Sunday, January 2, 2011

Maybe The New Year Is Not A Clean Slate For You But Instead A Dark Pit

Not everyone enjoys the dawn of a new year, of being forced to consider what possibilities lie ahead. In fact, for some people, it is a paralyzing event as they imagine all kinds of horrors awaiting them. These are the people who may have just lived through a terrible year or two and are just too tired to face anything else. They could also be the type of people who have a hard time believing anything good can happen to them. For whatever reason, there are people today facing the unknown with fear and apprehension, and perhaps you are one of them.

It is interesting that I happened upon Psalm 27 yesterday, the first day of the new year. I wasn't suppose to read this passage but did by "mistake". Ever since, I haven't been able to get it out of my mind as the Spirit works it into my heart and sense of being:

The LORD is my light and my salvation— 
   whom shall I fear? 
The LORD is the stronghold of my life— 
   of whom shall I be afraid?

What an incredible declaration at the beginning of a new year: Because I have the Lord I have nothing to fear.  The psalmist goes on to qualify this declaration:

When evil men advance against me 
   to devour my flesh, 
when my enemies and my foes attack me, 
   they will stumble and fall. 
Though an army besiege me, 
   my heart will not fear; 
though war break out against me, 
   even then will I be confident. (vs. 2-3)

Again, a great declaration while facing the possibilities of the unknown: I will not fear; I will be confident. Has your marriage fallen apart? Are you drowning in debt? Has a child rebelled against you? Does it look like you are about to be fired? Are you plagued with doubts about God? Are you about to have a baby? What is it that is causing you to yearn for bravery, boldness, and confidence? And what does this writer base his declaration on?

The psalmist is able to declare such boldness and confidence not because of a religious system, but because of a relationship. It is because of this relationship that he has certain priorities in his life. His first concern is not his retirement, his mortgage or even his family. The most important thing in his life is his relationship with God:

One thing I ask of the LORD, 
   this is what I seek: 
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD 
   all the days of my life, 
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD 
   and to seek him in his temple. (v. 4)

Is this at the top of your resolutions for the new year, to concentrate on your relationship with God, to spend time with him, to simply gaze upon his beauty, to seek him with all your heart? If you get this first priority right then everything else will fall into place. It is as we grow in this relationship that we also grow in our confidence in our Lord:

For in the day of trouble 
   he will keep me safe in his dwelling; 
he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle 
   and set me high upon a rock. (v. 5)

We begin to understand better how great his love is for us, so that even in the face of great trials we are able to see his hand at work. We come to trust what he is doing when we place our confidence in his love for us. Then we become occupied with his praises even in the valleys of the shadow of death where we learn not to fear evil:

Then my head will be exalted 
   above the enemies who surround me; 
at his tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy; 
   I will sing and make music to the LORD. (v. 6)

Imagine a year where we spend most of our time singing and making music to our God in place of being overwhelmed by fears and anxieties. Not an impossible thing when we make pursuing this relationship our first priority. It is a decision we make. It is what our heart longs for but our flesh fights against. We must be willing to respond to the heart of our spirit as our spirit longs to dwell with God:

Hear my voice when I call, O LORD; 
   be merciful to me and answer me. 
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” 
   Your face, LORD, I will seek. (vs. 7-8)

Our prayers should be filled with expressions of longing, of needing the Lord's help where we are weak. We need to ask for his help and express our heart-felt yearning for this relationship to increase:

Do not hide your face from me, 
   do not turn your servant away in anger; 
   you have been my helper. 
Do not reject me or forsake me, 
   O God my Savior. 
Though my father and mother forsake me, 
   the LORD will receive me.
  (vs. 9-10)

I appreciate this part of the psalmist's prayer, that even as he expresses his fear of rejection, he is declaring the praises of the Lord: "do not reject me or forsake me", "the LORD will receive me". His confidence in this relationship overwhelms any fears or doubts that may be confronting him. This relationship will do the same thing to whatever fears, doubts and anxieties you may be facing at this moment in your life. But take note that this relationship, a deep relationship of love and trust, already existed for the psalmist. It should be our top priority to develop such a strong relationship with Jesus. A relationship that would provoke us to pray:

Teach me your way, O LORD; 
   lead me in a straight path 
   because of my oppressors. (v. 11)

A relationship that would cause us to cry out to Jesus before turning to any other source of help. We declared  at the beginning that he is our stronghold and into him we run for strength and protection as we call out:

Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
   for false witnesses rise up against me,
   breathing out violence.
(v. 12)

It is in this relationship that we are able to declare the promises of the Lord with incredible confidence:

 I am still confident of this: 
   I will see the goodness of the LORD 
   in the land of the living. (v. 13)

It is in this relationship that we are able to discover our true source of strength and are able to clothe ourselves in boldness and confidence. Fear will no longer be able to paralyze us and anxiety will lose it's grip as our priorities change. It is in this relationship that we are able to understand Jesus when he said that we would find our life when we are willing to lose it. It is also in this relationship that we are able to appreciate the greatest lesson that our God offers us:

Wait for the LORD; 
   be strong and take heart 
   and wait for the LORD. (v. 14)

Consider this psalm then and allow the Spirit to speak to you through it. Meditate on it throughout the day and see what the Lord desires to do in you and then through you. Make it a day of decision making and I pray that your decision will be to respond to your heart's cry to make this relationship your priority. My prayer for you is that by the end of this day you will find the strength and conviction to declare with the psalmist:

The LORD is my light and my salvation— 
   whom shall I fear? 
The LORD is the stronghold of my life— 
   of whom shall I be afraid?

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