“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?
When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh— my adversaries and foes— they shall stumble and fall.”
I want to tell you a story about a family who moved far across the country to a place they hoped would give them all a better opportunity in life. It is actually a story that many families could tell. Moving away from the familiar to the unfamiliar is as old as Abram leaving Ur, being called out by God.
It is not easy making a move like that on faith. Hoping that the God who watched over you in familiar places would also be there in the unfamiliar. God is there, in the foreign lands and new places – because God is everywhere. And if you look for God in the new places, the Lord will make the God-self known.
“Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.” (Verse 3)
I moved from my familiar small home town to Indiana to go the college. The familiar to the unfamiliar. Then my family and I moved from Indiana to the west coast. Trading what had become home to a new home. It was hard leaving family and friends behind – each time I moved. But I asked God, and always believed that the same God who was in the known places would also be in the unknown. And what I came to realize is that God makes every place home when we find our home in God.
“One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.” (Verse 4)
A friend from seminary once said of me that I continually seek to dwell with God. It is not something that I thought about myself, but I trust him and so trust his assessment of me.
“For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will set me high on a rock. Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord.” (Verses 5 to 6)
I have seen days of trouble, beloved reader, and nights of fear. But always . . . always . . . the fear passes, and I rejoice to the Lord with shouts of joy.
“Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, Lord, do I seek.” (Verses 7 to 8)
In all things, and under all circumstances, I search for the Lord, and search for the Lord’s guidance.
“Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!” (Verse 9)
Do not think, beloved reader, that it is a sign of my wisdom that I am this way. It is not so! It is a sign of my need and dependence on God. It is a sign of my weakness that I can do nothing on my own, but in all things need God!
“If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.” (Verse 10)
Now here I must pause and stop. Here I must change direction slightly. There is an event in our extended family’s life that is deeply on my mind.
In moving, first to go to college, and then moving to the west coast, I have moved farther from my family of origin. My husband did too. That was hard. Harder still was when our parents started to grow old, as parents have a habit of doing. And when my in-laws – first my husband’s mother, then his father just a week ago today – grew ill and died, being at a distance made the mourning and grieving more intense. A grief shared is a grief lessened; or maybe it is that grieving with family helps one move through the bereavement process. My in-laws did not “forsake” us, but we felt alone nonetheless. Praise be to God, that the Divine fills in the spaces where the loss is felt.
But the psalmist is not speaking to loss, but is asking the Lord for guidance; not in the midst of sadness but in the midst of hardship and one’s enemies. This is not a psalm for grieving; but it is the psalm that is set before me. I can not bend it to my circumstances, nor can my circumstances be bent towards it.
“Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies. Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence.” (Verses 11-12)
What I can, and do, is pray for that we as a family here on the west coast can move through this time of grieving and come out stronger for the experience. That our sorrow will not be our undoing or downfall. That is a hope and prayer that is applicable for many circumstances.
“I believe that I shall see 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!” (Verses 13 – 14)
God is with us in our sorrow. God is also with us in our joys. And if we sorrow because a dear family member has passed on, we can be comforted that our dear family member is with the Lord and in the company of other family that have passed on also. It is a bittersweet joy that will sustain us. And my thoughts come full circle to the beginning of this psalm – “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?” I do not fear death, the end of this life. My Lord is greater than death, and has conquered death. And in that victory is life beyond this one. And that, beloved reader, is the greatest comfort of all! Selah!