One time I counseled a young woman who had three children. She was divorced because of an abusive relationship. She was going to school, hoping to have a career that would enable her to support her family. She was also working part-time, to pay the bills. She was also a compassionate neighbor and helped an elderly woman next door. She was anxious because her finances were slim and there were many demands upon her time. Through all this she was determined to keep going. On the outside she appeared strong and energetic, but inside she was afraid. I sensed that she was afraid and finally asked her what she was afraid of. At that point she broke down, sobbing. She said, “I am afraid to fail.”
She was fragile and fearful that at any moment her world would cave in, derailing as a train. The young woman could have been anyone; a single parent trying to make ends meet, someone with monumental health or financial problems, a nation trying to protect itself from the threat of terrorism, or any of us, striving to survive in a complex, difficult and overwhelming world.
How do we live with confidence? How can we know we can stay on track? Where can we turn for hope and reassurance?
David turned to God. “The Lord is my light and salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? David’s life too was in danger of being derailed, in fact, he could have been killed. His own son was out to get him. His wife was trying to humiliate him. The reigning monarch was pursuing him with an army. It was a time of unrest for the nation of Israel. The days were long and dark and David was alone. David, knew he needed help.
Psalm 27 expresses both David’s faith and his vulnerability. On the one had he spoke with confidence that God would be with him. “Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.” David was convinced that the Lord would not forsake him. He would be protected and secure. On the other hand, he was fragile. So, David petitioned the Lord for help. “Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me.”
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David was a man of faith, but he also had feelings of anxiety. We admire people who exhibit confidence, strength and courage. What we don’t realize is that they did not become that way automatically. Perhaps they learned courage through a series of hard times. Or, perhaps they learned faith through education and discipline. Outwardly they generally appear strong but inwardly they are torn with the reality of evil, the stresses of life and their humanness.
My wife tells me I don’t worry enough. I seem to take things in stride and don’t appear to be anxious when difficulties exist. Internally, however I am burdened with many problems. I haven’t had a lot of hard times, but I have attended to many people who have. Perhaps I have gained some confidence along the way from many experiences. Perhaps I have learned some over time. Or, maybe it’s just a gift. I certainly haven’t mastered faith, that’s why I find this Psalm so helpful. After reflecting on this Psalm, I believe it can help all of us live with confidence.
First, in order for David to turn to God in dark times David had to trust in God. Trust requires more than just thinking about God. Trust requires us to surrender, living with the assurance that God is in control, not us. Let me illustrate:
One summer morning as he was fixing his breakfast, Ray Blankenship looked out his window and saw a young girl being swept along in the rain-flooded drainage ditch beside his Ohio home. Blankenship knew that farther downstream, the ditch disappeared with a roar underneath the road and then emptied into the main culvert. Ray dashed from his home and raced along the ditch, trying to get ahead of the flailing child. Finally, he hurled himself into the deep, churning water. When he surfaced, he was able to grab the girl’s arm. The two tumbled end over end and then, within about three feet of the culvert, Ray’s free hand felt something protruding from the bank, By some miracle he was able to grab a tree limb and clung to it desperately. All the while the force of the water was trying to push him and the child downstream. By the time the fire department rescuers arrived, Blankenship had pulled the girl to safety. Both were treated for shock. But in that moment, Ray Blankenship was at even greater risk than most people knew, because he couldn’t swim.
Blankenship acted in total trust. He saw the little girl and there was no time to think about options. What he did was heroic. But I don’t believe that God is asking us to be heroes. God is, however asking us to trust in God in all circumstances. David fully trusted in God. He believed that “God would hide him in his shelter in the day of trouble, that he would conceal him under the cover of his tent and that he would set him high on a rock.” David was confident. When we trust in God, we live in confidence.
Secondly, David referred to God as “Light and Salvation.” Since he was in a period of darkness he needed to see his way clear. What he needed was instruction. He said, “Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.” For me, this is where weekly worship comes in. Weekly worship gives us an opportunity to receive instruction and direction. Without a disciplined, spiritual life we are lost. Instead of living in confidence, our faith is weak and we are anxious over many things. Just as David needed to learn, so do we.
A young ensign had nearly completed his first overseas tour of duty when he was given an opportunity to display his ability at getting the ship under way. With a stream of crisp commands, he had the decks buzzing with men. Soon the ship had left port and was steaming out of the channel. The ensign’s efficiency had been remarkable. In fact, the deck was abuzz with talk that he set a new record for getting a destroyer under way. The ensign glowed at his accomplishment and was not all that surprised when another seaman approached him with a message from the captain. He was, however, a bit surprised to find that it was a radio message. It read, “My personal congratulations upon completing your under way preparation exercise according to the book. In your haste, however, you have overlooked one of the unwritten rules…make sure the captain is aboard before getting under way.”
I believe that too many folks are trying to keep their lives underway without God on board. We need weekly directions to see our way clear. For David, worship was an essential discipline. Just as God helped him find his way through dark times, God also helps us find our way through dark times. We just have to remember to keep the captain on board, for when we can see, we can live with confidence.
Third, faith in God does not spare us from trials and tribulations. Rather, faith in God enables us to live with courage and hope. David had his share of turmoil. His faith was repeatedly tested, again and again.
One time there was a Louisville University quarterback who dreamed of playing pro football. Upon graduation, however, no pro team drafted him. So, he wrote to several teams and finally got an opportunity to try out for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He gave his best effort, but wasn’t selected. His friends said, “You got a raw deal, it wasn’t meant to be. I guess it’s time to hang up your cleats.” But the young athlete didn’t give up. He continued to knock on doors and write letters. Finally, he received another invitation. But again, he didn’t make the team. Most people would have given up long before this point, but not John. He was fanatic about his personal dream. From his early days of playing sandlot football, he had been obsessed with his goal. So patiently and persistently, he continued to pursue opportunities. Finally, he was invited to try out for the Baltimore Colts, and he made third string. Through training and long hours of drills and fitness building, he worked his way up to be starting quarterback. He became one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play in the NFL. His name was Johnny Unitas.
David too was up against many odds. But, he too never gave up. He didn’t let persecution, setbacks, or struggles get the best of him. He kept on believing in God because he had courage and hope. When we have hope, we can live in confidence.