Monday, July 18, 2011

Can't Scare Us!

The righteous will never be moved; they will be remembered forever. They are not afraid of evil tidings; their hearts are firm, secure in the LORD. Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid. (Psalm 112.6-8)

Welcoming Life and All It Offers

Without batting an eye, I can say one of my greatest influences has been an amazing friend named Estie. It’s improbable you’d pick up how mighty and unstoppable she is by looking at her. On her tallest day—in heels—she’s not much over five feet tall. She’s not flashy in appearance or demeanor. At social gatherings, you’re less apt to find her in the middle of things than on the sidelines in rapt conversation. Estie can and will talk to anybody, because when you first meet her, she makes you the topic of choice. She doesn’t rely on the usual who-what-where battery of icebreakers, either. She plunges in, asking what you think about something she’s read or seen. What she really wants to know is what you’re about, as well as let you in on what she thinks and what she’s about. Her friends (who are legion) tell the same story: “I knew and loved Estie long before getting her facts—or giving her mine.” Months passed before I learned she was a mover and shaker in the financial markets or explained what I did for a living. It just never came up.

Years later, I still recall big chunks of our first talks, because, on top of everything else, Estie’s quite the quipster. Though she relocated and we’ve lost touch, a day seldom passes but what Walt or I don’t quote her. One of my all-time favorites: “Can’t scare me!” It’s rich coming from a tiny, unassuming person like her—and all the funnier for being true. You can tell Estie anything, take her anywhere, and introduce her to anyone without worry, as she’s fearless in welcoming life and all it offers. What comes her way may shock, distress, or confound her. But scare her? No. She knows what she thinks and what she’s about. Which is why Psalm 112’s praise for the righteous filled my head with a kaleidoscope of Esties—all knowing what they think, what they’re about, and ready to say, “Can’t scare us!”

Caught Unawares

The psalmist writes, “The righteous will never be moved; they will be remembered forever. They are not afraid of evil tidings; their hearts are firm, secure in the LORD. Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid.” (v6-8) When we look back at people and possibilities we feared, we tend to give them more credit than they deserve. Our tales get taller and, consequently, we get smaller. It’s helpful to revisit these experiences with backs turned to their challenges so we can take a closer look at us. Other than profoundly tragic events—which no one can adequately prepare to absorb—chances are we had no reason to fear what made us afraid. We were frightened because we were caught unawares. Spiritually, mentally, and emotionally we were out of shape. We’d let some things slide and taken others for granted. Our prayer lives were in the doldrums. Conversations with God’s Word were hit-and-miss. Responsiveness to the Spirit’s guidance and counsel was so-so. We rationalized excuses for indulging unhealthy impulses and detrimental habits. Fondness for petty attitudes and baseless suspicions returned. Our hearts weren’t firm. Faith and discipline that anchored our security in God weren’t reliable. Steadiness we needed—certainty in what we think and what we’re about—wasn’t there. And we were afraid.

The psalm’s equation of righteousness with fearlessness is very instructive. When we diligently align our thoughts and pursuits with what God tells us is right and good, we’re invulnerable to doubts and anxieties that provoke fear. Our hearts stay steady and our faith in God remains secure because we keep them steady and secure. There’s nothing more to do in the face of uncertainty than be who we are. The psalmist is very explicit about who “the righteous” are. They honor God and delight in pleasing God. (v1) God blesses them with prosperity, yet they remain loyal to God’s ways. (v3) They don’t conform to the world’s pessimistic practices and prejudices: “They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright; they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.” (v4) Verse 5 says they’re generous and giving, and they “conduct their affairs with justice.” No wonder they’re unshaken by trouble and unafraid of bad news. Trouble may appear from nowhere, but they’re never caught unawares. You can’t scare someone who knows the right thing to do—and how to do it, since she/he’s been doing the right thing all along, even when it wasn’t “necessary,” or necessarily advantageous. Righteousness permits us to answer fearsome challenges with “Can’t scare us!” It’s neither a boast nor a challenge. It’s just how it is.

Discipline Begets Daring

The big message here is discipline begets daring. How firm and steady our hearts are, how fearlessly we welcome life and all it offers, comes down to stewardship of resources. There’s only so much of what we’re given—time, energy, money, attention, compassion, patience, and on and on and on. Wisely managing it becomes the critical factor in maintaining righteous thoughts and behaviors that, in turn, save us from squandering what we’ve been given on unnecessary fears. We won’t take time to pray. But we’ll make time to worry. We won’t devote the energy to open God’s Word. But when trouble calls, we’ll wear ourselves out begging God to tell us what to do. We won’t part with pennies we don’t need to help the penniless. But we’ll blow small fortunes on diversions, medications, and counselors when we confront situations we’re unprepared to handle. Everything God provides is for our use. And we will use it. Either we’ll invest it wisely in disciplines that righteousness requires, or we’ll spend it recklessly, trying to placate fear’s demands.

“In the end,” the psalmist says, the righteous “will look in triumph on their foes. They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.” (v8-9) Investment in righteous disciplines is a sure thing. It’s repaid many times over in confidence and courage to outlast our adversaries. “The wicked see it and are angry; they gnash their teeth and melt away; the desire of the wicked comes to nothing,” verse 10 concludes. Will people take aim at us unjustly? Yes. Will they attempt to frighten us into compliance and conformity? Yes. Will circumstances conspire to undo us? Yes. They'll do all that and more. But we know what we think and what we’re about. The disciplines of righteousness have steadied our hearts and blessed us with daring. Whatever they do and however hard they try, they can’t scare us.

O God of all things right and good, we confess to submitting needlessly to fear because we’re unprepared for troubles that make us afraid. Instill in us a constant craving for righteousness and insatiable desire to invest wisely in its disciplines. Amen.

Daily discipline in righteousness steadies our hearts and prepares us to face trouble without fear.

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