“The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8 NIV
Historic. Unprecedented. Frustrating. Tiring. These are just a few of the ways in which we have described the majority of 2020. This year was supposed to be a time of renewed vision, fresh ideas, and limitless opportunities for positive changes within our families, congregation, places of employment, schools, and so many other facets of life. I have heard countless individuals say they wished the past several months were merely a dream from which everyone will soon awake. COVID-19, racial tension, hurricanes, forest fires, and pending elections are all the buzz from our news networks, social media feeds, daily papers, magazines, and other sources of pertinent information.
It is a stressful time to say the very least. Depression is on the rise amongst various groups. Anxiety has touched the lives of those who usually cope rather well with tense situations. “Afraid” serves as the category of choice for the feelings of many. The times they are a changing. This world seems vastly different from the one of yesteryear. Our hearts long for something which resembles the normal we have known and loved. When will things settle? What will tomorrow hold in store? Where do we go from here? These questions, and others like them, have become common amongst daily conversations and will no doubt continue for some time to come. Unfortunately, there are no simple answers and it is evident that the opinions/assumptions of many range from one end of the spectrum to the other. There are some who buy into a variety of conspiracy theories, others who take the “sky is falling approach,” and still others who wish to hurry along the Lord’s appearing. Our days are indeed enough to make practically everyone feel frazzled.
I do not know that the word “frazzled” necessarily describes the situation in the opening Scripture from Deuteronomy 31, but I can imagine there may have been some nervous feelings and perhaps questions about the near future. To set the context, the children of Israel had completed their lengthy period of wilderness wandering and were on the cusp of beginning their conquest of the land which God had promised. Moses, well-advanced in years and having disobeyed God’s earlier instructions, would not be making the trek into Canaan. He was given the opportunity to view this land “flowing with milk and honey” at a distance, but would miss the glorious moment when God’s people stepped into God’s promise. The time had come for Moses to pass the torch of leadership to Joshua, a young man who had proven faithful when surveying the land in preparation for its conquest. No doubt, Joshua knew that his leadership of the Israelites would be a daunting task which would require all of the strength and wisdom he could obtain from above. As with any new undertaking, there can be a bit of uneasiness, perhaps doubt and concern to go along with the unknowns of the future. Joshua was the individual for the job, but as Moses’ words reassured him, he was not going into this journey alone.
I often incorporate the reference to God as one who “never leaves or forsakes us” into my pastoral prayers within worship as well as with individuals. It is an excellent word for those moments when it feels as though everything is changing, the ground beneath us is shaking, and the world appears to be in chaos. It sounds like a word especially for here and now. We may not be taking the helm in leading a people into a foreign land, but we do wonder in the midst of our own uncertainties if there is anything constant. Is there something stable which we can rest upon to sustain us through these times? The answer is yes and it is found through the same words issued over 3,000 years ago to an Israelite leader. God’s presence is the constant which we can rely upon through the confusion of our present times. Our God is not overcome by the stresses and strains of this world. God never cowers at the arrival of new uncertainties. Not for a moment is God weakened by the evil which infiltrates so many portions of society. God never ceases to be God even as we as God’s people experience a season which feels overwhelming to say the very least. The God of the universe longs for us to seek the divine presence when it comes to all facets of our lives, but especially when we feel the temptation to cope with or even control that which makes us anxious. As Jesus taught his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount, worry never contributes anything positive to the lives of those who choose to do it.
We can look at our surroundings and complain about the current situation(s) or we can be trusting. We can blame one group or another, throw up our hands in rage, or withdraw into a hiding place in order to avoid the present. However, as a people of faith, God has invited us to persevere in our pursuit of God. Even when we want to break or give into the times, God continues to invite us to find our refuge in his power and strength. This source will never change, run out, or leave us alone.
Trusting God’s Presence Together, The Reverend Kelley Smart