In last week’s message I mentioned I was adapting to using only my left hand for the time being and that I’d discovered that when I come up against an obstacle—putting my hair up or peeling a banana, for example—the answer often seems to have something to do with leverage. That idea stayed with me all week, and I thought this morning we’d explore it a little further.
In talking with Sherri right after meeting, we wondered if this concept of leverage—pressure and counterpressure, force against force–plays an important role in other kinds growth too. Perhaps no matter what we’re trying to accomplish, leverage is a necessary ingredient for good growth, for Godly growth, in this world of duality where every good seems to have a bad and every up, its down. I got curious: What are we pushing against as we try to bring more light, more peace, more justice into our world? What leverage do we rely on when we trying to live with Jesus as our model? How does God intervene and help us with the daily challenges we face?
We’re quite used to operating in this world of up and down, back and forth. Every side has its flip side, each idea its counterpart. The two sides balance each other and we navigate between them. Our experience fluctuates too. After we’ve been in a crowd, we’re ready for some quiet. When we’ve been alone a while, we yearn to be with others. When we’re hot, we want to be cool; when we’re too cool, we want to be warm. After we’ve been active, it’s time to rest. If we’re hungry, we need to eat. If we’re irritated with someone, or feel disconnected and out-of-sorts, we try to talk to them and reconnect and find peace.
This situation with my wrist turned out to be more of an ordeal than I expected, and I struggled with the pain, fatigue, and limitation—things I’d never before experienced in such an all-encompassing way. When things began to ease and there was less pain, and I felt more like myself, I was—and am—grateful, in large part because I now understand the contrast, from lots of pain and exhaustion to almost none. I’d experienced both sides now—I can tell you that “no pain” is much better! The first thing I noticed when I started to feel more like myself again was a profound sense of gratitude—for the relief, for knowing that God was working things out and I was healing, for all your prayers, for the good doctor God brought me to. The next thing I noticed was a very tender sense of compassion—compassion so big it could wrap around the world. It dawned on me that many, many people are living in the world right now in great pain—physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. And unlike my discomfort, which was brief, they face their pain every single day.
Whenever we are facing something difficult—a family problem, financial struggles, health worries, or concern about our world—we may spend a lot of energy trying to solve the problem ourselves. We take matters into our own hands, often without a second thought. It just seems natural to do that. This is where the idea of leverage fits in. Do we really get the best solution—the one God would choose for us–if we make the battle our own? Perhaps a better option is to invite God into the heart of the issue, right as its happening, and pray to get a glimpse of the answer God thinks is best. Even when emotions are high, if we can slow our racing minds, and listen and wait for God’s peace, we’ll get an inward sense of what the angel said to Zechariah in our Old Testament reading: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts.”
Jesus had the deepest understanding of this concept—that it was God within him who was doing the healing and saving work. In John 12: 49-50, after a difficult time of teaching in which few believed even the miracles he performed, Jesus says, “I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me.”
Jesus knew God was working though him to heal and teach and save. In spite of the persecution he experienced and the challenges to his teaching and message, Jesus, Emmanuel, was divinely able to stay focused on what he came to do. But we humans can get swept up in the dual nature of our world, arguing one side over another or taking a strong position on something that really gets us riled up. When that happens, it’s hard to find the space within to feel soft and receptive, able to relax a little and invite God to do the work within us, to shine the light of truth in our hearts, to help us understand what’s best in a given situation. I think this is a pivotal point—when we can stop and quiet our minds and invite God close. That gives us true leverage, an advantage if what we want is the best possible outcome for all. I thought a little visual aid, an object lesson might show how God’s leverage changes our circumstances.
So here we have a basic example of how a lever works. In this cup, we’ll place stones that represent an issue that’s distressing us, whatever it may be—maybe a misunderstanding, family, work, politics, our health. We’ll pour pennies into this other cup—and it represents the amount of effort we spend trying to solve the problem. The fulcrum—this pivotal point—is what actually provides the leverage when the lever moves. I think of this point as God’s presence in our circumstance. Is God close to the issue or far away from it? On this end, by the effort, we’re relying mostly on our own power and leaving God out. God’s proximity to our need make a big difference in how it is resolved.
So let’s start by seeing how much effort it takes if we’re relying mostly on our own power. Wow, this is going to take a lot of pennies! And some quarters too. Now let’s move the God lever closer to the issue—as close as we can get to the pain it’s causing in the center of our hearts. Let’s invite God into that. And now look! We need only a few pennies this time. With very little effort on our part, God’s nearness to the problem is solving it for us. That’s the kind of leverage we need, bringing the best outcomes not just for us, but for all God’s children and the entirety of creation.
In our New Testament reading, Paul gives us specific ways we can keep God as close as possible to our experience so that God does the heavy lifting and we are free to keep our minds and hearts on God. “Be at peace with one another,” Paul writes, and “encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all.” He reminds us to give thanks always and to pray without ceasing. That’s what brings God close to the heart of our need. The last line offers a hope and a blessing that we will be protected and goodness will live in us, not because of anything we’ve done or anything we’ve earned, but because, “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.”
The secret to solving problems in our dual, often polarized world—said the angel to Zechariah, said Jesus to the people, and says Paul to us today—is to invite God in to the tender heart of the problem. Let God show us what we’re missing, what we need. Let God lovingly correct us when we’re wrong. Permit God to calm our emotions and open our hearts and speak loving and light-filled words of truth directly into our souls. That’s divine leverage that not only solves today’s problems but can wrap itself around the world in hope and promise and peace.
I’d like to end with the inspired words of Quaker Isaac Penington, written in 1661. He encourages us to let God do God’s perfect work in us. It’s the key and most important leverage we have for living a life of love:
“Give over thine own willing, give over thine own running, give over thine own desiring to know or be anything, and sink down to the seed which God sews in thy heart and let that be in thee, and grow in thee, and breathe in thee, and act in thee, and thou shalt find by sweet experience that the Lord knows that and loves and owns that, and will lead it to the inheritance of life, which is his portion.”
- OT Zechariah 4: 5-6
- NT 1 Thessalonians 5: 12-24