Preparing for Lent: Confronting Our Fears


Tuesday, March 5th

In the Old Testament there are 150 psalms that were written nearly three thousand years ago and have been used ever since to bring before God the range of emotions we are capable of feeling in life.  Jesus himself would have used the psalms, as a part of the spiritual disciplines of his life.  To this day, in Christian monasteries the entire 150 psalms are chanted together every week in communal prayer. In the lectionary (the scheduled readings for each Sunday) one psalm is always included.

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”
Because you have made the LORD your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place,
no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.
Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name.
When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them.
With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.

This psalm expresses the universal human longing for safety, in a world that often feels anything but safe.  It testifies to the conviction of our faith, that in an ultimate sense we are safe when we place our lives in God’s hands.

And yet, if we take the language literally we quickly encounter problems.  If we place our trust in the Lord does that mean nothing bad will ever happen to us?  Surely we know that this isn’t the case.  Our primary model of trusting God is Jesus, and his life ended on a cross. The ultimate trustworthiness of God wasn’t revealed by taking away the cross, but in raising Jesus from the dead.

This particular psalm occurs this week alongside the story of Jesus’ temptation by the devil.  Strikingly, we will hear the devil quote from this psalm when he tries to tempt Jesus to throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple in order to compel the angels to catch him before he strikes the ground.  Clearly trusting God doesn’t mean doing foolhardy things that aren’t a part of God’s will for our lives.

The pathway to greater freedom however, does involve confronting some of our fears.

It is helpful when we find ourselves facing something that brings up fear and anxiety in us to pray words from this psalm:  “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”  The act of turning our hearts towards God can lower the volume of the voices of anxiety in our heads. Perhaps in reaching out to God, in this way, we will feel a little better equipped to deal with whatever is causing us to feel anxious.

Try this week to take note of the times in which anxiety arises within you, and as you do pause to remember the words of the psalm:   “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”  Perhaps write the verse down and keep it with you to refer to.  See whether this practice can help relieve some of the oppression of your anxieties.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday.  Have you decided how you want to use this season to live into a greater freedom as God’s beloved child?