The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
June 23, 2019
There is a phrase that some people use that is wonderful to hear. They say, “I got you!”
Sometimes it means, “I understand what you are saying,” or “I feel what you are feeling.”
That is something nice to hear. But, sometimes people mean something even nicer by saying “I got you!” They mean: “Don’t worry. I got your back. I’ll be there for you. I’ll be with you to help you deal with the challenge you’re facing. I got you!”
We all have challenges to face. It may be an illness, a difficult relationship, a hard assignment at school or work, a weakness in controlling ourselves and not making the same mistake over and over again.
We are tempted to think that we can only handle a challenge if we can honestly say, “I got it!” – that is, if we can get ourselves together, and get smart enough, strong enough and skilled enough to handle it.
But, with some challenges, we’re sure we “don’t got what it takes”; and that awareness causes us distress.
Wouldn’t it be nice, on such occasions, to hear someone say, “I got you! I got your back. I’ll be there for you. I’ll help you deal with it and conquer it!”
Wouldn’t it be really, really nice to have someone say “I got you!” who is supremely smart and powerful?
God is not just supremely smart and powerful, but infinitely smart and powerful. God says “I got you!” to certain people, and those people thereby feel confident and at peace in the face of life’s toughest challenges.
To which people does God say “I got you”?
Those in whom He takes pleasure!
So, in whom does God take pleasure? According to this scripture, it is not necessarily the smartest people, the strongest, the fastest, the best-educated, the most talented or the most determined; it anyone who fears God and hopes in God’s steadfast love.
So what does it mean to do these two things?
To fear God is to hold God in such high respect that we seek above all else to do what He says.
That means we don’t do things just because we want to or because we feel like it. It means we put our own desires and wishes in second place, and are most concerned to fulfill God’s desires and wishes.
Putting God’s desires and wishes ahead of our own feels like a restriction on our freedom to do what we like. In truth, however, it frees us up to do what, we soon discover, we like most of all!
Wouldn’t it be fun to captain a sailboat and skip over waves of the sea? Yet, to have such fun we have to submit to and adjust to certain realities. We cannot go into shallow waters or we will shipwreck. We cannot keep pointed against the wind or we will flounder. We cannot disregard the currents or we will capsize. We have to restrict our freedom to do whatever we like in order to enjoy the higher freedom of flying over the water.
God gives us commandments. He tells us what to do and what not to do. The rules restrict us but they also liberate us to enjoy the best of life. Do you want to do well in school? Then you have to get your homework done before you go out and play or Snapchat with your friends. Do you want to have good friendships and relationships with family members? Then you have to be there for them even when you’d rather be doing something else and at times sacrifice your own plans to help them. Do you want to know God’s companionship and experience His power in you? Then you have to give up some social media time or phone game time, and spend at least a few minutes each day alone with God praying and one hour each week with God’s people worshipping.
God says “I got you!” to those who fear Him enough to obey Him and who hope in His steadfast love enough to look forward to good rewards for their obedience. Fearing God and hoping in His steadfast love are really two sides of the same thing. We say do what we should in anticipation of being better off as a result, and we happily expect to be better off in trust of God’s faithfulness. Our fearing God puts us a position to receive the gifts of God’s steadfast love, and our hoping in His faithfulness inspires us to do God’s will.
Life is wonderful. But it is often hard, and we all face challenges that seem to be more than we can handle. But hoping in God’s steadfast love and fearing God gives peace and joy before our challenges.
One of my heroes is a woman who as teenager broke her neck in a diving accident. Joni Eareckson Tada, now almost 70-years-old, is still confined to a wheelchair, still unable to move her body below her shoulders, and still suffering unrelenting pain. Yet, she hopes in God’s steadfast love and fears God enough to do what she needs to do to fulfill His good will for her.
Joni believes that a big part of God’s will for her life is that she shine with God’s light as a witness to God’s grace. In fact, for decades now, people have been amazed by her radiant joy. The joy with which she shines is real, but it is hard won in obedience.
Once she was speaking at a conference. During a break, she was getting her hands washed at a sink in the hotel’s large public restroom when a lady, putting on her lipstick at the mirror, turned and exclaimed, “Joni, you always look so together, so happy in your wheelchair. I wish I had your joy!” Several women around her nodded. “Yes, how do you do it?” they asked.
Joni replied, “I don’t do it. Let me tell you how it works. After my husband, Ken, leaves for work at 6:00 a.m., I’m alone until I hear the front door open at 7:00. That’s when a friend arrives to get me up. While I listen to her make coffee, I pray, ‘O Lord, my friend will soon give me a bath, dress me, sit me up in a chair, brush my hair and my teeth, and send me rolling out the door. I don’t have the strength to face this routine one more time. I am out of resources. I don’t even have a smile to take into the day. But you do, Lord. May I have yours? God, I need you desperately.’”
Joni paused and a woman asked, “So what happens when your friend enters your bedroom?”
Joni answered, “I turn my head toward her and give her a smile straight from heaven. It’s not mine. It’s God’s. And so,” Joni said, with a glance at her paralyzed body, “whatever joy you see this day was hard won this morning.”
Joni gives what she can to revere God in obedience, and God gives Joni out of His steadfast love a supernatural ability to light up a room and to brighten the spirits of people “better-off” than she.
We can know the same triumph over our challenges!
We will fear no challenge when we fear the Lord and hope in His steadfast love. Let us then trust Him when He says “I got you!” – and believe that by His help we too can surmount challenges with a smile on our face and peace in our heart!