At the Gate of the Year: A Message for Uncertain Times

Poem is read at 3:07.

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

I think of these lines as December runs out. They’re from a king’s speech to his fearful people—people of one of the most powerful nations on earth in a time of great uncertainty and three long months at war.

More than eight decades have passed since King George delivered that message, but its truth is as needed as it was then. Because the times they are a-changin’. And the order rapidly fading and the roads rapidly changing isn’t all good.

It wasn’t so good then, either.

Peace In Troubled Times

Great Britain had entered the Second World War in September 1939. In the three months since, air-raid sirens had been ringing in their ears and tension was rising. Anxiety and fear over the New Year pressed into English hearts and minds.

King George VI was England’s reigning monarch in December 1939. As was the custom, the king addressed the nation on a BBC radio broadcast on a Christmas day when all was not calm and bright. He told the people of the only true source of peace in troubled times. King George concluded the message with the part of a poem introduced to him by his 13 year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth.

The king read the poem to encourage the English people that even during the dreadful war their future could be bright and secure.

That’s why I share it with you on the gate of this year. If your hand in His, you will walk by faith in him, your way will tread safely and rest secure—come what may.

Here’s the poem.

“At the Gate of the Year”

by Minnie Louise Haskins (1875-1957)

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

So heart be still:
What need our little life
Our human life to know,
If God hath comprehension?
In all the dizzy strife
Of things both high and low,
God hideth His intention.

Gate

God knows. His will
Is best. The stretch of years
Which wind ahead, so dim
To our imperfect vision,
Are clear to God. Our fears
Are premature; In Him,
All time hath full provision.

Then rest: until
God moves to lift the veil
From our impatient eyes,
When, as the sweeter features
Of Life’s stern face we hail,
Fair beyond all surmise
God’s thought around His creatures
Our mind shall fill.

God knows. His will is best…Our fears are premature. He will provide for all time.

For all your days and times.

Our Days Are Numbered, And That’s Good News

All of our days are numbered. They were written in his book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16). Priest and missionary Henry Martyn said, You are immortal until God’s purpose for you is complete. And since God loves his children with great love, this is very good news.

So I echo the king at the gate of our year, May that Almighty hand guide and uphold us all. Amen.

Now heart, be still, and rest. For he holds our hand.

For I the Lord your God hold your right hand; it is I who say to you. ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you.’ I am the one who helps you, declares the LORD. Your Redeemer is on the Holy One of Israel. 

Isaiah 41:13-14

My times are in your hands.

Psalm 31:15

No Evil Shall Befall You: What Real Rescue Means

Woman with COVID-19 Mask

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
    nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—
    the Most High, who is my refuge-
no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
    no plague come near your tent.

Psalm 91:3-6, 9-10

President recommends Americans wear masks in public. That’s today’s headline.

Fear is at fever pitch. There were more Google searches for prayer in March than in the last 5 years that comparison data has been available. People are afraid.

Then this.

No Evil Shall Befall You

He will deliver you from the deadly pestilence. Those words from Psalm 91 sound like a perfect fit for these post- COVID days, don’t they?

People recite it as they wash their hands or “brave it” to the grocery store. Many are clinging to these verses for health—and for life. The words, for some, are like a Christian incantation, a hex on a deadly plague.

And that makes me very uneasy.

But the Psalm does say, No evil shall befall you, no plague will come near your tent.

So what does that mean? Does it mean that if I have faith, or better yet, if I have faith and wear a mask and wash my hands and self-quarantine I—and those in my tent—won’t get COVID-19?

Is that what Psalm 91 really means?

Real Fear. Right Guilt?

Faith, by cheering the heart, keeps it free from the fear which, in times of pestilence, kills more than the plague itself…

Charles H. Spurgeon, Commentary on Psalm 91:3

Abby, I’m really scared. My caregiver does not wear a mask. That’s how my friend Jean started our call. Jean is physically fragile and homebound. She paused, then added, I feel guilty for being scared because I believe in God.

Jean, about the guilt: You can’t stop a bird from flying over your head, but you can keep it from building a nest in your hair. You can’t stop the fear that tenses your gut. But you can keep fear from nesting in your head. She liked that.

May I share two things I try to do when I’m really scared? She agreed.

Here’s what I told Jean.

Reality Therapy for Real Fear

What is the worst thing that could possibly happen if my worst fear comes true? I try to ask myself that the moment fear springs up. Whether I hear a bump in the night or I feel a lump in my chest—I ask,

What is the absolute worst thing that could happen?”

Then I sit with that answer a while. And usually, Jean, if I’m honest, my worst fear is death.

But the second thing is even more important. As I sit with the worst case in my mind, I try shine God’s truth on it. It might be lyrics that buck me up, like I fear no foe with you at hand to bless Or, Teach me to live that I may dread the grave as little as my bed.

Or it might be a truth like all things work for good and nothing can separate us from his love

Like, no evil shall befall you.

How can you be so sure, Miss Abigail? That’s what you’re thinking, right? Because faithful Christians will die of COVID-19. Pestilence and plague will befall us. Death will come near our tents.

They may have done everything right and may have even prayed Psalm 91 each night.

What Does “No Evil” Mean?

Not to burst your bubble, but unless Jesus returns first, you will die. I will too. We’re mortal. We must.

So what does, No evil will befall you mean? We’ve got to understand rescue the right way or we’ll be greatly shaken when good folks get sick and when we have to look death in the eye.

Charles Spurgeon ministered through a deadly cholera epidemic in London. He explained “no evil” like this:

It is impossible that any ill should happen to the man who is beloved of the Lord; the most crushing calamities can only shorten his journey and hasten him to his reward…Losses enrich him, sickness is his medicine, reproach is his honour, death is his gain. No evil in the strict sense of the word can happen to him, for everything is overruled for good.

Let that thought nest.

Because one way or another, God will deliver all his children. He will rescue us from the fangs of COVID-19 and bring us safely into his kingdom.

One way or another, in life or in death, he will.

Real Rescue

God does not say no afflictions shall befall us, but no evil. -Thomas Watson.

The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. Those are among Paul’s final words. They’re at the end of the last chapter of the last book he penned in prison shortly before he died, probably by beheading at Nero’s wicked hands.

He had just mentioned Alexander the coppersmith who did him much evil and he knew his days were short. What most of us would call evil was “befalling” Paul.

Then in 2 Timothy 4:18, he writes,

The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.

We must understand this to “get” what Psalm 91 means. Real evil was is that Paul’s faith would wither. Real rescue was being brought safely home to Jesus.

That is it! If we make the Lord our refuge, then fear won’t cripple us- because we know that the worst—even disease and dying—brings the best.

Because real rescue means God bringing us safely into his kingdom.

When Death Sounds the Retreat

Faith is endangered by security, but secure in the midst of danger, someone said. If there was an upside to COVID-19, this is it.

I know the Puritans paint a rosier picture of death than we’re used to. But tell me this isn’t true:

Friend, if you were prepared, death would be to you a change from a prison to a place, from sorrows to solace, from pain to pleasure, from heaviness to happiness. All your sins and sorrows would be buried in your grave and the ship of your soul…and you would arrive at a blessed and everlasting harbor. Death would sound the retreat, and call you out of the battlefield- where the bullets fly thick in your combat with the flesh, world and wicked one- to receive your crown of life.

George Swinnock, The Fading of the Flesh and Flourishing of Faith, 1662

We are under his wings. Evil cannot touch us there!

And, if it seems to, as John Piper wrote, there must be a glorious deliverance we can’t see. What else can we conclude when we put these two Psalms together:

Psalm 44:22 – “For thy sake we are slain all day long.”
Psalm 34:19 – “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”

Remember how Jesus talked to his disciples this way?

Luke 21:16 – “…some of you they will put to death.”
Luke 21:18 – “But not a hair of your head will perish.”

Jesus doesn’t tell lies and he doesn’t speak out of both sides of his mouth. He speaks truth. He is the truth.

So Jean, this all means that you might—I might—get infected with COVID-19 and Psalm 91 is still true.

No evil will befall you.

What is our hope in life and death?
Christ alone, Christ alone
What is our only confidence?
That our souls to him belong
Who holds our days within his hand?
What comes, apart from his command?
And what will keep us to the end?
The love of Christ, in which we stand

Christ Our Hope in Life and Death

Words and Music by Keith Getty, Matt Boswell, Jordan Kauflin, Matt Merker, Matt Papa

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39

Number Our Days

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Psalm 90:12

Ever had on of those fragile, frail-feeling days? The kind that leave you feeling how vulnerable and feeble and one breath away you really are?  Those days when you just feel so…mortal?

Sunday was one of those.

So teach us to number our days.

After church, we dashed over to Mom and Dad’s for the annual corn roast. This year was a special combo: potluck and dunked-and-buttered corn first, then out back for the baptism service. Thirteen born-again souls, including our two sons, were slated for immersion in the borrowed baptismal. But only 11 went under, because Son #2 got stung by some bees.

So teach us to number our days.

He’d been stung before, so first- no worries. But when rash and itch and panic grew despite baking soda and Benadryl, we knew. Help the boy be calm and breathe, dear Lord, I prayed. And, after my poorly timed words about his being sans phone, Jim steered the van out of the hayfield, onto the highway.  For the next four hours, that was the last I knew.

So teach us to number our days.

Meanwhile, back at the farm, my friends told me about their Teddy. After more than 15 years together, Saturday was the last day with their little Japanese Chin. and forever-pup part of the family named Teddy. We knew Teddy from years of weeks of his warm, wiggly welcomes. If we were lucky, or salty, while we waited during piano lessons, we’d get friendly licks too. But effervescent Teddy won’t be greeting this week.

So teach us to number our days.

Before Gabe got home and soaked up theTLC (The doctor said I might need a little candy if I get a dry mouth from all these pills.), I texted my friend Terry. Terry’s only son got married the day Teddy departed. Terry said she’s swimming in a swirling sea of feelings now that all her family has gone home. A strange “gel of emotions,” she texted me, “emptiness, fullness, exhaustion and extreme joy all in one.”

So teach us to number our days.

It’s been 48 hours since the stings. The meds- 4 pills carefully laid out at breakfast- 2 at dinner- are halfway gone. Gabe’s not so free-wheeling anymore. His mile bike ride to see his dog-friend Kate and his five-minute walk to feed Cookie the cat need more forethought. I need a Epipen and a fanny pack, he says, just to be safe. I feel how I felt that time Gabe got infected– vulnerable and exposed.

So teach us to number our days.

Did I happen to mention that last week was my Psalm 90 week?  That it just so happened that every single day last week there was meditating on and praying over the “Prayer of Moses, the man of God”?  I learned that many think Moses prayed teach us to number our days in between watching dozens or hundreds of Israelites die in the wilderness each day. 

Here’s part of that Prayer of Moses (Psalm 90:10-13):

The years of our life are seventy,
    or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
    they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Who considers the power of your anger,
    and your wrath according to the fear of you?

So teach us to number our days
  that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O Lord! How long?
    Have pity on your servants!

God had mercy on me today.  

Gabe said that, in a sleeping bag on our bedroom floor Sunday night. If I would have got to the hospital 30 minutes later, I might have died.

You’re right, Gabe, he did. We don’t know what would have happened if we had waited.
But I don’t think the bee stings and Teddy and Terry’s post-wedding text were all coincidence. I think God was answering my prayer about numbering days.

Sunday’s Takeaways

Maybe He wanted to drive these home, before we fly away.

1. Be wise. Live each day as if it could be your last.

Which is why we ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live…and do this or that’” (James 4:1315). Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says, Wisdom is the ability to look at all of life from God’s perspective, to see life from God’s point of view.

Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is, David wrote

How do we gain wisdom? By numbering our days! By seeing how fleeting our lives on earth are  in the light of eternity. So do we? Are we: Storing up treasures in heaven? Investing our time, talents, treasures in God’s Kingdom? Using well our fleeting days before we fly away?

2. Fear not. God’s got this. Our frail children of dust lives, I mean.

Jesus said: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground” — that  means die — “apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of much more value than the sparrows” (Matthew 10:29–31).

My mouth, on autopilot, starting singing this Sunday while I waited. They’re from that hymn, O Worship The King, the verse about feeble as frail,

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
in Thee do we trust, nor find thee to fail;
Thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end,
our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend.

3. Fear not. God’s got this. Even the date of our death, I mean.

God’s mercies are firm to the end, But have you wondered, like my Gabe did on Monday, “Does God decide when we die?”

John Piper answered that this way:

[I]f the time for the death of a tiny bird in a remote forest is of a concern to God and determined by God, how much more will our days be numbered and determined by God with great care and wisdom. In fact, the psalmist says to God, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:16). Which means, the days that God has allotted for me and you are already written in a book. They are decided.

Piper concludes,

God is God. He governs the world, and that includes the time for our conception in the womb and the time for our death. His children don’t want to have it any other way, do we? God is always better than blind fate. ..What else would we want than for God to determine when we are born and when we die?

Days Numbered, And In Good Hands

Our days are numbered. Only God knows when we will die. So it makes sense that the One who alone can teach us to number them is the only One who already has them counted.

Priest and missionary Henry Martyn said, You are immortal until God’s purpose for you is complete.

So you and me- and all God’s children, Gabe- we are in the best of hands.

And if that’s not invigorating truth and good news on those fragile, frail-feeling days, I don’t know what is.

My times are in your hands.

Psalm 31:15

Postscript:

Life is hard, but God is good.

Are you an A-Thrower?

Oh no, I moaned. Honey, please come. You need to see. It’s bad. 

He came. I scrolled. And late Saturday night, we strode into our 12 year-old’s otherworld where Jim saw what I had seen:

Scotchlover16 

RealDirtyDon.

No. Not good, Jim said,.

We winced at the too-gleeful, Joker-y profile picture of a 30-something male. One of Sam’s gaming “friends.” Our eyes raced down the message thread until they landed on this,

“You there, Sam?” Scotchlover16 wrote, when- thank God- Sam was already in bed.

“‘Sup Sam?” is all RealDirtyDon hadsaid.

Anxiety Hits

Last month, our school offered “Online Safety: What Parents Should Know.” I didn’t go, But I know about phishing and trolling. I know that perverts and creeps sneak into kids’ sites seeking prey not play.  Enter Scotchlover16 and RealDirtyDon.

So we two gaming novices- actually, gaming nots– scoured the site in vain for more red flags. But just because we couldn’t see them didn’t mean there weren’t there. These types are savvy. They don’t leave tracks beyond these creepy names and few lines of chat.

But whenever Sam was on, Scotchlover16 or RealDirtyDon were too. Just waiting for our son. Stalking. Prowling.

Anxiety hit. I feared.

Are you an A-Thrower?

But the Word of God is living and active, and at just the right time, at10:55 pm, Saturday, December 8th, a verse came to mind,

[C]asting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).

Ant that reminded me of a sermon I heard last week on the same verse.  The pastor mentioned a new term for garbage men. It’s G-Throwers.  As in garbage-throwers. Then he asked, Are you an A-Thrower? 

I remembered that too and right then, Jim and I did some A-throwing. We threw our anxiety on God.  By grace, we obeyed.

Then we made our game plan: no drastic measures yet. Talk to Sam in the morning- gravely and calmly- and go from there.

Then we A-throwers fell into bed and slept.

Cast Them Like Coats (On A Donkey). And Pray.

But what, you might be asking, does A-throwing look like?  How do we cast our cares?

It helps to know the same form of the Greek word translated cast or throw in 1 Peter 5:7 is found in Luke 19. The disciples had just fetched a donkey. Then verse 35 says, “They brought it to Jesus, and throwing [casting] their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.”

When they cast their cloaks the disciples put them on the donkey. They didn’t wear or carry them. When we throw our cares on God,  he carries them.

And how we throw them on him, Paul explained, is to pray: Do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer…present your requests to God.

The next day, I had to throw them again.

No more let sins and sorrows grow. 

Our race to church left no time for anxiety. Not until I’d slid into the back row, did the next wave of worry hit. But since I am training to be an A-thrower. and since on the job training is best, I did some A-throwing. I prayed.

Lord, please protect Sam. Please give us wisdom. I know you care. Amen.

Then, in the middle of Joy to the World, right at No more let sins and sorrows grow, I leaned over to Sam.

Sam, we need to talk about your gaming friends. You know, Scotchlover and RealDirtyDon? Dad and I don’t think you should be their friends.

His eyes got wide.

Son, did you know Scotch is a hard liquor- a dangerous beverage? And RealDirtyDon…well, you know, that does not sound good. 

The Wonders Of His Love

Um, Mom? Sam whispered back. Scotch is Nick’s dog’s name. Remember Nick, my friend from school?  

But that profile picture? That isn’t Nick. 

No, Mom. He just picked that picture because he thought it was funny.

What about RealDirtyDon? 

Oh, Mom, Sam giggled. Don is Donovan. He’s sitting right there-here Sam pointed up a few rows and to the left- with his mom and dad. Mr. and Mrs. Murphy- your friends.

Boy, did we laugh. And laugh and laugh and laugh. By the time it simmered low enough to sing, the choir was on verse four.

He rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations prove, the glories of his righteousness and wonders of his love. 

And wonders of His love.

You are His personal concern.

We know there’s more that is frightening ahead. There are always more worries to toss. A-throwers, like G-throwers, have job security. There are creeps and predators and evil men.

But there is a God who rules this world he so loves with truth and grace. There is a God who cares.

Exhibit A? That mom in the back row last Sunday. The one whose relieved laughter spilled joyful tears in wonder of God’s love. In wonder of a Father who actually calls his anxious kids to throw the weight of all their cares on Him. In wonder of a God who takes them on as his own personal concern.

One version of 1 Peter 5:7 says it this way, Throw the whole weight of your anxieties upon him, for you are his personal concern.

So- yes. You bet I’ll sing the wonders of His love. 

Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you.

Psalm 55:22