Love the LORD, all you who worship him; *
the LORD protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily.
Be strong and let your heart take courage, *
all you who wait for the LORD.
In today’s psalm we read that “the LORD protects the faithful”. The word protect is also sometimes translated “preserves”. Both are accurate and easily misunderstood. A life lived in Christ is not a guarantee that bad things won’t happen to us, but that in the midst of all things God is with those who love Him. If the psalmist intended us to understand that the Lord’s protection included things like disease, accidents, unemployment, grief the next verse would not be necessary. “Be strong and let your heart take courage…”
This is confusing and confounding as there are clearly times when the Lord does protect people from calamity, illness, and other evils of life. People are healed of cancer. Angels protect innocents from harm. Miracles happen but not for everyone in every circumstance. Sometimes the Lord protects us from the things we fear and other times does not. God is not capricious. There is a point to this. Miraculous healing and protection witness to Jesus. He is real and really present.
The unhappy and harsh circumstances are where we as disciples bear witness to those around us. Our confidence and hope shines in the darkness when we are “strong and… take courage”. This is our Martyrdom (The word martyr means witness). This is the witness of our lives.
This is also where we grow strong and become more Christlike. More able to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. These earthly tests refine us as gold is refined by fire. These unhappy places are the places where our faith is strengthened and demonstrated.
During Advent we prepare our selves for Jesus’ coming again in glory. We prepare ourselves by seeking to “Love the LORD” more fully in the full knowledge that doing so will not prevent bad things from happening to us. Cancer still happens. Terrorists still kill Christians. Unemployment happens. And in the midst of all this we are preserved. Now and into eternal life.
We are preserved now in our relationship with God. In the face of calamity we stand strong and our hearts take courage because the Lord is with us. The Holy Spirit sustains and comforts us. Grace surrounds us and we are not lost. We enjoy a closer walk with God and can experience joy in all things. We relate to the Martyrs of the early church who praised God in the midst of their trials. Our earthly pilgrimage may not be all that we hoped for but we are made for eternal life and the stuff that happens now is for our refining and for our witness.
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
(Matthew 16:25 ESV)
Thanks be to God. Amen.