Saturday, February 4, 2017

Trust in the Lord

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

The fear of others lays a snare, but one who trusts in the Lord is secure. - Proverbs 29:25

Who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. - 1 Peter 3:13-14

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 19:1-6; 2 Chronicles 6:24-7:22; Acts 19:6-20

What I hear today in Proverbs 29:25 is similar to what I wrote about based on yesterday's Daily Texts: that fears are natural and normal in this world, but that there's greater power in trusting God. In today's texts, the particular angle I hear is a question of who we focus on.

Are we afraid of some other person? That fear "lays a snare" for us. I remember as a boy, whenever some bully chose me as his or her victim, the fear of the bully was worse than the actual bully. Later in life, there were fears of meeting somebody else's expectations, fears of the whims of people who had positions of power in my life, fears about how someone might treat my kids, and on and on. I'm not a particularly anxious person, I enjoy life, and generally have a positive and relaxed attitude toward life - and yet, I've lost a lot of sleep and spent a lot of waking time tending to fears like these.

Today, the fear that eats at me most is our national political situation, and I guess the person I fear the most is Donald Trump, with Steve Bannon close behind. I believe our new President to be incompetent, unprincipled, unpredictable, and uncaring, so easily distracted and redirected that he might easily become a puppet for strategic thinkers who do have a rigid ideology that strikes to the core of our national principles of equality and justice and liberty for all. I fear that the power in these hands will bring tragic and costly changes to who we believe we are, and how we treat ourselves and others. Many people will disagree with my opinion! Yet I think these fears are not personal phobias or imaginary monsters. I think I have legitimate, rational reasons for these fears, and I know many who do agree.

But the message of Proverbs 29:25 is that my fear lays a snare for me. I can almost watch this happening these days. Liberals, who have scoffed at conservatives for years for their supposed blindness or gullibility in rallying around Fox News and Tea Party initiatives, are now starting to rally around sources of left-leaning material that feeds liberal biases and blind spots. Sign up with this service, that list, those petitions, these politicians. It's so easy for anybody to be distracted from core values and the big picture, to be co-opted for someone else's agenda. We get snared easily.

And it's not just external influences. The snare set by our fears can also deprive us of our connections to the beliefs and practices that really feed us. Every minute spent reading or watching another outrage piece is a minute we didn't use for what's most important in life. We need to stay informed. We need to be vigilant about what matters. Yes, fears are natural and normal. But to focus on and chase after the fears is to ensnare ourselves. Better to remain watchful but free to be true to ourselves and our core convictions.

For people of faith, the other half of Proverbs 29:25 is helpful. Our fears make us worry about our security - but it's only in trusting God that we find true security.

I believe we have to be careful about seeking security. Martin Luther referred to security as an idol; when what we seek is our own security, we will latch on to anything that offers us comfort. And this focus on personal comfort and security, a priority placed on what's good for me, triggers our ever-present tendency to put ourselves before God. Jesus knew this, and this is why it makes total sense when he calls us to become his disciples (learners, followers) by denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and following him (Luke 9:23). "For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?" (Luke 9:24-25)

I believe it's in the sense of chasing after selfish security that Christian leaders like Franklin Graham have "sold out" and begun pointing to Donald Trump as God's chosen one. In some sense, they've started to see him as a savior from the things they fear.

I believe there is a danger, among people whose fear is Donald Trump, of falling into the same snare. So we need to be careful that our eye is not set on security. Instead, Proverbs 29:25 lifts up trust in God. I would say the same goal could be summed up as faithfulness or obedience.

Rather than asking "what are we afraid of?" and being defined by that fear, or by something or someone we see as a secure shield against that fear, we avoid the snare and ensure our freedom by submitting ourselves to God's will. We ask "what would God have me do?" and we set out to do it.

The advantage of focusing on a human being, an ideology, a place or program, is that it's easy. It doesn't require us to do much other than look - either with fear, or with reverence - and allow our thoughts and actions to be defined by what we see. But with this easiness, the snare is laid, and we're slaves to an idol.

Following Christ, listening and discerning and aiming to do God's will, is far from easy! It's work. It calls us to stay connected, keep putting our feet into the footprints he left, seek time with God, and serve others with compassion when we see a need. It calls us to be clear that our ultimate allegiance is to Christ and nothing and no one else.

For me, this line of thinking helps me reframe my thoughts and efforts. I want to work not out of fear, but out of a sense that I serve God and God's kingdom in Christ. The ends do not justify the means; any good I do, I'll do by doing good all the way. It's in weakness that God's greatest strength is shown. I want to serve and follow and learn and pray and obey. I want to strive to hear Christ's call and strive to respond. I want to learn the meaning of his promise that his yoke is easy and his burden is light.

I'm also helped today by the beginning of Psalm 19, one of the other passages chosen for today:
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
     and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
     and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
     their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
     and their words to the end of the world.
As I face my fears, it helps to hold on to this vision of God's voice streaming out all the time, day and night, around the world. It puts my fears - and my human reactions to those fears - into perspective. It helps me to trust God alone, and to find security for myself and all people in the will of God.

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