“Surely God is my salvation. I will trust and not be afraid.” Isaiah 12:2
Ever had allergies? I’ve had minor trouble occasionally, but nothing like as bad as my son, Gregory.
He went through years of sniffling, coughing, and wheezing before we took him to an allergist. You probably know the drill. She performed tests on the little guy to find out what he was allergic to. Turns out it was only two things: indoors and outdoors. So glad we narrowed it down.
What to do? We could encase him in a bubble with filtered air, but I wanted a son not a hamster. Keeping him away from all allergens was simply not possible. Sure we could keep him from rolling in the grass and snorting ragweed, but this was a red-blooded kid who wanted to take on the world, not be excluded from it.
So we decided to put him on a regimen of allergy shots. Now here’s the really interesting thing about allergies and their treatment. You develop a tolerance to an allergen, NOT by avoiding it completely, which is impossible. In the shot you take some of the allergen inside you. You’re exposed to the very thing that causes you distress. Of course, this is all carefully controlled by the doctor so as not to overwhelm you, but to train your body to endure the allergen and not overreact to it. Exposure to the allergen is the point.
That’s about the extent of my knowledge of allergies and their treatment.
Now let’s talk about fear, for I’ve had a lot more experience with that than allergies.
I do wish I could avoid everything that makes me fearful. I wish I could arrange everything in life to be to my liking. I don’t think I’d be cruel or excessive in my expectations. I doubt you’d hardly notice. If I could eliminate all my fear triggers then I would not have any adverse spiritual reactions like, well, fear.
I take this simple plan to God. What does He say? “Fear not.” Someone has said that the Bible has the phrase “fear not” in it 365 times, one for each day of the year. That sounds like one of those biblical “facts” that preaches really well but isn’t 100% accurate. We preachers are given to the occasional embellishment, especially if it’s really hard for you to fact-check it. I’m not sure “fear not” appears 365 times, and I’m not going to take the time to comb through a concordance and count. Let’s just agree that “fear not” is in the Bible a lot.
That sounds promising! If I take God at His word, He does not want me to fear. So I turn from Him and His reassuring words to find that the objects of my fear remain stubbornly a part of my life. They’re all there. Just like ragweed. Can’t get rid of them. And that’s the point.
My fears are like allergies. God treats my fears by allowing them to remain and asking me to trust Him to be stronger than my fears. By facing my fears, I learn to live in faith. It’s the only way to grow in faith.
I cry out “But if you just removed the things that cause my fear then I could be done with them!” God calmly answers, “Life is not like that. You will have to trust that I am with you and will take care of you. You must have faith.”
Faith. Faith is such a multi-faceted word, so highly nuanced that the Greek word requires multiple English words to translate it. It can mean belief, as in a certain content. We need to believe the right things about God and confront the irrational and harmful ideas. This is the cognitive component of faith. “I believe in God the Father…in Jesus Christ His Son…in the Holy Spirit” etc. This is faith as belief.
Faith can also mean trust, and here we really home in on the way to deal with fear. The Bible does contain many examples of God’s removing the fear triggers. Parting of the waters, protection from enemies, stilling of storms, healing of diseases, casting out demons. All of these are in the Bible to show us what God can do.
Now here is the most difficult part of this little devotional. Removing the fear trigger is the least of God’s miracles. Providing courage born of deep and abiding trust is God’s real goal for us. He wants us to have the spiritual muscle to keep believing in Him even when the evidence may look a little thin, or even absent. In fact, what God really wants for us is our trust that is completely divorced from physical evidence. He desires that we believe in Him based solely on the certainty of His presence and promises to never leave us and to take care of every need.
I’m grateful for my pastor, Rev. Brady Whitton of FUMC Baton Rouge, for stirring these thoughts today in his sermon. He gave a special application that really spoke to me that I want to pass along to you.
He asked us to think about things that we want to do for God that make us fearful. We’re just afraid to try them, implicitly thinking that God might not come through for us. So we stay safely on the shores and never launch into the deep.
But the fear we feel at the outset of a new commitment is precisely the point. If we don’t attempt things that take us beyond our comfort we never know how powerful and dependable God is. Thus God’s response to our fear is not to remove it, but simply to ask us to have faith in Him.
What is the commitment you’ve struggled with? Has fear kept you from making the attempt? If you’re waiting for God to remove your fear while you stand on the shore, you’re in for an endless wait. You won’t get stronger, better, or less fearful by standing still.
So go ahead and make the decision you’ve known you needed to make for a long time. Take action that demonstrates your faith. Life is full of uncertainties, storms, and terrible chapters. God is over all. Trust. Have faith. Fear not.
Dr. Terry Ellis
November 5, 2017
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