The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
January 26, 2020
In China Christians have been persecuted for decades. Followers of Jesus have been harassed, slandered, imprisoned and even killed.
Fifteen years ago, Chinese officials from the Public Security Bureau burst into a Sunday School room at a local church. They snatched the 30 children and herded them into a windowless van. The kids were terrified. A boy started to sing a song, and soon songs of faith filled the vehicle.
When they arrived at the police station, the children marched bravely into the interrogation room, still singing to the Lord. The officials tried to force them to write, “I do not believe in Jesus.” They were told that unless they wrote it 100 times, they wouldn’t be released. The youth refused to do it. When given pen and paper, they wrote, “I believe in Jesus today. I will believe in Jesus tomorrow. I will believe in Jesus forever.” Exasperated, the officials pulled in the parents and leaned hard on them as well.
Some of the parents denied Jesus, and they and were allowed to go free with their children.
And some of the parents and children were never heard of again.
In today’s scripture David sings of God’s being his “light” and “salvation”, and his “stronghold”. Then David rhetorically asks, “Whom shall I fear?”
Though we Americans don’t have officials who might jail us or execute us, we have answers to David’s question. We fear, for example, mean people, bullies, gang bangers, gossips, and haters. And we fear things as well: pain, illness, weakness, failure, desertion by family members, betrayal by friends, and such.
These fears are not unrealistic. No matter how faithful we are to God, hurt and harm may hit us still. And we’re not unreasonable to dread the day they do.
Yet we can be freed from fear at its worst, and from its power to steal our joy, weaken our hope and discourage our hearts!
How much hard times “get to” us depends on how much of what matters to us is at risk at such times. If, for example, we don’t care what certain people say about us, their unfair criticism doesn’t bother us that much.
Likewise, if what matters most to us is, say, keeping in close contact with God, something not at risk in hard times, hard times can’t disturb us that much. For, while people can still take from us what we value less, they can’t then touch what we value most, the deepest desire of our soul.
Here’s an important truth: The more we love God, the more we fear God; and the more we fear God, the less we fear everything else. In speaking of fearing God here, I am not talking about being frightened that God might reject us or turn on us in anger. I am talking about cherishing a close and loving relationship with God so much that staying close means the world to us and makes us anxious not to create any separation between us. If we appreciate God in our life more than anything, what we seek most in life is to walk with Him – and that strong desire diminishes our concern and worry about other things.
David fears no one and no thing because he fears God with everything he’s got. He fears God like that because he wants to enjoy God’s company more than anything. All his happiness and fulfillment hangs on seeing God’s face and hearing God’s voice. Thus living intimately with God is the “one thing” David “seeks after” like nothing else; and because God is the one thing he seeks after, he can endure the loss of anything else without the loss of inner joy or peace.
When in his mid-twenties Ken Elzinga started teaching at the University of Virginia, his position on the faculty was anything but secure, for all the usual reasons, but also because of the prejudice in many professors against Christians. Tenured colleagues warned Ken about being public about his faith.
At one point, Ken had agreed to speak to a small group of Christian students. The color drained from his face when he saw a flier advertising his speech posted in a prominent campus location. Ken felt sure that his being “outed” as a Christian would hinder his prospects for advancement. Late that night he returned to campus and secretly took the poster down.
The next morning, after sleepless hours of soul searching, he put the poster back up. He’d concluded that being faithful in following Jesus and sharing His good news mattered more to him than the realization of his academic ambitions. Though he still feared the repercussions for his career, he feared more betraying the God whom he loved – and his soul was at rest with the risk.
As it turned out, fearing God helped Ken be the best professor he could. As he made it his first priority to please God, he became less anxious and more courageous in his teaching and writing. It gave him an independence from peer pressure and worldly recognition that has led to a long and successful academic career.
Fearing God and putting God first does not keep us from suffering hardship and trouble. It just keeps us from being done in by them. And it enables us to be happy, strong and our best despite them. It makes it so that, though hard times may knock us down, they can’t knock us out; though they may batter us, they can’t beat us; though they press us, they can’t crush us; though they can do us some damage, they can’t demoralize us.
Don McConchie, a Christian activist in Washington D.C., was done some very severe damage in a motorcycle accident that snapped his spinal cord and rendered him a paralytic who is spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair. The injuries have caused him much pain and the loss of many activities he once enjoyed. Yet, though he has been knocked off his feet, the hard times have hardly knocked him out for life. In fact, he now all the more bears a bright witness to the greatness and goodness of God; loves his family and friends with sensitivity, kindness and generosity; and radiates the courage and triumphant joy of someone who loves and fears God most of all – and thus, like David, reflects the shining glory of the God who is our “light” and “salvation”. Let us follow the examples of Don and David. Let us pray.