Psalm 27 Devotion – A song for when we are afraid
By Kat Cowell
Main passage: Psalm 27
Extra passages: Psalm 121, Romans 8:18-30
A number of years ago an article came out about a woman in the United States who has a rare and strange condition. The woman, known only as SM, is a woman without fear. This is what the article says about her: “She has been held at knifepoint without a tinge of panic. She’ll happily handle live snakes and spiders, even though she claims not to like them. She
can sit through reels of upsetting footage without a single start.”
Now you might be thinking this sounds like a pretty nice way to live – imagine not being afraid of anything! As someone with a relatively long list of fears, I have to admit that it is quite appealing to me! But the truth is, from a medical perspective, this woman is not actually normal. SM’s fearlessness is not because she is incredibly tough and brave, or has somehow conquered all her phobias. Rather, it is the product of a rare genetic disease, which has caused parts of her brain to harden and waste away, including the amygdala, which processes emotion.
For most people, fear is a normal part of the human condition. We have been created to feel things, and at times that includes feeling afraid and nervous, troubled and disturbed. And while we might lose some of our fears as we get older, in my experience, fear never seems to go away; it just finds new sources.
So how do you respond to fear? Perhaps your coping mechanism involves finding out as much information about something as you can, to lessen the impact of the unknown. Or maybe you are an expert at avoidance strategies, redirecting your attention to other, safer things. Maybe you’re a verbal processor who needs to talk through your fears, or maybe you keep them tucked away in a box that rarely gets opened.
We all have different ways of responding to fear, and we see the same spectrum of responses in the pages of the Bible. But interestingly, the most often repeated instruction in the Bible is “do not fear”. At the very least, this should remind us that our experiences of fear are normal and recognised by God. We are not somehow doing life wrong if we find ourselves feeling afraid and overwhelmed by the trials and challenges of this world.
Yet we might wonder, what basis do we have for this instruction? Who has the authority to tell us not to be afraid? Of course, it is none other than God Himself, the Maker of the heavens and earth, the One to whom all power, authority, dominion and glory belongs, and who also holds us in the palm of His hands. We can trust this instruction because of who God has revealed Himself to be, and how He has acted towards us, most of all in the sending of his Son to be our Saviour.
David knew the faithfulness and steadfast love of God, and yet in many of his psalms we see him speaking to his own heart, reminding himself of these truths; truths that can be hard to feel from within the storm. Psalm 27 is a wonderful example of this, and begins with this confident declaration: “The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?” Although David goes on to list some of the very real causes of his fear – the wicked advancing against him, armies besieging him, his father and mother forsaking him – he begins his psalm by affirming who God is, which in turn gives his heart confidence and strength.
When we find ourselves in the grip of fear, it is natural to cry out to God for His help. And perhaps the most natural prayer is to ask for the source of our fear to be taken away. But in Psalm 27 we get further insight into the depths of David’s heart and what he truly desires, even in his moment of fear. In verse 4 he says, “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” When everything is stripped back, what is most important to David is God Himself – not even what God can do for him, but who God is and the enjoyment that comes from gazing on His beauty and basking in His presence. As Tim
Keller writes, “To sense God’s beauty in the heart is to have such pleasure in him that you rest content”, and this is what David seeks.
But this is no easy feat when fears and foes are swarming around us, threatening to undermine our trust in a good, powerful and loving God. We see David pleading with God to answer him, turn to him and teach him, and these are the things we must seek in our times of fear too. While it is easy to want the hard times to pass, will we allow ourselves to be shaped by them and grown in our trust? As Tim Keller again says, “our fears can serve an important purpose – they show us where we have really located our heart’s treasure.” Will we allow ourselves to learn from God as his student in our moment of fear?
At the very end of the psalm we see a reiteration of David’s confidence. The final verses speak to the renewed trust that David has experienced as a result of his struggles and pleading with God. He vows to “wait for the Lord”, and indeed urges us to also “be strong and take heart, and wait for the Lord.” Much of the Christian life involves waiting, but this is no lazy wait. To wait on God is to continue trusting Him and holding onto His promises, it is to continue seeking Him and pleading with Him in our time of need, and to strive to enjoy His presence even when the path ahead is not clear. And we do this, knowing that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).