given on September 26, 2010
The bright moonshine this week may have kept a few of you awake. The storms we heard may have made solid sleep difficult. The howling of coyotes may have penetrated the quiet evenings. A thousand concerns ranging from the windows being open to making the next round of payments kept you tossing and turning in bed. Managing our lives is tough, and finding ways to relieve stress and find true rest is no easy task.
The newscasters tell us how important it is to get a good night’s rest. Then they turn around and tell us the latest drop in the stock market or a violent threat against someone way too close to us. That good night’s rest just seems like a fantasy. But we do have a special secret, one that we really need to share—God.
In those first two verses of Psalm 91, the psalmist reminds us just how little we have to worry about:
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
Will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my
My God, in whom I trust.”
There is the secret: Trust in God. God will make rest possible. He will provide refuge and strength as long as we trust him.
Granted, I may be using one word to rest the arguments of all the specialists on stress management and sleep; yet how can it be ignored. Looking at the various translations, I found the word rest in the New International Version is translated into a wide range of terms:
- King James Version: shall abide
- New Revised Standard Version (the Wesley standard): abide
- New Living Bible: rest
- The Message: spend the night
- Amplified: remain stable and fixed
- Contemporary English Version: stay in the shadow
- New Century Version: will be protected
Admittedly, the range of terms also means the idea of “resting” is not an overarching theme for some, yet the study notes in the Life Application Bible states:
God is a shelter, a refuge when we are afraid. The writer’s faith in the Almighty God as Protector would carry him through all the dangers and fears of life. This should be a picture of our trust—trading all our fears for faith in him, no matter how intense our fears. To do this we must “dwell” and “rest” with him. By entrusting ourselves to his protection and pledging our daily devotion to him, we will be kept safe.
There is the message. Stress can be eliminated in our lives through our faith in God. In other words, “Let go and let God.” We have heard that phrase, we have told others the same thing, and yet do we listen and follow it ourselves.
Using the John Wesley version of the New Revised Standard Version, we see his line-by-line reactions to and comments on the psalm. He first identifies this psalm as “a liturgy of divine protection.” He goes on verse by verse:
- 91:1 The presence of the Lord affords a sphere of protection for the psalmist.
- 91:2 The refugee utters a confession of trust that is both a response to God’s promises and prerequisite for God’s providing that protection.
- 91:3-13 A series of assurances in the face of grave threats.
- 91:9-13 The Lord gives protection to those who seek it. Such promises can lead to dangerous manipulations, especially if one claims the protective power of God’s as one’s own.
Back to the 21st century, though: We all need to realize that our stress levels are directly related to how well we do “let go and let God.”
Reading the different translations is always interesting to me, but I do not always agree with the understanding I gather from the various word choices, but I always figure there is something—a deeper understanding, perhaps—which comes from the readings.
Last week, listening to Bishop Robert Schnase talk about living a fruitful life, he shared how difficult it was for him to move the five practices of fruitful congregations into a meaningful, private fruitful life. How does one apply radical hospitality to one’s own self? He explained that it means you have to accept, to be open, or to be receptive to God’s unconditional love, his grace. This is almost an impossible task with all the clutter that is in our lives.
The Bishop defined that clutter as cultural voices, fast-forward living, negative internal messages, and our attitudes, choices, and behaviors. The clutter filling our lives prevents our openness to God. The clutter is a barrier, and it is also what wears us out. We are stressed, we are physically tired, and we forget about God.
Look back at Psalm 91 in the words of The Message:
That’s right—he rescues you from hidden traps,
shields you from deadly hazards.
His huge outstretched arms protect you—
under them you’re perfectly safe;
his arms fend off all harm.
Fear nothing—not wild wolves in the night,
not flying arrows in the day,
Not disease that prowls through the darkness,
not disaster that erupts at high noon.
These words from the psalmist, who was still waiting for the Messiah, were meant to encourage the Jewish people. The words describe how God protects us from all types of harm; harm that is so similar to the many different forms confronting us each and every day.
Try making your own list of the harmful issues in your life: Health issues? Economic distresses? Angry neighbors? Demanding job? Family issues? House repairs? Self-image issues? Abusive relationships? Too much to do in too little time? Weather is hampering harvest? Depression? I am sure you can continue adding to the list, but don’t worry because God knows that list, too.
Now consider the Bishop’s list of roadblocks: cultural voices, fast-forward living, negative internal messages, and our attitudes, choices, and behaviors. If we are honest with ourselves, we can take our personal list of harmful issues and fit them into those roadblocks. We have not been receptive to God in our lives.
Psalm 91 in just one selection from the Holy Scriptures that promises us, right here, right now in the 21st century, that God loves us so much that he will take care of us. The Bishop states in his newest book, Five Practices for Fruitful Living (p.24):
Accept that you are accepted. The most important journey you will ever take begins by saying Yes, by receiving God’s love and accepting God’s acceptance of you. With lives filtered through a promise, the followers of Jesus live sustained by the assurance of God’s unending love. A continuing receptivity to God’s initiative in our lives is the key to all the practices that lead to fruitful living.
If we are open to God and follow him, the stress factors in our lives will lessen their iron grip on us. We will discover that we will be rested. We will find that all the clutter in our lives will become organized, put away, and our internal rooms will be cleaned. The psalmist ends his promising prayer with the uplifting verses 14-15 as translated in the New Revised Standard Version, the version with Wesley’s notes:
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.
Wesley’s notes for these words simply state, “The voice of the Lord promises protection.”
The simplicity of believing in God may be just too easy. The clutter in our lives is wearing us out, and the solution is God. God will protect us, he will be with us in each and every trial we experience. He knows when we are in trouble and will not leave our side. We just have to believe, to have faith in God, and to “let go and let God.”
We hear the words from the psalmist, and still do not understand. We find ourselves so wrapped up in life that we forget that you love us. We read the scriptures seeking understanding, but the truth is we think it sounds too easy. We admit that we are tired. We admit that the clutter in our lives is keeping us separated from you. Help us to hear words of guidance from the psalm. Help us to learn and worship together to accept your unconditional love openly, radically. Thank you for the work of the translators of your word and the efforts of spiritual leaders sharing how accepting God into our lives will provide us rest, stability, and protection. –Amen