God of the Middle
Several years ago, while my wife was walking through the airport, she overheard a woman talking to someone on her phone who she was trying to console over some tragedy. The woman said, “honey just read the emergency Psalm 911.” (For those of you outside the US, 9-1-1 is the call number for emergency services.) My wife thought, “There aren’t nine hundred and eleven Psalms!” But then she realized the woman was referring to Ps 91:1.
“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”
The translator read the entire Psalm to the committee and concluded that over this past year and a half we have been faced with deadly pestilence. And this, along with other challenges, has often resulted in fear.
As some of you know, for the past two years I've been dealing with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation which is an electrical signal malfunction in the heart causing it to occasionally beat erratically and uncontrollably—sometimes for hours or even days on end. Electrophysiologists can tell you what is happening and even how it is happening, but not why it is happening. I thank the Lord that for a full year I had no events, and life was pretty much back to normal!
We thought that between medications, diet, and exercise we had cracked the code to dealing with this thing! And then last week—out of the blue—the afib events began again. For me, the events always come during the night about an hour or two after I lie down and usually last for seven to nine hours at a time. My heart feels like it's flipping and flopping and going to beat out of my chest, and there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop it. And if it doesn't stop on its own, cardioversion would be necessary—where they use paddles to shock your heart into normal rhythm.
If I let it, the fear of these afib events can become almost incapacitating. I’ve gotten so that I’m even afraid to go to bed in the evening. We know that as Christians we’re supposed to trust in the Lord, to rest in him, and to have peace in the midst of fearful events and circumstances. But that’s not so easy at times. I don‘t know the fears all of you are facing, whether it’s health, money concerns, professional insecurity, the fear of the loss of a loved one, strained relationships, or whatever, but we all realize that fear is a very real part of our human existence.
But what I've come to realize in my own situation is that it's very easy for me to make fear into an idol. I make sacrifices to it. I sacrifice to it my joy and happiness, my peace of mind. I offer it my thoughts, my attention, my energy. So fear and worry begin to lay claim to my whole life. So I pray, I quote Scripture, I remember Heidelberg Catechism question and answer #1.
What is my only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own but belong body and soul in life and in death to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
And I can occasionally tear down the altars that I’ve set up for fear. But before too long, I discover that in some other dark corner of my mind I’ve built the altars all over again.
So I appreciate that the psalmist in Psalm 91 acknowledges that trouble, terror, and fear will come. In v. 5 he even refers to the terror of the night! Something I can certainly relate to. And then in verse 15 he says that the Lord will be with him in the midst of trouble. It reminds me of one of my favorite NT verses; In John 16:33, Jesus says “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble.” I love that juxtaposition! Peace and trouble together. Peace in Christ in the midst of the trouble. But then he goes on to say, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Because of what Jesus has done, we can take heart! And through the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives to conform us to the image of Christ, we can keep casting out our idols to fear. I’m learning that when fear has been overcome, I’m free to focus on the more important things—being thankful for the everyday blessings God gives us: the steady regular heartbeat we might have taken for granted; sunrises and sunsets; the privilege of this work we as a committee get to do; the relationships of loving friends and family.
Thankfully this week has been good for me health-wise. But my prayer for all of us when we’re struggling to overcome fear, is that we remember that we belong to a heavenly Father who is not only the Alpha and Omega but also the Mu. I’m talking about the middle letter of the Greek alphabet. The God who is at the beginning of our Salvation is also the God at the end who will make all things new so that there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain or Covid or afib. But he is also the God of the middle. He is the God who is with us in the middle of life’s troubles, pandemics, and fears. And, thanks be to God, as the Psalmist says, “under his wings we will find refuge.”
Guest blog from Michael