One of today’s great puzzles is how many of the people who live “in the land of the free and the home of the brave” can feel so repressed and constrained. How can that be? How can so many Americans feel so restrained, especially in light of how unless one is literally in prison or on probation, he or she is able to go and do pretty much whatever he or she wants? And yet, there are many today who feel anything but free.
A good part of the answer to that puzzle lies in the fact that so many of us are afraid of what the future holds. It’s hard for us to get excited about the present when we’re not sure how much longer the good times are going to last. Think about it. How many times have you been kept from enjoying the present moment out of your apprehension that any second it could be taken away?
Suffice it to say that ours is not the first time that folk have been confronted with seemingly insurmountable challenges. In fact, when you read the Bible, you see that much of what the Bible has to say is spoken in response to the dread and anxiety that had caused people in those days to lose all hope of a good future. Every book from Genesis to Revelation invites its readers to yield their anxieties, their fears, their needs, and their concerns to a God who holds together past, present, and future so that His people might be strengthened and encouraged for whatever may come their way.
One of my favorite passages in this regard is Psalm 118. Most Old Testament scholars associate this psalm with the Festival of Tabernacles, a sort of Independence Day celebration for ancient Israel in which God’s people celebrated God’s guidance of Israel during her wilderness wanderings from Egypt into the land of Canaan. Talk about an anxious and uncertain time. The children of Israel had no idea what lay before them, except for the assurance that God was also ahead of them there to prepare the way. And for most of them, that was enough. For most of them, knowing that God was ever before them was all that they needed.
Notice that when you look at the psalm in its entirety there is a fourfold declaration of how God’s love “endures forever.” That Hebrew word for “love” refers to a special kind of love—God’s covenant love, where God pledges to maintain faithfulness to His people come what may. God “binds Himself” to His people in dedication and devotion, so that whatever challenges come their way, they can be certain that God will be present to help meet them. This is why the Psalmist could say, “In my anguish (which is to say, my fear, my anxiety, my uncertainty) I cried to the Lord, and He answered by setting me free.”
I don’t think there is any question but that the fears that overwhelm us are the very things that keep us from living at the level of abundance to which Jesus calls us—fear of failure, fear of insignificance and irrelevance, fear of loss, fear of rejection. All of those fears immobilize us and cause us to depend on things that cannot sustain us, which when you think about it is the root cause of idolatry. When we find ourselves defeated by situations or circumstances that are more than we can handle, the temptation is to look beyond ourselves for some source of help that we can touch and handle—a possession, a partnership, a political power—but the truth is that in order for us to have our deepest fears answered, we must look to the Lord, for He alone is capable of setting us truly free. Only the presence of God in our lives can convince us that we are not failures, even when we are less than perfect, and that we are not insignificant or irrelevant, even though we are weak and not always a part of the “in” crowd, and that we are always loved, even when we don’t act so lovely.
So, as we approach this month when we celebrate our nation’s independence, is there something in your life that is broken and in need of repair? Is your life, or at least some part of it, a miserable wreck? Have you had something fall apart, or has everything just become out of focus? Then, what you need is a fresh encounter with God’s steadfast love poured out in the person of Jesus Christ. What you need is a clearer understanding of how God is ever present to help you in your hour of need. What you need is some assurance that the power of the risen Jesus is at your disposal and that you have no reason whatsoever to be bound by your fears and anxieties.
This world can get wild, and in our wandering through it there is often much cause to be afraid. But you can give your fears to God and be certain that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead will enable you to rise above all that would hold you down and keep you back from the abundant life God created you to know. Then you too can know the same joy that sustained the Psalmist and so many other saints throughout time: “In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and He answered by setting me free.”