When the Fuel Gauge is on “E”

Anybody who’s ever taken a road trip with me, knows that I have a complicated relationship with the gas gauge in my car. It’s not unusual for me to be running on empty down the highway. I like to push a car to its gas-guzzling limits. More than a couple times I’ve been waiting for AAA to arrive to get me out of a jam. I’ve learned some tricks over the years, like how to achieve an aerodynamic drag from the car in front to decrease wind resistance, and how when you’re low on fuel you don’t go faster, you go slower to maximize fuel efficiency.

As we come upon Christmas 2023, some of you are low on fuel. The gauge on your soul is blinking and flashing, and saying pull over, stop, fill up, or you’ll end up broken down on the side of the road. December is tough anyway. It’s the most stressful month of the year. Here in the snow belt there are contributing factors beyond just Christmas stress. The days are shorter, the sky is darker, the weather is worse. And as a by-product people’s mood often deteriorates, and it leads to a legitimate type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (appropriately abbreviated as SAD). Year-end reports and projects press in on the job, decorating and house preparations are added to the schedule at home, additional parties and celebrations are added to the social calendar. Time is tight and money is tighter. People you’ve been able to ignore for 11 months suddenly resurface with all their same opinions and idiosyncrasies. To counteract these pressures, many resort to stress-reducing acts like eating more rich foods, and drinking more alcohol, and flying off the handle more.

You’ll still post the perfect family photo on Instagram, but you know the truth. Just before the photo was taken your bratty niece was complaining about her presents. And your grandma was screaming about politics, your uncle Bill was hammered in the corner, and your dad was checking his email to escape it all. No wonder your personal fuel gauge is hovering around “E.”

When you’re running on empty, you think the answer is to speed things up … but it’s actually to slow things down. Going faster and faster when you’re on E, will break down relationships, break you’re your emotional health, and break down you soul. When you are constantly hurried, you put your soul at risk. You live your life on fumes. So I ask you honestly today, what is the state of your soul?

Warning signs that you’re living on FUMES

  1. Irritability. Irritability is the #1 sign. Small things cause a disproportionate reaction in you. Your kid forgot a section of homework until just before bedtime, someone is late for a meeting at work. And your reaction is disproportionate because there’s no margin.
  2. Loss of Impulse Control. You turn to things like overspending and looking for that quick high that fits in a shopping bag. Overeating. Overmedicating. Overtalking; finding comfort in gossip or sarcasm. A loss of impulse control should let you know that something is off.
  3. Escapism. You begin turning to things like alcohol, or porn, an illicit relationship. Or maybe escaping looks like binging movies, or romance novels, or video games. Endlessly scrolling Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram — admiring the lives of others instead of living your own. These are escape mechanisms that should signal to you that something is out of whack. Your fuel gauge is on E.

If you don’t pay attention, you will get to the end of the holidays and look back and say, “what just happened?” You’ll probably regret some of the things that you said or did. Some decisions you made.

What if there was a different way? What if you stopped along the way to refuel? Believe it or not, that’s what Jesus did. You see, Jesus isn’t just the reason for the season, he’s very near and available to you during this whole season. And when he said, “follow me,” he offered an invitation to follow him in the details of his life.

Learning from Jesus how to live your life on FULL this Christmas

Luke 5:15-16
But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.

  1. Make time to stop and fill up (Lk 5:16)

Did you notice the intentionality of Jesus? In the midst of the craziness, he would often “withdraw to desolate places to pray.” Wherever he was, traveling around, he would locate a place to get alone and pray. Listen, Jesus didn’t have a less busy life than us. He was a national hero, he had crowds and paparazzi everywhere, he even had people plotting to kill him at every turn. Yet, if you look at Jesus, his life was consumed with prayer. He prayed daily, he prayed before meals, he prayed in private, he prayed in public, he prayed in the early morning, he prayed before big decisions, he prayed for himself, he prayed for others, Jesus prayed.

Jesus understood that within the press and the crush of life, he needed to pray. Prayer is simply talking with God. It can be a conversation out loud or silent.  It can be journaling, song writing, and poetry.  It involves both talking and listening to God.  And I would suggest today, that if we followed Jesu’s example and would be more intentional in talking to God that we can live on FULL this December.

You may ask, why did Jesus have to pray? Wasn’t he God himself? Yes, which mean part of his motivation to pray was as an example to us. But he also prayed because following God isn’t about a religion it’s about a relationship. And any good relationship involves communication and talking together. His was a picture of a father and a child having intimate conversational moments together. The same is offered to us. He also showed us that a good life must be lived in a proper rhythm with seasons of hustle and seasons of refueling. That there is this behind the scenes strengthening that happens so that our public life can be properly fueled.

But you say, “I’m too busy to pray!” I understand. You’re planning, and baking, and shopping, and caroling, and eventing, and nutcrackering, you’re going to annoying office parties, you’ve got fruit cake and holiday rolls and egg nogs. Who came up with all this? You are trying to do the extras of December, but my question is this, are you saving the world? Do you have crowds of thousands following you everywhere hanging on your every word (if you have a few young kids it might feel like it), are you building a team that will change the course of human history? If not, then I’m sorry, but your schedule is not as intense as Jesus’ and he found a way to build in times to stop and fill up. So, you probably should too!

It may feel like a huge sacrifice to carve out time, but I want you to consider a couple of the many benefits of stopping and finding a desolate place to pray each day.

  • Peace instead of anxiety. Instead of a bunch of shallow panicked breaths during December, prayer allows you to take a deep breath of peace and rest and safety and security.
  • Time Saving. People think prayer takes time. I think it actually saves time in the end. So much of our stress is self-induced. You said yes to that commitment when you should have said no. You made a dumb decision that added complexity that you didn’t need. You violated the laws of love or the fruit of the spirit in a relationship and now you’re paying a relational price and living with that added stress and energy to walk it back. Here’s the deal, when you pray and sit at the feet of Jesus, I’m convinced that he will help you to avoid some of that time-wasting stuff. You’ll make better decisions, your attitude wont’ get sideways so easily, your priorities will be clearer, your heart will be in tune with his heart. Many times, the path to fullness is emptying some of the unnecessary stuff. Your best prayer might be, “God, will you help me choose one thing not to do. Is there a party I don’t need to do? A gift exchange I could eliminate. An event I can miss?” Then see what he says. But I believe that when you regularly spend time with God, you actually get more done and you’re not as stressed out.

Notice Jesus didn’t just make time to pray, he had a place. Our passage said he went to a desolate place. He got alone. Where’s your place to pray? Hopefully you have a chair where you meet with God. If you haven’t been there in a while, find your chair. Maybe there’s a closet you can hide in from your kids. Or maybe the commute in your car becomes that solitary place. But make time to stop and fill up.

  1. Adopt a go-to method of prayer

A lot of people don’t pray because they don’t have a plan for what to do. They just kind of talk to God in their head and that doesn’t seem to last very long without mental wanderings or falling asleep! One of my go-to methods is called the ACTS Method. ACTS stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication

  • Adoration: Praising God for all that He is.

We shouldn’t approach God immediately making requests, but our prayers should begin with adoration and praise. Tell him some things you love about him.

  • Confession: Admitting how broken and sinful we are

When we praise God in adoration, we are remembering who He is; when we confess, we are remembering who we are, how weak we are, how much we need Him for everything. So we spend some time remember times when with our words and actions and attitudes, we fell short of God’s best.

  • Thanksgiving: Thanking Him for what He has given

Here, we usually think of the blessings God has given us: our salvation, our families, our friends, our possessions, even our struggles and suffering. And we spend some time in gratitude.

  • Supplication: Making our requests known to Him

Now finally, we pray for ourselves, for others in our life, for leaders, for circumstances we’re facing, just bringing our requests to God.

  1. Practice Prayer ”speed bumps” during your day

You know those speed bumps in parking lots? They are intended to slow you down. Help you to proceed safely and attentively. I want to redeem the speed bump and suggest that we can apply the concept to some common everyday prayer prompts. I want to walk through how to make tomorrow, an ordinary day, a day that you can spend WITH Jesus in prayer. Because prayer isn’t for mystics, monks, or hermits,  it’s for everyday people. You don’t have to do anything heroic. Being with God mostly just means going about your normal day with a different posture and mindset. Doing it with Jesus.

So, I want you to consider some ordinary objects and demonstrate how they can be a speed bump to slow you down and remind you to pray. To all you type A perfectionists who are reading this, you’re going to think I’m suggesting that you to do ALL of these. Take some deep breaths. I’m asking that you PICK 1 of these, maybe 2 and try in the days leading up to Christmas. See if it doesn’t help your relationship w Jesus.

  • Alarm clock: Thank God for another day

“ALARM” is a tough word to use for our first experience of the day, isn’t it? What does the word communicate? Bad news. Be afraid. Be alarmed. Bad things are going to happen. So, what if we changed the name to an ‘embrace-the-day clock,’ and trained ourselves to wake up with these words…this is from the psalmist, Psalm 118. “This is the day the LORD has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.” Maybe when you hear that sound, you just drop to your knees next to your bed if you’re able and thank God for another day to be alive. Let your alarm clock be a prompt to pray your very first prayer of the day to God.

  • Toothbrush: Make me clean

When you first wake up, you probably clean yourself up. If you don’t there’s a problem. It’s kind of weird thing that as you’re sleeping, bad things happen to your breath. Did you ever notice that? If you haven’t, believe me, other people have. In a similar way spiritually, things happen in your mind, in your soul. And you need cleansing for those things too. So, while you’re brushing your teeth, washing your face, taking a shower, exfoliating whatever you exfoliate, invite the Spirit to cleanse your soul. The psalmist, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” You just pray- God clean my soul just like I’m cleaning other parts of me.

  • To-Do list or Christmas list: Add a soul-expanding task

We’re really big on lists during this time of year. As you are making your list for the day or for the week, or as you’re making your list of presents that you’re going to buy for each person, add to your list some sort of soul-expanding tasks. Maybe a brisk walk around your neighborhood, a drive around the neighborhood, a visit to someone you haven’t seen in a while, an email of encouragement to a friend. Add these reminders to yourself on your list to expand your soul and spend some time with God.

  • Car Keys: Mobile House of Prayer

I’m not talking about ‘Jesus take the wheel’ here, I’m talking about when YOU take the wheel. What would it look like to have Christ in the car with you? Whenever you’re in the car by yourself on the way to or from work, or the mall, or dropping your kid off at practice. Turn the radio off and just imagine Jesus in the passenger seat, and you just talk to Him as you’re driving. Maybe you’re just more intentional about playing worship music that fills you with joy. How could you make your car a house of prayer?

  • Christmas cards and Wrapping presents: Praying for Others

Everybody wraps a few presents at Christmas time and some of you even send out Christmas cards. These two activities have one thing in common, they have people attached to them. Whether you’re addressing an envelope or writing a name on a name tag, use it as a time of prayer for the person on the receiving end.

  • Pillow: God Doesn’t Sleep

What if you let your pillow be a reminder that while you sleep, God is still running the world. God does not sleep, and God will get along just fine while you are snoozing away. So, the idea is tonight when you see the pillow, you say, “God, thank You. Thanks that I got to be alive today.” And thank you that you’re in control of my tomorrow. And then just let go…all the burdens, all the worries, all the pressures, all the unanswered questions. The outcomes of your life were not meant for you to carry around on your shoulders. Let them go. If it helps, just have your palms up as you’re lying there in bed and let them go.

Remember, Jesus showed us what life in relationship with God looks like. He has offered us the gift of a divine union with our heavenly father. And on this side of Heaven that union is accessed through prayer. Some of you are rushing into Christmas with a fuel gauge on E. But, what if you went into this Christmas on FULL? It will change your whole experience of the holidays. You will benefit, your family and friends will benefit from you being on the top of your spiritual game. And the way that you can be living your life on FULL instead of FUMES is by leaning in to God through prayer.