October 4, 2019
Good Friday morning ...
What are you afraid of?
Several years ago, an article was published on the top ten strongest human fears. The list included loneliness, ridicule, rejection, and death ... but the number one overall fear was FAILURE. These were mostly existential fears that describe an inner condition of the heart. They were not fears of specific things, but none-the-less real, genuine fears.
Another list was compiled by a Gallup pollster and identified specific things which frighten people. On that list were things like going to the doctor, needles, public speaking, spiders, thunder and lightning, snakes and being closed in small spaces. All legitimate fears.
I suppose we all have our fears. That's because fear is a basic human emotion.
Your list of fears won't be the same as mine, but we can all probably identify with something that causes us to be afraid. If we aren't worried about spiders or snakes ... perhaps we all have a bit of fear about being rejected by the ones we love. And we all think about our own death from time to time ... when will it happen, under what circumstances and what happens then?
I'm not surprised that fear of failure comes to the top of the list for many people. How frustrating to feel like you've wasted your short sojourn on planet earth. It's a terrible thing to conclude that your life was a bust because it didn't turn out the way you had hoped it would.
But somewhere in all our thinking God must figure into the equation. There must be a reason that the Bible tells us hundreds of times ... in various ways and in various places ... to "fear not." I believe God told us to "fear not" because he knew that we would wrestle with this emotion of fear sooner or later.
What do you do when fear seems to be winning the day? What if you pray and God still hasn't come through for you? If you are like most people, you begin to lose hope, and you wonder why you even 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.
Some of the best men and women of the Bible struggled with their inner doubts when their dreams didn't come true. The story of Abraham illustrates this truth. He's about seventy-five years old when we meet him ... which in those days would be considered middle-aged. He is a prosperous businessman who is no doubt well-known to many people. He and his wife, Sarah, have no children. It is against that backdrop that God speaks to Abraham and promised to give him descendants "like the dust of the earth" [Genesis 13:16].
Ten years quickly pass without any sign of children. Abraham is almost eighty-five and not getting any younger. Sarah is far past child-bearing age. Only those who have gone through this experience can fully empathize with Abraham and Sarah. There is perhaps 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 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 and didn't know it? 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?
All those questions were running through Abraham's mind ... and God knew exactly what he was thinking. He saw the doubt. He understood the fear. Then He moved to reassure Abraham that all would be well. "After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: 'Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield, your very great reward'" [Genesis 15:1]
There are several reasons Abraham could have doubted God's promise of a son:
- He was too old.
- Too many years had passed since the promise had been given.
- And, probably most glaringly, nothing like this had ever happened before.
When you think about it ... there was no reason to believe ... 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. And note that God does not say, "I will give you a shield." but "I am your shield." The very God of heaven says that He will be our shield ... which means we have a shield that is omnipotent, universal and eternal. That shield cannot be defeated. It is as strong as God Himself!
The message is clear: If God is your shield ... fear not!
That means 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 or a spouse, 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. But it is the basis for the statement that "we sorrow, but not as those who have no hope" [I Thessalonians 4:13]. Our sorrow is different precisely because we hope in God. he is our shield!
Remember that this weekend as you enjoy some time off ... and as you prepare to honor Him who is your shield in worship this Sunday ...
Grace Lutheran Church