Strength for the Main Thing
February 07, 2021*
By Pastor John Partridge
Isaiah 40:21-31 Mark 1:29-39 1 Corinthians 9:16-23
In football, the “main thing” is moving the ball toward the goal line. But there are plans in place to keep the players healthy and rested. The team can’t move the ball if everyone is too tired to play. The same is true in the Indianapolis 500 the Daytona 500, 24 hours at Le Mans, or any other automobile race. There are plans in place for pit stops, fuel, water, Gatorade, tire changes, and in the case of Le Mans, even driver changes so that drivers can take a nap and be well (more) rested. But imagine what would happen without rest? If a football team played without rest, and the other team didn’t, it isn’t hard to imagine that the rested team would, at some point, gain a serious advantage over the team that didn’t. An auto race without pit stops for fuel would end quickly and a Le Mans race without sleep is, literally, and accident waiting to happen.
But what about our “main thing”?
Last week, we said that “keeping the main thing, the main thing means sharing Jesus’ message about rescuing the lost and the salvation of the living.” But what are our plans for moving the ball toward the goal line or finishing the race? How do we keep the players on the field, or the cars on the track, so that no one gets too tired to play, or runs out of fuel for the journey?
There are, at least, two answers.
In Isaiah 40:21-31, God’s prophet proclaims this news to God’s people, and it is advice that is often repeated at funerals and other times when we are feeling as if our feet are going out from underneath us or the wind has gone out of our sails. Isaiah said:
21 Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23 He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
24 No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.
25 “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”?
28 Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.
[Note: “no one can fathom” has also been translated as “unsearchable” and can mean that God’s understanding is “beyond our imagination”]
29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
The first part of our answer, and the first part of our plan is that the source of our strength is not to be found within ourselves, but in God. God is the one who created us, who gives us breath, and strength for each day of our lives. God’s promise is to give us the strength that we need to do the work, and the mission, that he has given to us. But that still doesn’t make us superheroes. We still need food, and sleep, and rest. And Jesus, being fully human, had those same needs. And so, when we read the stories of the New Testament, like the one found in Mark 1:29-39, we see the plan that Jesus used to stay in the game, as he kept the main thing, the main thing.
29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand, and helped her up. The fever left her, and she began to wait on them.
32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.
35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
Jesus was working hard. He was doing his work. He was carrying out his mission and ministry. But he was tired physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And Jesus took steps to combat that fatigue. First, he had a place where he could be himself, relax, and get a good night’s sleep. But after he was physically rested, Jesus found a quiet place, alone, where he could pray and draw close to God. Much like we read in Isaiah, this is how Jesus, in addition to getting a good night’s rest, received the physical, spiritual, and mental strength that he needed to make it through the day. The recipe was to not only take care of his body, but to take care of his body, his mind, and his soul. How often do we complain that we are tired, despite having had a good night’s rest, because we have forgotten to take the time to care for our minds and our souls? If we want to keep the main thing, the main thing, and have the strength and stamina that we need to carry out our mission, we must remember to care for the whole person of our bodies, minds, and souls.
But while we are thinking about the strength that we need to do that “main thing,” let’s keep our focus on what we mean when we say, “the main thing.” In 1 Corinthians 9:16-23, Paul says:
16 For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Paul says that he must do whatever God called him to do and do it to the absolute best of his ability even if that means that he surrenders his biblical right to get paid, or gives up his freedoms, or his belongings, his money, his personal comforts, or anything else. Paul says that he was willing to do whatever needed to be done, so every effort could be made to save as many people as possible. And, from Paul’s history, we know that meant that Paul worked as a tent maker while he was caring for a church rather than ask a struggling church for any kind of salary. It meant that Paul was willing to leave behind his wealth and his privileged lifestyle, to travel the world, to be arrested, beaten, imprisoned, and eventually executed all so that he could keep the main thing, the main thing, pursue his mission with all the strength that he had, and all the strength that God had given him, and preach the gospel to as many people as he possibly could.
And of those things flow downhill to us.
As individuals, and as the church, we have inherited the mission of Jesus Christ just as Paul did. Not all of us have been called into missionary service or to pastoral ministry, but all of us have been called to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, to rescue the lost, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to speak for those who don’t have a voice in the halls of government, to stand up for the abused and the downtrodden, and all the other things that Jesus did, and commanded his followers to do. It is an enormous task. Doing all these things, and keeping the main thing, the main thing, is just as physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausting today as it was for Isaiah, Jesus, and Paul. For us to do what we have been commanded to do, to do it well, and to keep on doing it, we need to care for ourselves. We need to take the time to rest, to get plenty of sleep, but also to regularly spend time in prayer, spend time studying scripture, and spend time drawing closer to God.
You wouldn’t send your football team onto the field without a plan to rotate players and give them rest. You wouldn’t send a racing team onto the track without a plan to stop for fuel, tire changes, and Gatorade. And you wouldn’t dream of asking a Le Mans racer to drive for 24 hours without rest. But trying to do what God has asked us to do, without taking the time to care for our team is just as foolish. We must all be diligent about eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, taking the time to study scripture, and spending time alone with God. Without these things, the players grow tired, become exhausted, and our team falls apart.
Our team must play to win, and each of you are an integral, and vital, part of that team.
Like Paul, we must do everything that we can to share the Good News and to rescue the lost.
But we cannot rely upon our own strength alone. We cannot do it without God’s strength.
Let us commit to taking care or ourselves, and caring for one another, in body, mind, and spirit. Let us plan to eat right, sleep well, study scripture, and spend time alone in prayer with God.
The lives of our families, neighbors and friends are hanging in the balance.
Don’t let them down.
You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/lLWTO0y2-d8
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.