Have you ever noticed that when the phrase “fear not” is used in the bible it is almost always used when fear is a normal human response to a given situation? For example, in Genesis 50 we see Joseph’s brother’s cowering in fear before him. Their dad had died, and they were now concerned and fearful that Joseph may have second thoughts about really forgiving them for all the wrong they had done to him and respond with severe consequences. But look at Joseph’s response in Genesis 50. He exhorts them to “fear not” and adds “am I in the place of God”. Just two verses later he exhorts them to “fear not” and assures them of his care and protection. In Exodus 14 when the Israelites were being pursued by the Egyptian army the people were extremely afraid since they were boxed in by the Red Sea and had nowhere to go. But what was the God inspired exhortation from Moses? “Fear not, stand firm and see the salvation of the Lord” (Exodus 14:13a). Numerous other times we see God’s exhortation to “fear not” or “do not fear” in response to threats of oppression, violence and war. At other times the people have no food or water, basic provisions and what is their response? Fear. But what does God say? FEAR NOT. And he always provides! We see this so clearly in the opening verses of Joshua when the Lord exhorts him in the same way, but with an addition – Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Mmmm. It seems that fear can reveal where our trust and faith is rooted.
Now, I understand there is a good kind of fear. Fear of getting an awful shock is what keeps us from doing something unwise around electricity. Fear of falling off of a cliff to certain death keeps us from getting too close to the edge. You know what I’m talking about. That’s not quite what I’m getting at here though.
I’m referring to a deep-seated, deeply rooted view of life that is anchored in fear. So often (more often than not?) we don’t even realize we are living with that going on. It’s underneath the surface until something happens. Ongoing, habitual fear is rooted in a lack of trust in God’s goodness and faithfulness, especially when the results don’t turn out the way we would want or imagine. Fear, like faith, are both incredibly powerful drivers in our lives. One drives us to despair and the other to peace in the midst of difficulty. For God to say “fear not” means that we look to the alternative – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). In this case I would equate trust and faith. Hebrews 11:6 says it like this: “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him”. It doesn’t mean that we always get what we desire. It means that we submit our desires to him and trust him whatever the outcome. It is easy to express faith and trust in God when things are going good – there is plenty of money in the bank, the kids are doing okay, my marriage is going okay or the relationship I’m in is healthy, school is going okay, I’m physically healthy and well, etc. It is when we are in the times of testing, trial, suffering and hardship that what we really believe about God is revealed or shaken. When what we are ultimately trusting in or whatever serves as our primary source of joy, contentment and fulfillment – that person, thing, idea, etc.- is taken away – how will we respond? What does our response reveal about our hearts and minds?
Grief and sadness over any kind of loss is normal and okay. Unsettling circumstances can result in a jolt of fear for sure and we are certainly living there a lot these days. We just don’t want to stay there, right? If we are given to fear regularly or live in that mindset, we might very well need to make an adjustment. How does that happen? Speaking the truth of God’s Word to ourselves with regularity is key. I don’t just mean reading the bible perfunctorily, but rather with the goal of preaching the truth to ourselves where we are constantly reminding ourselves of the truth (Romans 12:1-2; Colossians 3:1-4). We have to constantly and regularly put ON the “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). This is a very powerful and transforming action and can literally change the way we think and react over time. Prayer is key. And again, regularity and consistency is of the utmost importance. That’s why both Jesus and Paul tell us to pray “always” (Luke 18:1; I Thessalonians 5:17). These things and others (Fellowship with believers, Scripture memory, Fasting, etc.) build faith and trust. It is so exciting to sense your faith growing over time! It doesn’t mean you never fear, but it does mean that you begin to respond to circumstances differently and in ways that give glory and honor to God and strengthen your own heart at the same time.
Grace & Peace,
Jon Eric Woodward