Monday, January 21, 2013

Whom Shall I Fear?

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10, NIV)

          It had been a rough week, to say the least. Two of my classes had chosen to be rather uncooperative, with some outright defiance on the part of a few students .On the home front, I was dealing with an injured horse, a sick child, and the financial stresses that seem to crop up at the worst possible times. I wasn’t feeling well physically, and my old nemesis, Depression, which I have battled off and on for most of my life, was lurking around the corner. I stay one step ahead of this particular enemy most of the time, recognizing it as merely an agent of the true Enemy, but I was tired and a bit discouraged and I wasn’t sure I had the strength to fight.

          Then, a voice out in the hall, a sweet young male voice, caught my ears. “I know Who goes before me, I know Who stands behind, the God of angel armies is always by my side.”  I stuck my head out the door and saw a middle schooler standing at his locker getting his books as he sang Chris Tomlin’s “Whom Shall I Fear?” He didn’t see me and I didn’t want to embarrass him so I withdrew quietly back to my desk and thanked God for that small, yet all-important reminder. The day didn’t get stunningly better but I did.God had spoken to me through a child to inform me in no uncertain terms that I was not alone. I am never alone. I do not have the strength to fight anything, be it sickness, depression, or financial woes- but God does.

          In C.S.Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, the high demon Screwtape tutors his nephew in how to corrupt mankind through deception. One of the many strategies he discusses is prayer.If a man prays and things don’t get better, he can say that God didn’t listen, therefore God doesn’t care, or perhaps He does not exist. If a man prays and things improve, it can be chalked up to chance or coincidence-something that “would have happened anyway.”  Therefore, prayer is no proof of anything. I know many people who have fallen into exactly this line of thinking. For me, I have ceased to think of prayer as any kind of evidence. Prayer is our most powerful weapon because it strengthens us. Does it affect what God does? I think it does, quite often. In fact, because He exists outside of time as we know it, it is entirely possible and even likely that our prayers now are determining what He has already done. When I first heard this idea expressed by a pastor, I was staggered. Can it really be?

          We try with finite minds to grasp the Infinite. It cannot be done. We try reason and logic, which does have its place, but then we run up against the Unexplainable. A friend of mine recently related a story about a terrible car accident which he survived. The officers on the scene looked at him in amazement. “You can’t be alive,” they said. “It’s impossible.” But Ben was alive, with only one small, insignificant injury. The fact that, humanly speaking, he should have been dead was not lost on him. He had been drifting somewhat from his true purpose, and this brought him back to it, realizing that our time on this planet is very brief. The accident itself was part of the Plan written from before the foundation of the world. It was a Plan written for the whole universe.

          Shakespeare said that “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”  There’s some truth to that. God has given everyone a role to play in the great Story. But there is no “merely” about it. The roles were assigned by the Author of all things. He, the Author, the God of Angel Armies, does not regard a single one of us as “merely” anything. We are His masterpieces, each one of us. So no matter how weird I am, how unlovely physically, how limited in my abilities, I still matter. I do not fear death nearly as much as I fear not being truly alive while I am here. I fear, quite often, that because I do not measure up to the world’s standards of conformity and beauty, that I am nothing. I know this is a great lie of Satan, but I have seen more than one person fall victim to it. Mostly, I fear that the root of bitterness I still harbor in the deepest recesses of my soul will spring into weeds of cynicism that will choke out all of the love and idealism I try to nurture.

          Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much to send me spiraling into that abyss of self-doubt. Fortunately, I have a God Who doesn’t let me stay there for long, provided I allow Him to consume me from the inside out and give Him control. When I do that, giving up is not even an option. The real truth is that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, perfectly designed for whatever his purpose for us may be. The real truth is that in the face of hardship and loss and betrayal, the God of Angel Armies has always been with me. At the end of The Screwtape Letters, “The Patient”-the man Wormwood has been trying to turn from his faith-dies during an air raid. Screwtape is outraged, because the death is a victory. Wormwood was unable to pluck The Patient from the hand of God. In the end, The Patient sees clearly the angelic beings who have been with him all along, and then he stands before his Savior. Screwtape, knowing that Evil has lost, roars that “someday we WILL win.”  But that is not true. Satan lost the moment Jesus went to the Cross and died in our place. He is defeated already.

          All of this is knowledge that I have had from my childhood. Getting it into my head was not difficult. I was a bright child. Getting it from the head to the heart, however, has been an ongoing process. Salvation is a present progressive kind of thing. I am being saved. I am being transformed. The one thing that the Enemy, as clever as he is, is unable to comprehend is that Jesus did what he did out of love only. There was nothing in it for Him. And of course Satan, being the one who comes solely to steal, kill, and destroy, will never understand that. We think we understand it, we say we understand it, and then we make our weekly trek to church and throw our offering into the plate hoping that it will be enough to buy God off and keep anything terrible from happening, ever. When the Bad Thing does come, we remind him of our great righteousness and question His justice. We bought our ticket-so why isn’t the journey easier?

          The journey is what it is because we actually didn’t buy our ticket-God did. Our redemption was purchased with His blood, not our own. He never said it would be easy. We just assumed it would. We think we deserve something. We think that the process of transformation should be a walk in the park, but a walk in the same old park day after day just isn’t very challenging. When we played that old childhood game of Follow the Leader, it was pretty dull if the leader just went around in circles, never jumping over a crack in the sidewalk or climbing a hill or wading through a puddle.

          Life would indeed be easier without challenges, but challenges are part of the deal and we are stronger for them. Of course there are things which will make us fearful, but the fear lessens when we realize Who is leading. Courage is not the absence of fear, it is being afraid and facing what you must face anyway, in the power of Christ. I know I am not walking alone. Because the Leader in this game is omnipresent, he can be standing behind me, going ahead of me, and walking beside me all at once. It’s as great a mystery as being able to transcend linear time, but God is God. There’s an old song that goes, “Fear not tomorrow-God is already there.” Even if I cannot quite grasp this with my human understanding, I can grasp the unseen Hand of Almighty God, the Lion of Judah. He is standing guard. He always has; He always will.

No guilt of life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
‘til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.

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