I was praying last night about the horribleness of the college search and future decisions and this verse just popped into my head. It’s a familiar old passage, but this time I really heard it anew.
I had just read a devotional about strength in and even gratitude for the hard times, but I didn’t really apply it to my life. After all, things are going great for now — it’s the future I’m worried about.
Ah, the future. The cold black abyss of uncertainty. However many times my dad tells me that oh, you still have plenty of time and we’ll just keep praying about it and maybe a lightning bolt will magically fall from the sky — however many times my wise mom offers me her advice and makes me feel better about it — however many times my teachers express certainty that things will come together or my friends sympathize over the decisions they too are facing or I just try to avoid thinking about it altogether — while all of these people mean well, and often their words do help, it doesn’t change the fact that time is winding down in the next few months and that there are actions that do need to be taken and decisions that do need to be made and I have no clue where to even start.
Another word for “dismayed” is discouraged. That’s really how it feels. Discouraging and overwhelming. There are so many options and how the heck am I supposed to know what’s best? Have I been praying about it? Heck yeah. But I haven’t seen any lightning bolts yet.
But you know what? This verse says that’s okay. And it doesn’t say it’s okay in the way that one person assured me that at least one college in the world received applications from seniors just the other week, in May (because seriously, how do you think those seniors whose applications didn’t come in until the last possible day have been feeling all year, huh?), or okay in the way that people toss over their shoulders that it’ll work out eventually, or okay in the way of well, it’s okay to not know so I should just sit back on it and not care about my future. This verse is God’s voice saying “Do not be discouraged, for the I, the Lord your God, am with you wherever you go.” And suddenly he means wherever not in a metaphorical sense like wherever is a state of mind or emotion or stage of life, but in a very real and practical and physical way. And that’s why it stood out to me. Because I do not walk alone; I have a travelling companion. And that’s regardless of how I act or feel — God’s faithfulness is not a conditional promise.
And for that reason, I do not have to be discouraged. I do not have to fold my arms or tighten my grip; I do not have to block off my heart or fear the uncertainty of what is to become of me. While it is true that the decisions still have to be made and I am still in the waiting, I am reminded that not all who wander are lost, and those sneaky voices in my head are drowned out by a different one. So maybe if I search less for my future and more for his faithfulness, I will be able to find contentment in the shadow of his wings and step forward, undiscouraged.
What a wonderful summer it’s been! I’ve had the amazing opportunity to spend it in full-time ministry for nine weeks, teaching kids about God from his Word and sharing the amazing gospel of grace. I’m so grateful for everything that’s happened and the way God has been working in all of it. I’ve been tired, I’ve been worn, I’ve been weak, I’ve been stressed and sick and overwhelmed–but what life I’ve found in this. It’s such a beautiful thing, and my Rock is that God is faithful. None of this has been about me in the first place, no matter how much I may act like it in my pride. He’s shown me that more than once.
My prayer is that I can hold on to that, clinging desperately. School starts a week from now, and there’s so much I still have to do–so many demands and decisions and conflicting commitments. This summer, I’ve learned that when I’m in that place, of being totally lost amid the different demands tugging me this way and that and feeling like I’m going to drown amid all the work and all the scheduling and all the things on my list that have to get done–I’ve learned that there’s only one place to go.
In Philippians 4:6-7, Paul writes:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
He promises to safeguard your heart and mind. Safeguard. There’s something about that word. Other translations use words like keep, protect, et cetera, but there’s just something about the concept of safeguard that I love. Maybe it’s because I know I need it. When my mind is so full it feels like I’ll burst with all the things I have to juggle and all the things I have to think about and everything tugging and pulling me this way and that and my heart is a turmoil of mixed emotion and inconstancy–the idea of a safeguard, holding the good things in and keeping the bad things out, is a welcome thought.
I picture an actual wall, the kind of thing they used to have in the medieval days, where the outer wall was the first line of defense in your castle. The kind of wall that’s ten feet thick and made of stone and iron.
This wall of mine, it has no holes, no weaknesses. But a wall, you say–things can get over a wall. You could dig a tunnel underneath or let fly an arrow over. So let’s add a nice force field as well. An impenetrable orb of energy.
Oh, and just for fun, how about some archers of my own? After all, the Weymouth New Testament translates this passage as “And the peace of God, which transcends all our powers of thought, will be like a garrison to guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.” Let’s garrison this fortress of my heart and mind with an arsenal of truth.
Voila. I think God’s got me pretty covered.
If nothing else this summer, I’ve learned what a refuge prayer can be. I get so easily frustrated, so easily consumed by the little things that become so BIG in my mind.
But…He is bigger.
Despite all the doubts, anxieties, worries, voices, demands, expectations, choices, pressures, burdens, fears I face, the fear of the LORD is greater. Because when you fear the Lord, it means an awe of who he is. When you’re in awe of who he is, when you see the awesomeness of his power and his might and his glory and his strength and his wrath and his purity and his holiness and his passion, when you recognize who this God is–everything else becomes small.
The antidote to anxiety? Truth and trust. Bury yourself in His Word until you find what it is you seek. The beautiful thing is, his promise is always true. He is with me, whether I necessarily “feel” him or not.
Wash yourself in who he is. Recognize the truth of the God you serve, and realize that he won’t ever fail you when you trust in him, because he is greater than the problems you face. Love him, delight in him, until everything else seems small in light of him.
Psalm 73:26 – My heart and flesh may fail, but the Lord is my strength and my portion forever.
On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
all other ground is sinking sand;
all other ground is sinking sand.
May the Lord safeguard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. May you recognize him for who he is, and take refuge in prayer and in promise. May you build your house upon the Rock and live your life in light of eternity.