November 15, 2020 – “Practicing Peace: Praying Emotions” by Rev. Cody Sandahl

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First Reading = 1 Peter 5:1-11

Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you 2to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it—not for sordid gain but eagerly. 3Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. 4And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away.

5In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 6Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. 7Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.

8Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. 9Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.

10And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. 11To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

Introduction

We are still in our series about practicing peace. Peace is something we can cultivate, we can grow, we can practice in our lives. We have talked about focusing on the things that are actually in your hands, and giving the rest to God. We’ve talked about regularly taking a breath, taking a pause, finding a place to be silent and alone and receive God’s words. And we’ve talked about intentionally thinking about the good, honorable, noble, and commendable things in our lives.

For our reading today, we’re going to listen in on Daniel’s prayer and God’s response through the angel Gabriel. Just for a quick refresher, Daniel was pretty young when his family members were taken to Babylon as prisoners of war. Daniel was one of the talented young men who were inducted into the king’s service, which gave him privilege and power but also responsibilities and sometimes great moral and spiritual quandaries to work through.

Daniel was well known for his prayer life. I’m sure you know about Daniel and the lion’s den, when he was saved from hungry lions by God. Do you remember why he was thrown into the lion’s den? He refused to acknowledge the king as his god and went out onto his balcony so everyone could see him still praying to Yahweh, the Living God. Daniel was a true prayer warrior.

Today we are going to talk about the power of prayer to cultivate peace within our hearts, souls, minds, and bodies. And Daniel is a great example of a man living in troubled times who found that peace which surpasses all understanding through prayer to the Living God.

Sermon Reading = Daniel 9:20-27

20While I was speaking, and was praying and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God on behalf of the holy mountain of my God— 21while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen before in a vision, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. 22He came and said to me, “Daniel, I have now come out to give you wisdom and understanding. 23At the beginning of your supplications a word went out, and I have come to declare it, for you are greatly beloved. So consider the word and understand the vision: 24“Seventy weeks are decreed for your people and your holy city: to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. 25Know therefore and understand: from the time that the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the time of an anointed prince, there shall be seven weeks; and for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with streets and moat, but in a troubled time. 26After the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing, and the troops of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. 27He shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall make sacrifice and offering cease; and in their place shall be an abomination that desolates, until the decreed end is poured out upon the desolator.”

Pressure

A while ago, we got a new kitchen gadget: an Instant Pot. Basically it’s just a nice pressure cooker. If you’ve never used one, pressure cookers trap steam inside the chamber which builds pressure. As pressure rises, the boiling point of water increases, so it makes a positive feedback loop that can cook things faster or use way less energy if it’s a long-cooking ingredient like rice.

After some experimentation, we have discovered that Jasmine rice is drastically better when it was in the pressure cooker as opposed to other ways of cooking it. If you have a pressure cooker and you like rice – try Jasmine rice and you won’t be disappointed! This section of the sermon brought to you by the Jasmine rice growers association 🙂

But pressure cookers can go wrong, too. Things can get stuck on the bottom of the inner pot and mess up the heat transfer. Pressure can get too high for the dish. The lid might not be on correctly. You might forget to close the pressure release valve.

So when pressure is properly managed, pressure cookers can make fabulous Jasmine rice. But if pressure just keeps building and building and building? If you disable the safety switches on a pressure cooker? Do you know what happens then? A pressure cooker can actually be turned into a bomb! The Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 was actually two pressure cookers that were overloaded and filled with nails.

If you manage the pressure properly, you get fabulous Jasmine rice. If you let the pressure overload, you get a bomb. Pressure happens. Pressure is neither intrinsically good nor bad. What you do with that pressure can give you widely divergent outcomes. You’re pretty smart, so I bet you’ve figured out that I’m not actually talking about pressure cookers anymore. I’m talking about pressure and anxiety and hot steam that builds up inside of us.

Praying Our Feelings

Last week we talked about our thoughts. This week we’re mostly talking about our emotions. Your thoughts can lead to emotions and pressure. But the kind of pressure we’re talking about is mostly emotion. So what tips and tricks can we glean from Daniel on handling the pressure of our own emotions bottled up inside?

Our text today starts with Daniel setting the stage. He says, “I was speaking, and was praying and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God on behalf of the holy mountain of my God.”

Now, I want to make sure you get what’s going on here. This wasn’t an idle prayer. This wasn’t Daniel noticing God winking at him. This was intense. Daniel was a man of deep thought but also deep feeling. Imagine that I asked you to pour out your heart to God. Imagine that I asked you to tell God every single thing you’ve ever done wrong. Imagine that I asked you to tell God everything you think is wrong in our country today. Imagine that I asked you to pick whatever is closest to your heart, whatever is weighing you down the most or whatever would bring you unbridled joy – and imagine that I asked you to pray on that for a whole week nonstop.

If you can imagine that kind of fervent prayer, you’re in the right vicinity of what Daniel’s talking about in our text today. He was pouring out his every sin to the Lord. He was pouring out his people’s wayward faith. He was imploring God to restore his people to their homes and free them from being prisoners of war.

And so I believe Daniel demonstrates our first tool for practicing peace through prayer. He prays his feelings. He brings his emotions to the Lord in their full, not hiding or ameliorating or watering them down. He brings his full emotion to the Lord!

When we pray our full, real emotions to God, that’s like releasing some of the pressure. That’s like releasing some of the steam. When our emotions are running hot and building up steam like a pressure cooker, praying those full and honest and real emotions to God releases some of that pent-up energy.

If you find yourself exploding a lot lately, you might need to find some ways to release that energy in controlled and positive ways. Praying your real and honest and full emotions to God can help do that.

If you’re not tracking with the pressure cooker image, have you ever opened a shaken soda and had it spew frothy fluid all over you? That’s the same idea. When a soda bottle has been shaken, you have to either wait or you have to open it very slightly and slowly to release the pressure over time. Managing the pressure is the difference between a refreshing beverage and having sticky fluid sprayed all over your clothes. And if that’s a Dr. Pepper that just exploded, it counts double, because you just wasted some of the nectar of the gods! For shame!

If you’re exploding a lot lately, pray your full, real emotions to God. If you don’t know how to do that, we are lucky that King David was both highly emotional and prone to writing down his songs and prayers. If you look through the Psalms, you can find just about every human emotion expressed in prayer and song to God. I found a pretty good cheat sheet that you can use to pray your emotions or your moods. For example, if you are angry with God right now? Psalms 44, 80, and 137. Three options for praying how mad you are at God! If you are discouraged or hurt? Psalms 13, 22, 26, 42, 60, 69, 74, 79, and 142. Nine prayers for times of discouragement or feeling hurt! That’s a veritable cornucopia of prayers of discouragement! Who knew that was such a popular option?

I have included a link to that list on our church website, on my personal website, on our church’s page on Facebook, and in the description below the video on Youtube. If you need to let off some steam, take a look and see if your emotion, if your mood is listed. Praying our full, real emotions is a great way to release some pressure and cultivate peace in our lives when our emotions are running hot.

Confession

Daniel also demonstrates our second tool when our emotions are running hot. Did you notice what he was praying when Gabriel appeared? He says he was “praying and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel.”

We often think of confession as a bad thing, but it can actually increase your sense of peace. Dietrich Bonhoeffer ran an underground seminary resisting the Nazi takeover of Germany and German Christianity. He wrote a book called Life Together where he outlined the principles of deep community that he cultivated at this seminary. And one of the key life practices was confession.

He added an interesting twist, though. In a Catholic setting, all of the students would probably be confessing to him as the head of the seminary. But he wasn’t Catholic, so he did it differently. He encouraged his students to confess to a fellow Christian they respected, not the person in authority. And he also had someone in his life who served as his confessor.

He acknowledged the potential pain of confession. He wrote, “It hurts, it cuts a man down, it is a dreadful blow to pride.” But confession also has a tremendous upside, according to Bonhoeffer. “If a Christian is in the fellowship of confession with a brother he will never be alone again, anywhere.” And Bonhoeffer also noted, “When I go to my brother to confess, I am going to God.”

So there are two major upsides, two major benefits to confession. First, we experience true fellowship built on utter trust with the other person. If you don’t trust someone implicitly, you can’t confess anything and everything to them. And the second benefit is that we experience the very tangible grace of God. Confession brings us into unparalleled fellowship with another person and unparalleled fellowship with God.

Do you have that person in your life? Is there someone you can tell anything and everything and they’ll still pick up the phone the next time you call?

I’ve had two friends like that. One friend knows all of the dirt on me from middle school through college. The other knows all the dirt on me from seminary through this morning. They have so much dirt on me, they could bury me alive. But they won’t. First, they won’t bury me because they’re excellent and trustworthy people. And second, they won’t bury me because I got the dirt on them, too!

Do you have someone like that in your life? Do you have the person you can tell anything and everything? If not, I encourage you to make that the focus of your prayer this week. Pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal who in your life has the kind of character that you can confess anything and everything and they’ll still answer the phone when you call next time.

If you do have that person, when was the last time you confessed your latest dirt? Are you carrying around a couple of tons of dirt and debris that you haven’t offloaded in a while? Give that person a call. And don’t forget to let them dump their dirt on you, too.

But let’s get two misconceptions out of the way. First, confession isn’t just about actions. Confession is about anything you’re ashamed of. As Jesus pointed out time and time again, God cares about our thoughts and feelings – even the ones that aren’t expressed or acted on. So you might want to confess, “I’m ashamed that I felt so angry.” You might want to confess, “I can’t believe that I felt happy when someone else failed.” You might want to confess your unexpressed thoughts and your feelings that never resulted in actions.

The second misconception goes along with the first. Confession is usually not about fixing a problem. Sometimes you need an accountability partner to help you change something you’re doing. But if you’re confessing something you thought or felt, you’re probably not going to create a five step plan to stop thinking and feeling that way. Thoughts and feelings sometimes come unbidden.

So I like to think of confession as like getting a home inspection report when you’re buying a house. It’s the inspector’s job to find every possible problem with the house so you have your eyes wide open when you sign on the dotted line. Sometimes the inspection reveals major issues that need to be fixed. But our most recent inspection report was dozens of pages. The vast majority of those issues were “keep an eye on this” rather than “fix this immediately!” In fact, some minor issues in houses just require a little fresh air or sunlight!

In a similar way, confession isn’t just about fixing your deficiencies. It’s like an inspection report on your mind, heart, and soul. You don’t have to fix everything you confess. If you try, you’ll fail. And then you’ll stop confessing. And then you’ll miss out on that deep fellowship with another person and with God.

So I encourage you to allow yourself and the other person to simply note, to highlight, to speak aloud, to shine some light on the troublesome spots in your heart, mind, and soul. And then have the grace to rely on God’s forgiveness instead of trying to fix everything. If you experience that kind of grace from God, you’ll release the pressure on yourself and cultivate peace.

The Pen Is Mightier

Daniel also demonstrates our third tool, but you have to get a little meta to notice it. Why do we know what Daniel prayed in our text today? We know what Daniel prayed and what Daniel experienced because he wrote it down. Sometimes to relieve the pressure of your emotions you have to write something down. If your emotions are like a balloon rapidly expanding, you might need to use a pen to make a hole in the balloon!

Our final tool is to write a letter about the emotions that are running hot and building pressure right now. This might be especially useful if you don’t have a really trustworthy person you can confess to.

If you are worked up about another person, you might write a letter to them expressing what you’re thinking or feeling. Quick pro tip – you probably don’t want to actually mail this letter except in very particular and narrow circumstances. That’s one reason I recommend writing a letter instead of an email – much harder to accidentally send an envelope with a stamp than accidentally hitting send on your email app. And I definitely know people who have accidentally hit “send” on one of these! Although every one of those people is still alive, and a few of them actually made progress on strained relationships after they accidentally hit send. So you never know!

Now, if you are worked up about something that’s a bigger problem, you might write a letter to God expressing what you’re thinking or feeling. The psalms already have 150 written expressions of feeling, so just picture your letter as Psalm 151 – your own written expression of feeling.

You’ll be surprised how much easier it is to deal with feelings once they are written down. Writing down your emotions is like taking this amorphous vapor and turning it into ice that you can look at, touch, and move around. Take a cue from Daniel and write down what you’re feeling or thinking.

Summary

Sisters and brothers, our emotions can sometimes run so hot that they build up a ton of pressure inside of us. Pressure that is well-managed can cook some fabulous Jasmine rice. Pressure that is pent up and trapped can become a bomb.

To cultivate and practice peace in your life, you might need to let off some steam by praying your emotions with the Psalms, by confessing your emotions to a trusted friend, or by writing your emotions down in a letter.

With these tools in hand, I pray that you can be a nice, fizzy Dr. Pepper this week instead of a shaken up, exploding frothy beverage. Amen.