Sermon: The Strength of My Life

The Strength of My Life
Psalm 27:1-9
14 August 2016

In the beginning of Walt Disney’s animated cartoon feature “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” the seven little men had begun to return home, only to see that the lights were on in their log cabin with smoke coming out of the chimney.  Instinctively they knew something was terribly wrong and with crippling fear, they cracked open the door, only to discover that the beast was on the second floor.  With terror in their hearts, they crept up the stairs to the bedroom.  And as they lifted up their pick axes to slay the monster, the sheets were thrown back revealing the lovely Snow White.  Even though this is a well-known fairy tale, we love it because we can identify with the dwarfs and what they had experienced.

My scripture text is Psalm 27 which teaches us how to handle our fears.
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? 2 When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh—my adversaries and foes—they shall stumble and fall. 3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident. 4 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. 5 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. 6 Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tents and sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord. 7 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. 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! 10 If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up. 11 Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies. 12 Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence. 3 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. 14 Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
This is the Word of God. Thanks be to God.

King David, who wrote Psalm 27, was a man after God’s own heart. As a shepherd boy, he protected his flock of sheep from wolves, bears and lions.  As a teen, he slew Goliath the giant.  As a young adult, he had escaped the grasp of a mad King Saul.  And when he had become king, he himself faced the pressures of enemy armies.  But through it all, with his trust in God, David was able to conquer all of his fears.

Verse 1 begins with a declaration or personal confession: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” Because the Lord is our rescuer or deliverer, we can be at ease.  You see, faith in God is not some obscure concept that is found in a theological textbook or some unreachable spiritual quest, ultimately it is a relationship with the Lord.  Because of this, we can be encouraged because we are not alone.  Although our problems and difficulties may not disappear, the fear of what troubles us can be replaced with trust.

There is an old Arab fable that speaks of that: Once there was an evil character called ‘Pestilence’. It seemed when this sinister creature was about to overtake a caravan on its way to the city of Baghdad, an old Arab chieftain spotted the creature and said:  “What are you going to do when you arrive in Baghdad?”  To which ‘Pestilence’ replied, “I shall claim 5,000 lives through sickness and disease.”  When all was said and done, 50,000 people died, not 5,000.  When the Arab chieftain later saw ‘Pestilence’ he said, “You promised to take only 5,000 people, but 50,000 died.  You were unfair.”  ‘Pestilence’ replied, “I kept my word.  I took only 5,000.  The other 45,000 died of fear.”

Many studies have shown that 80-90% of the things that we worry about never come to fruition. I have to continually remind myself of that fact.

  • Winston Churchill once said, “When I look back on all my worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.”
  • Mark Twain-“I have had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

If we are not careful, worries can cripple us or cause us to act out of fear.

The second part of verse one tells us, “The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” It reminds me that the best way to live out our faith is to be anchored to the “Rock of Ages.”  If we stay connected, the Lord will give us the inner strength, his Holy Spirit, to face those challenges and the things that we fear the most.  Here are some scriptures that speak to that:

  • Romans 8:31 “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
  • 1 John 4:4 “Greater is He who is in you, than he that is in the world.”
  • Matthew 6:25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink about your body, what you will wear.”
  • Philippians 4:6 “Don’t worry about anything, instead pray about everything.”

Learning to trust God is easier said than done, and I have to learn this lesson over and over again. But once we have the inner strength of the Lord, regardless of what has happened, we can be calm.

There are a number of studies that document what Americans fear most. Many of the studies are found on the internet, and they often overlap.  Let me list some of the common fears; people are…

  • Afraid they will be in a car wreck.
  • Afraid they will be diagnosed with a terminal illness or Alzheimer’s.
  • Afraid that Social Security will run out when they retire.
  • Afraid they will become a victim of violence or identity theft.
  • Afraid to speak in public.

These are the general fears, and certainly there are others. As adults, we may or may not be afraid of spiders, snakes, and mice, but there are countless other things that could paralyze us with fear.  King David gives us good advice and that is not to rely on our own strength, but on the power of the Almighty.

Back in the early days of black and white television, there was a live circus act that featured a couple of Bengal tigers. On this one particular show, the trainer went into the tiger cage to do a live performance.  As the bright TV spotlights zeroed in on the animal act, the trainer skillfully put the tigers through their paces.  Then there was a power outage and the lights went out.  In pitch darkness, the tigers could see the trainer, but the trainer could not them. After 30 long seconds that seemed like an eternity, the lights came back on and the trainer calmly finished the performance.  When asked how he felt, the trainer admitted he had a great deal of fear.  However he pointed out that the tigers did not know he could not see them, so he continued to talk and crack the whip until the lights came on.

The trainer’s experience in that situation gives us a perspective of how fear works. Some people face the terrifying fear of fighting tigers in the dark.  But if we keep our eyes on Jesus, rather than focus on our fear, we will make it.

The way King David channeled his energies is found in verse 4: “One thing I ask of the Lord. This is what I will seek after, that I may dwell in the House of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in the temple.” 

The House of the Lord was a special place to King David; just being in God’s house and the atmosphere that surrounded it, he received an assurance that everything would be okay.

Again if we focus on God as our light and salvation, we will be able to face any situation. When we come into the sanctuary that should lend itself to quiet strength, it doesn’t mean our struggles will go away, but we will not be alone.

Most of you have heard the poem Footprints in the Sand which speaks of the struggle that we face and how the Lord is present. It is below:

One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord,
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me,
so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way. But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”
He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”

Let me close. As with the seven dwarfs, our fears can be monsters in our own minds. When things happen, they will not be as painful or as bad as we expected.  Worry is something we all struggle with, but with the help of this psalm, perhaps we can take steps to replace it.