Posts Tagged 'The Futility of Fear'

The Futility of Fear, 8

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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 NIV84) 

Is there a God?  Many people wonder about that.  Philosophers, poets, and academicians have all tried to put into words an answer to that question: Does God exist?  Is it any wonder they doubt that He is there?  A lot of people who wonder about God have never taken the trouble to actually look for Him.  They may have read what others have written and perhaps considered the question with other like-minded individuals, but they’ve never seriously inquired directly of Him.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  (Matthew 6:33 NIV84) 

If a person can’t find God it’s because they aren’t seriously looking for Him.  It’s as simple as that.  It’s not like God is hiding.  God is there to be found by anybody seriously looking for Him.  However, it won’t always be that easy.

Seek the Lord while he may be found;call on him while he is near.  (Isaiah 55:6 (NIV84) 

Or, to put it another way:

Then the Lord said, My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.  (Genesis 6:3 NIV84)

So there are a lot of unbelievers wondering about the existence of God.  We Christians, though, from time to time, wonder the same things as our unbelieving friends.  You may be a genuine, born again, blood-bought believer, but still struggle with God.  You aren’t as sure as you as used to be that He really is there.  Maybe there hasn’t been a lot of communication between you and heaven lately.  Your Bible sits collecting dust, and it seems as though the Lord has withdrawn His presence from your life.  You ask:  Are you there, Lord?  Where have you gone?  It happens sometimes.  It’s always our fault, never God’s, but He lets it happen so we’ll keep on seeking Him and stop taking Him for granted.  To Christians like that – all of us – the word of The Lord simple but profound:

…do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed…

This is a declaration of fact, and it’s supposed to be a way of thinking that leads to a way of living. This declaration is followed by some promises that God makes:

I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

That’s wonderful!  But you have to believe it, and you have to live like it’s important.  After all, why would God do any of this for a person who doesn’t think He’s even there?

God is there; we are never alone.   You may feel alone; you may think you are alone, but God is always there.  God has always been there.  This is a very familiar text and it is a familiar truth, but we have to live up to it.  Do we?  The very fact that we allow doubts and questions that lead to fear to take root in our minds is proof that we don’t.  Facts are not like feelings, and most Christians seem to prefer their feelings over the facts.

Some facts to base your life on 

Let’s start with a couple of facts.  If you are a born again Christian, then you are born of His Spirit, and a member of God’s great family of faith.  Your sins have been forgiven, you have been pardoned, set free, and justified by faith.  You have become a partaker of God’s nature, and God, through His Holy Spirit, dwells within you.

These are facts.  These are not feelings or moods.  These are indisputable facts founded on the Word of God, and they remain facts whether your mood tells you so or not.

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, Abba, Father. (Romans 8:15 NIV84) 

This is a fact!  Christians are not supposed to be “slaves” to any kind of fear because we have become members of God’s family.  Even during those times when your mood leads you to question the facts you know so well, you need not fear because nothing changes the facts.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.  (2 Peter 1:3-4 NIV84) 

Facts that nothing can change!   These are promises that you, as a child of God, are entitled to claim and stand on and build your life on.

God knows this life can wear us down.  Even the strongest saint isn’t immune to the lies our hearts tell us.  So in His infinite wisdom and compassion, our Lord found a way to compensate for our weaknesses:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.   (Romans 8:26 NIV84) 

Christians really have no excuse to doubt God or fear, for even when multiplied doubts and fears get heaped upon us, it’s the Holy Spirit within us that digs us out; that brings us back to our spiritual senses.

Do not fear:  A message for the backslider 

In the context of Isaiah 41, God’s word of encouragement was given to His people who were stuck in discouraging circumstances.  As already mentioned, a lot of Christians can relate.

But the “fear not” message from God is also for the backslider.  At this time in their history, the nation of Israel had been taken into captivity.  This was a judgment of God upon a generally backslidden nation.  It may be hard to get your mind wrapped around this fact, but in spite of their judgment, God was with them while they were going through it.

For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.  (Isaiah 41:13 NIV84)

It’s almost impossible to conceive, but God never left them for a moment even while they were being disciplined for their unfaithfulness.  Many of the Israelites had forsaken Him, but He in no way had forsaken them.  He was sharing with them the very stripes He had been compelled to lay so heavily upon them.  And they had no idea.

Do not fear:  A message to the fainthearted 

Was there ever a more timid, fainthearted group of people than than the Hebrews who followed Moses out of Egypt?

Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldnt it be better for us to go back to Egypt? And they said to each other, We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.  (Numbers 14:3-4 NIV84) 

What a bunch whiners.  Out of the whole population, apparently there were only four faithful:  Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb.  They pleaded with the people to look at the positive, not the negative.  You remember the report of the spies – the advance force of Israel – on Canaan, the land the Lord gave to them – I stress that:  He GAVE them the land–

They gave Moses this account: We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. 28But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.  (Numbers 13:27-28a NIV84)

All that abundance, yet all the people heard was “powerful people” and “fortified cities.”  All they could focus on were the seemingly negative aspects of the report.  Thing was, it was just a report; it was not a negative one.  Their advice  proved this:

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.  (Numbers 13:30 NIV84)

Unfortunately, the other spies were a cowardly lot and enflamed the fear of the people with their own fears:  stay out of the Promised Land.

The four faithful did their best to rally the people; to fan the spark of faith inside them.  They talked to them about WHY they should have faith and WHY they should just trust the Lord.  They knew with God it would be possible to be victorious over the “giants,” but they needed to get the people to believe it, too.  Numbers 14:9 is a compelling and telling verse: 

“Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”   (Numbers 14:9 NIV84) 

Only two things could defeat the people, and neither of them were the so-called “giants.”  The two things that would defeat the Hebrews remain the two things that defeat all believers:  rebellion and fear.  And the three things that bring victory are:  obedience, courage, and faith.

There are a lot of fainthearted Christians today who are afraid of so many things.  Their fears would melt away if they would just practice obedience to God’s Word, be courageous in the face spiritual difficulties,  and most of all, have faith in God’s abilities.

Do not fear:  A message to all believers 

The Bible goes to great lengths to  show how futile fear is, and how destructive it can be in the life of a believer.  Take the case of Joshua, for example.  Here was a believer!  He served at Moses’ side for a long time until the day came for him assume the mantle of leadership.  That sounds like a promotion, but anybody who knew the Hebrews Moses was leading certainly wouldn’t congratulate Joshua!  They’d offer their condolences.

Not only were they an obstinate bunch of people, but succeeding such a towering figure as Moses was no small matter!   Could Joshua live up to Moses’ reputation?  Probably not; had it not been for the one thing:  the presence of God.

“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”  (Deuteronomy 31:8 NIV84) 

History has shown that God’s presence in the career and life of Joshua was a fact.  God’s presence in your life is a fact, too.  But do you believe it?  Do you live like you  believe it?  If we truly believed that God is always present in our lives, we would be free from fear and anxiety.  The reality is, though, while we talk a great deal about being filled with the Holy Spirit, and we can quote Bible verses that say things like:  “be anxious for nothing,” we are anxious about everything. 

Isn’t it time to start trusting God?  You love Him, and in general you believe His Word.  Let go of your fears and practice having faith in the One who is always with you, no matter what.

The Futility of Fear, 2

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Help Is On the Way!

Isaiah 35:2

Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you.  (Isaiah 35:4  KJV)

Anybody with a car can appreciate this “fear not.”  No, they didn’t have cars in Isaiah’s day and cars have nothing to do with the context of this, our second “Fear Not.”  If you’ve ever run out of gas or gotten a flat tire miles from home, you know what it feels like when a friendly, helpful person stops to offer you a hand, and thanks to their intervention, you were on your way.  Even in our rushed, paranoid, cold world, there are people who don’t mind helping others, and we who have been the beneficiaries of their generosity are thankful.

We’ll look at the context of Isaiah 35 in a moment, but let your eyes take in verse 2.  Can you appreciate what’s being said in it?  There was no need for Isaiah’s people to be fearful.  On the contrary, they could be strong and courageous because God was on their side.  It was just a matter of time before He would arrive with help enough to save them.

We often grow impatient with our Lord when the rough times persist.  We wonder how He can let us suffer for so long if He loves us so much.  Even though these ancient words were intended for other ears, we can learn something very important that will make our lives a little easier.

A look at context

A promise for the future

This is a prophecy of the future – the far future.  Isaiah paints a beautiful picture of a wonderful future for the righteous in “the day of The Lord.”  That Old Testament phrase refers to two aspects of the future; a time of both judgment and salvation.  For the righteous, the people of God, there will ultimately be salvation.  Isaiah used his considerable talents to encourage a discouraged people by assuring them that one day God’s people would return to their city; that they would be happy and redeemed.  God hadn’t abandoned them nor had He forgotten them.

Even the wilderness and desert will rejoice in those days; the desert will blossom with flowers.  Yes, there will be an abundance of flowers and singing and joy! The deserts will become as green as the Lebanon mountains, as lovely as Mount Carmels pastures and Sharons meadows; for the Lord will display his glory there, the excellency of our God.  (Isaiah 35:1, 2  TLB)

Naturally this is poetry.  The Greeks wrote about “the music of the spheres” and in Job, this is how God described the creation of the world:

What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?  (Job 38:6, 7  TLB)

Yes, the glory of the Lord causes both man and his environment to rejoice and to sing His praises.  Nothing else; no one else is capable of doing this.  The knowledge and the presence of God is what causes all creation to experience joy.  It’s unfortunate that so many Christians seem to miss out on this joy.  For believers, the source of our joy is in God, yet how much time and energy – not to mention money – do we expend looking for it elsewhere?  We are a restless people; always looking for something we already possess!

Hope for the present

With this news bring cheer to all discouraged ones.  Encourage those who are afraid. Tell them, “Be strong, fear not, for your God is coming to destroy your enemies. He is coming to save you.”  (Isaiah 35:3, 4  TLB)

This chapter in Isaiah was written with a very discouraged people in mind.  God’s people reading this were strangers in a strange land; dispersed all over the Babylonian Empire.  Some were facing the long trek back to Jerusalem, which was in rubble.

This was the reality.  Yes, the future looked wonderful but what about the present?  How would God’s people deal with the present misery and fear that had gripped the hearts of so many?  Fear is a debilitating affliction. It can manifest itself all over the body:

And when he comes, he will open the eyes of the blind and unstop the ears of the deaf. The lame man will leap up like a deer, and those who could not speak will shout and sing!  (Isaiah 35:5, 6  TLB)

Everybody’s “real life” falls far short of what Heaven will be like.  Sometimes “real life” obscures God’s promises of our future.  We are not so far removed from these ancient Israelites.  Their problems aren’t ours, but what God promised Israel applies to believers in any age and in any location!  The sense of Isaiah’s words is this:  How can Israel fear since the Lord is near and will defend them and fight for them?  That’s a message for any Christian facing any difficulties:  get your eyes on the eternal, almighty Sovereign of the Universe!  Imagine that!  He is on YOUR side!  As one Bible scholar put it:

Vengeance is His prerogative.  Recompense is His retribution.  Salvation is His deliverance!

He saved Israel; He will save you, too.  It doesn’t matter what your “enemy” may be, God is more than able to deal with it.  Your enemy could be your health, your finances, your emotions, your job, maybe your mind.  God will cause you to be the overcomer you are promised to be.

What deliverance looks like

The beauty and value of these verses is that they show us what Biblical deliverance looks like.  Throughout Isaiah’s big book of prophecy, we read a lot about spiritual  blindness and deafness and the promise that one day, our “spiritual” infirmities will be healed.  That in itself will be a monumental day.  Can you imagine seeing God clearly; unfiltered by the filth and pollution of our sinful world?  Or how about hearing God’s voice with crystal clarity without having to block out all those other voices?  That will be a great day!  Deliverance looks like that.  The great thing about God’s deliverance is that no child of God has to wait until he’s physically dead, or until the Lord returns to experience it!  Right now, in our sin-cursed world, all saints of God are able to experience at least glimpses of our ultimate spiritual deliverance.  And that itself is cause for cheer!

But the New Testament alludes to what Isaiah wrote here and takes it literally.

The two disciples found Jesus while he was curing many sick people of their various diseases—healing the lame and the blind and casting out evil spirits. When they asked him Johns question, this was his reply: “Go back to John and tell him all you have seen and heard here today: how those who were blind can see. The lame are walking without a limp. The lepers are completely healed. The deaf can hear again. The dead come back to life. And the poor are hearing the Good News.  And tell him, ‘Blessed is the one who does not lose his faith in me.’ ”  (Luke 7:22 – 23  TLB)

John the Baptist was in prison and was losing heart.  Freedom for him, John knew, was a thing of the past.  In a moment of doubt he wondered if the Man he heralded as the Messiah really was or not.  Jesus got word back to Him that he was right:  Jesus was truly the Messiah and the Kingdom had come.  Evidence of that fact was all the physical healings and spiritual ones.  But note the last sentence:

Blessed is the one who does not lose his faith in me.

Jesus knows it’s not easy holding onto your faith and that’s why there is special blessing reserved for those who don’t lose it.  Some of you reading this may be feeling like John the Baptist did while he was sitting in his prison cell.  Your prison may not be a literal one, but perhaps your faith is waning; things you used to believe you now wonder about as real life has beat you down with one defeat after another.  God’s Word to you is a simple one:  HOLD ON!  Keep your faith.  Help is on the way!

God makes a way

Isaiah 35:8 is the a jewel; a focal point of the the whole chapter.  Translated from the Greek version of the Old Testament, it looks like this:

There shall be a clean way and it shall be called a holy way, and there shall by no means pass over there anything  unclean, neither shall be there an unclean way.  But the dispersed ones shall proceed upon it, and they shall in no wise be deceived [caused to err].

Remember, Isaiah 35 is a prophecy about the future of Israel.  They are the dispersed ones; they are the ones scattered all over, miles from home.  Essentially Isaiah’s  message was for the Babylonian exiles; the ones who would be making the long trip back home to Jerusalem to resettle it and rebuild it.  But it’s also a far reaching message to the Jews of our future; the ones who, at the Second Coming, will stream back to Jerusalem.

This “clean way” or Holy Highway, will be the route home for the homeless.  It’s a wonderful picture of how the Lord makes a way for His people.  Those believers walking along the Lord’s highway will be safe and secure and surrounded by people of like faith.

But how does this apply to us, today?  Today, we believers belong to the Body of Christ.  We are able to surround ourselves with other redeemed people who believe what we do.  We can belong to a local church and be involved in a local congregation as we walk through our lives.  No Christian needs to feel isolated or alone!  God established His church for many reasons, and this is one of them.

Back to Isaiah’s Holy Highway for a moment, Naegelsbach wrote:

The Lord built it and destined it to lead to His house.  It is a pilgrim way.  Hence nothing unclean, neither unclean person or thing, may come up on it.  Whoever goes on it is a sanctified one, under God’s protection and care.

The message for believers today

These verses were were not written to us.   They were written to a specific group of Jews about a situation specific to them.  Be that as it may, the Holy Spirit thought they were important enough to include them in the canon of Scripture for us to read.  Why?  Why do we, Christians in the 21st century, need to pay attention to promises made to people long dead?

Scripture may only have one meaning or interpretation, but there may also be many applications.  Isaiah’s message to his people is also a message to the downtrodden and oppressed; to people struggling because they have been wronged and experienced injustice.  To those, God’s promise is clear:  Vengeance is the His.  Justice will be meted out.  The broken hearted will be healed and restored.

It’s also a word to all those who see the wrong and the sin all around them and are appalled and frustrated that sinners seem to prosper and that the truth appears to be smothered.  It’s easy to become cold and cynical when wrong prevails and right seems lost.  But God’s Word is to hang on; God sees what’s happening and help is on the way.  God will come and He will make things right.

We can all take heart and be encouraged because in spite of the present, the future is well worth waiting for.

...all sorrow and all sighing will be gone forever; only joy and gladness will be there.  (Isaiah 35:10b  TLB)


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