Someone once said to me that the world is made up of sharks and mice.
Once you’ve fought past the (rather weird) mental image that the idea evokes, you may arrive at some “Kill-or-be killed,” food-chain scenario. Hunger Games. Only the strong survive. Winner takes it all.
And no prizes for guessing where my conversation-partner secretly saw himself.
Well, it’s a common enough way of thinking. It drives self-confidence, pushes sales, promotes conflict-resolution in the shortest possible time (by annihilating the opposition).
The Bible takes a contrary view.
I was reading Psalm 27 just now. It’s an interesting blend of what you may call “Shark” and “Mouse” thinking.
Here comes the shark in vs 2 and 3:
“When evil people come to devour me,
when my enemies and foes attack me,
they will stumble and fall.
Though a mighty army surrounds me,
my heart will not be afraid.
Even if I am attacked,
I will remain confident.”
You can almost imagine the arrogant kick of the dust, and the glinting thousand-yard stare as the Hero strolls into town.
Or, by contrast, you could quote v5 and think the writer a complete mouse: “For he will conceal me there when troubles come; he will hide me in his sanctuary. He will place me out of reach on a high rock.”
But the truth is in neither extreme. The Psalmist does not find the grounds of his confidence either in bolshie bravado or in whimpering discretion way out of reach.
It’s in the Lord. Here’s how he begins:
“The Lord is my light and my salvation—
so why should I be afraid?
The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,
so why should I tremble?”
Now it’s quite clear that there’s no bravado or self-confidence at all. It’s all God-confidence. And these are questions, remember. He is in trouble -enough trouble to make him tremble- and so he is thinking through to find the grounds of his confidence.
And it’s clearly not in himself.
So he looks back to what has happened in his life before, where the Lord has been his light (guiding him in shadowy places), his salvation (rescuing him in crises) and his fortress (providing solid protection).
Gratitude is faith working in reverse. You look back and realise that God has been there for you, and your thankfulness for past actions creates faith for the present.
So why should I be afraid?
Well, there may be one reason. You may be afraid because your present experience of God is not as close as it used to be.
Do you still experience his light (in your present decision-making), or his salvation or rescue (in present crises of temptation)? Is the fortress secure or has it been breached?
This too is part of the Psalmist’s prayer. He recognises that intimacy with God is his one source of strength, and the only grounds of confidence. So from v4 to v8, he prays for that:
The one thing I ask of the Lord—
the thing I seek most—
is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
delighting in the Lord’s perfections
and meditating in his Temple…
Then I will hold my head high
above my enemies who surround me.
At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy,
singing and praising the Lord with music.
Hear me as I pray, O Lord.
Be merciful and answer me!
My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”
Then I will hold my head high! Then I will offer joyful worship! When? When I have come close to the Lord in my deepest heart. When my heart hears him say “Come and talk with me. And my heart responds, “Lord I am coming.”
That’s the true grounds of confidence. It’s a recognition of being completely needy, and yet being safe with a God who is completely capable.
The Psalm finishes on the true Biblical version of that shark-mouse blend.
Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness
while I am here in the land of the living.
Wait patiently for the Lord.
Be brave and courageous.
Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.
I am confident, not in my own ability to conquer, but in His ability to complete.
And it’s for NOW. It’s for “the land of the living.” God desires that I discover intimacy and delight in His presence now, and then I will experience bravery and courage for everything that may come my way.
For this is not a competition. The only race that I’m involved with is the human race. If you turn life into a contest, striving for imagined prizes, then the sharks win, every time, becoming jealous, angry, bitter and egotistical along the way.
But the truly confident arrive last, having enjoyed the journey much more. They know that God isn’t just at the finishing line, waiting for them with a trophy, but also back along the track, helping His followers to understand that “the view is glorious from wherever you stand.” (Alder)