Sunday, January 10, 2016

Fear and Anxiety (Psalm 27)


Sermon by: Robert Austell; January 10, 2016
Text: Psalm 27

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell."  

:: Testimony (link) ::
Eric's words about experiencing fear and discouragement, shared before the final song.

:: Scripture and Music ::
Call to Worship: Mercies Anew, v.1 (Sovereign Grace)
Song of Praise: Better is One Day (Redman)
Hymn of Praise: Ancient Words (DeShazo)
Song of Confession: Mercies Anew, v. 2 (Sovereign Grace)
Assurance of God's Grace: Mercies Anew, bridge (Sovereign Grace)
Affirmation of Faith: Mercies Anew, v. 3 (Sovereign Grace)
Offering of Music: On Eagle's Wings (Joncas)
Song of Sending: No Longer Slaves (Bethel Music)
Postlude: Rick Bean, jazz piano


:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.


Today we continue our series entitled, “Dark Season of the Soul: Where is God?” We are looking at some of the experiences and emotions we struggle with and how faith and God speak to those struggles and our questions. I have noted in the past that the Psalms give us language for some of the deepest human struggles. Today, specifically, we are looking at FEAR and ANXIETY, using Psalm 27.

What Do You Fear?


What do you fear? Take a moment and think about it. For some of you it may be close to the surface, easy to name. Others may have to think a little harder. But what is one thing or situation or person – one anything – that you fear?

Is anyone having trouble? Let me prime the pump a bit: spiders, snakes, the dark, being alone, a certain person, your boss, your parents, your kids, the future, the Democrats, the Republicans, losing something, never finding something, not making a difference, not leaving a legacy, terrorism, terrorists, violent people, sickness, getting old, losing your ability to think clearly, losing your health and mobility, losing independence, losing yourself, people very different from you, not having enough money, losing your job or the money you do have, losing someone you love, getting hurt, guns, flying, water.

Anybody still having trouble thinking of something? What do you fear? What makes you afraid? Related to that, what makes you worry?

Listen to the list of dangers, evils, and trouble in Psalm 27. Some are real and already experienced; others are potential, something perhaps to worry about:

- evildoers who came to devour my flesh, my adversaries and my enemies (v. 2)
- a host (army) encamped against me… war raised against me (v. 3)
- a “day of trouble” (v. 5)
- enemies around me (v. 6)
- God hiding His face, turning away in anger, abandoning or forsaking me (v. 9)
- adversaries, false witnesses, violent people (v. 12)
- I would have despaired…. (v. 13)

Anybody think the Psalmist lives a happy-go-lucky life with no troubles, no worries, and no struggle? If you listened to the whole of Psalm 27, you know that these fears were mixed in the middle of faithful prayer, seeking, and trusting God. But they still amounted to two real fears: 1) that these many dangerous and violent adversaries would overcome me; and 2) that God would not show up, not help.

So think again; what do you fear?

What Shall We Do With Our Fears?


What shall we do with our fears? All alone, of course, fear is not an unhealthy thing. It is the appropriate reaction – often instinctually – to danger. In some contexts it can save our lives. The real problem comes when fear turns to worry and anxiety. Our fears themselves can become the adversary and enemy, taking on a life of their own. They can become our gods, that which directs our path, our choices and behavior. Our fears can enslave us, stealing our freedom, joy, and purpose.

What shall we do with our fears? I do not have quick or easy answers, but I would point you to several themes in Psalm 27. None of these are the kind of antidote you can purchase off the shelf, but are patterns of belief and behavior, habits that can only be ingrained over time and practice. Let me describe them and offer a personal illustration, then we will return to the question of what to do with our fears.

Confidence in the Lord (vv. 1-3)


Confidence seems like a strange place to start, and it is. Confidence is the fruit of belief and behavior made habit; it’s not the starting place. But this is poetry and the Psalmist isn’t teaching a lesson, but describing life. Consider it an up-front description of the hope and courage this Psalmist has found in the face of serious challenges. I’ll come back and say more in a bit, but will simply note know that the confidence isn’t in the writer’s own strength or cleverness or resources, but in God. Too often we plug something or someone other than God into the lines: ______ is my light and salvation; _____ is the defense of my life. And if we put lesser things or people as our light, salvation, and defense, is there any wonder our confidence is shaky? But, I also understand that one does not just decide to be confident in the Lord. It is the result of something else.

Seeking God’s Presence (vv. 4-10)


In vv. 4-10, the writer describes “one thing I shall ask and seek” – in a word, it is to know God. This is a person who is choosing to cultivate faith and behaviors that LOOKS for God. You can read in these words the patterns of worship, of offering, of singing, of praying:

- v. 4 – prayer (asked), seek, dwell, behold, meditate
- v. 6 – offer sacrifices, shouts of joy, I will sing praises

It is a fitting counterpart to what we talked about last week – that though we want to focus on WHY we struggle, it is more important to focus on WHO God is. You see that in this writer’s words. You can never go wrong praying for God to show Himself to you!

Learning While We Wait (vv. 11-14)


I appreciate the reality of this Psalm, that God isn’t waiting at the drive-thru window to immediately dispense whatever we have ordered up in prayer. Rather, seeing and experiencing God is relational, not unlike cultivating relationships with people. Those take time as well. Those relationships often involve some waiting and seeking. Meanwhile, the writer cultivates more habits of faith and behavior. “Teach me your way” (v. 11) recognizes the need to learn about God and God’s will. “Wait for the Lord” (v. 11) recognizes the discipline of cultivating relationship, even if it’s with a holy God.

A Picture of Confidence


I’d like to try to illustrate the importance of cultivating habits of faith and behavior as relates to having confidence in the Lord and overcoming our fears and anxiety.

If I asked you to stand up right now and sing in front of the church, would you do it?  I know a small few of you might, but many of you… it would not be your choice of a good time.    If you asked me to sing a song or play it on an instrument – now, at a party, out of the blue, wherever – I would not be afraid. There are things I do fear, that I am anxious about; but that is not one of them. Yet there was a time when playing the piano or singing in public TERRIFIED me. I remember sitting at my piano recitals with my hands shaking and my heart pounding louder and louder as we got closer and closer to my time to play. Do you know what has changed? It’s not talent or natural ability. It is the pattern and habit of practice – over and over and over. It is playing scales and learning chords and notes and actually doing it – playing and singing – over and over again, such that if you ask me to do that, the unknown is mostly removed. Those patterns and habits of behavior (and belief) were like bricks, slowly building a foundation of confidence. I also very clearly know what I can’t do… what is beyond me. I might tell you, “I can play that song” or “I can’t play that song” – but I would be confident in my answer, because it is undergirded by years of habit and practice and action.

That analogy is not quite right because I’m not advocating you ultimately to build up a foundation that trusts in your own strength. But it does help describe the net effect of making worship, offering, singing, praying, and seeking God part of everyday life. Those things build up a foundational relationship with God that you can lean into when you need it. The power of those things is not in you, but in knowing God more deeply. It is the reason I think this Psalmist, who is in the midst of so much opposition that could rightly cause fear and anxiety, does not despair. He has habit and history and knowledge of God. And it is never too late to start building those habits, building the kind of faith and knowledge that can say, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread?” (v. 1)


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