Psalm 56:3-4, 10-11
3 whenever I’m afraid,
I put my trust in you—
4 in God, whose word I praise.
I trust in God; I won’t be afraid.
What can mere flesh do to me?
10 God: whose word I praise.
The Lord: whose word I praise.
11 I trust in God; I won’t be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?
In 1933 a deep economic depression gripped the United States. In his inaugural address, new President Franklin Roosevelt said, “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."* President Roosevelt was, knowingly or not, following a Biblical tradition. Psalm 56’s expression of deep trust in God was repeated in Psalm 118, sung at the end of Passover seders, and quoted in Hebrews 13:5-8. Trusting in God’s unfailing love, the psalmist, Jesus and the early Christians all asked, “What can anyone do to me?”
Lord God, I want to learn to live with the same kind of trust the psalmist expressed. Teach me each day how to put my trust in you whenever I am afraid. Amen.
* Speech transcript and sound clip found at http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5057.
** J. Clinton McCann, study note on Psalm 56:11 in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 901 OT.
I suffer from Ophidiophobia, the abnormal fear of snakes. (Although if we are being totally honest, is it really abnormal to fear something that could kill you?)
I have never liked snakes. It might have started when I was a kid and my little brother used to think it was hilarious to hide his rubber snakes under my pillow before bedtime. Or maybe it started when I would sleep over at my friend’s house and saw the mason jar her parents kept in the kitchen filled to the brim with rattles from rattlesnakes they had killed on their property. Or maybe it was the time that really bratty boy in my class brought his snake to school for share and tell and then chased all the girls around the playground with it at recess. Take your pick.
I personally just don’t like the idea that something could sneak up on me like that--totally gives me the heebie jeebies. You can’t see this, but I just did a full body shiver. Snakes creep me out.
Maybe you have something like this in your life too. All my life people said you have to face your fears to overcome them. Surely they didn’t mean snakes? Early on I had decided to completely ignore this nugget of wisdom. It was quite a shock when one day I found myself face to face with my biggest fear. I remember it clearly. It was at a 4-year-old's birthday party. I was about 25, but I was popular with the younger crowd. Our neighbor’s daughter was having a zoo-themed birthday party and had hired a company to bring some animals for the kids to see and touch. Mostly they were harmless: a parrot, a ferret. They saved the best for last. The trainer asked all the kids to sit on the ground with their legs out in front of them. The kids insisted that the adults sit too. So I was sitting on the ground between two toddlers when the trainer walked out holding a Burmese python. My heart started racing. I found myself suddenly caught between my fear of the snake and my fear that if I jumped up and ran off screaming I would lose all my street cred with the toddlers. That lost piece of wisdom about facing your fears ran through my head and I found myself emulating the little blue engine that could repeating, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” After all, the trainer holding it was a good 10 yards away. Surely I was in the safe zone. Then he did the unthinkable--he said he was going to lay it across our laps. That thing was going to touch me! My heart raced faster. For some reason the toddlers didn’t seem to grasp the severity of the situation--they giggled and got excited. As the trainer started to lay the yellow and white behemoth across our legs, I repeated my mantra faster and faster, but deep down I wasn’t sure I could do it. Then the moment of truth--the snake was laid across my legs. I took a deep breath and held as still as possible. A few seconds went by and nothing happened. I looked down the row of toddlers and saw that nothing had happened to them either. In fact, they were petting the snake in fascination. Well, if a 4-year-old was brave enough to pet the snake, I would be too. I slowly reached my hand out and placed it on the snake. I was instantly surprised at how dry (“not slimy”) it was. I could feel the texture of its scales, and as I looked closer I could see the design in its body. It was heavy across my legs. For a brief moment I stopped fearing it and started to see it as something beautiful, another of God’s creatures.
A minute or two later, the trainer took the snake back. The kids moved on to opening presents. I felt like I deserved the award for bravery. I had done it! I had faced my fears. Now….I still don’t like snakes. I have a healthy fear of them, but along with that fear I can also appreciate them for the beautiful creation they are. They really are amazing--from a distance, behind glass.
I did learn something new about my fears that day. I don’t think God expects us never to be afraid. There are some really scary things in this world. No--instead, I think God asks us to see our fears through His eyes. Only when I see my fears through the person of Jesus am I able to feel both fear and peace at the same time. When I worry about what the latest act of terrorism may mean for my kids I am reminded that God is in control. When my friend tells me she has cancer I am reminded that God is the God who comforts and heals. And when I see a snake I am reminded that God makes beautiful things, and there is peace in that. Not peace as the world gives it, but as God gives it; a peace that passes understanding.
Is there a fear in your life that you need to see through God’s eyes? Give your fear to God. He knows it, He understands it. After all, snakes were His idea. And may you, through the midst of your fear, experience His peace.
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