Psalm 56—They Can’t Take Away the Finish Line

Psalm 56—They Can’t Take Away the Finish Line

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In God I trust without a fear.  What can man do to me? Psalm 56:11

One time, I was confiding in my Spiritual Father that I was very anxious about what some people thought of me, and whether their thoughts might affect me professionally.  I remember something he said, which I think he meant to be somewhat sarcastic and funny but when I reflect on it, it is serious and true.  He said, “What’s the worst they can do?  They can’t take away Christmas.  They can’t take away your birthday.”

It isn’t an exaggeration to say that we live in a time of fear.  Many of us live in fear of the coronavirus and getting sick.  That is a real fear.  There are a multitude of other fears associated with this virus.  Will our children be safe if they go to school?  Will they fall behind if they don’t?  How will we cope with a year of home schooling?  Is there a conspiracy for government to take over more aspects of our lives?  Is there a big tax hike coming?  Will life ever resume as normal?  What will be left of our churches?  Or our friendships?  Or our sense of peace?  There seems to be fear in lots of corners.

Psalm 56 reminds us no matter what happens in our lives, no one can take away our faith, no one can take away the fulfillment of God’s promise for eternal life.  The only real “security” there is in life is our faith.  I’ve thought for some time that the world is on a downward path away from Christianity as well as individual prosperity.  I had thought that “I am safe for another 40 years.”  Now, I’m not so sure.  Like many of us, I actually have a lot of anxiety about this.

Psalm 56:8 reminds us that God knows our feelings and our fears: “Thou has kept count of my tossings; put Thou my tears in Thy bottle!”  Verse 9 tells us “This I know, that God is for me.”  God roots for us.  He doesn’t tell us that the path will be easy.  To the contrary, the path is hard.  It’s like running a marathon.  Life is a long race, where we will feel pain and fatigue, just like the marathon runner.  However, God has provided us the path on which to run.  We aren’t just running aimlessly.  We are running to a specific destination, His Kingdom.  God has provided the water stations—the nourishment and refreshment needed to complete the race.  This comes in the form of spiritual food—namely Holy Communion, and the sacraments through which we receive His grace.  The Lord has also provided the “fans” on the streets to root for us and cheer us on.  These come in the form of friends who encourage us, priests who guide us, and people who inspire us through their Christian witness.

The marathon course is going to have hills that will challenge us when we are already tired.  It will have head-winds which will make it seem like we are running and getting nowhere.  There will be areas where there is no shade and the sun will beat down on us.  And the race will actually get harder as it goes along, as we fight fatigue, long after our “freshness” at the start of the race has disappeared.

But no matter what happens in the “race”, no one can take away the finish line, no one can take away the water stations and no one can take away the fans.  Just like no matter what happens in life, no one can take away our finish line of heaven.  No one can take away our faith.  No one can stop us from praying.  And no one can stop us from receiving God’s grace through the sacraments.  (Yes, there was a time when we were not able to attend the Divine Liturgy earlier this year, and this could conceivably happen again should there be another lock-down.  However, I have never and will never deny someone Holy Communion should they ask for it.)

The key to finishing the marathon of life is simply to keep moving forward.  Every year, whether it is a good year or a bad year, puts us a year closer to the finish.  Just like in the marathon, every mile run, whether it is run fast or slow, with confidence or with fatigue, puts the runner one mile closer to the finish.

And here’s the thing with our journey to salvation—the goal is to finish the race.  It is not to win.  There is no competition with anyone else.  Everyone is going to run at a different pace.  Everyone’s course will look different.  The goal in this race is to finish.  It is finishing that makes one a winner in the eyes of God.  To God, everyone who finishes is a winner.  Keep running your race today, no matter what you hear in the news, no matter what other people say, no matter how much you might be nervous or even fearful.  Because no one can take away the finish line, the water stations or the fans.  And no one can take away faith or God’s grace from us.

Be gracious to me, O God, for men trample upon me; all day long foemen oppress me; my enemies trample upon me all day long, for many fight against me proudly.  When I am afraid, I put my trust in Thee.  In God, whose word I praise, in God I rust without a fear. What can flesh do to me?  All day long they seek to injure my cause; all their thoughts are against me for evil.  They band themselves together, they lurk, they watch my steps.  As they have waited for my life, so recompense them for their crime; in wrath cast down the peoples, O God!  Thou hast kept count of my tossings; put Thou my tears in Thy bottle!  Are they not in Thy book?  Then my enemies will be turned back in the day when I call.  This I know, that God is for me.  In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord whose word I praise, in God I trust without a fear.  What can man do to me?  My vows to Thee I must perform, O God; I will render thank offerings to Thee. For Thou hast delivered my soul from death, yea, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.  Psalm 56

God is with us, and God is for us.  With this in mind, and in our hearts, there is no need to fear anything that “man” can do to us!

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.

These readings are under copyright and is used by permission. All rights reserved. These works may not be further reproduced, in print or on other websites or in any other form, without the prior written authorization of the copyright holder: Reading © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA, Apolytikion of Abbot Marcellus © Narthex Press, Kontakion of Abbot Marcellus © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA.

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.

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Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0