The following message was shared by Pastor Tim at the monthly Ponoka Worship Night held at Sonrise Christian Reformed Church on January 20, 2013.
People often joke about giving jobs to those who miss meetings, but tonight I want to tell you it’s no joke. I missed the planning meeting for tonight’s service and next thing I know I’m preaching. And not only that, I was told what to preach about and even what the title was to be, “What’s fear got to do with it?” Now if only they had provided the message.
So what does fear got to do with it? I’m not sure what the “it” is, but I do know that each one of us has experienced fear at some level.
Fear was there when Adam and Eve were caught hiding in the bushes after disobeying God and God said (Genesis 3:9-10), “Where are you?” He (Adam) answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
I want to invite you to think about your earliest recollection of being afraid. I’m going to have you share that with someone close to you, but before you do that let me share my story.
I was four or five years old and we were having family devotions. One of my parents had just read the story of Moses and the ten plagues (Exodus 7-11). It was a really cool story with God turning water into blood, then sending frogs, gnats, flies, livestock diseases, boils on humans, hail, locusts and darkness.
It was all cool until it came to the death of the firstborn. You see, it dawned on me in that moment that I was a firstborn and if I had been an Egyptian I would have been killed. That scared the living daylights out of me as a young kid.
So what is your earliest recollection of being scared. I want you to briefly share that with someone who doesn’t look too scary.
The words “fear” and “afraid” occur 471 times in the Bible. That’s more times than the words faith and trust. That observation points out how pervasive fear is not only in the scriptures, but in all of our lives.
Fear travels with us from day one of life to the very end. It manifests itself in nightmares that wake us in the middle of the night to being unable to go to sleep because we’re afraid of childhood monsters under the bed or monstrous situations in our adult lives. Fears follow us from day to day and cause us to make choices about how we dress, who we hang out with and what we do.
Fear can have such a stranglehold on some people’s lives that they develop phobias: Arachnophobia (the fear of spiders); Ophidiophobia (the fear of snakes); Acrophobia (the fear of heights); Agoraphobia (the fear of crowds); Cynophobia (the fear of dogs); Astraphobia (the fear of thunder and lightning); Trypanophobia (the fear of injections); Pteromerhanophobian (the fear of flying); and Mysophobia (the fear of germs or dirt).
Fear can both move us away from something or into something less fearful. I was in the armed forces and part of basic training was spending a lot of time getting fit. Almost every day we went to the pool and swam lengths. After each length we were required to perform a set of 10-20 pushups. Eventually, one’s arms felt like slabs of concrete splashing through the water.
It was on one of those occasions in the middle of training that I felt that if I got into the pool that day I would drown. Fear is rarely rational and there I sat on the edge of the pool refusing to dive into the water. I sat there until a corporal came up to me and said, “If you don’t get into that water right now, you’re going to jail.” Refusal to obey an order was punished severely and that fear of jail was greater than the fear of getting into the water. So I jumped in and not only survived, but grew to love the water.
Sadly to say, we in the church sometimes use fear as a motivator. How many times have you heard a Christian say, “If you don’t believe in Jesus Christ you’re going to spend eternity in the fires of hell”? A lot of people have been more motivated into believing by the fear of hell rather than the love of God.
So what does fear have to do with “it?” If fear represents everything that paralyzes us and keeps us afraid then what is the “it” on the other side of the wall.
Jesus said, I have come that you may have life and have it (life) to the full (John 10:10). Jesus wants us to have abundant life – a life without fear. Jesus wants us to be everything we have been created to be without the fear of being who we are.
So how do we get past the walls set up by our fears? I want you to think about one of your fears. Pick a small one or one that you’re dealing with right now. How can you get past that fear so that you can experience life? How can you get to the other side where life is?
Well, I’m going to start by saying that although you and I have perhaps overcome some fears in our lives, fear in general is always with us. Our fears may be different, but no one ever rids themselves of every fear.
Our issue is not really fear because some fear can be healthy. For example, to be afraid of the consequences connected to risky behaviors is healthy. It keeps us safe.
But there are some fears that paralyze us and keep us from what is good – what God wants for us. For example, if I’m always trying to be like everyone else, to please them and fit in, then I can’t be the person God has created me to be.
So how can we get past that? How can you get past the fear that holds you?
St. Paul was sitting in prison when he wrote his letter to the church in Philippi and this is what he wrote: Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guardand to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear (Philippians 1:12-14).
Was Paul ever afraid? Although we may get the impression that Paul was without fear, I believe that he was really no different than any of us. He had fears, but he more importantly had faith.
It was that faith that enabled him to proclaim Christ and follow him in spite of those fears.
I was a top musician in high school, often performing in competitions. At one particular festival I felt called by the Holy Spirit to publicly express thanks to God for the gift I had been given. There was much fear connected to doing this, but faith enabled me to step through that wall and bear witness to the Power that was greater than fear: Jesus Christ.
So the Holy Spirit and faith are two means of getting past the walls of fear. Another source of help is friends. I believe that Paul could not have done all that he did without the friendship of Timothy, Titus and Silas. Even Jesus had Peter, James and John. Christian friends can support us through those times of fear and walk with us as we tackle our fears and cling to faith.
The witness of friends can also set us free from our fears. As Paul boldly proclaimed the gospel his witness encouraged the church at Philippi to also.
Faith and friends are important to dealing with fear, but even these could not deal with the fears of life if it were not for Christ.
For Paul, Christ was the focus of “it.” It was Christ who gave him the courage to face the fears of life and death and to experience the fullness and joy of abundant life even in the midst of those fears.
You and I will always have fears. Christ knows that. However, he has equipped us to live abundantly in spite of those fears by giving us the gift of faith, the gift of Christian friends and community and most importantly, the gift of himself. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20).
May God’s Spirit bless you with the faith, friendships and the presence of Christ to overcome all fear.