Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death. When I saId, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy. (Ps. 94:17-19)
Like the psalmist, we are living in anxious times.
It was stressful enough seeing some of the impacts of climate change with its threats to our way of life and our children’s future. It’s disconcerting to see the rise of authoritarian tendencies in governments and organized groups. The world wide web seems full of spiders preying on children and other vulnerable people. Now we’re up against the pervasive threat of Covid-19 seeping into every nook and cranny of our lives.
It’s hard not to feel we’ve been taken hostage and robbed of much of our normal support system of extended family, friends, colleagues and associations. Just when we start to feel more confident, it resurges. This virus isn’t a weapon in any person’s hands, but it’s germ warfare just the same.
This unnamed psalmist was living in a different time but under conditions just as dire. Harassed and assailed to the point of death, he reached for God and got a grip on hands that not just held him steady, but lifted him. In God’s hands, he felt anxiety flowing out of him as God’s consolation flowed in. Nothing in his outer world had changed; everything inside him had.
God’s comfort transformed anxiety into joy. How can I get that same joyful release from anxiety?
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Ps. 23:4)
God comforts me with the truth that He is my Shepherd. His whole purpose is to watch over my wellbeing. His staff leads and guides me to the places that nourish my spirit, quench my thirst for more of Him, and allow me to rest in the peace of His presence. When I wander into danger, the crook of his staff can pull me back to safety. His rod has the power to beat back the enemies who prey on me. What a comfort to know that He is with me in the dark valleys; that I’m never left with only my own limited and inadequate resources, but blessed with His.
The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:5)
God isn’t answering my distress call via long distance. He is near. More than that, because I have accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, He is already in me by the power of His Holy Spirit. I never have to go in search of God. He is as near as my breath. My consolation is always with me; the only obstacle to reaching Him is my urge to rely on myself.
Paul expands on these verses with some practical steps. He urges me to keep turning my thoughts to God’s truth and its outworking, and to keep praising Him. He tells me to put what God has taught me into practice. The result is “the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil 4:9)
Anxiety is the natural human reaction to threats of any kind. It’s a major challenge to turn that reaction into a response of trust in the God we can neither see nor touch. It takes learning to focus both my attention and my intention to turn resolutely to the God who sees and touches me. However hard it may be to wrench my eyes from the trouble and turn them to God, the peace that results is more than worth it. It’s that peace that guards my thoughts and feelings against the corrosive action of anxiety. It’s that peace that grips me, and enables me to get a grip.
When the psalmist was going over the edge, he did three crucial things that gave him a grip:
He reached for God’s hands, and stopped relying on himself or others.
He held onto God hands, and drew on their strength.
He was lifted into God’s hands, and willingly and gratefully held there.
As Peter would later advise,
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7)
Get a grip.
Don’t let go.