A Psalm with Swag

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Psalm 27

This Psalm contains some of the verses most often remembered by the Christian community.

The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?

Repeat that with me:

-The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?
-The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?

Those words are not only remembered by the Christian community, many of us have committed them to memory. I know I have… and sometimes, when life gets a bit overwhelming… when I am facing a day that is especially hard… or a time… I often find myself saying under my breath those words as a sort of affirmation or a prayer…

The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?

Now I cannot say them without thinking of the story I told you some time ago about the teenager who was abducted in another country, enslaved, forced into prostitution… After she was rescued, her rescuers discovered that verse written on the wall… and she reported it was that verse she kept repeating during the days of her captivity… It was that verse that helped sustain her during what for most were hopeless times…She kept repeating…

The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?

When you read the entire Psalm, you get a sense that the Psalmist is a person who is very confident in this affirmation… In fact, the more I read it, I realized, this Psalmist seems so confident, so assure of himself – almost to the point of arrogance—he seems to have (what athletes call) swag—

Listen to what follows:

The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?

When evildoers assail me
    to devour my flesh—
my adversaries and foes—
    they shall stumble and fall.

Though an army encamp against me,
    my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
    yet I will be confident.

Now folks, that is swag! I get the feeling that nothing is going to move this person or his faith… that he has the faith that can move mountains… You can’t touch him… no one can touch him… He has swag.

But what he would want you to know and what I would want you to know is this: that his swag is not a form of self confidence …or arrogance or self-promotion–  his swag comes from his confidence  in the Lord…

He is not like how many perceived Richard Sherman, the cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks last week after the NFC championship, when he erupted to interviewer Erin Andrews after she asks him about the decisive play that sealed the win. Remember what he said:  “Well, I’m the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you’re going to get…Don’t you ever talk about me.”

Now that is swag… no doubt about it… But I’m not sure how you can boast when you basically have said that you were better than a sorry receiver… and I know  that’s another conversation. But, say what you will,  he has great confidence in himself… his ability… which is the source of the swag…

The difference for the Psalmist is important. The Psalmist is not confident in his own ability to withstand the enemies all by himself… He is not saying he is better than others… He is not appealing to platitudes that say, “When the going gets tough the tough get going…” or bragging that he has “the right stuff”…No, the source of swagger for the Psalmist is clearly his trust in the Lord…You hear that as he prays:

“One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord… for he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble… he will set me high on a rock… Hear, O Lord, and answer me! “Come, my heart says, “seek his face!”

Your face O Lord, do I seek…”

And lest there is any doubt about where he get’s his swag, the Psalmist concludes with confidence:“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”

The Psalmist it seems is not only making an affirmation of faith for the purpose of showing us how strong his faith is in God… the real reason  the Psalmist speaks is to inspire us to wait and trust in the Lord… so that when we face our adversaries or foes… though armies encamp against us—we will not fear… we can have confidence…

On the same day that Richard Sherman had his rant, I also saw the story of Father Michael Doyle in Camden, NJ. He is fighting some powerful adversaries that frankly would simply overwhelm most of us and the average person would have given up a long time ago.According to him, crime and poverty in Camden, New Jersey are worse today than when he first arrived there 39 years ago. The murder rate and the poverty is as high as you’ll find it. The FBI calls it the most dangerous city in America. He is working he says to share a bit of heaven on earth because there is enough hell on earth as it is. Through his church’s ministry of feeding, housing, and educating the poor, Father Doyle sees hope… He said,“We’re working against the odds, but I think God is on our side,”

As I listened to him, I realized that he had a quiet swagger… that would not give up… not because he had confidence in his own abilities…or his leadership… or a great plan or vision… in fact by most measures his ministry has been a failure… crime has increased! But Father Doyle has confidence that God is with him. He is not going to let adversaries stop him. The Lord is his light and his salvation… who should he fear?

That is the kind of confidence the Psalmist wants to inspire in us… because as you know, and if you do not know it now, you will learn it sooner or later: the life of faith is wonderful but still hard. Faith in God does not provide some sort of personal forcefield where one is protected from problems. Listen to the spiritual heroes and heroines of our faith… they know!  Ask Jesus, he knows!

Seems we are not protected from having adversaries and troubles… but we are promised that God is with us as we face them… to strengthen us… to give us courage…to make sure we are not overcome by our adversaries.

Ann Lamott talks about this in her book “Help, thanks, wow”. Those of you who remember her story know that she speaks from hard personal experience when she speaks of being delivered by God from a very hard life… And she speaks with wisdom of someone whose faith has stood many tests… In her book she shares this lesson:“It is easy to thank God for life when things are going well. But life is much bigger than we give it credit for, and much of the time it’s harder than we would like. It’s a package deal, though… Most of us figure out by a certain age- some of us later than others- that life unspools in cycles, some lovely, some painful, but in no predictable order. So you could have lovely, painful and painful again, which I think we all agree is not at all fair. You don’t have to like it, and you are always welcome to file a brief with the Complaints department. But if you’ve been around for a while, you know that much of the time, if you are patient and are paying attention, you will see that God will restore what the locusts have taken away… “[1]

Sounds like what the Psalmist was trying to say as he thought about the challenges and trials he was facing and those he was yet to face:

“I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage. Wait for the Lord.”

I’ll leave you with some wisdom I read in one of my devotions this week:

A minister, Richard Floyd, in reflecting on this passage, shared how he was trying to help his daughter face her fears…

He said: When my daughter, Rebecca, was a little girl she went through a fearful period and frequently arrived at the edge of our bed in the wee hours, usually at my wife’s side where there was considerably more sympathy to be had. She would say in a small voice, “I’m scared!” And I would say in a big Dad voice, “There is nothing to be afraid of. Go back to bed.”

And while it was true that she had nothing to fear in our big old parsonage, on another level it was one of those little white lies parents tell small children to protect them. Because, in fact, there is always plenty to be afraid of, and not long after that there was both an arsonist in our neighborhood and a serial child killer in the area, who was later caught very near the front of our church.

Years later grown-up Rebecca said to me, “Dad, no wonder I was scared—there was some really scary stuff going on.”

She is a minister, but during her first week at seminary we received an e-mail from the dean alerting us that a woman on campus had just been murdered, and the killer hadn’t been apprehended. That night Rebecca called and said, in that same little girl voice from long ago, “I’m scared.” And I, of course, said, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” And we both started laughing, and then I said, “I’m scared, too.”

He reflected: If you read all of Psalm 27 you’ll notice that the Psalmist declares his confidence and trust in God, even though powerful enemies surround him. Which is to say that faith lives in the midst of our fears. And our fears can take on real power to stunt and stymie us if we let them. The good news is that the real power in the universe is neither the things that we are afraid of nor our fears themselves, but the power of the living God we are called to live out day by day, even in those fearful times when we can’t see it or feel it.

Next time you feel those adversaries surrounding you… whatever they are… next time those fears begin to creep in… next time you say to yourself or to someone else or to God… “I’m scared”–  remember the words of the Psalmist… own those words for yourself… repeat them to yourself…

“The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear
The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid”

Remember those words and his wisdom, hear them… trust them…  and then, don’t be surprised that people might be thinking you are walking around with a little swag!




[1] P 45 and 51