If I were to try to count the number of worship services I have attended in my lifetime, I don’t think it would be remotely possible. Now, if I were to count the number of services that I distinctly remember and that had a profound impact on my life, it wouldn’t be more than a handful. January 2, 2005 was just such a date.
A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.
This powerful hymn of faith finds echo in today’s passage from the psalms. The Lord is light and salvation, it begins. There is nothing in the world of which I should be afraid. God is the stronghold of my life. God is my refuge. A mighty fortress is our God.
Unfortunately, the spiritual high doesn’t seem to last. At some point, you have to come down off the mountain. Talk of power and deliverance is soon swallowed up in hints of fear regarding enemies that seek to devour flesh and adversaries who lie in wait. Even though these first hints of trouble are couched in language of assured victory, by verse nine the psalmist’s tune has changed. You can sense the panic in his voice, “Don’t hide from me God! Don’t be angry with me! Don’t forsake Lord like my mother and father have! Don’t turn me over to my enemies! Don’t let them tell lies about me! Don’t let them inflict violence upon me! Please God, help!”
How many times have I started Lent with good intentions? How many times have I said, “I’m giving up sweets . . . caffeine . . . guitar . . . buying anything extra . . .” only to fail at the first sign of cherry cheesecake, or gourmet coffee, or a great new release at the bookstore? Our grand intentions run into cold hard reality so quickly. What happens when our intentions are put under pressure? While it seems that there may be a moment of wavering in this psalm, it ends on a note of hope and truth: “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”
Fears and doubts, struggles and failures, up and downs can only be endured because of the presence of God in the midst of them. Therefore, if we don’t feel God’s hand guiding; if we don’t feel God beneath us, lifting us up; if we don’t feel safe under the shadow of God’s wing, just wait. Wait for the Lord. Wait for God’s deliverance. Wait for God’s strength. And as we wait, may we find Luther’s words ringing in our ears:
Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right man on our side,
the man of God's own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth, his name,
from age to age the same,
and he must win the battle.
Prayer: God, I admit that I go back and forth between fear and trust. I don't always live up to my goals and fail to keep my commitments and resolutions. Help me to rest in you, my fortress, my strength, my refuge. Amen.