“Don’t be afraid.” Easier said than done, am I right?
You know, there are a lot of commands in the Bible that I can easily get on board with – a lot of straightforward, easy to understand commands. No, they aren’t all easy to follow of course, but a lot of them seem pretty black and white, right and wrong, do this and don’t do that. And I can see value in them all, even though I fall short of each one, often.
But when the Bible commands Christians not to be afraid, it throws me off because it isn’t just a suggestion or a good idea. It’s not just a friendly phrase to throw around in the midst of trials or to encourage loved ones with. It’s a command.
It doesn’t take hours of study or a theology degree to know that when the Bible says “Don’t be afraid,” it means don’t. be. afraid.
And every command in the Bible has a foundation to it, a ‘why’ behind the ‘what.’ Where the world would say, “Don’t be afraid because things will probably work out. The universe owes you some good karma. It’ll all be okay,” the Bible says, “Don’t be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (1 Chronicles 28:20, ESV.)
The Bible doesn’t feed us a cheesy line and tell us to cheer up. Instead, it makes it clear that the ‘why’ behind our courage is Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23, paraphrase.) When we look for courage within ourselves, we won’t find it. But when we look within to find God, we find the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit enabling us to live courageously.
So, when the Bible says “Don’t be afraid,” it isn’t calling us to blind faith. It’s calling us to submit our fears to the very real person of Jesus and it’s reminding us that his courage is living in us. And this isn’t manmade courage; this is the God-Man’s courage.
So, if all that is true, why then reader, are we still so afraid?
I mean if the Bible commands us not to be afraid and it gives us concrete evidence of a God who shows up for his people and delivers them again and again and again, then why, oh why, do we still fear?
Where does that pounding heart, racing mind, and restless spirit come from? Where does that pit of anxiety and root of fear originate?
Better yet, why? Why does that one emotion, that one sin, seem to sneak up on believers more often than any other and cripple us? Why is it that we so easily and adamantly reject and break this one, seemingly simple command?
If courage is really found in God alone through Christ alone, if that is really possible and accessible for believers, then shouldn’t we be the most courageous people of all?
And yet, we often seem to be the ones who are most afraid. Why?
Is it maybe because we know that we aren’t standing on God alone? It is maybe because we know that God is not the only god in our lives? And maybe, does that feeling of terror only take hold when we think about how much it would hurt to lose one of those other gods?
Do you know what I think fear really is, friend?
I think fear is the difference between the truth we believe and the truth we practice. I think fear forms in the gap between what we know is true and how much we practice that truth.
As believers, we know that Christ is our solid foundation. We know he isn’t going anywhere. He can’t be taken away or overthrown or done away with. So, we know it’s true when the Bible says that if we stand on Christ alone, we stand secure.
But, might there be a disconnect between us knowing that truth and actually living it out?
See, I don’t think fear comes into our lives because we don’t believe Jesus is the foundation. I think it comes into play because we know he isn’t the only foundation we’re trying to stand on. Because if we’re honest, truly honest, aren’t we all standing on something in addition to him?
When I think about my own life, I know I’m standing on the hope that my marriage lasts forever, that my husband never grows sick or dies, that I’ll one day be a mom, that my family will stay safe, that I’ll never struggle financially, that I’ll always keep my health. I’m standing on accomplishments and comfort, fun and success.
Yes reader, I’m standing on Christ. But I’m standing on a lot of other things, too.
And this is why fear sets in. Because I know that a lot of the time, I’m not standing on the unshakeable, unmovable ground of Christ alone. In fact, it’s often quite the opposite. It’s more like I’m standing on the upper level of a poorly structured building, and if all the floors gave way I know I would ultimately land on a secure foundation, but how much would it hurt and how much pain would I experience as I fell through each floor before landing on that solid ground?
This is why I’m afraid, friend. Yes, I know Christ is the foundation of my life and that he holds my right hand, defends me and protects me, and never forsakes me.
But I know that I often forsake him. I build my life on all those shaky, unstable floors, and I know that pain awaits me if ever one of those floors gives out. And I live in constant fear of the day that they do.
What about you, reader? What are you standing on?
Do you know what the Bible calls those additional floors we build our life on, apart from or in addition to Christ?
And it says that those who bend a knee to, place their faith in, or build their lives upon anyone or anything apart from Christ have “no knowledge” because they “keep on praying to a god that cannot save” (Isaiah 45:20, ESV.) It says that those who try building their lives on their idols “forsake their hope of steadfast love” (Jonah 2:8, ESV.)
And I think many of us are tempted to think, “Well yikes, it’s just not that easy!” We like to make excuses for our fear. Excuses for our idols. We like to think we are justified in our worship of God-given blessings. We like to minimize and say, “Those things aren’t idols, they’re just gifts I’d hate to lose!” And to an extent we can kid ourselves into thinking that is true. We can try and rationalize away our idols with that type of thinking.
But you know what we can’t do? We can’t experience the blessing of peace and the steadfast presence and power of God when we live enslaved to the fear of losing our idols.
Sure, we can keep that tight hold on our families and friends, on our money and careers and possessions, on our health and status and success. But in doing so, we forfeit the peace of God, the courage of Christ, the steadfast love of the Savior.
We ask, “God, why are we so afraid?” This is why, friend.
Fear grips at our hearts and poisons our minds because our hearts are not God’s alone. We have given them to the gods of this world, to the idols that were only ever meant to be blessings. And we live terrified, because we know that we can, and will, lose each and every one of those gifts.
It’s not a matter of if you lose your idols, it’s a matter of when.
And that is terrifying.
But the story doesn’t end there. In fact, for believers, this was never meant to be our story at all.
We were all created with a God-sized hole in our heart. And if it’s a hole God was meant to fill, then it is significant and until it is filled with him, we all ache. Because if we were created with an innate longing and desire that only the God of the universe could satisfy, then we were all born broken and empty and desperately needing him. And every moment since the fall, the whole world has been searching for the One who can satisfy that desire in our hearts. Since the garden, we’ve all been searching for Jesus.
But along the way, in our search for Christ, believers and non-believers alike have all tried filling that desire for God with the things of this world, and in doing so, we’ve allowed fear to come in and make its home in our hearts and in our minds. And when our hearts are filled with the world rather than with Jesus, we exchange the permanent God for the impermanent world, the One we will never lose for the things and the people we know we will.
And this is why we are afraid, reader. We are afraid because we are hoping in and living for the very things we are guaranteed to lose.
And here’s the kicker: when we live for the blessings rather than the Giver of blessings, we actually miss out on the opportunity to enjoy those things he intended for our good because we live in constant fear of losing them, rather than in appreciation of having them.
Blessings lose their joy when we worship them.
But as believers, there is one person we know we can put all our hope and faith in. There is one person we can trust. There is one person we can fully give our lives to. There is one person who can fill that hole in our hearts and put our fears to rest.
And that one person is the one we will never lose.
Yes, friend. Jesus is the One. The only one who will not fail us, forsake us, or forget us in our fears.
And when we position ourselves in a place of worshipping God and enjoying his blessings, we can experience his peace. Because then good things aren’t the ultimate thing and the Ultimate God becomes the best thing.
Is it maybe so simple as this? Fear sets in when God’s good gifts become ultimate gifts; Peace settles over us when our most ultimate gift is God.
Do you see, reader? To receive peace and conquer our enemy, our idols, and our fearful hearts, we actually have to relinquish our tight grasp on the things we fear to lose. But in doing so, we gain the ability to enjoy our blessings and live free of the fear of losing them.
Maybe reader, in order to lose our fears, we have to lose the things we are afraid to let go of. We will always fear losing what we worship. But if we worship Christ alone, then we will never live afraid.
Because he is permanent and our worship is safe with him.
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10, ESV.)