Text: Psalm 27
Since Easter we have been turning to Psalms as “Songs for Every Season” – particularly because we are in “a season.” It’s not just the scary coronavirus, but everything that comes with it: stay-home orders, social distancing, face masks, change in income, change in work and school, uncertainty about how long this will go on, and more. So we’ve looked at some of the very human and relevant feelings expressed in the Psalms: grief, impatience, and today’s topic, fear.
I think we are more afraid than we may realize. It may be the fear of catching the thing, though other fears may be eclipsing that. There is fear of income loss and recession. There is fear that we will not enjoy the same freedoms we used to. There is fear that we might not get back to “normal.” And on top of all those fears, I am freshly reminded this past week as I read about the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, that people of color in this country deal with an extra layer of fear that I do not all the time.
It would be easy to duck and cover, to run and hide, to live… afraid.
And yet this Psalm 27 starts out with a bold claim… a crazy-bold claim if you’ve ever known fear:
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? (v.1)
I am reminded of a video I saw and posted this past week where a young woman wrestles with Psalm 23. She reads, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want” and immediately begins thinking of all the things she DOES want. And yet, as if it is the Lord’s own quiet, patient voice, the Psalm calmly asserts: “I shall not want.” This Psalm is very much like that. I’ve already named some of the things we fear… I fear. And yet there is the persistent, strong, and patient Word: The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
Is the Lord my light and my salvation? Yes – I profess that He is. I believe that He is. The Psalm goes on to say that the Lord is “the defense of my life.” I believe that, too. I’ve seen it before. And the Psalm then asks, “Whom shall I dread?”
The Psalmist certainly has a long list of things to fear and dread. Look there in vv. 2-3… evildoers come to devour the flesh, adversaries, enemies, an opposing army (that’s what ‘host’ is)… even war! Later, in vv.5-6 the Psalmist describes a “day of trouble” and more “enemies around me.”
All that to say… it’s not like the song-writer doesn’t know trouble. This is someone whose faced fear and trouble and dread and somehow can declare confidence in the Lord’s defense and salvation.
Let’s look briefly at what the Psalmist seems to have learned.
Cultivation of Godly Habits
There is no quick answer to our fears and worries here. But there are some patterns of belief and behavior – some habits – that can be cultivated to help us when we are afraid.
CONFIDENCE (vv.1-3): This isn’t what comes first chronologically in our experience, but it lets us know what we can experience. The Psalmist’s confidence isn’t in human or personal strength, but in God and God alone. Think how easy it is and often we do plug other things into that phrase: _____ is my light and salvation; ____ is the defense of my life. Especially right now where we are with the isolation and the distancing, we are quick to reach for easy answers, for blame, for anything that would bring relief. I think that’s one reason so many conspiracy theories are floating around and why demonstrations are popping up around the country. We want light and salvation and defense and we’ll reach for just about anything that might provide them.
SEEKING GOD’S PRESENCE (vv.4-10): We sang these words earlier today… “one thing I ask and I will seek, to see God’s beauty.” This is a poetic way of describing what it is to cultivate faith and behaviors that look for God. Listen to the rich vocabulary of worship, offering, singing, and praying in verse 4 (prayer/asked, seek, dwell, behold, meditate) and 6 (offer sacrifices, shouts of joy, sing praises). We need to spend time scouring our Bibles for godly hope rather than scouring Facebook for the latest theory about the virus. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: when we are hard-pressed we want to ask WHY we struggle, but it is infinitely more helpful to focus on WHO God is.
LEARNING WHILE WAITING (vv.11-14): Like many Psalms, this one has language of waiting (v.14). But it is surrounded with prayers to learn in the meantime (v.11) and to find courage and strength in the Lord (v.14). We learn from studying and meditating on God’s Word and we find godly courage and strength in God’s presence.
If we cultivate these practices so that they become habits, they will provide what we need when we need it. You know, any discipline requires practice, whether that is music, sports, academics, or even something social like making friends. And the word discipline comes from the same root as disciple. You don’t just magically get to “whom shall I fear?” by joining a church or getting baptized. It is the maturity that comes from daily following Jesus Christ that causes us to grow in faith and experience of God’s presence.
What About Fear?
Here’s some Good News: you don’t have to produce your own light or salvation. The Lord is our light and salvation. The more we seek the Lord, read and meditate on His Word, and love Him, the more we will experience freedom from fear and dread. And what these godly habits will produce in us is greater FAITH and DISCERNMENT as God’s incredibly patient, amazingly strong, and supremely loving voice will continue to speak TRUTH over us: I am your light and your salvation; who or what will you fear? I am the defense of your life; who or what will you dread?
In fact, as I worked through this Psalm for today I decided I’d like to show you that Psalm 23 video I mentioned. Some of you saw it on the Facebook page this week, but it’s something I’d like you all to see. I reached out to Samantha Beach-Kiley, the woman who put it together and she gave me permission to share it with you. We are in Psalm 27 this week, but I think a wrestling match with the words there would look very similar. Maybe you could pray and dialogue your way through Psalm 27 like she does with Psalm 23. That’s what we’ve been trying to do each week with our :15 Scripture Connection.
What an honest engagement and powerful encounter with God’s Word. I challenge you to pull your Bible or phone out this afternoon or evening and read Psalm 27 again… allow yourself to respond honestly and then listen to that patient, strong, loving voice of God in response to you and your fears and worries. And I believe God will cultivate FAITH and DISCERNMENT in you and me as we try to understand and live faithfully in the world and this season we are facing. Amen.