The Wall Street Journal calls 2014 “a year of living on the brink.” Why? “Liberia, ISIS, Ukraine, Hong Kong, a hospital fighting Ebola infections in Dallas, the year’s stock-market gains obliterated, and I almost forgot—just last week Secretary of State John Kerry warned that climate change could end life as we know it.” It’s hard to find good news in the news.
Economic turmoil continues as investors worry about the global economy and Europe’s debt crisis. Yesterday an Air France aircraft flying from Paris was grounded at its Madrid destination after one of its passengers began showing symptoms of Ebola. A hospital in Connecticut stated yesterday that it is evaluating a patient with “Ebola-like symptoms.” As tensions between Russia and Ukraine persist, one Russian expert explains that “in Putin’s mind, Ukraine is not a nation.”
Does reading these two paragraphs cause you to feel discouraged?
Now consider these news reports: The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits fell last week to a 14-year low. Industrial output rose sharply in September, showing the biggest gains in nearly two years. Air strikes have stalled the advance of ISIS on the Turkish border, allowing Kurdish fighters to retake territory from the militants.
American and Iranian negotiators report progress in their high-level nuclear talks, as both sides say they intend to meet their self-imposed November 24 deadline. And Lockheed has announced a technological breakthrough that could lead to nuclear fusion reactors, producing safe, renewable energy with far less waste.
Now do you feel encouraged?
We can base our security on the news, in which case our well-being is the product of the last story we read. Or we can base it on our unchanging God and his never-ending strength and love. Yesterday I had breakfast with a dear friend who has been diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. As the disease progresses, everyday tasks become more challenging. You might expect him to be morose, depressed, and fearful. But you would be wrong. The serenity of his spirit is remarkable and obvious. The source of his peace is found in a single verse he cited: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).
“Refuge” translates mahseh, used in the Bible to describe shelters to which people flee in war or storms. “Strength” translates ‘oz, describing power under duress, a city that stands when besieged. Taken together, they portray God as the One who shelters and defends all who trust him. In “trouble” (sara, distress, anxiety) he is our “very present help.”
Here’s the catch: a refuge can shelter only those who get inside its protection. The self-sufficiency our culture celebrates is actually spiritual suicide. My friend, one of the most gifted and successful businessmen I know, has chosen to make God his refuge and strength. If you had been at breakfast with us, you would want the peace and joy you saw in his soul.
Would God say he is your refuge and strength today?