Keep on Believing! 7. Fear Not!
Genesis 15: 1 What are you afraid of? Top 10 Strong Human Fears - 10. Losing Your Freedom 9. The Unknown 8. Pain 7. Disappointment 6. Misery 5. Loneliness 4. Ridicule 3. Rejection 2. Death 1. Failure. Many of these fears are tied together, death and the unknown, rejection and ridicule, pain and misery, failure and loneliness. We can see that these are mostly fears that describe a condition of the heart. That is, these are not fears of specific things. What Scares Us Most? In order: 1. Snakes 2. Public Speaking 3. Heights 4. Being closed in a small space 5. Spiders 6. Needles and injections 7. Mice 8. Flying on an airplane 9. Dogs 10. Thunder and lightning 11. Going to the doctor 12. The dark. This is obviously a much more concrete list. We all have our fears, don’t we? Your list won’t be same as mine, but we can all identify with some things on the 2nd list and most of the 1st list. If we aren’t worried about mice, we certainly fear rejection by those we love. We all think about our own death from time to time. When will it happen and under what circumstances? If we are wise, we also wonder, what then? I’m not surprised that fear of failure comes at the top for many people. How frustrating to feel like you’ve wasted your short time on planet earth. Somewhere in our thinking God has to come into the equation. There must be a reason that the Bible tells us to “fear not” hundreds of times. Fear is such a basic human emotion that many of us constantly live in the grip of fear, worry and anxiety. God told us to “fear not” because he knew that we would all wrestle with fear sooner or later. What do you do when your fears seem to be winning? You pray and God still hasn’t answered? If you are like most people, you begin to lose hope, and you wonder why you bothered to pray in the first place. Deep in the soil of your heart, little seeds of doubt take root, growing up into a harvest of frustration and anger. It happens to most of us eventually. Some of the best struggled with their inner doubts when their dreams didn’t come true. Waiting for a Baby Abraham’s story illustrates this. We have to go back 40 centuries, to a place called Ur of the Chaldees, a large city on the banks of the Euphrates River. That river still flows through Iraq and empties into the Persian Gulf not far from Kuwait. Ur was one of the most important cities of the time. About 250,000 people lived there. There was an ancient university and a large library. Ur was a centre for mathematics, astronomy and international commerce. Abraham is about 75 years old when we meet him. He’s a prosperous businessman well-known to many people. He and his wife Sarah have no children. God speaks to Abraham for the first time - Genesis 12: 1 – 3. God promised him descendants "like the dust of the earth” (Genesis 13: 16). 10 years quickly pass without any sign of children. Abraham is 85 and not getting any younger. Sarah is far past child-bearing age. Even though he has just won a great victory nothing can satisfy his deep desire for a son. Only those who have gone through this can fully empathise with Abraham and Sarah. There is no sadness like the sadness of wanting children of your own but being unable to have them. Even in this day of modern medicine and advanced technology, many couples wait for years and some couples wait forever. I think Abraham’s greatest fear stemmed from the fact that God did not seem in a hurry to give them a child. How much longer would he wait? Why had he delayed? Had God changed his mind? Was there some problem he didn’t know about? Had they sinned? Were they doing something displeasing to God? Why was Sarah’s womb still closed? If God had promised, why was it taking so long to be fulfilled? Should they go to Plan B? These questions were running through Abraham’s mind. God knew what his servant was thinking. He saw the doubt. He understood the fear. Now he moves to reassure Abraham that all will be well. The time has not yet come for the child to be born, but it isn’t far off either. “I Am Your Shield” - Genesis 15: 1 4 reasons Abraham could have doubted God’s promise of a son: 1. He was too old. 2. Many years had passed since the promise had been given. 3. Nothing like this had ever happened before. 4. Sarah also doubted God’s promise. When you think about it, there was no reason to believe - no reason except that God had promised to do it. The question now is simple: Will God’s promise be enough for Abraham? In answer to that question, God declares, “I am your shield.” Such a shield offers complete protection from every attack of the enemy. To call God our shield means 2 specific things: 1. He protects us in times of doubt. 2. He rescues us in times of danger. The very God of heaven says that he will be our shield - we have a shield that is omnipotent, universal, eternal. That shield cannot be defeated. It is as strong as God himself. We could not be in a better position. Who can defeat us when God is our shield? The great message is certainly clear. If God is your shield, fear not! Immortal Until... “A Christian is immortal until his work on earth is done." That statement means that nothing can harm you without God’s permission. Not cancer, not AIDS, not bankruptcy, not theft, not physical disability, not the loss of your job, not a terrible accident, not the death of a child, not any of a thousand other sorrows that afflict the children of God. Christians aren’t immune to sadness. What happens to others also happens to us. The difference is this. We know that God protects us from harm so that nothing can touch us that doesn’t first pass through his hands of love. That knowledge doesn’t mean that we don’t weep or we don’t suffer. Far from it. “We sorrow but not as those who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4: 13). Our sorrow is different precisely because we hope in God. Our God is a shield around his people. Nothing can touch us except that which God permits. That brings us back to the central issue. Why God Delays His Answers - Why did God wait so long to give Abraham a son? Abraham was 75 when God first spoke to him and 100 when Isaac was finally born. He was almost 85 when God came to him and said, “Fear not.” Abraham was old, but he would be older yet before Isaac was finally born. We know God loves us and has a good plan for us. Why then does God take so long to answer our most heartfelt prayers? From Abraham’s experience I suggest 3 answers: 1. To develop perseverance in us. It would be too easy if God answered all our prayers the first time we prayed them. Not only would we take God for granted, we would also develop a shallow faith. 2. To ensure that God alone gets the glory. Paul wrote about Abraham - Romans 4: 19-21. Abraham had to wait 25 years for an answer to his prayers - he also had to suffer the humiliation of his own failed schemes. Immediately after God spoke to him in Genesis 15, he agreed with Sarah to sleep with their servant Hagar in hope of conceiving a child. It worked, and Ishmael was born. But this short-sighted attempt to “help God out” backfired and brought sadness and heartache to everyone. God often delays his answers so that we will have plenty of opportunity to fail using our own resources. Only then does God act, but when he does, it demonstrates that he alone is responsible for answering our prayers and that he alone must get the glory. 3. To deepen our trust in God. Hebrews 11 gives more space to Abraham’s story. He is the pre-eminent man of faith in the Bible. If Abraham had to wait, it should not surprise us that we will often have to wait a long time for the fulfilment of our dreams and the answers to our prayers. As with Abraham, waiting is not bad if it causes us to deepen our trust in God and to learn more about his character. The Answer is a Person God’s answer to fear is not an argument or a formula. It’s a Person. That’s why he said to Abraham, “Fear not. I am your shield.” God himself is the final answer to every fear of the human heart. Have you ever wondered why God called himself by the name “I AM” in the OT? Above all else, it means that God is eternal and all creation depends on him. God stands alone. No one can be compared to him. He is complete in himself. God doesn’t need us but we desperately need him. To say that God is the great “I AM” means that he is everything we need at exactly that moment. It’s as if God is saying . . . I am your strength. I am your courage. I am your health. I am your hope. I am your supply. I am your defender. I am your deliverer. I am your forgiveness. I am your joy. I am your future. God is saying to you and me, “I am whatever you need whenever you need it." He is the all-sufficient God for every crisis. From Fear to Faith 4 principles that will move us from fear to faith - 1. Faith focuses on God, not on your problems. Think of Abraham. The past argued against his ever having a child. So did the present. His only hope lay in the promises of God for the future. As long as he looked back, he would never have faith to believe God. His only hope was to step out into the future, trusting that somehow, someway God would keep his promises. 2. Faith trusts in God’s timing, not your own. So many of our struggles with fear start here. Deep down, we fear that God has somehow made a mistake in his dealings with us. We have waited and waited - sometimes for years on end. Even though we may have seen many remarkable answers to prayer, the one thing that means the most to us has not been granted. Where is God? Why doesn’t he answer the fervent, heartfelt prayers of his people? Of many answers that might be given - one is that God’s timing and ours are often quite different. Sometimes it seems like we live in one time zone and God lives in another. 3. Faith grows by believing God in spite of your circumstances. Sometimes our circumstances make it easy to believe in God; other times we have to struggle. “No matter what happens we are trusting in the Lord.” That’s biblical faith rising above circumstances to lay hold of the eternal promises of God. 4. Faith obeys God one step at a time. This is often overlooked by those seeking to do God’s will. God promised a child and Abraham desperately wanted to see the fulfilment of that promise. So what does God tell him to do? Round up the animals for a sacrifice. How do you get from there to the nursery? Abraham doesn’t have a clue and God doesn’t tell him a thing. But Abraham has a choice. He can choose to obey God, round up the animals and get ready for a sacrifice, even though it doesn’t seem to connect with the son of his dreams. Or he can argue with God and take matters in his own hands. How often we stumble. We shirk the duties of today because we are dreaming about some distant tomorrow. But until we have done what God has called us to do today, we will never be prepared for what he wants us to do tomorrow. 99 % of life is ordinary routine - the same old thing day after day. Yet out of the humdrum God is weaving an unseen pattern that will one day lead us in a new direction. Faith takes the next step. Sometimes it will make sense, other times it won’t. But we still have to take that step if we are going to do God’s will. Can God Be Trusted? If “yes”, then we can face the worst that life has to offer. If “no”, then we’re no better off than those who have no faith at all. If the answer is no or if we’re not sure, then we really don’t have any faith anyway. Faith is a choice you make. Sometimes you choose to believe because of what you see; often you believe in spite of what you can see. As I look to the world around me, many things remain mysterious and unanswerable. But if there is no God, and if he is not good, then nothing at all makes sense. I have chosen to believe because I must believe. I truly have no other choice. There will be times when we can’t read the Bible. Sometimes we won’t be able to focus our thoughts on God at all. Often we will not even be able to pray. But in those moments when we can’t do anything else, we can still trust in the loving purposes of our heavenly Father. Fear not, child of God. No one knows what a day may bring. Who knows if we will all make it through this week? But our God is faithful to keep every one of his promises. Nothing can happen to us except it first passes through the hands of God. If your way is dark, keep on believing.