Monday, November 16, 2020

Special 2020 City Notes | Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus: Facing the Fear Question Today w/ Psalm 23

 


The feeling of fear is not the problem for human beings, even for those who believe they have a relationship with God. The issue is never just the fear; the problem is living in the "spirit of fear." Again, it is natural to be afraid, but living in the spirit of fear is like living in a spiritual prison. ... We will experience fear, but turning to God in fearful times and focusing on joy and gratitude can help us get through those times. + Christ in Crisis?: Reclaiming Jesus in a Time of Fear, Hate and Violence

 

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me. + Psalm 23:4 
+ But Jesus said to them, "It is I; be not afraid." + John 6:20 
+ For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but the Spirit of power, love, and self control. + 2 Timothy 1:7

"Be not afraid" occurs eight times in the New Testament. In fact, the assurance of "do not be afraid" is the most often repeated command in the Bible: 365 scriptures command us to not fear or be afraid in reaction to the world, to people, to the events around us, to the storms on the sea or in our lives. That's enough for one reflection for every day of the year!

We are naturally afraid. Yet God is proposing a radical contrast to a life of fear, and the scriptures say that "God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but a spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7, KJV). Paul also tells us that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). Psalm 23 even says, "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me" (NKJV). 

There are many valleys in this life with many dangers there, but we are encouraged not to be ruled by fear, because we are not alone.

On John 6, Rodney Witacre says this:

The story of Jesus' walking on water alludes to several Old Testament passages, which builds the case for Jesus' divine identity. It is said of God, "he alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea (Job 9:8). Psalm 107 speaks of those who "went out on the sea in ships" (Ps. 107:23) and were caught in a great storm. They should "give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love" (Ps. 107:31) because "he stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven" (Ps. 107:29-30). The poetic imagery of these passages is reenacted on a historical level in the actual event John is describing ... So John continues to witness to Jesus' identity and his gracious activity. The feeding (of the five thousand) shows that Jesus is able to provide even when our resources are very small. The rescue on the sea shows that he can protect and guide in the midst of great adversity, when we have no control over the forces of chaos. In both cases the physical realm reveals his identity and his loving care.

As a pastor, I have been beside many sickbeds and deathbeds, and Psalm 23 always comes to my mind, heart, and lips:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 
He makes me to lie down in green pastures; 
He leads me beside the still waters. 
He restores my soul; 
He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake. 
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, 
I will fear no evil; For You are with me; 
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. 
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. 
You anoint my head with oil. My cup runs over. 
Surely goodness and mercy shallow follow me all the days of my life; 
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever. (NKJV)

This Psalm became one of my favorite and memorized texts as a small boy and I keep going back to it, as it so often feels like the most needed thing to say—and the response from fearful persons and their families always confirms that. 

It is the promise of the presence of God that calms the spirit and the storm.

In each case (of people being afraid in the Bible), there were good and understandable reasons for all their confusion and for their fear, from a very human perspective. But in each situation, an assurance was offered—"Do not be afraid" and "The Lord is with you"—telling them not to fear because a relationship between the fearful person and God was being strengthened.

Fear is not wrong, it is natural. It is our response to fear that is most important and becomes a matter of faith. Let's be clear: it is entirely and necessarily human for people to fear. In fact, we are wired biologically to fear things that could harm us. Ever since our ancient days, humans have responded instinctually to real dangers that we confront and that do indeed threaten us. To react to those genuine dangers is built into us to protect us and is often integral to our very survival. ...

But living in a spirit of fear is not healthy and can actually dehumanize us if we submit to fear's control. Fear can lead us into saying and doing things to others that can be very destructive ... fear can create a "spiritual amnesia" where we forget God—forget who God is and forget God's promise to always be with us. That very presence of God seems to be what scripture promises us we can rely on to help overcome our fear, but fear can easily cause us to lose our trust in it ... whenever we humans enter into fearful situations, God doesn't cease to be God or fail to keep loving us. Indeed, it is often at those times when we most need to turn to God as we encounter fearful and sometimes genuinely dangerous circumstances. Our scriptures keep reminding us that God is indeed love and continues to love us in fearful situations.

Therefore, if fear is natural to us and not inherently wrong, the question is not how to avoid fear, because we literally can't as human beings. It is rather how we respond to fear that brings faith, life, common sense, and hope instead of dysfunction, despair, destruction, and even death. Faith is finally believing in love instead of fear, and believing that fear can be overcome by love—especially by the perfect love that Jesus teaches us.

Jesus's words "Be not afraid" therefore do not mean to be fearless. To be fearless may be a cultural goal, especially in societies that continually lift up violence to save us. But we can't and shouldn't try to be fearless ... Rather we can learn to respond to genuine valleys of evil with real dangers by being less fearful, having more courage, and having more faith. Fear may always be with us and around us, but fear does not have to consume or control us (see The Insanity of God: Praising & Clinging to Christ in the Valley of the Shadow of Death).

Timothy's second epistle describes the choices we have—of fear verses the power of love, and panic versus a sound mind and self-control. Fear itself is not sin, but it can lead us to sin if we lose control (a sound mind) and act out of fear in ways that hurt others. Fear is part of how we are made, but it must not be allowed to gain control of our hearts and minds, which is why we seek God and depend on God to be with us. In fact, when fear is in control, it pushes us away from God.

Could fear be a reminder, even a friend, when it causes us to trust and lean in to God?

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The content above is from excerpts of Chapter 6: The Fear Question in Christ in Crisis?: Reclaiming Jesus in a Time of Fear, Hate, and Violence


Here are links to previous City Notes books:

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike "Sully" Sullivan

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