Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey
Do not be afraid.
Do not be afraid.
The Lord will fight for you;
You need only to be still. (Exodus 14:13a,14)
I’m a worrier. I come by it honestly because my Dad was one as well. I worry about the usual things, family, money, taxes, debt, job security…all shared by most, I would imagine. But I also find myself at times in deep concern about things over which I have absolutely no control or influence. The weather, for instance; or the political situation in Mexico. Lately, I’ve been very worried about my job, even though the decisions made on that issue are well beyond my paygrade. There’s absolutely nothing I can do to influence that process. Yet, I still worry.
Luckily, I’m married to a very practical person who files her concerns into two slots: those she can control and those she can’t. She works on the things she can, and ignores the rest. When she spots me carrying some burden around, she immediately morphs into her best Gandalf imitation, thundering, “Where is your faith?”
And she’s right.
General Ulysses S. Grant had a similar issue when he took command of the Army of the Potomac. Robert E. Lee had acquired a reputation of invincibility. Despite the southern Army of Northern Virginia being outnumbered in almost every battle, Lee’s tactical genius produced stunning victories.
One night, after listening to his staff voice their fears, Grant roared, “I’m getting tired of hearing about all the possible things Lee could do to this Army. From now on, we’re only going to focus on what this Army is going to do to General Lee.”
Worry derives from fear. Fear is, by definition, an irrational state, so it’s never the result of a carefully considered logical process. And in its grip, we do things that are…well…crazy.
God knows we have fears that haunt us every day. Accordingly, the phrases “Fear not” and “Be not afraid” appear in the bible nearly 200 times. But despite all those admonitions, we can’t seem to shake this very human weakness.
Fear and worry are clear evidence of a crack in the wall of our faith. When we get on an airplane, most of us don’t expend a second of worry about the competency of the pilot. We don’t worry because we have faith that the person behind those controls will get us to our destination without incident. We assume that they’re all the embodiment of Sully Sullenberger.
Why can’t we have the same imperturbable faith in the pilot of our own lives?
The phrase, “Do Not Be Afraid,” sounds like a commandment, but it is really a reminder that God is in charge, and things are working out according to his will.
It’s easy to be afraid these days, but it was easy to be afraid during the ‘60s when it seemed our country was coming apart at the seams. It was easy to be afraid in the ‘50s when we could all imagine the horrors of a nuclear showdown with the Soviet Union. It was easy to be afraid in the early days of World War II, when we thought we would be just one more conquered country to the Axis. It was easy to be afraid in the ‘30s with the depression at its lowest point and the dust bowl at its worst. World War I made us afraid. Throughout history, every generation has felt fear. And yet, despite all those events, all those tragic circumstances, humanity survived.
I enjoy science fiction. In one story, an extraterrestrial described humans thus: “They are a race of otherwise intelligent beings desperately trying to destroy themselves. And yet in defiance of all logic, somehow they continue to exist.”
Some may call such survival the luck of the draw. I remain convinced that our continued existence is proof of the hand of God in our lives.
Faith is proven through words and actions. And yet, we still harbor within us dark fears. It is the biggest chink in our spiritual armor. In the 14th chapter of John, we’re told,
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled
and do not be afraid.
How gentle and positive is this admonition! And yet, the message could not have been stated any clearer. There is no reason for us to fear, because God is there for us. It is he that takes the burdens from our hearts, freeing us to challenge life with joy, even in the most desperate circumstances. Knowing that God “has our back” should also give us the courage to do those things we think we cannot do.
Jesus warned the disciples that the road ahead would not be easy. That same warning applies to us as well. Being a committed Christian is a decision to live courageously. And, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu reminds us, “Being courageous does not mean never being scared; it means acting as you know you must even though you are undeniably afraid.”
We live in a world bound by fear fed by suspicion, wariness, and caution. But the Christian perspective trusts that the God will liberate us from our fears.
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?
Though an army besieges me, my heart will not fear;
Though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.
I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling. (Psalm 27:1, 3-5)
Being a Christian doesn’t mean that we won’t go through some rough patches. But it does mean that we won’t go through them alone. In Him lies the strength to walk our path when it becomes strewn with potholes. If we could talk with the Apostles, they would testify discipleship is not one of ease and comfort. It is a life of challenge and adversity, and of exhaustion and frustration.
But it is never a life of fear.
If we are freed from fear, than we are freed to respond; to live our life leading, not with our fear, but with our faith. There will we find the courage and the strength to do what must be done.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.
Today, remember the promise God made to us.
And the promise we made to Him.