandon our own plans, we begin to learn the truth of that wonderful passage from Jeremiah 29:11: “‘I know the plans I have for you’ says the Lord, ‘plans to do you good and not harm, plans to give you a future and a hope.’” That passage goes on to say that discovering those plans begins with the life of prayer.

The prayer of release requires making a hard decision to let go of a person you love so much. So often, I have stood with families near a deathbed and asked, “Are you ready to let go?” The prayer of release touches every part of our lives. One way to identify the need for this prayer of release is to consider the things with which you use the possessive pronoun “my”: my church, my child, my family, my home, my job, my future. Every time we use the possessive pronoun “my,” we reveal a part which we need to let go. We must say, “It is Your church, Lord.” “These children are Your children, Father.” “This home we have dedicated to You, O God.” “The money belongs to You.” “My future is not mine.” “Your will, not mine, be done.”

Finally, a part of the prayer of relinquishment is the prayer of restoration. When we learn to release the things that are dear to us, God remarkably takes away the things we do not want, too. He will take away our enemies. He will take away our anxiety. He will take away our bitterness. He will begin to restore to us some of the things so dear to us, but He restores them to us on His terms, not ours.

Look at the way Philippines 2 concludes in Verses 5-11. Jesus humbled himself and became obedient unto death, “not counting equality with God something to be grasped.” He gave it all up, including his life. Through the miracle of resurrection, God restored his life, only now eternal life. Through the miracle of resurrection, God restored him to a place of prominence so that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Learning to pray the prayer of relinquishment is learning to say with all of your heart, “Take my life and let it be, Consecrated, Lord to Thee.”

Have you acknowledged Christ as the Lord of your life and released your life to him? If not, we invite you to make that decision today. Some of you have another decision to make. You have been holding on. You know that God has led you to this place, the place where He wants you to be a church member. If you have made that decision, we would welcome you. As we stand together and sing our hymn of invitation, Number 464, “Close to Thee,” we invite your response.

© 2006 Kirk H. Neely

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