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? When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.
(Psalm 27:1-3 ESV)
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
(Psalm 23:4 ESV)
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
(Matthew 14:26-27 ESV)
I didn’t sleep well the first night after our recent power outage. I had been done in by my own history of having watched every episode of The Twilight Zone and Rod Serling’s Night Gallery multiple times in my youth. It was almost Halloween. I heard loud trucks and generators off in the distance. Were there really utility trucks here to help? Or was there something much more sinister and dangerous going on in my neighborhood – something that the line crews were afraid of. Something deadly.
When my daughter was very small I used to tell her a story I made up about a brave princess who got lost in the woods and couldn’t find her way back to the castle. Rather than risk getting more lost, when nightfall came, she put her head down right where she was. As the story went, in the morning she could see the castle that had been there all along. I used to say, “What this story tells us is: there’s nothing there in the night that isn’t there in the daytime.” When Beth was about 5, this exceptional child realized one night that there actually might have been a bear or a wolf in the woods that my story didn’t account for. She also realized it was really dumb of the princess, no matter how brave she was, to lie down there in the middle of the night with no protection.
Don’t believe for a second that Rod Serling was the one who invented scary stories of things that go bump in the night. Psalm 27 tells us that the Lord is like the head-lamp of a utility truck. My electricity may be out, but he has all the power I need to illuminate any danger in front of me.
Sure, there might be a flesh-eating monster lurking outside my suburban home. Sure it might be there even after the electricity is restored. But the Lord is the strength of my life. He has all the power I need to overcome the fear because he has all the power I need to overcome the foe.
There actually might be something hiding in the shadows against the walls of the valley I’m walking through. Do you live in the city? There actually might be someone horrible waiting down that alley. There really might. But whatever valley or alley God is calling me to walk down with him (unemployment, disease, the death of a loved-one), I can still hear the steady, reassuring tap…tap…tap of Jesus’ staff as he leads the way in the darkness. It isn’t always his form I see; it is most often his tap I hear that comforts me.
You know, I’ll even concede that there might be ghosts out on my sea. The waters around my small craft might well contain shrieking eels, if you know The Princess Bride. But Jesus is out on the water as well. Curiously, he isn’t in the relative safety of the boat itself. He comes to me, walking on water, amid the ghosts and the shrieking eels. He is down the dark alley I have to walk. He is out in the field between the enemy encampment and me; beckoning me to join him where he leads; saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”