A Song of Confidence
February 21, 2016 Psalm 27
Psalm 27 is a psalm of confidence. Since the psalms are actually songs, this is a song of confidence. I was thinking about songs of confidence and I remembered a little tune from the musical, The King and I. If you’ve ever seen the play or the movie, I’m sure you’ll remember this song. It’s called, “I Whistle a Happy Tune.” This is how it goes: “Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect, and whistle a happy tune, so no one will suspect, I’m afraid.” The second verse makes that same point, “While shivering in my shoes, I strike a careless pose, and whistle a happy tune, and no one ever knows, I’m afraid.”
It sounds like a con job to me. The message seems to be: when you’re afraid, pretend that you’re not, and no one will suspect that you are terrified. Is that really good advice? And is our psalm of confidence, Psalm 27, really just an exercise in false bravado? The psalmist is talking about being assailed by evildoers, being surrounded by an army, finding himself in the midst of a war. Yet he says, “my heart shall not fear” and “I will be confident.” Really? Are you sure you’re not just whistling a happy tune when you’re really scared to death?
The world is full of fearful things, dangerous things, even deadly things. How can we not be a little afraid of the Zika virus, and terrorist threats, and our uncertain financial future? How can we face the fact that we’re all getting older (I turned 65 this week, and I find that a bit scary)? Can anyone go into the hospital without fear when we’re forced then to admit that our bodies are breaking? And it’s not only that bad things can and will happen to us, but we’re afraid for the people that we love who also must live in this fearful and dangerous world. Whistling a happy tune might convince a casual observer that you’re not scared to death, but is that really an adequate response to all the different ways in which the world threatens us? I think it is probably only convincing in the context of a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical production.
This psalm of confidence surely has more to offer us than the suggestion that we should simply whistle in the dark. The Bible doesn’t invite us to pretend that we are unafraid. But it asserts quite confidently that we need not be afraid. The psalms don’t engage in wishful thinking, nor does our faith ask us to have hope without providing solid grounds for that hope. No whistling is necessary. We truly don’t have to be afraid. This song of confidence is genuine.
That is not to say that there isn’t some tension in this psalm. In fact, some commentators actually think that this is two psalms that have been combined. The first six verses are full of confidence. “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?” No worries! Everything is good. God is in charge. And so, those first six verses end, “Now my head is lifted up…” and “I will sing and make melody to the Lord.”
But then, at verse 7, there is a shift of perspective, and the psalmist is crying out for help. “Do not hide your face from me…Do not turn your servant away in anger…Do not cast me off, do not forsake me.” Here, the reality that we do not deserve God’s help seems to be undermining the psalmist’s confidence. The fact of our sin, once we recognize it, may make us wonder why God would ever come to our aid, and that leaves us doubly afraid. How can these real fears as well as the earlier confidence, expressed in verses 1-6, be part of the same psalm? That’s what some commentators were wondering.
But others argued that this is one psalm that simply recognizes the complex nature of our human predicament. We are sinners. God is right to judge us. Our lives feel very precarious, because we know that we don’t deserve salvation. Why should God save us from all of the things that terrify us? That’s a legitimate question. But that doesn’t mean that we are simply left whistling in the dark or pretending not to be afraid.
If this is one psalm then we see that the psalmist is both very confident and very honest about the nature of the world we live in and about our own responsibility for the situation that we are in. People of faith can be both confident and honest, in fact, they have to be. We cannot simply whistle our way through life in this fearful world. We have to acknowledge the things that make us afraid. We know that we don’t deserve God’s help, and that we bring many of our calamities upon ourselves. But – and here is the all-important BUT – God is gracious, dependable, and loving. As the psalmist confidently asserts, “If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.” We don’t have to whistle our way into confidence. We are confident because we know God. It is God’s nature, revealed in Jesus Christ, to forgive and to rescue sinners, to stand by us when we are afraid and to make us strong.
So this song of confidence is not sung to ward off fear, and it is certainly not sung to convince ourselves or anyone else that we aren’t afraid. The truth is, we are sometimes afraid. We can’t help it. But our natural fear is no match for our God-given confidence in Jesus Christ. Our confidence trumps our fear every time, no matter how genuinely fearful our situation becomes, because we know that God is stronger than anything we may fear, and God has promised to stay with us, even though we are sinners, in all of those fearful places. God was with us on the cross. It doesn’t get much more fearful than that. So, we don’t whistle a happy tune to buck ourselves up, we sing with every ounce of our strength in gratitude and praise and wonder at all God has done for us.
I’ve had a good few people say to me in recent weeks, “I’m worried about our church.” I can understand that. Change is a fear-inspiring thing. The end of March is going to be here all too quickly, and we’re all scrambling to get ready for this transition. We don’t need to pretend that we aren’t a little bit afraid. And whistling won’t help. But we can be confident in our God. And that confidence will be strengthened when we draw nearer to God. “One thing I asked of the Lord,” the psalmist sings, “that will I seek after; to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.” Those who drift away from the church now (and there have been some) will be left in their fears. But those who draw together in worship and fellowship at this somewhat fearful time will be strengthened in confidence, so much so that they will be able to sing a song of confidence.
I still don’t think that whistling a happy tune will make you brave, as Rodgers and Hammerstein claim, but when we gather together and sing a song of confidence, we are lifted out of our fear. When we sing out to God, expressing with our whole heart, and mind, and spirit what we need, and what we fear, and what we believe, then our confidence is renewed. Because we are reminding ourselves that God will not desert us or abandon us to our fears. God is here to teach us and lead us and protect us. The future belongs to God.
As Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us…” Then he goes on to ask, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” And he gives us the answer, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8: 31-32, 35, 37). More than conquerors! How’s that for a song of confidence?
So, sing it out. Sing it loud and strong. Sing it faithfully, even when you are afraid. Because this song of confidence recognizes that Jesus meets us in our place of fear, and then reaffirms that God is stronger than all of our fears. Your confidence will grow as you sing this song of confidence, because when we sing it, we are reminded and convinced that our confidence is in God and God alone. And God will not disappoint us, but will act in his own good time to lead us through this time of transition. So, in the words of Psalm 27, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”