May 13, 2014

Finding a resting place

He makes me lie down in green pastures . . . (Psalm 23:2)

In comparing fearful and skittish sheep with my own anxieties, several issues come to mind. I just looked at the news and felt a knot in my gut over the girls who were kidnapped in Nigeria. I read about the priest who was shot without apparent reason in a small city north of here. Closer to home, I’m anxious that my husband has enough work this week to satisfy him, and that a plumber shows up today and fixes a leaky pipe. I also want to finish a quilt before a competition deadline, make some odd software work, and complete this week’s assignments for the course I’m taking. I am trusting God to keep my heart right before Him, a constant battle since beginning these studies, but those battles are an anxiety too. I need some green pastures.

Anxiety and worry are forms of fear, and have an element in them of control. That is, if I am completely trusting God and His loving care, these emotions go away because, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”

The Bible says “fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” It also says we don’t love God automatically, but love Him because he first loved us. (1 John 4:18–19) To say this in another way, if I am certain God loves me, I will not be anxious about things. Instead, when I am afraid, I will look to Him and enjoy the freedom of being fearless.

In the early days of God’s people, they had pulled out of Egypt and were in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. However, they had a problem. The people became impatient on the way and began to gripe against God and against Moses, their leader. God tolerates much, but griping is another way of expressing distrust and it raises His wrath.

They said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.

So they came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” Moses prayed and the Lord told him to make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole. Everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live. In other words, look at it and they would not die. So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. (Numbers 21:4–9)

This seems an odd way of dealing with their sin of grumbling, but not so odd when the Apostle John uses it to illustrate why Jesus came . . .

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:14–17)

In other words, to be rescued from sin and to avoid eternal death, we must look at Jesus. It isn’t automatic, but requires looking. See Him lifted up on that cross, for by looking to Jesus, we are saved.

Hebrews tells me the same thing. In fighting sin or in struggles with fear and the temptation to worry or grumble, I am to consider Jesus . . .  

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:1–3)

My fears are evidence that I’m not looking in the right direction, or trusting in the One who has so wonderfully rescued me from sin. Since fear has to do with punishment, I need to make certain my sins are confessed since unconfessed sin is often the reason I take my eyes off my Shepherd. Whenever I do that, I wander into rocky places instead of enjoying that green pasture that He promises.

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