“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Isaiah 43:2-3
A friend of mine once told me he struggled with fear. I had never suspected that about him, and, what’s more, I had never really thought about fear as a common, ongoing challenge. However, as I began to ask people if they struggled with fear I realized how prevalent the problem is. I also began to honestly assess some of my personal experiences, and realized some of my responses, many of my ongoing thoughts, were grounded in fear. I feared for my children, the churches I have pastored, the future in general, etc.
As I probed more, into other people’s lives and my own, I began to discern a pattern I call “faith on the horizon and fear for the next step.” Personally, I have never really struggled with an uncertainty about eternal matters. Some people do, but I know where I will end up. I trust very strongly in God’s ultimate provision for me. The future is fine. The distant horizon is clear. Today, however, may not be so fine, and it may be quite stormy. That uncertainty about the next step, tomorrow’s step, leads to fear.
So what I once failed to recognize I have now realized is one of the most common problems we face. Fear.
Not surprisingly, therefore, we find the words “fear not” sprinkled throughout the Bible. God understands our plight, and the Bible is a record of His provision for our problems. The passage for this week’s GraceWaves reflects God’s understanding and the grace He provides for our fear. Let’s note carefully each provision.
First, notice the motion in this verse. The sources of fear are represented as waters, rivers, and fire. With each obstacle we find the preposition through. You will go through waters, rivers, and fire. Each one of you will face these obstacles, but you must keep moving in order to go through them.
FDR’s famous quote from his first inaugural address is “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” The full quotation is even better: “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” I underlined the last phrase because it is a focus of the Isaiah passage. We all have fear, whatever name it goes by in your life. You likely will never be fearless. The question is “will you move forward when faced with fear?” God’s assurance that He will be with you helps remove the paralysis of fear. Retreat becomes advance. Like the dawning sun, faith on the horizon dispels fear for the next step. So, when you experience fear, keep moving forward.
Now notice three wonderful phrases in this verse that can help you move forward.
First, “I have redeemed you.” Some wrestle with their salvation, wondering if their stumbles have so distanced them from the Lord that the relationship is irretrievably broken. Is this you? Listen! Of all the things you have to worry about, this is the most easily solved. God never releases anyone He has redeemed. Did you ask Jesus into your heart at one point? He came into your life, He has never left and never will. Part of the way forward for you is accepting as fact that God is your Father and that He loves you unconditionally. Face your fear as a child of the King.
Second, “You are mine.” Say this phrase in the first person, “I am yours.” Reaffirming this truth, that you belong to God, is a wonderful reminder that as God’s son or daughter nothing can eternally harm you. Whatever you face today, and it may be very tough, you will not face it alone. Remember, you have not lived a day yet when God was not in the picture with you. You have lived many days when you have forgotten that supreme truth. Do let today be another such day. You belong to God.
Third, “They shall not overwhelm you . . . you shall not be burned . . . the flame shall not consume you.” Again, I often say such verses in the first person. “They shall not overwhelm me . . . I shall not be burned . . . I shall not be consumed.” At times you will feel drowned out and burned up, but you are neither. You actually have only been soaked and singed! The difference is important.
We almost always ascribe to trials a degree of difficulty beyond reason. Remember you have survived trials before through God’s strength. Do you really believe this new trial is so unique, powerful, or unanticipated that you will not survive it? The trials you face will make you stronger and more reliant on your Father. You can choose this morning to accept that truth and live with grace and confidence.
“Fear not” is beyond most of us, but facing fear with faith is your calling, and, therefore, within your reach today.
Dr. Terry Ellis
July 24, 2011