How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!Ephesians 3:16-18
What more can He say than to you He hath said, who unto the Savior for refuge have fled?
Fear not, I am with thee; O be not dismayed, for I am thy God and will still give thee aid. I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.
When through the deep waters I call thee to go, the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow; for I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless, and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply. The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
that soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!
When I am afraid, I will trust in you, in God whose word I praise.Psalm 56:3,4
Over this past weekend, it was my privilege to gather with a group of clergy and lay leaders to talk about spiritual growth. On Friday night, our gathering began with a couple questions posed by the host. We were each asked to name a time when we were scared and to name a time marked by joy. As we went around the circle of about 30 people, everyone had a story. Everyone knew moments marked by fear.
One person told about the time when as a teenager, he was wedged in an elevator shaft at his workplace, as malfunctioning machinery almost crushed his body. He was delivered, and eventually healed from great injury. But in the moments when that outcome was not at all certain, in those moments when he thought his young life was over, he remembered saying to a holy presence: This is it. I am no more. I am yours. He said he was not talking to himself but to an enveloping light presence, a calming effect, the real peace that passes understanding.
A colleague tells of a parishioner on the fated flight that landed in the Hudson River, geese debilitating the engine of the plane. As he was told to prepare to crash, as he considered he might be living the last few moments of his time on earth, he told of a peace that passes understanding. He attributed that peace to the practice of the spiritual life experienced in his church. He knew a holy presence as the plane descended.
Friday night, everyone had a story of fear. That’s in the Bible. So many times in the Bible we hear the words: Fear not. Celestial messengers approach Mary, Joseph, shepherds and it sounds like those folks were all tempted to run for cover. I get it. But I also get the consistent message, conveyed through biblical characters and through more contemporary characters, that we have not been left alone. There is something to this peace which passes understanding.
Which is not unrelated to the second question as we went around the circle on Friday night. When have you experienced joy? For many folks, the joy was related to the fear. A toddler that wandered away from child care was found. A gravely ill person recovered. Everyone had a story about an experience of joy, which were often stories of deliverance, of healing, or said another way, stories of salvation. They were not only stories of salvation. They were stories of relationship. No one told a story about getting a good grade, or getting a promotion, or getting a nice car. But among the 30 folks there, stories of births of children or grandchildren, stories of weddings, stories of love emerged. And if our Presiding Bishop is right, if these are stories about love, then they are stories about God, present with us in joy and fear.
Take a moment to think about when you’ve been scared, and about when joy has come your way. Maybe you’ll have opportunity to share those stories with someone, around the dinner table, over coffee, at church. How did you navigate those times? Where was God in the mix? And as you reflect on those stories, how might that help you make it through this first week in February?
Wishing for you the peace that passes understanding, blessings in your day from Jay Sidebotham
As part of The Good Book Club, I’ll be leading an online Bible Study for 8 weeks. It started on January 9, but it’s not too late to dive in!
Time: Wednesdays at 8pm EST Topic: Paul’s letters to the Romans. Learn more here. I hope you will join me!
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.