by Canon Mark A. Pearson
“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight”
–Bishop Philipps Brooks in “O Little Town of Bethlehem”
Adapted from a sermon preached Sunday morning, September 23, 2007, at New Life Assembly of God Church, Raymond, New Hampshire and Sunday afternoon at Trinity Charismatic Episcopal Church, Newton Junction, New Hampshire.
There are three kinds of fear.
The first kind of fear is an appropriate response to danger. You see a bear while you are out walking in the woods. Your heart starts pounding, your palms get sweaty, and you conclude it would be wise to walk away. This kind of fear is a God-given emotional/intellectual trigger to keep us from becoming a bear’s lunch. It is not being cowardly nor untrusting of God to honor such fear; it is being wise.
The second kind of fear is an appropriate response to God’s sovereignty.
In Moses’ second address to the children of Israel after they came out of Egypt, he told them to keep God’s statutes and commandments, “that you may fear the Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:1-2).
When Gabriel told Mary she would conceive a child by the Holy Spirit she responded with that hymn known as The Magnificat. One line of it is, “His mercy is on them who fear Him from generation to generation” (Luke 1:50).
In these contexts the word fear means total respect, honor, and reverence towards God as expressed by our obedience, worship and love. In the nineteenth century the phrase often used of someone exhibiting these attitudes and actions towards God was “God fearing.”
Christians need to grow in being God fearing. If you listen to some (not all) of the television preachers or read the best selling books of a number of religious authors you’d conclude that the core of the Christian message is our own personal fulfillment and happiness, not our obedience to God. I recently saw a newspaper ad for a church enticing people to attend their church with the come on, “It’s all about you! Come to the church where you’ll be blessed.”
Compare this to the much more Biblical statement of the martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ‘When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”
Worship is first about giving glory to God, not about how I feel afterwards.
Prayer is first about my hearing God speak to me about His will for my life,
not my telling God what I want Him to do for me. Discipleship is first about
showing myself approved (as Paul instructed Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15), not about my chasing the latest religious entertainment or thrill.
We need to recover the fear of the Lord. Isn’t that — according to Scripture (Psalm 111:10) — the beginning of wisdom? So then, there are two kinds of fear that are good: first, an appropriate response to danger, and second, an appropriate response to God’s sovereignty. But there’s a third kind of fear that is not good:
The third kind of fear is the thoughts and emotions that come from misreading a danger relative to God’s power.
A little girl was being teased by the older neighborhood girls because she had never ridden a bicycle. Finally she had enough of their teasing and got on a bike. She was scared. You could see fear all over her face. She was in tears.
Her fear, however, was unnecessary. Though the older girls had teased her they were not mean. The little girl did not know that the bike she was riding had training wheels on it and that the reason the other girls were riding along side her was not to taunt her but to make sure they’d catch her if she, despite the training wheels, started to teeter over. The little girl misread the situation – it was safe — and she did not grasp how the other girls were there to protect her.
How about us? Don’t we often have fear like this — scary but unnecessary? Can Gary Heniser of Oceanside, California, describes this kind of fear as being “unable to respond to the circumstances of life than that of a victim … helpless and vulnerable, expecting little but the worst result….”
We wonder: Will a loved one suddenly have a stroke and be left paralyzed, unable to speak? Will one of my children be shot at school? Will I lose my home because I overextended in buying it and my company downsizes me out of my job? Will terrorists strike again?
There are two false responses to such possibilities.
The first false response is to deny these possibilities might happen.
There’s a strange teaching going around that says if we speak of something negative, we bring it into being. This is superstition, not Christian teaching. While not overly dwelling on negative possibilities, we need to acknowledge them so we can take adequate precautions.
Do you have adequate insurance? Are appropriate precautions being taken at school? Are we dealing with being overextended now, before a crisis hits? Are our security forces doing their job? And especially, are you praying for God’s protection, health, wisdom, strength?
The second false response is just the opposite: to focus on these possibilities way too much — to believe something might happen when the odds are incredibly small, or, in the case of those
things that might really happen, to believe there is nothing that can be
done. To respond in this way causes unnecessary stress and immobilizes us
from taking adequate precautions.
Fear is, in part, a choice. We cannot help our initial emotional response to a threat. We can help what we do next. Instead of dwelling on the problem, we can choose — and this takes discipline — to focus on the solution, whether in anticipation of a future problem or in solving a present one. How do we do that? There are four steps to keep fear in check.
First, know how big God is. J. B. Phillips wrote a book many years ago called Your God is Too Small. This was not an evangelistic book to lead non-believers to Christ. This was a book written for Christians who believe in God but do not believe in Him enough. Many people believe in what I call the “Twelve Foot Tall God.” Their God is, of course, bigger than they are, but not by much. While He does some things we cannot do, He is not big enough to pull off the miracles we sometimes need.
But God is huge! He created the universe. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10). Pray you have the faith of Daniel’s three companions who, when faced with the fiery furnace, told King Nebuchadnezzar their God was able to deliver them (Daniel 3:16-17).
Here’s a Biblical truth that helped put things in perspective for me. One day I realized I had a false view of spiritual warfare. I assumed the Biblical opposite number to Satan was Jesus. You know, Satan is the bad guy and Jesus is the good guy. (Since I realized this is not the biblical teaching I have discovered that many labor under what had been my false understanding. Maybe you do.)
Actually, the spiritual opposite number to Satan is not Jesus but Michael the Archangel. Jesus is God-made-flesh; Satan is merely a created angelic being who fell. Michael is similarly created and the leader of the heavenly host. Michael has, many scholars teach, twothirds of the angelic beings loyal to him (and to God) while Satan has but onethird. Several years ago I heard a cutesy praise song that went, “We’ve got a great big God and an itty bitty devil.”
I found this cliché to be helpful: “Don’t tell God the size of your problems, tell your problems the size of your God.”
The second way to keep fear in check is to recall how God has worked in the past. It’s one thing to believe as an article of faith (as a theory) that God intervenes when needed. It’s another thing to recall specific examples where He actually did so. There’s four places we can go for such examples:
*The Bible. Scripture is full of accounts where God intervened to help people at their places of need.
*Church history. Read the lives of the saints. Read Christian biography.
*Other Christians. Ask fellow believers to share their testimonies with you.
*Yourself. Most active Christian disciples have had one or more experiences where God intervened, where it’d be more a stretch to explain such occurrences as coincidence than know them as “Godincidents.” The trouble is, we tend to forget these events or else we let Satan talk us out of believing them.
For years I have suggested people keep a notebook chronicling the occasions when God acted in their lives. First, write down what you can remember. Second, ask God to remind you. Then, ask Christian friends if they remember times when God truly intervened to help you. Jot these recollections down. Add to your notebook every time God does something new. When you get fearful, review the evidence. People who have followed my advice have told me “this really works!”
The third way to keep fear in check is to do what God says. If we are asking God to do His part, we must also do ours. The children of Israel were scared when Pharaoh’s army was chasing them. Moses told them, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord…” (Exodus 14:13). Stand firm — even if your knees are knocking and your mouth goes dry with fear. John
Wayne put it this way, “Courage is not lacking fear. It’s having fear but saddling up and riding out anyway.” Based on how big God is, informed by how God has acted in the past, choose to stand firm no matter how afraid you may feel. Watch what God will do!
The fourth way to keep fear in check is to look at things from a heavenly perspective. God is able to take the problem away if He chooses. If He doesn’t, He’s got a better plan for us. Christianity is not about God grudgingly meeting our needs. It is about us conforming to His better plan.
Sometimes the world serves us lemons and, because of His love and our prayers, God takes them away. Other times God makes lemonade. Your job might be in jeopardy but God can keep it for you, find you another one, or else make other arrangements. A loved one might be miraculously healed or, if a believer, go home to be with Jesus. God may not act the way we would like but for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose, God works all things together for good. In Him we are more than conquerors (read Romans 8:28-39).
Don’t let fear consume you. Do your part and ask God to do His. +