Isaiah 41:8-10 8 “But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, 9 I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you.10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Psalm 56:3-4 3 When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. 4 In God, whose word I praise— in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?
This week, we will begin to look at Living with Courage and Hope in a Pandemic. We will explore the common worries and fears that we are experiencing. The Reflection will look at steps to help us overcome the fear and anxiety of modern times. Scripture continues to offer a faith that promises again and again that we can live, in troubling times, with courage and hope.
For PGUMC and The Gathering Table, the full impact of the Covid-19 pandemic began on March 15, 2020 when we held our last in-person worship service. Now today is September 27, 2020 and we have experienced an entirely new way of interacting with our friends and neighbors. Most of us have never heard of Zoom and now our annual Church Conference with the District Superintendent will be by Zoom. We are required to wear masks as we go out and to practice social distancing. A new vocabulary has been developed concerning the myriad of health issues.
Certainly, anxiety has been emboldened during the time of the pandemic. We now are into a contentious national election period with all sorts of misleading messages and ideas. Wrapped into this era the ugly head of racism has also risen again and our nation is pulled in many directions with calls that Black Lives Matter and White Supremacy is countering these protests. No wonder we are anxious about the time we live in and anxiety is a common thread in our lives.
Anxiety exists on a spectrum. At the one end, anxiety informs us of important information that keeps us safe. When we stumble upon a wild animal, the heart-pounding, palm-sweating, adrenaline-pumping reaction we have is anxiety telling us we need to respond quickly to get ourselves out of harm’s way.
At the other end is anxiety out of control. When those physiological responses become chronic and extreme, we literally cease to be able to function normally. We may be unable to concentrate, sleep, eat properly and regulate ourselves to such a degree that we cannot carry on normal, everyday activities. When we get to that stage, we need outside spiritual, psychological and/or medical intervention – counselling, medication, relaxation tools and deep healing prayer are some examples.
What we are experiencing these days lies somewhere between these two extremes. We are not in acute, sudden danger nor are most of us completely unable to function. But we may fall somewhere on the spectrum. How do we deal with anxiety over things that are real, not imagined, uncontrollable and yet possible? It is possible that we or someone we know will get sick, lose a job, have difficulty balancing all of life’s new demands or even run out of toilet paper?
In the mid 1960’s Billy Graham said: Historians will probably call our era “the age of anxiety.” Anxiety is the natural result when our hopes are centered in anything short of God and His will for us. —Billy Graham In that same era, W.H. Auden penned his Pulitzer Prize Winning book, The Age of Anxiety. If the 1940’s and 1950’s were an age of anxiety, then today we live in an age of high anxiety: stress, anxiety and worry are at an all-time high. So, nothing is new under the sun.
Let’s see what today’s Scripture has to say about anxiety. The most often repeated refrain in Scripture is found on the lips of God, or an angel, or Jesus over 100 times. God says to his people, “DO NOT BE AFRAID.” Today’s Scripture was written in a very fearful time for the Israelites. They were held captive in Babylon (now Iraq) — Don’t fear, because I am with you; don’t be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will surely help you; I will hold you with my righteous strong hand. (Isaiah 41:10)
During some very troubling times for Ann and I and our anxiety level was very high: we repeated Jeremiah 29:11-13 — 10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.[b
When I read texts like this, I read them as though God were speaking directly to me. I may even respond to each line: “Thank you, Lord, that you are with me. Help me not to be afraid. You are my God. I trust that you will strengthen me and help me and hold me by your mighty hand.” Instead of imagining that I’ll die of cancer, or that my future is grim, or that my enemies will defeat me, or that the world is on the verge of falling apart, in prayer and praise and singing I imagine and trust that God is with me, that God will strengthen me, help me and hold me by his mighty right hand….
The antidote for anxiety is trust. The common theme in these verses is trust. Trust that there is a higher plane, a higher purpose, a higher being who ultimately has this in control. Trust that God is in control, trust that God will protect, provide, supply, so we can relax, have peace and wait on him. And being human, we need to be reminded of this repeatedly both by ourselves and by one another.
Here are a few ideas for reminding yourself to trust God:
- Pick a few favorite verses and memorize them, so you can remind yourself when you feel the physiological symptoms re-emerge.
- Start a gratitude journal than reminds you all the ways that he has been faithful in the past. Each day write down what you are grateful for. You will be amazed.
- Hearing other people’s stories and reminders is equally encouraging as well. If God did that for them, it makes me more confident that he will do it for me as well.
- Connect with friends with whom you can be real, authentic and honest, knowing they’ll point you back to the faithfulness of God; and vice versa, that you can be that encouragement to them.
Ponder this: Amazing grace Amazing grace! How sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found; Was blind, but now I see.’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved; How precious did that grace appear The hour I first believed. Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come; ’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, And grace will lead me home. The Lord has promised good to me, His Word my hope secures; He will my Shield and Portion be, As long as life endures.
Closing Prayer: Loving God, we come to you full of anxiety about what may happen in the coming days and weeks. Shower us with the peace Jesus promised to his disciples and make us into steady pillars for those around us. In this time of uncertainty and epidemic, wake us up to the reminder that we are not alone.
Even as we are asked to keep our distance from others, help us to find ways to reach out to those who need our support. We pray especially for those whose incomes and livelihoods are threatened. For the children who will miss meals due to school closures. For those already isolated, lonely, and scared. Loving God give them your peace, and through our hands ensure they have what they need.
Sustain, strengthen, and protect all caregivers. Bless them as they offer compassionate care and show selfless courage in the face of risk.
Remind us, each time we wash our hands, that in our baptism you call us to let go of our fears and live in joy, peace, and hope. Amen.
 From CHA Prayer Library – www.chausa.org