It’s a Columbia tradition for the President to encourage students and staff at the first chapel of the semester. The following comes from Bryan Born’s chapel talk on January 11, 2018.
It’s 2018. Like many people, I’ve adopted a New Year’s practice: the choice of a word that is intended to provide direction for the coming year of my life. This exercise is not random – the authors of the book, One Word that Will Change Your Life, suggest that rather than choose a word, you allow the word to choose you after prayer, reflection and listening for God’s direction.
My word for 2018 is “Trust,”
and it came to me as I was meditating on my favorite Psalm. Psalm 62:8 reads: “Trust in the Lord at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”
Looking back at 2017, I found that at times I struggled with worry, confusion and frustration. Too often, I felt like things were kind of out of control. So much is going on in our world and in our lives – upheaval in media, technology, political leadership, communications, gender and identity politics, entertainment, the economy, and religion. But we still think we’re supposed to be able to handle things on our own – you know what we like to say, “I’m OK, I Got This!” But the truth is, I don’t.
So here we are at the beginning of another year, and I’m asking myself, “What path will I choose – fear and worry, or trust and hope?” I’m choosing trust and hope.
I believe 2018 is going to be a great year if we put our trust in the right place.
Psalm 62 shows us how that looks:
“My soul finds rest in God alone; my hope comes from him.
Truly He is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”
Most of you know by now that I like talking about Africa, so bear with me as I once again pull up a Botswana illustration. One of the interesting features of the Botswana landscape is that some areas are covered in small hills made up almost entirely of huge boulders piled one on top of another – and these are huge boulders – the size of pick-up trucks.
One day I took time to just look at one of those huge rocks and think about its characteristics.
Solid, big, heavy, immovable, strong, unchanging.
When David described God as his Rock, he gave us a picture of God’s faithfulness. Everything around us may be up in the air – changes in family, friends, work, school, events, circumstances – we may feel stressed out, wondering what’s going to happen next. Have you ever felt that way?
David knew all about that kind of feeling – dashing from cave to cave in the middle of the night trying to elude King Saul’s army or later on fleeing Jerusalem in disgrace when his own son tried to steal his throne. But he had a Rock. Someone solid he could always depend upon, someone who didn’t change with the calendar – God alone is my Rock, King David declared. In turbulent times, he knew where to find rest, and he could do so because he knew where his strength was found – In God, his Rock.
Listen to Psalm 62:8 again – “Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge.” It’s a great verse at all times but especially when we feel the weight of the world crushing us.
God is not simply an unfeeling rock – he’s a refuge.
The image of a Rock most often is related to strength or power – a rock is hard and, most often, completely impassive. If the only way we thought about God was as a Rock,that would be kind of cold.
But David didn’t just call God his mighty Rock, he described God as his Refuge. All of us need rest, and we all depend upon God our Rock but there are also times we long for a refuge, a place where someone will take care of us. We need God to be our strength – to give us power to overcome – but we also long for his love and mercy. A rock has no feeling – it can’t hug you, but God isn’t uncaring – He’s a safe place. We can pour out hearts to God.
In Setswana, the language spoken in Botswana, the word for “refuge” is botshabelo. Literally it means “the place you run to” – it has the connation of “fleeing for your life to a safe place.” It’s a word that I have come to love.
August of 1992, our first month in Botswana, was very difficult. The day after we arrived in the country, we moved to a village and began living with a local family. The first few weeks were hard – there was no electricity, phone, indoor plumbing or vehicle, but more importantly, we had no family or friends to rely upon. The folks we were living with were wonderful, but they only knew a little bit of English so there was a huge language and cultural barrier. Two days after we arrived our oldest daughter broke out with chicken pox, and soon after our two other children were also sick (and then lots of other kids in the village as well!).
I remember one day feeling so overwhelmed – I’d endured another frustrating attempt to talk to someone in Setswana and I just wanted to go home. I wanted to talk to someone from my own culture. I wondered just what it was that I had gotten our family into? I honestly didn’t know if I could make it. “I was 30 years old, with a wife and 3 children, and I remember thinking that I had made a colossal mistake.” My head hurt and my heart ached.
At the back of the village where we lived there was a huge boulder that had been split in two. You could climb around the back of it, and make your way into the cleft of the boulder. It felt like you were inside the boulder – it was quiet, cooler because of the shade, and one could find solitude.
I went there that day, and poured out all of my feelings to God – my fear, anger, doubt, and frustration. I ran to Jesus, my refuge – the one you run to, or as I eventually learned to say, my botshabelo. Instead of trying to simply tough it out, I turned to God. I knew that it I wasn’t going to make it if I simply took an “I Got This!” approach, but I need to trust God, to adopt a “God’s Got This!” mindset.
I can’t say that life immediately became a whole lot easier after that – it didn’t – it was still tough but I gained a new sense of God’s presence. God isn’t a “feel good” pill – he’s a Rock and a Refuge.
At the end of Psalm 62, David wrote: “One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard – Power belongs to you, God, and with you, Lord, is unfailing love.” To me, those two truths stand back to back – Power and love. God is a rock – He is strong, powerful. But that’s not all – God is a refuge – He is loving, merciful. My hope and prayer is that we will experience Rest in Jesus for this coming year, because God is our Rock and Refuge.
As I said earlier, my word for this year is “TRUST.” To remind myself of that truth each day, I taped the word TRUST onto a polished rock that I have in my office. That rock sits on the base of my computer monitor, so every morning when I arrive at work, I see it, and I am reminded to “TRUST.”
If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to take some time in the next few days and ask God for a word for 2018, and then pay attention, listen to what he gives you. If you want to, send me a note to let me know your word for 2018. I’d love to hear about what God is doing in your life.