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I will fear no evil, for you are with me

April 26, 2012

Misericordias Domini

 

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
forever. Psalm 23


This Psalm has a huge poetic and emotional value for most Christians. It’s almost like a kind of creed, and yet it is one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible. And the beauty of this psalm is that we see God’s love and concrete promise of help clearly expressed.

Psalm 23 may have been a hymn sung by some of the ancient people of Israel. It expresses a true confession of faith and trust in God.

Those who pray this psalm do so as if God was a shepherd who lovingly offers His care and protection. And in the second part, God is described as a great host who feasts his guest with a magnificent banquet.

The idea of God as a shepherd of his people is derived from earlier expressions that regarded the king as a shepherd of his people. In the Old Testament there are many passages that describe kings this way as well.

The office of pastor also has the duty to feed the flock in tender pastures and by still waters, comfort it in weariness and to guide it by appropriate paths. The rod and the shepherd’s staff instill confidence and encouragement in the herd because they are used in guiding and defending the herd; they provide protection.

At the end, God is described as a host with symbols of solidarity and communion.

The chief meaning of this Psalm is found in verse 4: “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”. This hymn expresses very clearly the protection and care God provides us to alleviate our fears.

 

And on this day, I want to talk about our fears and the cure for fear.

We can reflect for just a moment about what our specific fears are. Let’s think; let’s take a few seconds to think – what is it that we fear today? Some of us may think: I have no fears. Well, you may not have a lot or you may not have any. In this case, it is, only, because you are putting into practice the lessons to be learned through, for example, this psalm: You should not be afraid because God is with you.

Some others, perhaps most of us, will admit having problems in our life today that are expressed through the negative feeling we call: fear.

When I speak of fear, I am not referring to that which, more than anything else, could be called being careful or cautious, for these tendencies serve to preserve life and we are wise to approach life with them. We should take care when in and around traffic, be aware of the dangers to wildlife, we should care for our economy and live a life of wise stewardship. We should care about ourselves, live a healthy lifestyle, eat well and exercise the body. These acts are not fears; they are practical and necessary so as to avoid conflict and harm. Today I want to talk about unreal or imaginary fears. These thoughts are those that consume our mental energy, make us worry and prevent us from enjoying life. Fear is defined in a dictionary as: an anxious disturbance of mood. To disturb is to spoil the quietness or peacefulness of something. To be anxious is to feel nervous, to worry and suffer with concern. In short, we could say that fear is a concern that ruins happiness.

 

Who could say today that they do not worry? Do we not worry about things every day? There is an even deeper question: are we truly happy?

If we say that, yes we worry, then that’s fine. But it is wrong to worry. When we worry we have to constantly deal with thoughts about negative events that have not yet happened. And somehow, even though these events have not yet taken place, we are preparing the ground with our thoughts and seeding dismal prospects, increasing the chance that these things may happen. In Job 3:25 it says: “What I feared has come upon me;   what I dreaded has happened to me”. Job, after cursing and worrying, realized that what happened is what their words have proclaimed. And our Lord Jesus Christ says: “According to your faith let it be done to you” (Mt 9:29). Whether we know it or not, whether we believe it or not, what we express with our tongues and thoughts has its consequences. In some ways they are like ‘prayers’ that we spread in the air, they are ‘Beliefs’ that we release. The good news is that we are able to make a distinction: what kind of confessions of faith are we releasing and on whose behalf are we acting? When we are worrying, we are making negative statements about our lives that will have its corresponding consequences.

 

Fear stems from worry and does not lead anywhere; it is worthless. It is not a Christian way of thinking, even though many Christians worry. Worry leads to fear, which is a kind of insecurity. We feel this insecurity about what we are imagining (because worry is a form of imagination) may happen but which has not yet happened, it does not exist yet. To worry is to have a lack of confidence in God. A lack of confidence that God will take care of us in our difficult, unsettled situations and this will cause us suffering. It’s a lack of confidence in the power of God over our lives. And if the lack of confidence exists, it is because there is not enough faith that is grounded in the power of God. We are not exercising our confidence in God on a daily basis. When we do not trust, we are separated from God and the promises He has for us. And one of the most beautiful promises is expressed through the words of the 23rd Psalm, when it says: “I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” To fall short of this is to have a lack of faith. This lack of faith, in any case, is what we also call ‘sin’. A sinner is a person who is separated from God, who puts his faith not in God, even though they may want to say they are Christian. Lack of faith is an act of separation from God, and separation from God we have called sin. Thus we may conclude that, those who do not trust God, sin against him.

We do not want to be called sinners in this sense, which is why we will begin to trust him.

 

The most important question that may arise from some of us may be: How can I trust God, if my fears, my worries, my troubles are so deep?

 

Firstly: We must ask God for forgiveness for not trusting him. Perhaps we were not aware that we were sinning when we were worried.

 

Secondly: To acknowledge the feeling of suffering and trouble that come with our fears – they’re real. If we worry, we should admit that we are worried and that we worry every day. Though we may sometimes want to cover it up in front of people and ignore it ourselves. Do not be a hypocrite. There was a woman I knew who liked to speak to people about the issue of worry and confidence in God, but her family life and when she was alone was a mess. She lived a life tortured by her worries and bothers and she made her family bitter with her split personality. Hypocrisy is also a sin to be confessed.

After having confessed our sins and recognized the feelings of pain and anxiety that our fears and worries cause us, then, thirdly, we should pray the following prayer: I trust you Lord. I do not know how to trust more, but I want to say to you, as Martin Luther said, “Oh God strengthen my faith and my confidence in you.”

And fourthly: Begin to thank God because he is strengthening your faith, because he is already answering or giving you the best of His answers to your prayers that have to do with worries.

 

We know that God is a God who wants to bless abundantly and without shortages. And he wants to do it in every way. But to do so, we must first let him bless us with faith and confidence in him. Let us raise our hands to heaven and ask God to get rid of all of our feelings of fear, anxiety and depression and that His Holy Spirit may enter into us, anointing us with faith and confidence. The best way to practice confidence is to let go of that which separates us from him. To start, we should focus less on what we need but rather be thankful for what we already have and be thankful for what it is already coming to us. That is an act of confidence, quite contrary to the fear that separates us from God.

“I will fear no evil, for you are with me”. May that be our confession on this day, to let go of what terrifies us and keeps us from being able to have real communion with the God, to declare: “The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing”.

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