Shining the Light on Fear (Psalm 27:1-6)

The Lord is my light and my salvation.
        Should I fear anyone?
    The Lord is a fortress protecting my life.
        Should I be frightened of anything?
When evildoers come at me trying to eat me up—
    it’s they, my foes and my enemies,
    who stumble and fall!
If an army camps against me,
        my heart won’t be afraid.
    If war comes up against me,
        I will continue to trust in this:
    I have asked one thing from the Lord—
    it’s all I seek:
        to live in the Lord’s house all the days of my life,
        seeing the Lord’s beauty
        and constantly adoring his temple.
Because he will shelter me in his own dwelling
    during troubling times;
    he will hide me in a secret place in his own tent;
        he will set me up high, safe on a rock.

Now my head is higher than the enemies surrounding me,
    and I will offer sacrifices in God’s tent—
        sacrifices with shouts of joy!
    I will sing and praise the Lord. (Common English Bible)

Being afraid of the dark is a common fear. After all, whenever we cannot see anything around us, then we don’t know what’s really there – and that’s understandably frightening for most people. Typically, it’s not what we see that’s so scary; the scary stuff is what our imagination conjures up that’s out there in the dark, which we cannot see.

Kids, with their curiously active imaginations, tend to be fearful of the dark – which is why we parents, and grandparents, ensure there’s a nightlight for them so they can sleep. The light illumines their surroundings, reminding them of where they are; the light also helps them remember that we are with them.

As children of God, we need the same reminders. We must continually check-in with our internal selves, reorienting our lives around the reality that the Lord is present, that Jesus is our Immanuel, God with us.

Having the Light of the World surrounding us provides confidence that God is watching and will save us from whatever threatens our life. Indeed, being immersed in the Lord helps us snuggle down and realize our ultimate security blanket holds us tight.

Not only do we have confidence with God’s presence, but we are also fearless in the face of the most adverse and scary of circumstances. Knowing that God has our back enables us to accept, cope, and transcend overwhelming situations.

God protects because God is present.

Admittedly, we don’t have all the answers as to why the Lord sometimes seems absent in the midst of our trouble. That’s maybe because God is a Being, a Person, and not an insurance policy. Ultimately, personal presence and protection is a whole lot better than the impersonal and legal sort.

Which is why it’s important to delight in the Lord, to enjoy being in God’s house, to bask in the beauty of divine holiness, righteousness, and justice. With this as our way of life, we tend to better understand that not everything is necessarily going to go right but that the Lord is alongside us, giving strength and hope.

It’s important to note that divergent emotions can be held together. Many folks tend to believe that if there is fear within the heart, then faith, courage, and praise cannot exist. But nothing could be further from the truth.

The more likely scenario is that trying to suppress feelings of fear only results in becoming more afraid; thus, leading to forced or manufactured praise with little to no bravery behind it.

Instead, the sage thing to do is acknowledge whatever emotions bubble up for us. That is our inner spirit’s way of alerting us that we must pay attention to something. Ignoring the fear makes the monster under the bed more fearsome.

Being aware of the emotion and acknowledging it brings options and choices. Getting it out there to actually feel it means that now we can choose what we’re going to do with the emotion. Hiding the fear only gives it power; naming the fear gives us control over it.

This is one reason why I believe it is significant to read the psalms out loud; it provides more fortitude in dealing with what’s in front of us.

Holding both our fears and our faith together enables us to face our troubles with wisdom and courage. If attacked – whether it be spiritual, emotional, mental, or physical – the worst thing to do is grin and bear it or plaster a fake smile on your face.

It’s okay to be conflicted, to wonder what the heck is going on, to not know what’s up or down, to live with the seeming incongruence of emotions.

Healing comes through feeling, speaking, and acting – and not by suppressing emotions, keeping words bottled up inside, and acting as though everything is peachy keen when it isn’t. Expressing words of trust in the Lord, without having first expressed words describing our emotions, is a fool’s errand. If we trust God to answer a prayer, then we also need to trust God in hearing our real emotions.

God encourages honesty, sincerity, and feeling; the Lord disparages ingenuine offerings of praise and inauthentic gestures merely meant to fake-it-till-you-make-it. The psalmist encourages us to express all our emotions – whether “positive” or “negative” – and find the empathy, solidarity, and healing we need.

God is our light. So, let’s not keep him in the dark about our real selves.

Perfect Peace (Isaiah 26:1-9)

In that day, everyone in the land of Judah will sing this song:

Our city is strong!
    We are surrounded by the walls of God’s salvation.
Open the gates to all who are righteous;
    allow the faithful to enter.
You will keep in perfect peace
    all who trust in you,
    all whose thoughts are fixed on you!
Trust in the Lord always,
    for the Lord God is the eternal Rock.
He humbles the proud
    and brings down the arrogant city.
    He brings it down to the dust.
The poor and oppressed trample it underfoot,
    and the needy walk all over it.

But for those who are righteous,
    the way is not steep and rough.
You are a God who does what is right,
    and you smooth out the path ahead of them.
Lord, we show our trust in you by obeying your laws;
    our heart’s desire is to glorify your name.
In the night I search for you;
    in the morning I earnestly seek you.
For only when you come to judge the earth
    will people learn what is right. (New Living Translation)

Peace comes through trust; faith is the smooth path to settled rest and wholeness of being.

We all, of course, want peace. Personal peace. Family peace. National peace. World peace. And yet, so many of us lack peace to the degree that we have to medicate ourselves to get any sleep.

Avoiding family seems normal, just to keep the peace. National peace almost sounds oxymoronic. World peace is merely wishful thinking for far too many people. Perhaps we are in such a befuddled conundrum because of this reason:

We already possess what we so desperately want. The search for peace is really the search within.

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”

Jesus (John 14:27, NLT)

The Christian needs to understand that Jesus has left us his peace. He gave it to us. We have it. Perhaps we have misplaced it? Maybe its lost in that huge stack on the desk?  Most likely, we plain old forgot about it.

God’s peace is here with us. Right now. This very minute. We have exactly what we want.

This peace is about far more than the absence of war, conflict, and/or infighting. Perfect peace is the settled and restful calm and confidence of being with God, of an intimate union with the divine.

Peace neither occurs by happenstance nor magically appears. Peace was achieved for us; it’s a gift which needs to be unpacked, used, and enjoyed. Practices of peace and peacemaking must be acknowledged and engrafted into our lives if we are going to experience it on the daily practical level (Romans 14:13-15:7).  

Like the delivery guy who leaves a package in an odd place, we could be searching for the ongoing gift of peace somewhere on our property. It’s there – it just seems so darned elusive. Yet, peace, the perfect peace that is harmony and unity, can neither be found in perfect circumstances nor in idyllic families and faith communities. Divine peace is the security of relationship with God, smack in the middle of life’s crud.

As the divine life takes root and grows within us, our hearts are healed with that presence, and we experience peace. It’s the kind of peace which drives fear and anxiety away; the kind of peace which only comes through trusting God.

Therefore, there’s no need to try and miraculously conjure up peace with positive thoughts.

It is the glorious, gracious, and mystical union between the divine and the human which creates peace. All obstacles have been surmounted and tossed into the trash for the garbage guy to haul away. And, no, you did not accidentally throw your peace in the dumpster. There really is no need for any dumpster diving. God’s already done that work for you and me.

In such topsy-turvy times as these, I come back again and again to deep spiritual convictions which inform what I do each day. One of those underlying creeds is this:

The Lord is trustworthy, no matter whether my faith or the faith of others is small or great. It isn’t faith itself that heals, saves, or grants peace – it is God.

It isn’t about the level of faith, but about where the faith is placed.

For the Christian, faith itself doesn’t mean much if it isn’t in Jesus. If I place a large and sincere faith in an inanimate object such as money; in a position of power; or, even in my own independence, my faith isn’t worth much. 

If I have a huge faith in a doctor or a psychiatrist to heal my body or my mind, I will quickly discover there are limits to their abilities. 

If I have a confident faith that my family will meet all my needs, my faith will eventually run into failure when they let me down. 

If all my faith eggs are in the church basket, my faith will eventually face a crisis because it is a misplaced faith.  Furthermore, the answer I provide for others is not simply getting them to attend church or to adopt my moral code.

God’s love remains continually steadfast, even if my trust is fickle and inconsistent.

We know with certainty that circumstances change; everyday seems to bring new levels and permutations of unprecedented alterations to our lives – and through it all, the Lord remains as the ever-present Sovereign, responding to even the slightest mustard seed of faith.

A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding. She had suffered a great deal from many doctors, and over the years she had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she had gotten worse. She had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his robe. For she thought to herself, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.” Immediately the bleeding stopped, and she could feel in her body that she had been healed of her terrible condition.

Jesus realized at once that healing power had gone out from him, so he turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my robe?”

His disciples said to him, “Look at this crowd pressing around you. How can you ask, ‘Who touched me?’”

But he kept on looking around to see who had done it. Then the frightened woman, trembling at the realization of what had happened to her, came and fell to her knees in front of him and told him what she had done. And he said to her: 

“Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.”

(Mark 5:24-34, NLT)

May your trust in the Lord open the way of perfect peace for you, now and always. Amen.

Heartfelt Prayer (Lamentations 5:1-22)

Orthodox icon of Jeremiah praying

O Lord, reflect on what has happened to us;
consider and look at our disgrace.

Our inheritance is turned over to strangers;
foreigners now occupy our homes.

We have become fatherless orphans;
our mothers have become widows.

We must pay money for our own water;
we must buy our own wood at a steep price.

We are pursued—they are breathing down our necks;
we are weary and have no rest.

We have submitted to Egypt and Assyria
in order to buy food to eat.

Our forefathers sinned and are dead,
but we suffer their punishment.

Slaves rule over us;
there is no one to rescue us from their power.

At the risk of our lives, we get our food
because robbers lurk in the wilderness.

Our skin is as hot as an oven
due to a fever from hunger.

They raped women in Zion,
virgins in the towns of Judah.

Princes were hung by their hands;
elders were mistreated.

The young men perform menial labor;
boys stagger from their labor.

The elders are gone from the city gate;
the young men have stopped playing their music.

Our hearts no longer have any joy;
our dancing is turned to mourning.

The crown has fallen from our head;
woe to us, for we have sinned!

Because of this, our hearts are sick;
because of these things, we can hardly see through our tears.

For wild animals are prowling over Mount Zion,
which lies desolate.

But you, O Lord, reign forever;
your throne endures from generation to generation.

Why do you keep on forgetting us?
Why do you forsake us so long?

Bring us back to yourself, O Lord, so that we may return to you;
renew our life as in days before,
unless you have utterly rejected us
and are angry with us beyond measure. (New English Translation)

“’Knock and it shall be opened.’ But does knocking mean hammering and kicking the door like a maniac?”

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Prayer is not about getting the right words strung together in a correct formula in a perfect disposition of the heart. Rather, prayer is conversation and a dialogue with God. 

Sometimes prayer looks a lot more like a triage unit in a hospital than it does a steeple on a church. Prayer often looks like desperation more than it does praise. 

God is a Being that we can tell the truth about what is really going on in our lives. Prayer isn’t prayer when we just tell God what we think God wants to hear.

“Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”

Mahatma Gandhi

The biblical book of Lamentations is the prophet Jeremiah’s extended prayer of grief, lament, complaint, and raw feeling. His hometown of Jerusalem was decimated by the invading Babylonian army. Thousands of people were taken out of the city and into exile. The ones left, including Jeremiah, were beside themselves with anger, grief, sadness, and fear.

We hear his cry to God, not worrying about whether it is appropriate language or not. Jeremiah’s words and phrases to God were heartfelt and real:

“We’re worn out and without any rest.”

“All the joy is gone from our hearts.” 

“We are heartsick.”

“We can hardly see through our tears.”

“Why do you keep forgetting us, God?”
“Lord, why dump us and leave us like this?

“Give us a fresh start, for God’s sake!”

Jeremiah was not concerned about how he looked or sounded, and not afraid to express his real thoughts and feelings.

Every thought and feeling is a valid entry into prayer. It is of utmost importance that we pray what is actually inside of us and not what we believe God would like to hear from us. 

The Lord doesn’t like pretense and posturing; God wants the real us. 

Plastic words and phony speeches are an affront to God. We must pray precisely what is on our minds and in our hearts – unfiltered, if need be. No matter the headache or the heartache, we only need to pray, without any concern for doing it perfectly.

“Suffering forces us to change.
We don’t like change and most of the time we fear it and fight it.
We like to remain in emotionally familiar places
even through sometimes those places are not healthy for us.
On occasion, the suffering is so great that we have to give up.
We surrender the old and begin anew.
Often it is the pain we experience that leads us, not only to a different life,
but a richer and more rewarding one.” Dennis Wholey

Gracious God, sometimes I feel like I have to have it all together to even speak to you. Yet you already know my heart better than I know it myself. Forgive my constant hiding from you and accept my heartfelt prayer to you for grace and help, through Jesus Christ my Savior and Lord. Amen.

Coming to Grips with Grinding Adversity (Psalm 137)

“By the Waters of Babylon, They Sat Down and Wept” by Kate Gardiner Hastings

Alongside Babylon’s streams,
    there we sat down,
    crying because we remembered Zion.
We hung our lyres up
    in the trees there
    because that’s where our captors asked us to sing;
    our tormentors requested songs of joy:
    “Sing us a song about Zion!” they said.
But how could we possibly sing
    the Lord’s song on foreign soil?

Jerusalem! If I forget you,
    let my strong hand wither!
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth
    if I don’t remember you,
    if I don’t make Jerusalem my greatest joy.

Lord, remember what the Edomites did
        on Jerusalem’s dark day:
    “Rip it down, rip it down!
    All the way to its foundations!” they yelled.
Daughter Babylon, you destroyer,
    a blessing on the one who pays you back
    the very deed you did to us!
    A blessing on the one who seizes your children
    and smashes them against the rock! (Common English Bible)

This side of heaven is full of both love and heartbreak, celebration and lament, encouragement and insult. It is a spiritually schizophrenic existence of heaven’s kiss and hell’s bite. 

We live in a fundamentally broken world. Yet, it is a world that is presently being reclaimed by God’s kingdom. Therefore, our emotions run the gamut from joyful happiness to sheer sorrow. Either way, especially through the difficult stretches of our lives, Christians are to tether themselves to their true home of heaven.

The psalmist was speaking of Jerusalem, the city that represented the very presence of God. Yet, the Babylonians came and destroyed the temple, their homes, and carried thousands of her citizens into exile.

Although experiencing the Babylonian Exile, the people of Jerusalem were not to forget their real home. 

For the believer in Jesus, this present abode is like camping in a tent – it is a temporary home, and not our permanent residence.

It is easy to forget our true home, which is why we need the constant perspective of eternity. We ought not get too familiar with our current living conditions. 

Simple acts like looking up at the stars at night or gazing into the vast expanse of the day’s sky can be tangible reminders that we are meant for larger things, for the embrace of heaven.

None of this, however, means that we are to ignore what is happening in the here and now. Trauma is real and needs to be dealt with. Having an expansive perspective doesn’t mean we stuff the details and emotions of traumatic events.

The psalmist names the difficult experience, the agonizing emotions, and the bitter thoughts. None of it is hidden or buried under a layer of positivity.

“Lamenting Jews in Exile” by Eduard Bendemann, 1832

We need the combination of faith that my experienced is acknowledged, of hope that a better future is coming, and of love that good still presently exists in the world. Faith, hope, and love are all vital in coming to grips with terrible adversity.

Hiding large swaths of our lives and stories from others is not the path to spiritual wellness, emotional healing, and personal peace. Spiritual and emotional health comes from owning our internal struggles. The virtues of weakness, humility, vulnerability, and faith opens us to the way of grace.

We too often struggle because we don’t struggle. 

I’m the expert on stuffing feelings and turning them into thoughts. I learned it well early in my life. Yet, feelings never evaporate just because we ignore them. Just the opposite, like a forgotten half-carton of cottage cheese in the back of the fridge, our feelings only gather moldy bacteria and crust over with nastiness. 

We need to understand that feelings really do have an expiration date to them. If not openly acknowledged and dealt with, they’ll fester into bitterness. It’s much better to deal with our present struggles instead of living with the wishful thinking that they’ll just go away.

There are 52 references to “one another” in the New Testament, including: 

  • Love one another (John 13:34-35)
  • Be kind to one another (Ephesians 4:32)
  • Show hospitality to one another (1 Peter 4:9)
  • Forgive one another (Colossians 3:13)
  • Encourage one another (Hebrews 3:13)
  • Bear the burdens of one another (Galatians 6:2)
  • Spur one another on toward spiritual well-being and healthy community relationships (Hebrews 10:24)

Nowhere in Holy Scripture will you find references to hide from one another, pester one another, or put up a false front toward one another.

God desires for us to take a risk on betting the farm on Jesus. Embracing Christ involves owning our struggles, both to God and to one another. 

You may argue that it isn’t helpful to wear your feelings on your sleeve. But I’m not talking about emotional diarrhea; I’m referring to something far worse: emotional prostitution, where we sell ourselves to others in a cheap façade of who we really are and how we are really doing. 

We want to be liked, loved, and longed for. And we very much desire to avoid heartrending pain. So, many mistakenly believe that keeping up false appearances will get them what they long for.

What matters most is faith expressing itself through love (Galatians 5:6). It takes personal risk to have faith. And it takes two to have love.

Own your struggle. Face it squarely in all of its foulness, degradation, and ugliness. Face it with both God and others. 

If you’re mad as hell at God, then say it; the Lord is big enough to take it. If you need prayer or help, ask for it. Don’t just expect someone to read your mind or your emotions. If someone asks you to pray, stop what you’re doing, get on your knees with that person, and pray like there’s no tomorrow.

Life is too short to sleepwalk through it with a constellation of unacknowledged emotions. It takes no relational effort to ask a pat question like, “How are you?” It takes even less relational energy to give a pat answer such as, “Fine,” or “Busy.” Instead, let’s get down to why you feel a constant need to say how busy you are, even when you’re not really all that busy.

Holy Scripture doesn’t call us to hide, but to love one another enough to both give and receive God’s grace. 

Daily reading and praying of the psalms is a good place to begin in learning to be authentic with God and the people in our lives. It’s the only way of dealing with the overwhelming circumstances and emotions we face.

Loving God, please grant me peace of mind and calm my troubled heart. My soul is like a turbulent sea. I can’t seem to find my balance, so I stumble and worry constantly. Give me spiritual strength, mental clarity, and emotional calm to find my purpose and walk the path you’ve laid out for me. Just as the sun rises each day against the dark of night, may the light of your divine countenance shine on the shadowy places of my life, through Jesus Christ my Lord, in the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Amen.