Ebola. ISIS. Terrorist attacks. Disasters. Wars. Rumors of wars. Economic problems.
What do all these things (and more) have in common? They all have the ability to instill fear in the hearts of people. The times we live in, especially as we turn on the news or see videos’ and pictures from around the world, can cause tremendous anxiety and fear. It can seem at times that everything is coming “unglued” or evil is “winning” or “advancing.” We all have recently heard/read stories or even seen pictures of people, even children, being beheaded, crucified, raped, plundered, trafficked and slaughtered in various parts of the world. Evil is real and evil things still continue to happen. Actually this should come as no surprise to the believer in Jesus Christ. Scripture prophesied that there would be “terrible times in the last days” (2 Timothy 3:1-5) that would only get worse before Jesus returns (Matthew 24).
About nine or ten years ago now, I sensed during a time of personal worship and prayer that the Holy Spirit was showing me that the number one issue I would deal with in my own life and in the lives of those I would minister to would be fear. I have witnessed that over the years to be very true. Actually from a very early age, I have been extremely sensitive and fearful. I can remember many nights being terrified of the dark and scared by just about every, and any, movie I ever watched! I lived in PA but still, upon seeing the movie Dante’s Peak for example, I was terrified that a volcano would erupt and catch me by surprise! It didn’t matter how irrational or unlikely what I saw in movies was to happen to me, I became terrified that it would. In many ways, those irrational fears (or even rational ones!) have not left me to this day.
For example, (this one is now funny looking back!) I was on a mission’s trip to Panama a few years ago, and I got it in my head that I may die on that trip. So you know how I spent a good deal of that trip? Thinking about every possible way I might die and wondering in each situation if that was going to be it! So bad was it, that when we went to cross a body of water in a small canoe to visit an indigenous Indian tribe, I waited for the moment that a crocodile would jump out of the water and try to eat one of us (I “romanticized” it though by preparing to be the “hero” who would save whoever it went after…and be eaten in their place). Now, mind you, before we got in the canoe we did see a crocodile swim by, but yes, granted, this was irrational, but it was real in my own head at that moment! I started to get this way on roller coasters too recently. I discovered when you’re only thinking about all the different ways you could fly off and die, it sort of robs of the joy of the ride!
Fear can be crippling. Fear holds people back from doing things. The owner of a business I once worked for had a house in Hawaii. Sounds nice right? One problem. He was afraid of flying in an airplane, so he never set foot in his own house in Hawaii! I know of another person who basically stays at home, or has as much as possible, since 9/11, afraid of something happening to him. I know many others who are afraid of going even on a week-long mission trip because of all kinds and every kind of fears. Did you know Proverbs 22:13 speaks to this? It says: “The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside!” or, “I will be murdered in the streets!” There is a chance those things could happen…but have not people also died in their own homes as well? There is risk in everything and no one has “beat the odds” of death (except Enoch and Elijah…but that’s another story!).
What has greatly helped me over the years with my own fears has been the words of Joshua 1:9 where God says to Joshua: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
God commands us not to be afraid. In fact did you know that beside the phrase “Praise the Lord;” “Do not be afraid” (or something similar) is the most often repeated command in Scripture? And notice it is a command! God says “Have I not commanded you?” God calls us to “be strong and courageous.” He commands us not to give into fear. He reminds us and assures us that He will be with us wherever we go. The issue is one of trust. We must trust Him and walk in obedience to Him. It is Him that we must “fear” not anything or anyone else more.
For example we should not let the fear of terrorists or anyone who could kill us cause us to be crippled by fear. Jesus in fact said this in Luke 12:4-7: “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
We also should not fear death as believers. Hebrews 2:14-17 tells us this about Jesus: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants.” Jesus died not only to save us from our sins, but set us free from our fear of death. We now have the hope of eternal life, the promise of everlasting life, a kingdom that can never be shaken. Hebrews 12:26-29 tells us there is coming a day when this world and everything in it will be “shaken” and everything will change, but we need not fear. It says this: “but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken — that is, created things — so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” Again, it is God that is to be feared, not anything or anyone else. And it’s the hope (joyful, eager, confident, certain, expectation) of eternal life that we have in Christ that delivers us from earthly fear. We need to meditate on eternal realities and place our trust in God and His promises to overcome earthly fear.
Really it comes down to trust in God. Fear is getting the main focus off of God and onto other things. But Psalm 27:1 says: “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?” The Psalmist goes on in that Psalm to speak about an army coming against him and surrounding him, yet in the midst of that, in verses 4-6, you see His focus on the beauty of God and you see him setting his heart not in looking outward, but upward, confident that: “…in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.”
So many Psalms speak of God being our refuge, fortress, shield, strong-tower, defender, deliverer, place of safety, protector etc. Psalm 91 speaks of how if we make God our “dwelling” then He will supernaturally protect us from all the evil attacks of Satan. Psalm 46:1-3 says this: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” Twice in that Psalm it also says: “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”
Jesus told His disciples in John 14:1-4 this: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” A few verses later after one of His disciples said out confusion that they didn’t know where he was going and thus didn’t know the way, Jesus said these famous words: “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by Me.”
Some people because of their evil deeds are afraid to come into the light of Christ’s presence, lest their deeds be exposed, even though Jesus would forgive them (John 3:16-20).
Others are bound by their fear of being rejected or ridiculed and so they stay silent in regard to their faith in Jesus (John 7:12-13, John 12:42-43).
Others are afraid of the judgment of God. (Often those who should be (unbelievers) aren’t and those who shouldn’t be (believers) are!). But no believer in Jesus ought to fear punishment, for Jesus bore our punishment and the judgment of God for our sins on the cross. 1 John 4:18 reminds us: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
Others fear the same things that non-believers fear. But 1 Peter 3:14-15 says: “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.”
Still others fear and worry about tomorrow and their needs being met. They therefore don’t put the kingdom of God as first priority of their lives. But Jesus said our Father knows what we need. And so He said in Matthew 6:33-34: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” And Hebrews 13:5-6 says: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”
What delivers us from earthly fear? It’s having a greater “fear” of God. It’s magnifying God for who He is, rather than magnifying the things that would cause us fear. It’s focusing on His glory and beauty and character and promises, not the darkness, evil and problems of the world. This doesn’t mean ignoring or turning a blind eye to these things, it just means our eyes stay focused on God despite all that is raging around us. It’s when we get our eyes off of Jesus that we become to “sink” in the raging waters, rather than walk upon them (Matthew 13:27-31). It’s when we give more heed and attention to what causes us fear, than the one who has promised to be with us, help us, and never leave us or forsake us. Fear is maximizing the wrong thing while minimizing God. God has not promised that we won’t go through things. But He has promised He would be with us. To overcome fear we must place (and keep) our trust in our Living, Risen, Victorious Savior! We must put our trust in the One who created us, redeemed us and calls us His own. Don’t let fear cripple you.
Isaiah 43:1-3: “But now, this is what the Lord says — he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…”
Revelation 1:17-18: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.