Thursday, 16 July 2015

Panic - or peace?

This is what the Lord, the holy one of Israel, says: In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength... Isaiah 30:15

I remember a joke once made by a preacher. He was talking about how Christians should handle anxiety and fear, and said: "After all, why pray when you can always panic?" It took a couple of moments for it to sink in, but once it had, I think we got the point - it is so easy, in hard times, to lose sight of God and, well, if not actually panic, to become overwhelmed by fear.

This is pretty much what the prophet Isaiah is concerned about as he speaks to the people of Israel in this verse. He uses some powerful and beautiful words in order to put their thinking straight: repentance... rest... quietness... trust... This, he says, is how God's people should respond to crisis times.

What is going on? Why did the prophet feel the need to deliver what is, in effect, a rebuke to the people?

The clue is in verse 2: God’s people have been "going down to Egypt without consulting me, looking for help to Pharaoh's protection..."

The great days of Israel, the days of Saul, David and Solomon, are long gone. The nation is weak and demoralised, surrounded by the super-powers on its borders. Its very survival is threatened. So what are they to do? The answer, according to some leading people, was apparently, "Let's forge an alliance with our southern neighbours Egypt! They're a big power - they'll look after us!"

To which Isaiah says a resounding No! - "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength". In other words, Trust in God, not in an alliance with a pagan nation, however strong.

All this happened some 700 years before Christ - nearly two thousand years from where we are today. But never could a truth be more appropriate all these years down the line. We, God's people, still so quickly take our eyes off him, and turn to other solutions to our problems. And experience invariably shows that this is fatal - it always ends in tears.

This doesn't mean we shouldn't be practical in working out our difficulties - Isaiah isn't suggesting that we should just close our eyes, fold our arms, and wait for God to bail us out. No: as the saying goes, "God helps those who help themselves". But what it does mean is that our ultimate trust must always be in God himself, and we must never be so panicked as to resort to means or methods which are not within God's will.

Earlier in their history Israel had panicked when, chased by (guess who!) the Egyptians, they found themselves trapped between the enemy army and the waters of the Red Sea (have a look at Exodus 14). Moses rallied them with the stirring words: "Stand firm, and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today... The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still".

And what about that time Jesus' disciples thought their boat was going to sink on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:35-41)? “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” they cry. And Jesus shakes his head sadly and says: "Why are you so afraid? Do you have no faith?"

Psalm 46 puts it even more briefly: "Be still, and know that I am God." A word to some of us today?

Is there some situation in your life where you have lost sight of God and are tempted to panic? Some area where you are resorting to methods and solutions which, deep in your heart, you know are wrong? Perhaps it’s time to listen to the voice of the ancient prophet.

Lord God, I am sorry that often when the going is tough I tend to cast around for some quick fix, some solution which depends on human wisdom rather than divine power. Help me to bring all my fears and longings in line with your will, and to trust patiently for your deliverance. Help me to be quiet and still in your love. Amen.

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