Getting through the night
Dr. Hal Brady
A student at Harvard came to see the great Boston preacher Phillips Brooks one day. The student shifted from one foot to the other and with some hesitation and said, “Dr. Brooks, I’d like to talk over some of my doubts with you, but I don’t want to upset your faith.” Phillips Brooks threw back his head and laughed. As a matter of fact, he laughed and laughed until the student laughed with him. And that laughter did more to answer that student’s questions than anything Phillips Brooks could have said.
When we are sure of our ground, when out of our own inner experience, we can say, “I believe! I trust!,” we can keep our cool and for the most part live our lives with confidence.
In a world of increasing doubt, fear, and uncertainty, I want to focus on confidence. However, as one theological professor observed, “Sometimes confidence is mistaken for arrogance.” Arrogance comes from confidence in yourself. Be sure I am not talking about that “myth of self-sufficiency.” Why? Because that kind of confidence simply will not get us through the tough times of the night.
Initially, we see the challenge of confidence! When my wife and I lived in Dallas, Texas, we had a little dog named “Peaches.” As a preacher, my Sunday morning ritual was to get up at 4:30 a.m., go into the kitchen and preach through the sermon. First, I would do it silently and then out loud. Inevitably, when I would start preaching the sermon out loud, Peaches would simply get up and walk out of the room. Honest to goodness! Now, that didn’t do much to help my confidence as a preacher.
Life so often brings us to the point where it asks the question, “Can you take it?” You see, there are two sides to this business of living – the doing and the enduring. Of the two, the second is by far the most difficult.
One of the main problems about confidence is that we carry it in a fragile human vessel, and it can be so easily shattered. Our relationships and our world always seem to be so tentative. They change so quickly and usually our confidence is not helped. Confidence is another one of those qualities that is always in danger of extinction.
Not long ago a friend was in an automobile accident. Traffic on the interstate suddenly came to a halt. My friend was able to stop behind an 18 wheeler, but another 18 wheeler behind her couldn’t stop. She was hurt but very fortunate. Her automobile is already fixed. However, it will take much longer for her to regain her confidence. For sure, it will be a challenge.
Next, we see the secret of confidence! The kind of confidence I’m talking about here is no “whistling in the dark” kind of confidence. The psalmist who wrote Psalm 46, considered by scholars to be a psalm of confidence or assurance, is not naive. He knows that there is nothing easy about life. He also has every reason to be fearful or anxious.
The psalmist in Psalm 46 provides the absolute worse-case scenario. The “change” affecting the earth in verses two and three involve a direct-hit tornado and earthquake that measures 10 on the Richter scale. Actually, the situation is even worse than that. In the ancient near Eastern understanding of the universe, the mountains were the foundation that anchored the dry land and held up the sky. The most terrible thing that could happen would be for the mountains to “shake” or “tremble.” In essence, verses two and three are the palmist’s description of the world’s falling apart.
Listen carefully! But in the face of the worst of all situations the psalmist affirms God as “refuge,” “strength,” and “help.” When the very structure of this world cannot be depended upon, when our world is literally falling apart, God can still be depended upon. The psalmist states, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “God will grant us the grace we need when we need it, never in advance, lest we become dependent upon ourselves and not on Him.”
Personally, I like the way Lloyd Ogilvie, former chaplain of the United States Senate, describes God-dependability. Dr. Ogilvie says “God is on our side, God is by our side and God gives God’s peace inside.” Who could ask for anything more?
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries.