CHRISTIAN CONFIDENCE IN AN AGE OF ANXIETY [1 & 2]

[‘My heart is confident in you, O God: my heart is confident!’ Ps. 57:7, NLT]

I was struck by this verse in my meditation on the Psalms recently. It led me to thinking about ‘Christian Confidence in An Age of Anxiety,’ surely relevant to us all. I’ll treat it in two parts, because the topic is wide-ranging.

My wife and I have in the past years and months faced several crises: acute clinical depression (1993), near-death experiences (September 2017 & June 2018), and most recently down-scaling from our spacious family home of 36 years to a one-bedroomed cottage. Each trauma has resulted in a loss of personal confidence, even as committed Jesus-followers. No doubt many of you have been there and experienced worse: bereavement, retrenchment, divorce, dread-disease, etc. I recently re-read Murdo McDonald’s little gem, The Need to Believe. It was first published in the 1960’s and the opening chapter is entitled ‘An Age of Anxiety!’ Even more so now! Every second country is facing political upheaval, economic crisis, gun-violence, societal problems, subliminal guilt issues [1] and questions about the purpose of life (our youth especially). Anxiety abounds in the lives of sports and other celebrities. British Lions rugby superstar Jonny Wilkinson, after booting England to World Cup success, was left totally depressed. The All Blacks’ Sir John Kirwan had to grapple with huge anxiety at the height of his playing days. In my own country just about every other month we read of some music or stage star committing suicide.

Ps. 57 is a fairly typical David-song, composed for worship purposes. This particular song was sung by him and his motley crew while fleeing from King Saul of Israel. They sheltered in mountain refuges: the cave of Adullam in Judah (1 Sam. 22) and Engedi west of the Dead Sea, etc.

  • Verses 1ff exult repeatedly in ‘the mercy of God,’ a common theme in David’s writings. He sees ‘God Most High’ in terms of a great mountain, providing safe shelter from the physical and verbal attacks of his enemies (v.4).
  • Verse 7 echoes David’s confidence in God alone: My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast…’ (NIV). As a result he’s able to sing and make music from his heart (v. 8-11). He writes of ‘awakening the dawn’ with song: in my own case only a strong cup of coffee or two will perhaps persuade me to do the same! David continues, ‘I will praise you among the nations, O Lord… I will sing of you among the peoples (not just Israel)… For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth!’ Wow!! [2]

Ps. 57 very naturally connects with Moses’ song in Deut. 32, reciting God’s goodnesses to Israel even in the face of her repeated rebellion and idolatry. The OT as a whole is replete with Yahweh’s tender love over against the pagan idols’ extreme cruelty: consider the prophets of Baal hysterically cutting themselves in honour of their sleeping idol (1 Sam. 18) or Molech’s flaming mouth devouring the bodies of infants cast into it!

  • Deut. 32:1-4 recall the LORD’s ‘loving teachings which fell on his people like gentle dew, watering the grass and tender plants.’
  • V. 3ff echo Ps. 57’s theme: ‘I will proclaim the name of the LORD, Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock, his works are perfect, & all his ways are just.’
  • V. 5-6 record that, despite God’s overtures, Israel had ‘acted corruptly towards him; to their shame they are no longer his children (wow!), but a warped and crooked generation. Is this the way you repay the LORD, O foolish & unwise people? Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you & formed you?’ I’m reminded of the Messiah’s passion-lament concerning the arrogant religionists as he approached his divine destiny, “‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets & stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look your house is left to you desolate…'” (Mt. 23:37-39).

All this begs the question of God-followers, then and today: is our confidence mis-placed or God-faced?? Let me explain…

To a greater or lesser extent we have probably all been influenced by Norman Vincent Peale’s ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’ written in the early 1950’s. Please note I’m not denying the physical and mental benefits of a positive outlook on life. I am simply pointing out that much of today’s populist, ego-centric and superficial ‘Christianity’ has simply re-christened Peale’s philosophy and peddles it as ‘gospel.’ I have fellow-pastors urging me not to speak ‘negatively’ about the Church because I’m thereby cursing God’s cause! Frankly I refuse to heed their call because I’m too much of a realist. Let me give you two further examples of mis-placed faith.

  • A sweet, upright lady, professing the faith, recently sent me a scenic picture of a beautiful sunrise with this message: ‘Speak to yourself every morning: I’m the best, I can do it, I’m a winner, today is my day…’ Sounds good, doesn’t it? We take it as normal, because we’re bombarded by this kind of thing every day via pulpits and the media. Now we are created in God’s image, and therefore have great worth and potential. However, no amount of ‘rah… rah… rah’ will cut it in facing our daily struggles in a confusing world.
  • A lovely ‘Christian’ lady who a few years ago courageously battled her way through cancer with the help of chemotherapy and the prayers of many, claimed her restored health was due to her positive mindset. Very recently her husband contracted cancer and she assured us the outcome would be the same because she had ‘great faith.’ Sadly, he passed away a few weeks ago. ‘Faith in faith’ is mis-placed faith and is followed by huge guilt when things don’t work out as anticipated.

By contrast, the psalmists and Jesus himself commend a God-faced confidence. The God of space and time, the ‘Infinite-Personal God’ of the Bible (Francis Schaeffer) is surely the only proven basis for our faith and hope. I’m reminded of Moses’ words, ‘Lord, through all the generations you have been our home! (the place where we kick off our shoes and relax) (a reality now and not just ‘in heaven’). Before the mountains were born, before you gave birth to the earth and the world, from beginning to end, you are God.’ (Ps. 90:1-2, NLT). God-faced confidence is vital for the individual believer as well as every true ecclesia.

Time for a coffee break before we apply these scriptural insights?? Or perhaps a re-visit tomorrow while our theme is still fresh in your mind??

 

Image result for Free pic of a delicious cup of coffee

 

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[Fountain of Eingedi Today]

Now for some practical applications for God’s people, going forward…

You recall how the apostle Paul in his first Letter to the proud Corinthian assembly brought them back to earth: “few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God’ (1 Cor. 1:26-29, NLT). When grappling with his ‘thorn in the flesh’ the apostle had to learn the painful lesson that ‘God’s power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor. 12:8-9). What about Jesus and his disciples? Cheryl McGrath, a respected blogger from Australia, puts it powerfully: ‘The raw material God works with is weakness, foolishness and ordinariness. Jesus chose the twelve for their deficiencies, not for their strengths. Jesus could work with their human failings and flaws. What he couldn’t work with was human goodness, human strength, or human morality… the reason God chooses the foolish, the weak and the common above the wise, the strong and the elite, is simple. It’s so ‘no flesh can boast in his presence!'” Stephen Kaung, once mentored by Watchman Nee, preaching in the USA said ‘The Church is too strong!’ You see, in the West we have a surfeit of programs, seminars, equipment, etc – yet the Church is largely failing in the proclamation and living of the Good News of the Kingdom! This past Sunday we celebrated Pentecost, but where is the radical testimony and life of the early Church that turned its world upside down? The prophet Zechariah declared 500 years before Christ, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel (re-builder of the Jerusalem temple), ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground!'” (Zech. 4:6-7, NIV). In 1962 Bob Dylan sang, The answer my friend is blowing in the wind…’ The Church today has put the Spirit in boxes, packaged him, and the truth is you can’t keep the wind in a box. May the Spirit of Christ awaken us to a total reliance on the Father and the Son in the work and witness of the Kingdom.

Some succinct, practical guidelines…

  1. Look often within. Personally and congregationally, is our confidence mis-placed or God-faced? Moses in Deut. 32:15 reminds us that, after experiencing God’s goodness in so many ways, Israel ‘became fat and unruly; the people grew heavy, plump and stuffed! Then they abandoned the God who had made them; they made light of the Rock of their salvation.’ Today’s plump, stuffed church members and leaders must repent! God’s kindness demands it (Rom.2:4).
  2. Look often at God. Imho most Christians no longer read their Bibles (the text itself) and are biblically illiterate [3]. We must re-focus on the God of the Bible: his majesty, sovereignty, power and mercy. As we behold our world’s magnificent mountains, we should look at the God of the mountains. I love the mountains of my country, they renew my vision of creation and the Creator himself. Ascending to Jerusalem the pilgrims of old sang, ‘I look up to the mountains – does my help come from there? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth!’ (Ps. 121:1-2, NLT). [4]
  3. Look back often. Trace the story of God’s loving dealings with Israel in Deut. 32:1-14 and find encouragement therein. The story is told of a monk who rode a donkey to his destinations in the valleys and mountains. Sometimes he rode the donkey looking backwards, in order to view all the way God had safely brought him. Often look back at the Cross. As Jesus, also on a donkey, progressed toward his inevitable destiny, he said to his disciples and the crowds, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross (an instrument of death), and follow me’ (Mk. 8:34). Every Jesus-follower must have their own Calvary where self-centredness is dealt a death-blow and he/she is resurrected to new life. ‘I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’ (Gal. 2:20, NRSV).
  4. Look forward often. To those crucified with Christ Paul gives this logical encouragement: ‘If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?… I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God. Neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither our fears for today or our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love…’  (Rom. 8:31ff). Followers of Jesus in my own country with all its political, economic, social and moral challenges, do take hope from this blessed assurance!
  5. Look around often. David never fought his battles alone. He had his friends with him on the road, any one of whom would surely have laid down his life for his leader. He had that closest of friends, Jonathan. During my 1993 burn-out I was out of action for six months: I was suffering from social anxiety, panic attacks and deep depression. For those six months I could not read my Bible or pray but ‘floated’ on the ocean of the loving prayers of family and friends. That’s why I subscribe to smaller organic church groups (rather than large congregations) where we can be ‘weak’ and yet remain accepted and loved. Nothing quite like it!
  6. Look often to God. Read Ps. 57:7-11 again. Paul reminds the saints in the Roman garrison city of Philippi, ‘Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 4:6-7, NLT). My wife and I literally live by these verses every day, and what a difference it has made. I heartily recommended keeping a simple prayer-diary, itemizing blessings and petitions. It will bless you heaps!

Whatever our anxieties, let’s pray right now for a God-faced faith, in Jesus’ strong name!

Footnote:

[1] In my years of counseling with mothers who underwent abortion for non-medical reasons as well as folk facing gender uncertainty, I have witnessed the devastation of guilt until the Lord has graciously brought healing and direction to broken hearts.

[2] Many get it all wrong when they think that Israel’s purpose was self-serving. Don’t we read the Book of Isaiah?? Don’t we read our Bibles??

[3] I’m neither fundamentalist nor bibliolator. I love reading the written Word with due reference to sound hermeneutical principles and historical context, through the lens of the Living Word.

[4] It is a known fact that a visit to the ocean or the mountains, even for an hour or so, can work wonders for our emotional and spiritual upliftment. Fortunately we are 20 minutes drive from the ocean. Music works for many. On the topic of anxiety and depression I recommend literature by Christian psychiatrists, Dr.’s Minirth and Meier.

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4 thoughts on “CHRISTIAN CONFIDENCE IN AN AGE OF ANXIETY [1 & 2]

  1. Thank you, Errol. This is beautiful and uplifting. I am in the midst of a Psalm revival, and loving every minute of it. The gospel is engraved in the Psalms in a majestic way, isn’t it?

  2. Dear brother Erroll, this is so refreshing to my weary soul right now. Yes yes and Amen! He alone is the answer, the help, the source, the strength, the Life, the purpose and everything! I cannot believe in myself, He alone is the one in whom I hope and trust. God bless you brother for speaking the truth that all God’s people need to face! God, in Christ, alone!

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