Conquering Fear

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“CONQUERING FEAR”

Isaiah 41:10-13

      “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” When President Franklin Roosevelt spoke these words on March 4, 1933, there were actually many things to fear. The United States was in the depths of the Great Depression. Millions of Americans were hopeless, homeless, jobless; living in makeshift shanties and standing in long, meandering soup lines.

At this same time, states in the Great Plains were suffering the worst drought in U.S. history; the so-called “Dust Bowl,” which severely damaged farming and food production, and displaced an estimated 2.5 million Americans.

Economic hardship led to rising crime. And so the 1930s witnessed legendary criminals like John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Machine Gun Kelly, Pretty Boy Floyd, Bonnie and Clyde, and Ma Barker. And to make matters worse, in 1933 Adolf Hitler became “der Fuhrer” or leader of Nazi Germany. The Jewish Holocaust and World War II were less than a decade away.

President Roosevelt was aware of all these problems; but he also understood that none of the problems could be solved if Americans surrendered to fear. And so he told the nation, “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Today, there are still many things that cause fear. Our world is an increasingly dangerous, chaotic place filled with wars, riots, racism, natural disasters, senseless crimes, unspeakable evil, and acts of terrorism. The purpose of terrorism is to terrify. Jesus Himself described the final age of earth as an age of terror, saying in Luke 21:26, “Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world.” And He added in the same chapter, “There will be fearful events.”

You and I witness these fearful events daily on CNN, FOX News, or MS-NBC. In North Korea, another ballistic missile test. In Syria, chemical weapons and mass graves. In Indiana, a police officer murdered while responding to a traffic accident. In Texas, a truckload of illegal immigrants left to die in the stifling heat of a Walmart parking lot. Shootings. Burnings. Stabbings. An opioid epidemic. The open practice of Satanism and witchcraft. In 2017 alone, an estimated 533,000 abortions in the United States.

Financial difficulties can make us afraid. Despite recent improvements, the U.S. economy is still plagued by foreclosures, bankruptcies, unemployment, and a nearly $20 trillion national debt. “What if I lose my job? What if I’m forced to accept a part‑time position with no benefits? What if I can’t buy groceries and medicine or pay the mortgage?” These are frightening questions, and many Americans are asking them.

Health concerns can be very frightening. Life can be turned upside down in an instant by an unexpected medical diagnosis. For decades my father warned me against overexposure to the Florida sun. I listened politely, nodded, but always disregarded his advice because I was young, healthy, tan, invincible, and a native Floridian. Then in 2013 I was diagnosed with a melanoma. And that diagnosis frightened me. I must have called the Lakeland Cancer Center twice a day. “Why haven’t I been referred to a surgeon yet? Why hasn’t my surgery been scheduled? And why aren’t my phone calls being answered on the first ring?” Fear can be an ugly thing.

Relationships can be a source of fear. People who’ve gone through a divorce often fear future relationships. “Why make myself vulnerable again? Why risk such pain?” Divorced parents can unwittingly pass this same fear on to their children. “Oh, I’m not getting married. I remember what happened to mom and dad; how they constantly argued, how bitter they became. I don’t want that to happen to me. I’m never getting married.”

And for many people, nothing causes more terror than the prospect of death. Hebrews 2:15 refers to those “who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” As a Family Services Advisor at the Lakeland Funeral Home, I was required to sell pre-need funeral arrangements. I quickly learned that despite all the advantages of planning ahead—substantial savings, the opportunity to make payments over time, and despite the inevitability of dying, the majority of people I contacted refused to discuss death. Ironically, for the first time in any secular career, I offered a service everyone needed and no one wanted.

Of course, not all fear is wrong. God equipped us with the emotional response of fear to alert us to imminent danger. I hope that everyone in church today has a healthy fear of downed power lines, intoxicated drivers, gun-wielding criminals, and the spinning blades of a power lawnmower. In addition, the Bible calls upon us to “fear God”; meaning a sacred, reverential respect that stands in awe of God’s being and majesty; and yes, trembles at the thought of purposely displeasing Him. Peter wrote in his first epistle, “Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.” (1 Peter 1:17)

However, a healthy fear becomes unhealthful when it takes control of us; when our lives are filled with gloom, doom, worry, and expectations of the absolute worst. This is the type of slavish fear that the Bible warns against. And the reason for the warning is clear. When our lives are characterized by fear, we are living as if we had no God. And paralyzing fear is at odds with faith.

On one occasion, the Lord’s disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee during a ferocious storm. This was the time Jesus walked to His disciples on water, and then empowered Simon Peter to do the same. Imagine the faith it took for Peter to step out of that boat while it was yawing and pitching like a child’s toy, then dare to put his feet on the water. But then, Peter’s eyes shifted from Jesus to the boisterous wind and white-capped waves. He began to sink. Terrified, he cried out for Jesus to save him. And according to Matthew 14, “Immediately, Jesus reached out His hand and caught him.” But do you remember what Jesus then said to Peter? Jesus did not ask, “Why were you so afraid?” Jesus asked, “Why did you doubt?” The basis for sinking into fear is doubting God.

So, what do you fear? Are you fearful of world conditions, terrorism, financial difficulties, sickness, growing old, death? Are you fearful of warmongering nations like Iran and North Korea?  Are you fearful of incompetent politicians and the future of the United States of America? Are you fearful of the well-being of your children, the state of your marriage, the size of your bank account, the problems at your work? What circumstances are keeping you awake at night and ruining your appetite and robbing you of peace?

I’m tired of being afraid; aren’t you? I’m tired of giving fear a place in my heart and life. I’m tired of fearing the future and regretting the past. I’m tired of lying sleepless in bed, and reaching for yet another antacid, and always expecting the worst from God instead of expecting His very best. I don’t want to negotiate with fear. I want to conquer fear. And the means to conquer fear is found in the precious Word of God. Therefore, if you feel fear beginning to control your life, what should you do?

First, take your fears to God in prayer. Be specific, “God, I’m afraid I may lose my job. God, I’m afraid of this illness. God, I’m afraid of being alone. God, I’m afraid of that temptation.” Articulating your fears through prayer will not only help you sort out real fears from imaginary ones; more importantly, it will give you the peace of mind and heart that can only come from giving your problems, worries, and fears to God.

Paul wrote to the Philippians: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

      Someone may say, “Why pray about my fears? God doesn’t listen. Prayer is useless.” No, prayer is not useless. Prayer is powerful, as written in James 5:13-16, “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” Moses prayed, and God parted the Red Sea. Joshua prayed, and God made the sun stand still.  Elijah prayed, and God brought rain in the midst of famine and drought.

Second, remember that God does not want you to be afraid.  Fear is not the type of life to which God has called you. Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 1, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline”; that is, the means to hold ourselves together even when the whole world seems to be falling apart.

The phrases “do not fear” and “do not be afraid” or similar words occur more than three hundred and twenty-five times in Scripture. Is God trying to tell us something? In a real sense, “do not be afraid” is the very essence of the Gospel. When Jesus Christ was born, the skies above Bethlehem resounded with a heavenly choir, as an angel of the Lord told frightened shepherds: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)

When we take the time to read our Bibles, we find God telling His people “do not fear” in every conceivable situation; from the smallest task to the most hopeless circumstances. When Abraham faced the impossibility of fathering a child in his old age, God said to him, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” (Genesis 15:1) When the Israelites stood terrified on the shore of the Red Sea, with Pharaoh’s army in hot pursuit, Moses told them, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today.” (Exodus 14:13)

Today’s text, Isaiah 41:10-13, was written at a time of great fear for the southern kingdom of Judah. As recorded in Isaiah 36, emissaries from the Assyrian king Sennacherib stood in front of the gates of Jerusalem and shouted for all to hear, “Do not let Hezekiah mislead you when he says, ‘The LORD will deliver us.’ Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria?” (Isaiah 36:18)

Yet, in the face of such opposition and evil, God assured His people: “So do not fear; for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

“I am with you,” said God. This is the third reason you have no reason to fear anything: God is always with you. The same God who created the universe through his almighty Word. The same God of Whom we confess three Sundays out of four, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” The same God who redeemed you from your sins through the sacrifice of His only Son.

Yes, at times we may wonder if God truly is with us in our troubles. And in this we are not alone. The prophet Habakkuk asked, “How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but You do not listen. Or cry out to you, ‘Violence,’ but You do not save?” (Habakkuk 1:2) The psalmist wrote, “Awake, O Lord! Why do You sleep? Rouse Yourself! Do not reject us forever. Why do You hide Your face and forget our misery and oppression?” (Psalm 44:23-24)

But God’s solemn promise is this: “Do not fear; for I am with you.” (Isaiah 41:10) And again, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) And again, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6) We could just as easily ask, “What can the economy do to me?” or “What can sickness do to me?” or “What can my enemies do to me?”

      Fourth, God is your God. “For I am your God,” He said in Isaiah 41:10. What if we addressed our fears with that divine reality? “Sickness, I’d like you to meet my God. Financial difficulty, I’d like you to meet my God. Troubled marriage, I’d like you to meet my God. Terrorists, Putin, Kim Jong-un, I’d like all of you to meet my God.”

And how did God become your God? By choice, not by accident. He became your God because He loved you enough to sacrifice His only Son, Jesus Christ, for you. This being true, do you really think that this God, your God, will withhold any other blessing from your life or fail you in any way? Of course not. So, why should you go on being afraid?

      Fifth, God will give you the strength to endure every problem and burden. You have His word on it. He said in Isaiah 41:10-11, “I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced.” When you and I insist, “I can’t fix this problem” or, “I can’t take this anymore” or, “I don’t have the strength to endure this problem”—there is entirely too much “I” and entirely too little “God.” “I will strengthen you,” said God.

This is why Paul could say with such absolute confidence: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

So, what have we learned today? No matter what, God will be with us. No matter what, God will protect us. No matter what, God will provide for us. Where did we learn these comforting truths? From the word of God. Therefore, let me ask you this: Do you believe that God’s word is truthful and reliable? Do you believe that God is all-powerful? Do you believe that God loves you with all His infinite heart? Do you believe that God loved you so much that He willingly sacrificed His only Son to save you from your sins? Do you believe that God will be with you at all times and in every circumstance?

If your answer to these questions was “Yes, I believe,” then why go on being afraid? Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”—a truly inspirational speech. But God has said, “I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you.” These are not the words of a politician or President, but the words of the Most High God; and therefore, the means to conquer our fears.

 

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