In normal times the preacher is expected to preach from the lessons of the week, but as you are very well aware, these are not normal times. There is so much fear being disseminated by the mass media and social media that it needs to be addressed. One Roman Catholic Monseigneur even referred to it as “demonic fear” because it pits us against one another. People have actually been killed over the issue of wearing facemasks. And yet Scripture says that God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and love and a sound mind. So we need to hear a balancing word from the Lord.
Of course it would be irresponsible not to be concerned about the pandemic and about social unrest. It would also be unwise not to assess the risks involved. For example I wrote earlier that because I see worship as essential I consider it worth the risk, but at the same time you could not pay me to go to Wal-Mart these days. We have made some changes in the way that we worship but we also knew that if we take it too far then we end up promoting fear, and fear and worship are like oil and water. They simply do not mix. The question therefore is how do we go about acting wisely while not giving in to demonic fear? The answer is found in Proverbs 3:5,6.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will direct your paths.
Thus we battle fear by trusting in the Lord with all of our heart. And as one biblical scholar pointed out, “With all your heart indicates that trust goes beyond intellectual assent to a deep reliance on the Lord, a settled confidence in His care and His faithfulness to His Word.”
But trust doesn’t just drop out of the air. It is not a spiritual gift that on one day you receive and then you have arrived. To trust with your whole heart is a trust that must be cultivated. It is an offering of ourselves completely to the Lord. It is why we pray each week in our prayers. “And here we offer and present unto thee O Lord ourselves; our souls and bodies to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice…” Trusting the Lord is a life decision that you make. So how do you cultivate that kind of trust? Holy Scripture of course shows us the way.
This first point sounds so obvious that it could insult your intelligence. And yet I have made a mistake on this point and I have seen many others make the same mistake as well. So while this point should be obvious it is easy to miss. And that point is to be exact in whom or in what we put our trust. The mistake we too easily make is when we put our trust in our faith or put our trust in results rather than only in the Lord.
This mistake is projected in high definition in the so-called Health and Wealth “Gospel” that uses the name it and claim it approach to life. In this approach if I see a job that I want, I claim that job in the name of the Lord and then trust that if I have enough faith that I will get it.
Do you see what I just did? I was trusting in my faith or trusting that I will get whatever I desire. But that is not where we are to put our trust. The Scripture does not say to trust my faith or trust in results. It says “Trust in the LORDwith all your heart.” Our trust is in our Father who loves us and knows what is best for us. When we do this then we can leave the results to God. I love this perspective from the prophet Habakkuk.
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.
Second we cultivate trust through prayer. Psalm 62:8.
Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.
Again, this is not an over night occurrence. Over time as you develop a life of prayer, and over time as you see how faithful God is to answer your prayers, then you will find your trust increasing.
Many years ago I was following a prayer plan the included a prayer journal that had you date when you began a particular request and then date it when it was answered. I believe it was after I was introduced to the Daily Office that I stopped using that plan and I packed it old plan. Several years and several moves later, when I opened the journal I discovered that every prayer had been answered, even though I had quit praying for those specific things years ago. The Lord was faithful to hear my prayer even when I was not faithful to keep praying. Prayer increases our trust in the Lord.
Third trust in the Lord increases when we stop leaning on our own understanding. The Psalmist says “and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him,” Some translations say “in all your ways submit to him.” Why is it important that we not lean on our own understanding? It is important for several reasons.
First, we should not lean on our own understanding because Scripture teaches that our hearts are deceitful. Truth is that if you give me enough time I can convince myself that about anything is not only okay, but it must be God’s will. And that scares me about myself.
Second, as a 19thCentury Scottish Pastor put it, “Leaning on our own understanding is, as far as it prevails, a kind of practical atheism.” As harsh as that may sound it is true.
Third it is especially important that we do not lean on our own understanding because our understanding is so limited. Canon David Atkinson said it well in his commentary on this passage. “For the Lord who holds the future can see further than we can and his covenant love is promised as a deeper security than anything our dimmer understanding can comprehend or our straining eyes can glimpse.
Of course this is not an appeal to blind faith nor is it a rebuke against using our understanding at all. As one country preacher said, “When God breathes in the Holy Ghost He doesn’t blow out our brains.” The point here is that we are to submit our understanding to the Word and Will of God. Our understanding is a tool to comprehend God’s will and not a replacement for the Holy Spirit. Back again to the Scottish preacher about using our understanding. “While we use it, we are to depend on God for success, trust in the promises of His Word, and trust in the care and overruling direction of His providence.”
The preacher saying that we are to “trust in the promises of His word” brings us to a fourth way to cultivate trust in the Lord, and that is through the knowledge of Holy Scripture. The more familiar we are with His promises, the more our trust in Him will grow. Conversely ignorance of Holy Scripture puts us back to leaning on our own understanding and we just saw where that takes us, back to practical atheism.
You will recall that it was mistrust in God’s Word that caused our first parents to fall from grace. How did Satan tempt them into disobedience? By asking them, “Did God really say….? We need to be so familiar with God’s promises that when the enemy comes along and says to us, “Did God really say…? We can reply, “As a matter of fact He did. Be gone Satan.” That in essence is what Jesus did at His temptations.
The fruit that comes from trusting in the Lord can be a great blessing to your life. Allow me to touch on just a few.
Trusting in the Lord fills your life with joy and gratitude. Ps 28:7 “The LORD is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.” I heard yet another report this week about how beneficial gratitude is to every facet of our lives. We have better mental health, we get sick less, and we live longer. So cut me off a piece of that pie!
Trust not only confronts present fears but it neutralizes fear of the future. Psalm 112:7.“He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD.” Some people live their lives waiting for the other shoe to drop. In fact I can’t recall a time in my life when there were not chicken littles running around telling us that the sky is falling. But we don’t have to live in dread of the future. When we trust the LORD with all of our heart we can be at peace that whatever lies before us, even if it is bad news, He is able to work it for our good. A good God can do no less or He would not be good and therefore He would not be God.
Next is quite a promise! When we trust the LORD He acts on our behalf. Psalm 37:5. “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.” The opposite is also true. When we do not trust in Him then He does not act. We read in the Gospels, speaking of Jesus, “And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.”
This theme of God acting on behalf of those who trust Him runs through all of the Scripture, from Genesis to the maps at the back. Just think of the story of Moses and the children of Israel and their time in the wilderness. Again and again you see God performing wonders when they trusted Him, and again and again you see the troubles that befell them when they doubted Him. That story is there for our benefit, to make us wise about God’s ways. Do you need Him to act on your behalf? Then trust Him with your whole heart.
There is one last point that I want to make about trust and it is a point that you will not welcome but it must be said. Trust is not truly trust until it is tested. In his book Ruthless Trust, Brennan Manning says, “The story of salvation-history indicates that without exception trust must be purified in the crucible of trial. David, the most beloved figure of Jewish history, was no stranger to terror, loneliness, failure and even sinister plots to destroy him; yet he ravished the heart of God with his unwavering trust.”
When I was 18 years old I made a commitment to follow Jesus as my Lord and Savior. More than anything in the world I wanted to be His disciple. I am now 68, so I have been on this journey for 50 years. To be honest some of those years were very difficult. They were what the ancients called “the dark night of the soul.” Some of those times I was only holding on by the skin of my teeth. Or to be even more accurate He was holding on to me because I had nothing left.
Nevertheless my wholehearted testimony before you this day is that the LORD has proven Himself utterly utterly trustworthy over these 50 years. He has been faithful even when I was faithless.
You know that when we are past this pandemic, and hopefully past the social unrest, that another crisis is going to come along. And again the father of all lies will use the mass media and social media to try to paralyze you with fear. Don’t fall for it. The Church prospered even as Rome burned. Why? Because Jesus was still on the throne!
If I could leave just one legacy to this parish it would be to plead with you to make a decision now to trust the Lord with all of your heart. Make that commitment, enter into that room of trust and then shut the door behind you. When fully trust Him, knowing that nothing, not even death, can separate you from His love, then you can live in peace in the knowledge that He will direct your path. Amen.