Probably hard for you too. You just won’t admit it. I am, after all, ordained and more spiritual than you are. (I know, I heard the angels laughing too.)
Last week I was working on a sermon with that as the text. I planned to give a lot of good biblical advice about peace and calm, and quieting one’s soul. That was until Key Life’s internet went down. No problem. I don’t do Facebook or Twitter (staff people sometimes ask me for a quote with “say something outrageous” and post it though), and much of what I do is offline. To be honest, I don’t care if I’m connected or not. (“Lord, I could do my job if it weren’t for all these people.”) So when we lost the internet…no big deal, right?
Wrong! I felt unplugged, unconnected and very anxious. And the longer it was down, the more anxious I felt.
It took me a while (preachers are sometimes slow) before I realized how crazy it was for me to be writing a sermon on calming one’s soul while, at the same time, having an anxiety attack. Not only that, while God was laughing at my hypocrisy, I thought of a text from Jeremiah that the Holy Spirit probably brought to mind. (The trouble with being a Bible teacher for most of my life is that I can hardly think of anything without also thinking of a companion text. Sometimes that’s quite irritating.) Jeremiah was complaining to God and God said, “If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses?” (Jeremiah 12:5). In other words, if the little things in your life like the internet being down for a few hours throw you, what in the world will you do with the big things that come along?
What did you do?
I repented, that’s what I did. But there were also the “works of repentance.” I rewrote the sermon. It’s a lot more honest now than it was when it started and includes a confession. I may not preach it but good intentions are good, and I should get credit for that.
If I preach that sermon, let me tell you what I’ll say.
First, “welcome to the club!” Psalm 131 is one of the “Psalms of Ascent” (one of the 15 pilgrim songs, Psalms 120-134, sung on the way up to the temple at Jerusalem to worship). It is sort of a puzzle because it’s so personal. The Psalmist says that he has “calmed and quieted” his soul. So before he wrote the Psalm, he had anything but a calm and quiet soul.
I received a friend’s letter this morning. We had previously talked on the phone and my friend was quite anxious. He wrote, “The episode setting off my meltdown began when I began making mistakes at work and the thought of losing my job at this point in my life and under present circumstances made it even worse. I have only been fired once in my life and I kept reciting to myself, ‘Trust God, Trust God.’ Didn’t help much. The inner commotion is beyond explanation, fighting fear, reality, family issues, old nightmares surfacing.” (You might want to know that my friend not only didn’t lose his job, he got an outstanding review and a raise. Most of the stuff we worry about hardly ever happens…it’s the unexpected that will get you. So worry and be anxious about that instead.)
That brings me to the second point of the sermon I might preach, one that I learned from my late mentor, Fred Smith. If you can’t fix it, it isn’t a problem. It’s a fact and facts are something you can’t control, change or fix. It’s a kind of Quid Inferorum* moment. The Psalmist says that he has calmed and quieted his soul “like a weaned child with its mother.” If things go south, a child hardly ever knows what to do and certainly doesn’t have any control. The weaned child runs to his or her mother…who fixes things.
Abraham Lincoln said, “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.” I get that. My heart doesn’t immediately become calm and quiet, but it is better. The only people who have the contentment of a cow are cows and dead people. But things do become doable and better when I think of him.
And then if I preach that sermon, I won’t fail to quote the closing lines: “O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.” Even if you don’t feel it sometimes, God is good and good all the time.
I’ve been asked if I went to Billy Graham’s memorial service. Well, yes and no.
I was invited and, in fact, had a seat in the special seating section. I flew to Charlotte and got there two hours before the service started. With The Billy Graham Library only ten minutes from the airport, I was good to go. Nobody told me about all the roadblocks (even on the expressways) or that the president’s presence at the service would close down the library’s entrance. I’ll spare you the details. (In retrospect, they are kind of funny but they weren’t at the time.) I went through a pile of roadblocks and at each the police officers gave me instructions that only confused the lady who lives in my GPS. (As an aside, Charlotte must have the nicest cops in the universe…and I know because I met them all.)
Even if it doesn’t feel like it, he’s got your back.
I finally found the road leading to the Graham Library where the police were making it clear that people weren’t supposed to turn. I turned only to be immediately surrounded by more police officers who, given that I had just disobeyed their clear instructions, were sure I was a terrorist or something. Fortunately a friend came up who works at The Cove (The Billy Graham Training Center where I often teach) and vouched for me. He also told me that I was in “Parking Lot B” and helped me get around the multitude of police cars. When I finally reached the entrance, another police officer (and he looked like he was about to cry) said, “I’m so sorry, sir. The president’s plane just landed and the Secret Service is no longer admitting anyone into the service.” Talk about anxiety.
You ever hear a preacher cuss? No, I didn’t…at least out loud. ☺ I was not only anxious; I was greatly disappointed. I loved Mr. Graham and really wanted to be there. But I turned around and returned to the airport…where I read (and finished) two books for seven hours before my flight left for home.
But there is more. My friend, Steve Douglass (the head of CRU), was on the flight back to Orlando. He asked if I had been to the service and I told him what happened. Steve told me that Jesus must like me because “I’ve never been so cold in my life.” The temperature was in the low forties and the service was outside in an open tent. I had not thought to bring a heavy coat. You probably wouldn’t be reading this now if had made the service. I would have died of pneumonia.
So when you’re anxious, “hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.”
Even if it doesn’t feel like it, he’s got your back.
He told me to remind you.
* I’ve told you before but in case you don’t remember that’s Latin for “What the H____!” If you use it, people will think you’re smart and won’t know you’re cussing. (Don’t thank me. I was glad to help.)
Read more from Steve Brown here