I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised. . .This God—His way is perfect; the promise of the Lord proves true; He is a shield for all those who take refuge in Him. For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? The God who girded me with strength, and made my way safe. . .The Lord lives; and blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation. . . For this I will extol Thee, O Lord, among the nations, and sing praises to Thy name. Psalm 18 1-3, 30-32, 46, 49
One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 18. It’s rather lengthy so only a few verses are printed today but I encourage you to read it in its entirety.
At every Divine Liturgy, the priest invites the people to “Let us love one another, so that with one mind we may confess.” (This is right before the reciting of the Creed.) The people respond with “Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity one in essence and inseparable.” While this response is being sung, the priest turns towards the altar table and venerates the cloth that covers the Holy Gifts on the altar table. As he does this, he prays the words of Psalm 18:1, “I will love You Lord, my strength, the Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer.”
These words fly off my tongue so easily and yet they are so profound when we reflect on them. Because they proclaim how we identify the Lord. And that identity dictates His place in our lives. There is one person in this world that is identified as my son. I know many children, but none come before him. The same can be said for all of our children, our spouses, our parents. We have a hierarchy of people in our lives. Some are friends, some are acquaintances, some may even be enemies. We all know which ones are at the top of our hierarchy. And for each of these, we can put some very deep descriptive phrases—my love, my joy, my purpose, my refuge, my supporter, my encourager, my advisor, my confidant, etc. We don’t put these words next to the name of every person we know, only to the ones that are most important in our lives. However, when we put these words next to the names of people, it elevates how we treat them, how much time we spend with them, how much we trust and confide in them.
Psalm 18 invites us to love God as our strength, rock, fortress, deliverer, shield, horn, and stronghold. Are those accurate statements for each of us? If not, what words will in the blank behind “I love You, Lord, my________.” Without sounding judgmental, we all know Christians of crisis, who only seem to show up when someone has died or something has gone wrong. Lots of people are “showing up” now that our country is in crisis. Is the Lord their rock, their fortress, their deliverer, or just their “insurance policy,” only invoked in times of disaster.
Many times I feel like a hypocrite. I show up without fail every Sunday, whether I want to come or not. I pray Psalm 18:1 at every Liturgy, whether I feel it or not. If I’m honest, sometimes it feels more like “I will love You Lord, my job.” Sometimes we love God because we feel we can’t not love Him. So our sentence becomes “I will love You Lord, because I have no choice.” If we cling to God only in times of stress, our sentence becomes “I will love You Lord, as my crutch in times of stress.”
If the Lord is indeed our rock, our fortress, our strength, our deliverer, our shield, our horn and our stronghold, that will affect our lives in a positive manner and in a purposeful manner. A few months ago, our son had a school project which was to build a castle. Parents were invited to help and so we set out to build a castle that had thick walls, a moat, a drawbridge, a secondary gate called a portcullis (I learned a new word!!!) and guard towers. The purpose of the castle was to make those inside the castle feel secure if the castle or the kingdom ever came under attack. While our walls were made out of cardboard that we painted to look like stone, a real castle would be made out of real stone. Paper, cardboard or cloth wouldn’t hold up to much of anything.
When we see the Lord as our strength, fortress, rock, deliverer, shield, horn and stronghold, we will feel as if we are living in that castle, secure from attack, at peace behind the walls. If the Lord is our insurance policy, our job, or our guilt, it will be as if we are living in a castle made of cloth, ready to be shredded at the first sign of attack.
A castle is built brick by brick, stone by stone. The “castle” of the Lord is built in our hearts and souls prayer by prayer, sacrament by sacrament, deed by deed. I once had a friend whose life was being shredded by cancer. Several rounds of strong chemo had zapped his physical strength. This big, husky, gregarious man was a shell of what he once was. One day, he came in to see me for confession, and at the end of his confession, he prayed Psalm 18:1, except he said “I will love You Lord, my everything!” Here was a man who had lost so much of his vitality, and his freedom, the castle of whose soul was as strong as ever. When he passed away a few months later, he died with a smile on his face, a serenity that I had never seen before or since. Because the Lord wasn’t his crutch, his security blanket, his insurance policy, his guilt or his job. The Lord was his everything, and even as he lost every worldly thing—his health, his family, his life—he still believed he had everything. Because he had built his castle, brick by brick, prayer by prayer, deed by deed, and at the end the fortress of his soul stood up to cancer.
It’s very important to understand how we see God. Because that will affect how we live. And it will ultimately affect where we live, in heaven or not in heaven. How we complete the sentence, “The Lord is my____________” is the most important “fill in the blank” question we will ever answer. How do you fill in the blank?
Prayer of Protection from the Coronavirus
(Prayer by Grace Bishop Alexis (Trader) of Bethesda)
O God Almighty, Lord of heaven and earth, and of all creation visible and invisible, in Your ineffable goodness, look down upon Your people gathered in Your name. Be our helper and defender in this day of affliction. You know our weakness. You hear our cry in repentance and contrition of heart. O Lord who loves mankind deliver us from the impending threat of the corona virus. Send Your Angel to watch over us and protect us. Grant health and recovery to those suffering from this virus. Guide the hands of physicians, and preserve those who are healthy that we may continue to serve You in peace and glorify Your most honorable and majestic Name, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
When God is our fortress, nothing can defeat us. Make it a goal to lay one spiritual brick on the fortress of your soul each day!
The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! There you may find a database for past prayer team messages as well as books by Fr. Stavros and other information about his work and St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
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The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.