THE GIFTS OF THE DARK WOOD
EMPTINESS

  by Pastpr  Martha-Jean Fitch

February 25, 2018

TEXT:   Matthew 10:39, John 6:35, John 7:37, Matthew 12:43-45

 


 

I invite the kids to come on down and join me up here for a few moments.

 

            Hi there!  It is good to see y’all again!

 

            As we begin, I want to see all of your smiles!   Ah – let me see those teeth!   Wow your teeth look great!   Do any of you have a tooth that is loose?  Can you wiggle it for me?   How many of you have lost a tooth?   Losing teeth is something that will happen to all of you.   As you grow, you will outgrow your baby teeth and they will fall out and be replaced by new, big teeth that you will have for the rest of your life – hopefully!

 

            When you lose a tooth, is it really sad?   Do you cry about it and get upset?   Do you hang on to that tooth and try to stick it back into your mouth?   Not usually.   How do feel when you lose a tooth?   Happy!  Excited!    Why do you feel that way?   Maybe because the tooth fairy comes.   And why does it make you happy to have the tooth fairy come?   Because she leaves you money!   Now that is something to be really happy about!  You lose a tooth, but you get something in return – money!!

 

            Jesus talks about something else that we need to lose.   He said, “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it,” (Matthew 10:39)   Jesus says we need to lose our lives.   That means you need to stop worrying about yourself and focus on Jesus.    It means not worrying about how many toys you have or want but focusing instead on Jesus. It means not pushing your way to the front of the line or always insisting that you go first but focusing on Jesus.   We lose our lives when we say to Jesus, “Jesus, You are in charge of me today.   I will do what You want me to do, when You want me to do it.”

 

            When we lose a tooth, we receive something from the tooth fairy.   When we lose our lives for Jesus, we get something in return, a better life than we could ever imagine.    You see, Jesus is in charge of life on this earth.   And when we live His way, we received a full and wonderful life.   Jesus is also in charge of life in heaven.   When we lose our lives and focus on Him, He promises us to that we will receive rewards in heaven.

 

            If you want to lose your life and live instead for Jesus, repeat this prayer:   “Dear Jesus, You are in charge of me today and every day.   I will do what You want me to do, when you want me to do it.   I love you.  AMEN"

 

            You may return to your seats.   And thanks for coming up.

           

(Opening Story for the 2nd Service)

 

A martial arts student was meeting with his master and teacher at a table, having tea. The student said to his master, "I’ve learned all you have to teach me about defending myself. I want to learn one thing more now. Please teach me about the ways of God."

 

The master took the teakettle and starting pouring the student’s cup full of tea. Soon the cup was full and began to spill over onto the saucer. But the master continued to pour the tea until it spilled over the saucer and then onto the floor.

 

The student finally said, "Stop, stop, the tea is spilling over. The cup can’t take any more." The master then looked at the student and said, "You are so full of yourself that there is no room in your life for God. It is not possible for you to learn the ways of God until you learn to empty yourself."

 

Because you are in church today my guess is that you would like to know and experience God in a greater way. My question for you today is, are you empty enough?



 

Today we continue our journey through the Dark Wood moments of our lives.   Last week we focused on those uncertainties of life – and how the Holy Spirit is there with us during those dark places of our lives – and can redeem those times and bring blessings.  Today, we turn to the dark wood moments of emptiness.

 

            When you hear the word empty or emptiness, what do you think of?   What are some phrases that we use to talk about something that is empty?   I tried to write down all the things I could think of that go along with being empty.   The first thought that came to my mind was being an “empty nester”.   All my kids have grown up and our house is empty – empty of all the activity and joy of growing children.   I, for one, miss that!   I also thought of how empty a house is when someone is gone.   Perhaps they have been gone on a trip for a long time – or perhaps, your loved one has died – and the house feels so empty.  There is an empty chair at the family table and we miss that person so very much.  There is a deep emptiness that often comes with grief.

 

            There are other phrases we have that go with empty.   How about the phrase: “running on empty”.  Any of you ever experienced that?   When you are weary and worn and just don’t have any energy left to keep you going?   Or how about the phrase, “empty pockets” – struggling with financial problems – or “empty handed” – coming away with nothing.  And then there are empty stomachs – and empty promises.   Empty words and empty thoughts.   And then, there’s that deep-down pain inside where you feel like an empty shell, numb.   I had a friend describe emptiness as that feeling you have when things just don’t seem to be going right – and you just feel “blah”.  Have you ever been there?  

 

Emptiness – it doesn’t sound like a very positive word, does it?   It certainly feels like a dark wood place or feeling we would rather avoid than experience.    What do we do with those feelings?   Is there any way to fill the hole inside? 

 

All too often we try to fill our lives up with things that don’t satisfy – whether it is our busyness with activities in our lives – or money and material possessions.   We try to fill our emptiness with another person or even with destructive things like drugs and alcohol.  And in our efforts, we often end up filling those empty spots in our lives with all sorts of emotions like fear and worry, anger and bitterness, stress and strain and depression.   In the end, we come to realize that all we are trying to do to fill our emptiness and control the different situations we are facing, is not working.  We feel just as empty as ever…discontent and unfulfilled.

 

I read something this week from Joyce Meyer that I have been really intrigued by.   She said, “God knew we would be empty, He created us that way so He could fill us.   Emptiness is not the problem.   The problem is what we do with the emptiness.”1 We can either let that emptiness destroy us – by the choices we make, allowing Satan to establish a foothold in our lives.   Or we can, lose ourselves and choose to be filled with the Holy Spirit.   As Jesus said, "Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”   If we continue to grasp for the things of this world – like leisure, power, popularity, financial security, we will discover how really empty they really are.   But, if we let go of the things of this life – keeping our focus on Jesus – we will find His Holy Spirit filling us up and meeting all our needs.    

 

You see, God has made us in such a way that nothing will fully satisfy us until we drink deeply of the water of the Holy Spirit.   Blaise Pascal once said: There is a God-shaped vacuum in the human heart which only God; made known through Jesus Christ, can fill.  —Paraphrase of a quote by Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)2  The empty places in our hearts were created to be filled by God alone!   The deepest thirst of our souls can never be quenched by anyone or anything by God!  In fact, it is only in losing ourselves - realizing our own emptiness – and filling ourselves with God – that we can find the hope and peace and joy we are so craving.

 

Billy Graham once said, “when we come to the end of ourselves, we come to the beginning of God.”3   When we give up believing that it is all up to us – that we can’t control life or fill it with anything that will satisfy us but God, that is where we will find life – and find it abundantly.  

 

            In John 6:35, Jesus tells us, “I am the bread of life.   Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again.   Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”   And then in John 7:37, Jesus says, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me!   Anyone who believes in me may come and drink!  For the Scriptures declare ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.”   Jesus is that bread the nourishes us and that living water that we so desperately need for our dry and thirsty souls.   He is the ONLY thing that will truly satisfy completely.   As we center our lives on Him, He will fill us up and meet our needs.   Just as Paul says in Philippians 4:19, “My God will supply all your needs according to His glorious riches which we have been given to us in Christ Jesus.”

 

            But in order to know that provision of God – and to be full with His Spirit – we continually need to lose ourselves.   We have to let go and let God --- let go of our control and let God be in control.  We have to let Him penetrate our hearts.   We have to let His living waters flow through the inner workings of our life, day in and day out.  

 

            But how?   What can we do to keep our souls filled and hydrated with His Spirit?

 

             First, we have to be in tune with our spirits.   Augustine once said, “O God, You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.” 4   Or it put it another way – we’ve been made for God – and unless we are filling ourselves up with Him – we will be restless and unsatisfied.  

 

            When I find myself restless and stressed – feeling helpless or hopeless, worn out and weary – I know that is a red flag.   I have done it again – I have started to depend on myself and my own strength OR I have been filling up myself with thoughts or things that aren’t of God.    I also know that I can be listening to the wrong voice.   Satan would like nothing better than for me to fail and fall – but God wants me to know His strength and power.  Jesus said in John 10:10, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy.   My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” 

 

So, when I feel myself struggling, listening to the wrong voice – trying to fill my life with something other than God’s presence and power – I have to stop and go to God in prayer.   I have to ask God to forgive me and ask for His help in giving up everything that takes me away from following Jesus.

  

Once I have prayed – bringing my pain and heartache to God – I feel forgiven and free.   But if I don’t really surrender my control and start filling myself up with God’s words and God’s Spirit, I can find myself right back where I was, filled with pain and heartache.

 

            Jesus once told a parable in Luke 11:24, saying:  “When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, searching for rest.   But when it finds none, it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.   So it returns and finds that its former home is all swept and in order.   Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there.   And so that the person is worse off than before.”

 

            It seems that Jesus is telling us an unfortunate truth.  All too frequently, our desire to repent and clean our hearts doesn’t last long.     As the Life Application Bible says:  “It is not enough to empty ourselves of evil and sin.   We have to be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit to start growing and living that abundant and full life.”  We have to fill ourselves with God’s word as we study and meditate on the Scriptures.   We need to spend time in prayer and open our hearts to listen for His leading and guidance.   We must worship regularly and serve with God’s people – to receive encouragement and strength as we grow in discipleship.  And then, we have to open ourselves up to be used for His glory...to be channels of God’s love to the world.

 

            There’s an old legend that is told about bamboo.  The bamboo is a giant tree in the middle of a great forest.   The giant bamboo tree is over 60 feet tall.    A magnificent speciman.   The owner of the forest is full of great pride about that glorious plant.    But it is not useful really.   It is just a source of pride.

One day, during a drought, the need is obvious for irrigating the  fields that will feed the village.  And so the owner makes a difficult decision.   He cuts down the bamboo and cuts them in half lengthwise to make 2 troughs.  He then joins them together and lays them out from a spring that spans the 100 or so feet to where the irrigation ditches are.  The bamboo then becomes a channel.   It’s very emptiness and hollowness becomes a channel for that life giving water that ultimately gives life and hope to many, many people.   But you see its in the emptiness of it that the gift resides.  

 

God has given us the gift of emptiness – that space for God to work in us and through us.5            

 

Today as we close, I want to end in prayer, asking God to empty us of ourselves – and to fill us with His Spirit…so that we too can be a channel of His love to a hurting and broken world.  

 

In invite you to take your hands and form them into a cup.   As you look at that empty space in your hands – think of that God shaped hole in our hearts – that emptiness that God created in your life.  God is calling you to surrender everything to Him – to lose your life so that He can come and fill it with His Spirit.   Open yourself to Him to be melted and molded and used for His glory.

 

            Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.

            Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.

            Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.

            Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.

 

INVITATION

 

RESOURCES

 

            1Battlefied of the Mind by Joyce Meyers: Chapter 14.

https://tapestrytreasures.wordpress.com/jenni-2/jenni-2/battlefied-of-the-mind-by-joyce-meyers-chapter-14/

 

            2 The Secret that will Change Your Life by Chris Lutes

www.christianitytoday.com/iyf/hottopics/faithvalues/8c6030.html

 

         3 40 Courageous Quotes from Evangelist Billy Graham by Debbie McDaniel https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/spiritual-life/inspiring-quotes/40-courageous-quotes-from-evangelist-billy-graham.html

 

                4Christian History Institute, Article #15. https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/incontext/article/augustine

 

5March 12, 2017 - Traditional Worship Sermon "The Gift of Emptiness" – Dr. Tim Bruster.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehBTspSvxR8