“. . . LET ME HAVE NOTHING.”
Today’s Scripture Reading
13 One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 14 a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, 15 and the Sabeans attacked and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
16 While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the heavens and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
17 While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
18 While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 19 when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”
22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
The opposite side of having “all things” is having “nothing”. Continuing onward in the Wesley Covenant Prayer, we remain rooted within the concept of an external focus of our life. Whereas feeling “full” or feeling “empty” are internal areas of focus, “all things” and “nothing” are areas of external focus. Focusing on external matters guides us to the realization that by professing to God, self, and others that it will be OK with us if, as a result of our yielding to God's will in this covenant prayer, we end up with “nothing.”
Most of us have no idea what it is like to have nothing. Most of us don't even know someone personally who actually knows what it's like to have nothing. Most of us, consequently, readers say this part of the prayer having no idea what we think we are giving ourselves up for. Are we really OK with having “nothing”? I grew up the son of a very hardworking pastor who mostly served rural churches. My mom worked equally as hard. She was administrative assistant and a very good one at that, so her former employers tell me. We didn't have much growing up, but we had enough. My parents made sure that we had what we needed for school, extracurricular activities, athletics, and entertainment. We lived a very middle, middle-class life. I've never known what it is to have nothing.
I've befriended homeless people over the years who possess only what they can carry. I've known families who have lost everything in house fires, but were able to rebuild. I've heard stories that new a few individuals who have lost their businesses and would claim that they “lost everything.” they, too, however, were able to rebuild and, in some cases, make a comeback, acquiring far more wealth than they had previous to the failed business. I struggle to recall the names of anyone I've met or known who I could truly say has nothing. My point? My point is simply this. Most of us, when we say these words in the Covenant Prayer, have no idea what they truly mean, and if we did, I think we'd be hesitant to speak it loudly or perhaps you might even be tempted to mumble the words or even skip them.
To pray, “let me have nothing,” is to pray something similar to, “Take it all away.” we've already started with something. For instance, you are reading this book and you are holding it in your hands-- either in paperback, tablet, or device format; you are in possession of this book. If you possess this book, you have something, which is not nothing. That realization alone is what makes this part of the prayer so complex and difficult. So few of us are actually aware of what it means to have nothing, or next to nothing, for that matter.
Personal belongings, meaningful relationships, fortunate circumstances, health care plans, bank accounts, shelter, love-- the list of possessions can go on and on. Not only do most of us know what having these commonly understood life necessities feels like, we know what occupying them affords us-- control and security. These necessities allow us to retreat and take refuge in our comfortable and safe domains in which we typically have sole control when the going gets tough. To pray, “let me have nothing,” is effectively to pray, “I give up control and the so-called right to be secure.”
I've been called a control freak. I like to have the rains, the helm, the wheel, the handlebars, whatever the best-suited metaphor is. I prefer to have the ability to control what is happening around me. Most of us, if we are honest with ourselves and others, feel the same way. It is hard to give up control. I still struggle with giving up control of my own life. This struggle results in a tendency for me to want to keep people distant. It can also mean, and has met on many occasions, that I struggle to trust others completely.
Being a control freak can have its advantages. There have been times in my working life when someone needed to take charge. My desire to be in control has served me well in these types of situations. Most of the time, however, my desire to be in control causes me to want to have the last word, makes me painfully slow and accepting when I am wrong, and can make me want to change others for my own benefit or the benefit of the project.
Over time, I have gotten better at letting go of the smaller things, recognizing fears that cause me to want to be in control, and expecting that not everything will go my way and there will undoubtedly be surprises of some kind that emerge. I've learned that taking the time to listen to the views, opinions, or ideas of others also helps me loosen my controlling grip. I've also learned that this need for control can become an obsessive need that keeps me from listening intently for the Holy Spirit’s still, small voice and acting upon the nudges and impressions the Holy Spirit gives me. Control freaks have a very hard time praying, “Let me have nothing.”
When Wesley prayed this portion of the covenant prayer and guided others to pray with him in the covenant services he would lead, in my mind, he was essentially praying, “Regardless of any and all results, implications, or consequences of my promise to serve you, I will seek to do your will above all else.” Honestly, we can't really pray one phrase of this particular aspect of this prayer and be truthful to the prayer. This is simply due to the fact that the vast spectrum of “all things” or “nothing” is what the prayer is essentially getting at. However, what if the phrase, “Let me have all things,” was not in the prayer and we only had “let me have nothing” to pray? Would we still pray the prayer with such confidence and gusto? Would we pray to have “nothing” if having “all things” wasn't also an option?
Am I prepared to have nothing?
How attached am I to the things I have?
Lord, help us become less about control and more about conforming-- conforming to your will. Let us also become people who are willing to have nothing for the sake of the world. Be honored by our commitment to your will and work. Amen.
DRIVE, SERVE, OR WATCH
Choose one of the following three options.
Drive to a place in your city or town where it is assumed that people have “nothing.”
Volunteer at a place where the people are assumed to have “nothing.” Ideas include a rescue mission, soup kitchen, or homeless shelter.
Watch a documentary on homelessness or poverty.
After you have accepted and acted on one of the options above, reflect on your experience. Journal or share your thoughts with others as a way to make them memorable.
The Wesley Prayer Challenge book is available from these book sellers: