If you would like to read through the Daily Office, complete with prayers and hymns, I use this almost every day.
January 30th, 2017
Epiphany IV (Ps. 56, 57; Isa 51:17-23; Gal 4:1-11; Mark 7:24-37 )
1Have mercy on me, O God,
for my enemies are hounding me; *
all day long they assault and oppress me.
2They hound me all the day long; *
truly there are many who fight against me, O Most High.
3Whenever I am afraid, *
I will put my trust in you.
4In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust and will not be afraid, *
for what can flesh do to me?
5All day long they damage my cause; *
their only thought is to do me evil.
6They band together; they lie in wait; *
they spy upon my footsteps;
because they seek my life.
7Shall they escape despite their wickedness? *
O God, in your anger, cast down the peoples.
8You have noted my lamentation;
put my tears into your bottle; *
are they not recorded in your book?
9Whenever I call upon you, my enemies will be put to flight; *
this I know, for God is on my side.
10In God the LORD, whose word I praise,
in God I trust and will not be afraid, *
for what can mortals do to me?
11I am bound by the vow I made to you, O God; *
I will present to you thank-offerings;
12For you have rescued my soul from death and my feet
from stumbling, *
that I may walk before God in the light of the living.
Fear is such a powerful emotion and force. I think this is why God has to tell people to not be afraid so often (well over 100 times, by many accounts).
But sometimes I have an issue with the command, “Do not be afraid.” It reminds me of the Bob Newhart sketch where he is a psychiatrist. As he listens to someone pour out one of their deepest fears, his solution is simple: STOP IT! Stop being afraid of that! Just stop!
Is that what God is inviting us to do? Just to stop being afraid? I don’t think so. And, if that’s what you are doing, I would ask…how is that working out for you?
Fear is not something we simply stop. It is not something we dismiss or ignore. It is something we admit and explore. Why are we so afraid? What are we so afraid of?
For the psalmist, I would say there are some legitimate fears. Enemies attacking. People conspiring against him. Oppression and bullying. These are very real things of which to be afraid. For me, this brings my mind and prayers to the many refugees who have been leaving their homes in search of safety, and are being denied access to safety.
But, I’d argue that others of us may have different fears. We do not have literal enemies who are hunting us down. But we do live afraid. Afraid of failure. Afraid of loss. Afraid of being found out. And many, right now, are afraid of people coming into the United States to commit acts of terrorism. Many of my neighbors live in constant fear of being separated from their families because of their undocumented status. Many of my neighbors live in fear of people of a certain skin color or economic status. Others of my neighbors fear they are “losing the neighborhood” to those who are different from them. Fear is alive and well in my neighborhood.
And as the great Yoda once said: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” (Read this in your best Yoda voice, I hope you did. Mhmmm….)
As I said, fear is a powerful emotion and force. But the answer is not just to stop being afraid. No, the good news is that we can, instead, trust God. Whenever we are afraid, we have the opportunity to trust in God. And this is not some simple spiritual answer. Trusting in God gives us an imagination for ways in which we no longer have to live in fear. We can trust that God is at work. We can trust that, when we afraid no one cares about our pain, God holds our tears in a bottle.
So, if we are free to trust God in place of our fear (and even in the midst of it), what could our life look like today? What is the “fear story” you are living from today? What does God want you to know about him or who you are, in the midst of this fear? How could we respond to the good news that God is speaking to our fear?
For me, God is saying: “Derek, I see you and I see the suffering of the people in the world I have made. I see and I hear and I grieve. You are free to join me in my grief; a grief that grieves in hope and does not leader to anger or hate. You are free to weep and act from a place of love, not hate or bitterness.” So today, I will simply notice where I sense anger/hate/bitterness in my own heart or words.
Today, own your fear, and ask…what could it look like to trust in my fears?