Perhaps some of you; when you saw the sermon title, thought: “Finally! Someone talked to him!” But you would be wrong. I’ve understood such for a long, long time. Still though, the sermon title has nothing to do with me specifically. It has to do with all of us.
Today’s text is like many other Psalms—a cry to God for help. The NRSV, as we heard, says, “Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.” The King James Version, and its more formalized tone, says “Bow down thine ear, O Lord…for I am poor and needy.” But Psalm 86 really comes to life in the Bible translation called The Message Remix which says, “Bend an ear, God; answer me. I’m one miserable wretch!” Talk about a cry for help. This is a desperate plea, offered by a person at the end of their rope.
If we take even just a moment with this text, it won’t be hard to gain a perspective to what the psalm-writer is going through because we will quickly relate. Long, hard days, worry, failure, can turn us into miserable wretches. We put in extra hours, but still feel “poor and needy.”
The concepts of being “poor and needy” manifest themselves in countless ways, day after day, leaving all of us to often feel like a miserable wretch. We take work home, but never seem to get ahead. Tied to the office by laptops and cell phones, we can’t seem to get a break. Exhaustion and burnout are constant threats.
Add to all that, we are wracked with worry about our health and the health of those we love. We see terror in our country and around the world and it breaks our hearts.
So what will make it better? What will change our miserable wretchedness to joy, contentment, or even just safety? Typically, more money or vacation are out of the question. But how about a perk? An amenity. Something to ease the stress and strain of a difficult situation. Maybe, as my little boy says, “Hey Dad, how about a little treat?!”
Regardless of our place in life—whether we work or are retired or whatever, couldn’t we all use a little help, couldn’t we all use a perk or a treat—because we all, at some point, cry out to God and say, “Bend an ear, God; answer me. I’m one miserable wretch!”
Startup companies have long had a reputation for offering enticing work perks and treats to employees. Such might include foosball tables and free lunches. But now some companies are taking perks to a new level, doing whatever they can to prevent their employees from feeling like miserable wretches.
An article in the September 2016 issue of Fast Company, outlines the perks of some well-known companies. For instance… Facebook employees can learn to silkscreen, draw, or the basics of woodworking. At Canva, they have frequent quirky celebrations such as releasing doves and smashing Greek plates. At Clue, everyone has access to private sessions with a therapist or life coach. Whipsaw Inc. offers professional full-body massages.
But sometimes the best perk is to get away. At New Belgium Brewing after five years you get an all-expense paid trip to Belgium to learn from brew masters who inspired the company’s product.
At Global Citizen Year, after three years you can “take a month off to do what makes you happy— your paycheck will keep coming.”
But perks don’t have to be exotic to be enticing. A company called Acorns keeps things simple. A book club. Daily meditation. A sandbox. And for the rough days: Offices with soundproof, padded walls.
Work perks. They range from massages to sandboxes; from smashing plates to screaming behind soundproof walls. Anything to keep workers from becoming miserable wretches.
And so all this makes me wonder—what are the work perks of being a servant of God? Because sometimes being a faithful servant of God is difficult and full of stress. There are times when we need to ask for help. Fortunately, God answers when we call, and offers us a full range of amenities to ease our stress and keeps us from becoming miserable wretches.
So, what then are the perks of being a servant of God?
First, no, there are no massages—much to my dismay— but instead there’s the perk of steadfast love. Psalm 86 tells us God is “good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love.” This is an amazing gift because most of the love we experience in life is fleeting and emotional. Not to mention, the word “love” can mean a number of different things. It is as one person said—who I don’t know, but I think it could have been me, “I love everybody. Some I love to be around. Some I love to avoid. And others I would love to punch in the face.”
But God’s love is steadfast and consistent, firm and unwavering. It expresses God’s generosity, faithfulness and grace. That’s why the psalm says God is “good and forgiving,” always seeking to ease our pain, heal our hearts, and be in relationship with us. God loves us. But not in the sense of loving to punch us.
Another perk is strength. “Turn to me and be gracious to me,” asks the psalm-writer; “give your strength to your servant.”
Elizabeth Foss, a mother of five, says what she remembers most about her 20’s and 30’s is fatigue. She writes, “For nearly 12 years I have been sleep-deprived. When I am tired, I can be cranky and impatient. Then it dawned on me I wasn’t sleeping like a normal person. If I wanted to be at all happy, I needed a coping strategy.”
What strategy did she come up with? She decided to be honest and prayerful. She writes, “Now, when I have a bad night, the first thing I do in the morning is acknowledge it was a bad night. I tell God I am grateful to be there to meet the needs of my children. Then I tell Him there is no way I will make it through the day under my own strength, and ask Him to give me help and strength.”
Foss reports that God always gives her help and strength, if not sleep.
The next perk is an answer to prayer. The psalm-writer says “in the day of my trouble I call on you, for you will answer me.” But what does it mean for God to answer our prayers?
Theologian Sarah Coakley admits she feels incompetent when she prays, but she still believes it is important to pray. She says “When we pray things start to happen. We are transformed and drawn together in a unified direction, like a magnetized set of iron filings. The bits of life we thought were completely unhinged suddenly become vibrantly connected.” And that’s the major component of prayer—Vibrant connections. God responds to our prayers by making these magnetized connections—connections to God, to each other and to the world around us.
Croakley concludes saying, “Prayer helps us realize we can see and know and respond to the world in healthy and faithful ways we didn’t before. And that’s a true answer to prayer.”
Another perk is teachings about truth. “Teach me your way, O Lord,” says the psalm-writer, “that I may walk in your truth.”
In Central America, churches are working to help people get out of violent gangs and back to life in the mainstream world. Churches play a key role in this process, because gang members have a surprising amount of respect for the Christian faith.
Pastor Philip Jenkins who has worked and ministered within these growing needs writes “Normally there is no exit for a gang member short of death. However, the only grudging exception to this ‘morgue rule’ is when an individual claims a religious conversion.” Authentic conversion is literally a matter of life and death, since these new Christians could be killed if they were discovered to be faking their faith. Numerous gangsters have taken the religious route out of gang life, and some have ended up as pastors. They have been taught a new way, and are now walking in God’s truth.
Finally, God offers servants the perk of help and comfort. Psalm 86 concludes with the writer saying “You, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.” When Jesus spoke to his disciples on the night before his own death, he promised the Holy Spirit would come to them. Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.”
The Greek word for “advocate” is paraklçton, a word that can be translated “helper” or “comforter” and can even be used as “drawing alongside.” The Holy Spirit helps and comforts us by walking beside us through life. God not only offers us the perk of help and comfort, but God is present with us as Helper and Comforter.
“I’m one miserable wretch!”
Who among us has never felt like saying that prayer? Thankfully when we do pray that prayer, or some version of it, we can be certain it is heard, and it is responded to.
We are never alone as we face the challenges of life, because the gifts and perks of God are real in our lives: Steadfast love; strength; answers to prayer; teachings about the truth; help and comfort.
God’s perks, delivered through the power of the Spirit, are not going to be part of a corporate compensation package, a set of amenities designed to ease the stress and strain of a tough job. But they are available to anyone who cries out, in some manner or another, “God, I’m one miserable wretch!” Amen.