Psalm 116 presented me the other day with these beautiful words:
The LORD protects the simple; I was helpless, but he saved me.
Return, my soul, to your rest; the LORD has been very good to you. (Ps. 116, 6-7)
And a little farther on, just in case we are missing the point:
I kept faith, even when I said, “I am greatly afflicted!”
I said in my alarm, “All men are liars!” (Ps. 116, 10-11)
Praying with the Psalms can be a wonderful exercise in the kind of humility that comes from knowing Who God is and who we are. This kind of humility is grounded in the very wonderful simplicity of faith — faith gifted to us by the Holy Spirit in baptism and fed throughout our lives by Word and Sacrament.
But life, you say, is complicated! There is so much to think about. There are so many questions, questions without easy answers that require complex analysis. There are decisions to make all the time — big decisions with big consequences for my life. If I’m not careful, you say, I’ll get it wrong and the dominoes will start to fall.
And you know what? You’re absolutely right. Life is complicated, and so are the questions and issues we face every day.
The great blessing is that the period at the end of that sentence is not the end of it. The great blessing is that while life is complicated and filled with complex questions and issues and big decisions, faith is simple.
And faith is just what we need to deal with all those complexities and complications.
If we approach life as the psalmist describes in Ps. 116:10-11, we find ourselves in a constant state of something close to panic. We are “greatly afflicted!” and tormented by the deeds and misdeeds of all the “liars” around us, and the more we realize that we are pretty much powerless to fix all that, the worse it gets and the more frantic our thoughts become. We fall into the trap of thinking that if we don’t worry properly or sufficiently, we will never survive this train wreck we call life.
Let’s go back to verse 6: The Lord protects the simple. I was helpless, but he saved me.
There. Take a deep breath.
How do we get to be “simple”? The answer is, I think, pretty simple in itself. Once upon a lifetime ago when I was coaching people in how to manage change in their lives, I taught the benefits of figuring out what we have control over and focusing our energy there. It seemed to me then, and it still does, that this is a fairly simple process — but it does require us to be honest with ourselves in a way that isn’t always easy.
We have no control over the chaos that the world puts before us every day. Zero. Zilch. Zip. Politics? World events? Corruption? Nope, no control. The boss at work? Fellow employees? Customers? Nope, their actions are outside our scope of control. Financial markets? Interest rates? Stock prices? Nope, way outside our wheelhouse.
God’s grace? His mercy? His love? I’m going to tell you right now, these too are outside our control. And for that we should be thankful.
Because here is where it gets very, very simple. The one and only thing we have control over in our lives is our own response to all of it. And if we can focus ourselves on one single, simple response, we find ourselves in a place best described by Ps. 116:7: Return, my soul, to your rest; the LORD has been very good to you.
That response is faith — the faith that we were given in Baptism, the faith that the Holy Spirit works constantly to perfect in us, the faith that lets us take on any of the complexities and poly-gosh-awfuls the world has to offer, look them straight in the face and say to our Father, “I trust in You and in Your grace, mercy, and love.” And then living like you mean it.
When the world and its liars fill us with alarm, we have a place to turn. We are not stuck in a place where our only source of safety and peace is what the world out there offers — which isn’t much, by the way. When the world and its liars fill us with alarm, we go to our simple response — faith! — and we find that the Lord, Who is contant in His love and care, is very good to us.