Fear, Worry, Anxiety
1 Thessalonians 1:8
1 Thessalonians Lesson #017
Janiuary 20, 2015
We are still in 1 Thessalonians and talking about what it means to have faith in the Christian life, the role of faith in the Christian life specifically in terms of the faith-rest drill. This is a term that we use to describe the application of promises to our day-to-day experience. We’re taking a little bit of time as we go through 1Thessalonians to talk through different kinds of promises, different kinds of situations, so that we can become much more adept, much more skillful, at using the faith-rest drill. Part of this is just an application as it were of some of the things that we learned in the Bible Study Methods class I taught recently, which included observation, interpretation and application. We look at the Text and we think it through in the process of memorizing it. We break it down into its basic phrases and clauses, think about their relationship to each other, and think about some of the synonyms even in English for words that are found in the Text. If you can access the Internet there are several online study Bibles that you can take advantage of and look at Greek or Hebrew words to get another sense of what these key words describe. That’s helpful as well just because it trains our thinking.
Then we look at the context of the passage and what is going on within the basic structure of the promise that we find in Scripture. We did this last time as we were looking at Isaiah 41:10. Isaiah 41:10 is a key passage for talking about this whole concept of fear. Fear is something that is so basic and fundamental to everyone. We need to talk about what the Scripture says about fear and the solution to fear. And as we looked at Isaiah 41:10 last time, we went through the basic structure of Isaiah 41:10 and talked about its context, the warning that God is giving to Israel back in the 8th century. God is giving them a warning that was ultimately fulfilled in 586 B.C. with the destruction of Jerusalem. Isaiah is warning them about this future destruction, and it’s going to be in the context of that future destruction that they need to learn how not to be afraid, not to be overwhelmed with anxiety. This is something that may seem quite foreign to us because they are facing horrible circumstances, and they are going to go through those horrible circumstances.
The reality is that when things go bump in the night, we’re overwhelmed with worry and anxiety; yet often the boogieman that shows up in our thoughts at 2 o’clock or 3 o’clock in the morning doesn’t ever actually materialize. We just worry about all the worst case scenarios that our imagination can come up with and then can’t go back to sleep. But the reality is there are boogiemen that are real. There are circumstances and situations that seem overwhelming and destructive as we go through them. We think about situations and circumstances that many people go through, whether it has to do with medical challenges and facing disease that may be quite debilitating if not fatal that may go on for some time, or financial disasters that may occur in terms of unemployment, or in terms of financial loss, or destruction that may come from various things such as hurricanes, or tornadoes in some parts of the country, blizzards, things of this nature that can have such a tremendous impact, so many things that can come along and the plans that we have made, not that we need to modify them, but sometimes they’re just destroyed – our hopes, our dreams – because of things that happen.
You can just imagine the Jews who were living in the southern kingdom in the late 7th century, 610 B.C., 605 B.C. watching around them as they saw these armies coming into existence, these new empires rising with the rise of Babylon and the battles that took place surrounding them, battles between Babylon and Egypt, and knowing that they would be overrun. That everything they had given their lives to would be lost, and how overwhelming that would be. Yet the counsel that God gives them in Isaiah 41 is not to be afraid even though they are going to go through this divine discipline upon the nation. This is emphasized in several places in this particular chapter. But God reminds them of His promise. As we saw last time there is the promise in Isaiah 41:8, “But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen,” and this term “Jacob” is emphasizing Israel in rebellion as opposed to calling them Israel. Jacob often has that connotation because the patriarch Jacob, his name Ya’acov means a chiseler.
If we go back to the study of Jacob in our study of Genesis, we find he was the person always trying to manipulate God, manipulate circumstances and situations and people to get what was rightfully his. He couldn’t just trust in God. He has to try to control things and manipulate things to get what he wanted and later he was finally faced with the fact that he can’t overpower God when he’s wrestling with God at a place called Peniel where he met God. It is called that because there he says he met God face to face and the Angel of the Lord slaps him on the hip and this wounds him. At that point God gives him a new name, Israel, and usually when Israel, the nation, his descendants are described as Israel that emphasizes the positive spiritual side of his life. Jacob often emphasizes the nation in carnality. So here we see, “But you, Israel, are My servant.” That is Israel in a positive sense. Now we have this synonymous parallelism “Jacob whom I have chosen.” The use of Jacob there reminds us, even though it is a synonym for Israel, that it is necessary in the parallelism because it carries the connotation that at this point in time they are not obedient. They are in disobedience; they are in carnality. They are the “Descendant of Abraham My friend.” God is reminding them of His everlasting covenant with Abraham and what He has done in the past.
In Isaiah 41:9 “You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest regions and said to you, ‘You are My servant’.” This is talking about Israel’s position before God; that that never changes despite circumstances and despite the calamity that is about to come upon them. Then God tells them, Isaiah 41:10 “Do not be afraid.” This is repeated at the end of Isaiah 41:13 “Fear not, I will help you.” At the beginning of Isaiah 41:14, “Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel; I will help you” says the Lord, “and your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.” And then throughout this there is the promise of how God in the future is going to provide deliverance for Israel and eventually all of His promises will come true. So when we look at Isaiah 41:10, this is the command at the beginning, “Fear not,” God says, “for I am with you.” This tells us that the reason that they should not be afraid, and the reason we should not be afraid is because of God’s presence. He is the one who lifts us up. He is the one Who is with us.
And then in the parallel we read in the New King James, Isaiah 41:10, “Be not dismayed, for I am your God.” This is the Hebrew word shaah. There is a little bit of a textual variant there. Some texts read tista instead of shaah; shaah is a synonym for fear and tista is something that talks about looking about, but it has the tone of looking about in anxiety with uncertainty and instability. But probably the best reading in the Text is shaah. It is a word that means to be dismayed, to look about with apprehension or alarm at the circumstances, to be filled with depression or discouragement because the circumstances of life just seem overwhelming. There doesn’t seem to be a way out. There doesn’t seem to be a way to escape, that defeat for them was imminent and they would indeed lose everything that they had. What God promises us in the Scripture is not that we won’t go through hard times. He doesn’t promise us that we won’t go through difficulty. Sometimes that difficulty is self-induced because of divine discipline; sometimes it’s the result, as we’ve studied, through the failure of others we’re associated with in this circumstance. This has to do with the fact that all of the nation would go through divine discipline because the majority had been in spiritual rebellion against God and so He tells them not to be afraid, neither to be discouraged or dismayed nor to feel overwhelmed by the circumstances.
I think that is important for us to understand the meaning of this word “fear” a little bit because there is a sense in which there is sort of a healthy fear or anxiety about life. If you’re getting ready to give a presentation and you’re going to speak in public you may have stage fright. You may be a little concerned, a little anxious about what you are going to do and that just sort of gives you an edge that pushes us to perform better and do better. When as a parent you are concerned about the safety of your children and what they are doing, it motivates and pushes us to do the right thing or be a little more diligent, a little more focused on what we are doing. That is not really the kind of fear or anxiety that we’re talking about in these passages. In this study, we are talking about a level of fear that really drives us in a direction that disobeys God and to seek solutions apart from God’s Word. It is more than just that sort of level of focus, concern, about doing a job or doing it well in one arena or another.
So for the idea of “fear” or “dismay,” I like the definition that is in Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. It says that “dismay” means to be deprived of courage, resolution, and initiative. It goes beyond what I might call level one fear in which you focus on what might happen and are driven to do whatever is necessary to make sure the job is well done, to where this is a debilitating concept. It overwhelms us. It defeats us. It deprives us of what it takes to go forward and to do what we need to do. It indicates that we’re confused. We lack any kind of security, and we just want to retreat rather than go forward. So this is the main idea there. So what I want to talk about in this lesson is this whole concept of fear. It is something that is part of every one of our souls. It is a problem of fear, a problem of worry, the problem of anxiety. I think that it is basic to the human condition, the fallen human condition. Fear is basically an emotion that is caused by the anticipation or the awareness of danger. In some sense we feel that our security, our safety is personally threatened and/or those we love have their security or safety threatened. We can apply that to almost any area of life whether it has to do with health, whether it has to do with family and the future, whether it has to do with finances, whether it has to do with our career, training, whatever it may be. We can easily manufacture a lot of fear and anxiety and some people are better at it than others.
Some people have this as the trend of their sin nature and if they don’t have anything to worry about and be fearful about and wake up and worry about at 3 o’clock in the morning, then they are going to wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning and try to worry about not having anything to worry about. They are just constantly in that state, and that is just the trend of their sin nature. So we have to recognize that fear is generated from our sin nature. It is a mental attitude sin that is at the very root of all emotional sins in the sin nature. So we can think of other sins in the sin nature that have to do with emotion, jealousy, envy, anger, resentment, a desire for revenge, all kinds of different things that are emotional sins, but the root according to Scripture is the sin nature.
To understand this we go back to Genesis 3:10. In Genesis 3 we have the episode of the fall of Adam, the fall of mankind into sin. We have the story of the temptation when the serpent came to Eve and said, “Well, has God said?” As soon as he says that he’s questioning the integrity of God, questioning the truthfulness of what God has said, questioning the accuracy of what God has said. He says, “Has God said that you cannot eat from any tree in the Garden?” And the tone and nuances that God is holding something back from you, Eve; there is something that you should have here that’s really good for you. And then of course we know how the story ends up. She looks at the fruit. She sees that it is good. She wants to be like God because that’s what the serpent has told her. That God just wants to keep this from you. When you eat it you will be like God knowing good and evil. So she ate of the fruit and there was instantly a reaction and she becomes spiritually dead.
Eve may not have become aware of that. We have no idea what happened in terms of her thinking, her emotions or anything, but she then offered the fruit and enticed her husband. And it is Adam’s eating of the fruit that is fundamental to the fall of the human race because he’s the spiritual head of the human race. And then we are told that there is an immediate consequence that they realize that they were naked and they realize that something dreadful has taken place. If you look at Genesis 3:8 we read, “They heard the sound of the LORD GOD walking in the Garden and in the cool of the day”, which was God’s normal operation. Every day He would come, and He would spend time with them, teaching them, instructing them on the creation; giving them guidance, giving them ways in which they could utilize creation, many different things that I believe were probably discussed. We don’t know how long this time period was, but it was certainly a period of weeks if not months. I don’t think it was years. I think that it was a relatively short time rather than a relatively long time, but we have no way of knowing for sure.
So God would come, and He came into the Garden in Genesis 3:8, “and Adam and his wife hid themselves.” Their first reaction when God comes. Every day they would look forward to it. They would anticipate it. As soon as God would come they would come to Him. Now they run and hide. The reason is because they have been exposed in the full riches and depth of their spiritual death, which is described in Genesis 3:7 that “they knew that they were naked” and they tried to solve the problem. I mean there was such an existential awareness of this new situation that they tried to resolve it in some way. So they are driven to do this; and they sew fig leaves together.
Now that implies some time is going by. It takes a little time to recognize your problem; that all of a sudden we are exposed here. Something radical has happened. We’ve got to cover it up. We’ve got to disguise it so that we “feel” better about what has happened. And what we are going to see when we get to Genesis 3:10 is that they describe this as “fear.” When they heard the voice, the sound of God in the Garden, Adam says, “I was afraid.” They might not have identified it specifically as fear from the beginning but there was an awareness that something was different, so they had to cover it up. They sewed fig leaves together. That would have taken some time. Where are we going to get the needle? Where are we going to get the thread? Do we have to manufacture this? We have to go take the leaves off of the tree; all of these things would take a little bit of time.
So some time goes by for them to be a little more self-conscious of the fact that something dreadful and terrible has taken place so that when God shows up, just the sound of His voice, the presence of God in His holiness and righteousness, pierces to the very core of their consciousness. They are profoundly and deeply aware in every aspect of their soul that things are not right; that they no longer have security. They no longer have stability. They are profoundly afraid. There’s no longer any certainty in life. There’s no longer any confidence in life. They no longer really have the resources to meet life in this complex environment that God has placed them in, and this all crystallizes as soon as they hear of the sound of God’s voice. You may think back to some time when you were a child and you did something, some act of disobedience to your parents; and then as soon as you heard their voice you knew you were in deep, deep trouble. And that would just be a mild reflection of what Adam and Eve experienced when they heard God’s voice in the Garden. So they hid themselves. This is the primary emotion. Often when I use a chart and talk about the sin nature I talk about the fundamental sin. The fundamental sin is arrogance, but what goes along with arrogance is this whole concept of fear. It is apparently the most basic of all sins and the most basic of all insecurities. They immediately realize this. So we need to think about fear in terms of its fundamental role in the make-up of our sin nature and our soul.
A verse that struck me years ago is 1 John 4:18, which states: “There is no fear in love.” Now most of us would think that the opposite of love is hate; that if you don’t love someone you hate him. But this verse juxtaposes fear and love. That when love is absent, then what is present in the soul is that instability, that uncertainty that comes as a result of the dread of fear. And so John is talking about this in terms of the spiritual life in 1 John 4:18. He says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” Now the terminology here indicates it’s an either/or, that what resolves fear is understanding God’s love for us, and as a result we have to grow and mature. That word TELEIOS indicates that process of maturation. John says at the end, the last sentence, “He who fears has not been made perfect in love.” He’s not talking about perfect in the English sense of flawlessness, but in the sense of maturing in love. The more we grow to understand God’s love and His grace provision for us, then we are able to translate that into action in our thinking and it removes that focus of fear and dread that is there.
Fear is just fundamental to human experience. In many cultures of the world where there has never been any influence from the Bible, we think about different missionaries who have gone into different cultures, whether we’re talking about two or three hundred years ago as Christian missionaries penetrated into India, which was dominated by the darkness of Buddhism, the darkness of Hinduism, the darkness of these eastern religions. As Christians went into those areas a hundred or so years before that and penetrated Japanese culture and Chinese culture finding the same things that were present in their Eastern mysticism, they realized that these were cultures basically mired in circumstances and situations that were more primitive than western Europe. Now they may have had a few technological advances here and there that surpassed, but as a whole, when you looked at the culture and the mass numbers of people in India and China and throughout eastern Asia, they had had no advances in thousands of years. They had no cultural improvement; they had very little technological improvement. People lived as they had lived for thousands of years, and they were in severe economic impoverishment.
Now when people are controlled by insecurity and fear, one result is that we want to horde what we have. Whatever little bit we might have that gives us a sense of comfort, a sense of security, we look to those possessions or those things as ours. When a people, either as a group or a person as an individual, are controlled by fear and desperation, they want to protect what they have rather than feeling the freedom to reach out and develop and to risk something else going to another situation. When we live in this kind of desperation and dread, we are unwilling to risk what little we have in order to advance economically or to be culturally creative. And so these eastern societies were stagnant for generations, for centuries. They didn’t go anywhere. This was true in many pagan cultures. You have some cultures that had a measure of advance, but usually that was because they had some sort of religious elite that further utilized that fear of the masses in order to enslave them. What we discover in cultures where there is a tremendous amount of fear is that it is bred by their religious systems. Islam is one system that breeds fear.
Hinduism, Buddhism also capitalize on that sense of fear, that sense of dread. This is why in the eastern religions they want to escape this. They have no answer to fear, so you want to lose your consciousness of yourself and ultimately in terms of their goal, their only hope is to lose their individual consciousness in this whole concept of Nirvana. They lose that sense of self, whereas in biblical Christianity the self is free to develop and to grow and to pursue freedom because there is love; fear has been stifled. So what we can see historically and culturally is that numerous cultures that were in this kind of a fear grip were insecure. They were trapped by fear. They didn’t develop. They continued to live in the same kind of small huts that they had always lived in. You see this in many different examples. Even today you can go to many parts of rural North Africa, rural Middle East, and people are living the same way they did a 1,000, 1,500, 2,000 years before Christ. There’s little development.
When you operate in fear, there is no courage. Fear destroys courage. So no courage means no willingness to risk what is needed to advance economically, to advance technologically, and to advance in terms of your culture and to be culturally creative. It takes courage to dream. It takes courage to invest. It takes courage to change the status quo; and if there is no foundation of confidence, then you don’t have the courage to do these things.
One of the religious doctrines that correspond to fear is fatalism. Fatalism is a part of these other world religions. Take a look at Islam. Everything is “Allah wills.” Well if everything is “Allah wills” and there is no freewill, then why should we try to do anything? Why should we try to change anything? Why should we try to improve the culture? We just go along at a same way. So this becomes manifest in terms of a religious doctrine in the rise of radical Islam. They just want to take everything back to the 7th century. Everything that is modern, everything that represents advance and technology is evil to them. They want to take all of civilization back to where it was in the 7th century. This is all a part of fatalism. Fatalism is also present in Buddhism and Hinduism, and there is no escape from this. All of this is related to that core value of fear.
When you have these kinds of fatalistic religious systems and thought systems, it prevents any kind of development and destroys the whole concept of personal responsibility, which is that we take ownership for our lives and we can make things better. So fear has not just a matter of something that destroys our personal initiative; it also destroys cultures and cultural initiatives. In these fatalistic religions the one thing that you do have is people who seem to have some sort of connection to the god idea. Whether it was some of the polytheistic religions, animistic religions, eastern religions where they have many gods, the shamans, the fortune tellers, the witch doctors, the prophets, the sorcerers; these religious elite could then use that in a way to control people and exercise a tyranny over people. This is the kind of thing that developed in ancient Egyptian religion. It developed in Mesopotamian religion. It develops later on in Hinduism and Buddhism. And so we see that is part of man’s makeup, in contrast to what the Bible teaches; and that is, man is oriented to fear, and this is self-destructive. Whenever we cave into fear and let fear control our thinking; that is self-destructive.
In fatalism everything is controlled by some sort of impersonal determinism, even in Islam, even though Allah is supposed to be a personal god. But as I’ve taught many times, Allah is not a god of love. The Bible says that it is only love and perfect love that casts out fear. It is only God’s love that can cast out fear. So without a god of love, there can’t be any kind of solution to the whole problem of fear. Now let’s think about Islam a minute. Some of you may not have heard me go through this in the past. Islam has what is called a singular monotheism, a singular or unitarian monotheism, whereas biblical Christianity has a plurality. We would say even in the Old Testament there are clear indications that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was understood to be a plurality, not a singularity. You have God talking in Genesis 1, “Let us make man in our image.” You have the Spirit of God moving on the face of the earth. Later on in Zechariah 1 you have this conversation between the LORD and the Angel of the Lord that indicates that both are divine beings. And yet the emphasis in the OT, as stated in the well-known verse called the Shema, in Deuteronomy 6:4, the LORD our God is usually translated the LORD is one. And that is taken to mean a singularity, but the reality is that Hebrew word translated “one” is a word that indicates a plurality even in a unity.
When a husband and wife come together, when Adam and Eve came together, it said the two became echad, one flesh. So it is not a singularity concept. It is a unity concept. So in the Godhead there’s a unity of essence and a plurality of persons. In Islam you don’t have that. In Islam in a singular monotheism, a unitarian monotheism in eternity past before Allah created anything, Allah is out there all by himself. He has no object to love. There is no one to love. Incidentally, loving is never attributed to Allah anywhere in the Koran; there are only a few places where the word “love” is used in the Koran, and in those places it is talking about a person loved something or a person may love or desire a god, but it never talks about Allah being a god of love. So if in eternity past you have Allah, and if he is a god of love, then what did he love? Who did he love? If he didn’t have an object for his love, then in order to be loving he would be dependent upon something to love. He would have to create something or someone to love in order to be able to function as a loving god. That would mean he would be dependent upon something he created to be who he is. That would mean that Allah is an inadequate god. The other solution is that he is really not loving. And this is evidenced throughout Islam; that Allah is a very harsh, judgmental, vindictive kind of deity. He is not even consistent. So this religion is a religion based upon fear.
Animistic spiritist religions are also based upon fear; their fear is of the forces of nature, their fear is of the stars, their fear is of the spirits, fear of karma, fear of reincarnation. These gods are rather whimsical in what they may want human beings to do. One day they are one way, and another day they are another way. You clearly see this in the inconsistency of the gods and the deities in Greek mythology. Now this relationship of fear to the core of the human soul is something that is even recognized in modern philosophy. By the late 19th century we had the development of what became known as existentialism. And in existentialism, the most important focus is on the fact that man “exists”, that he is in some kind of existence; but in existentialism the starting point of their thinking is characterized by this existential attitude in man. This existential attitude is sometimes referred to as existential dread. This explained as, at the very core of man’s being they recognize that as man understands his world, and because there is no God/god, there is no hope; there’s no meaning. Everything just exists. It is just an accident. The only reason we have human beings is it’s just a result of some sort of accidental electrical discharge with a mass of protoplasm at some time billions of years ago. There is no real meaning or purpose to anything. Everything is just a product of time plus chance.
So we live in an apparently meaningless world, a world that is characterized by obscurity where there is no hope. In existentialism, which I think is a pretty decent analysis of the fallen mind, man is faced with a core reality of hopelessness, obscurity, and meaninglessness. The more he becomes aware of that, the more dread there is in his consciousness. Some of the better known existentialists were Warren Kierkegaard, who is usually credited with being the first one to really teach or isolate the issues of existentialism, even though he didn’t use that term; then Frederick Nietzsche who takes it a step further. Existentialism taken to its logical consequence leads to nihilism, which is just the destructiveness of man. How do you even find meaning in life if there is no inherent meaning? You just assign it from your own soul. So meaning is attributed to a total subjective value. So meaning in life can come from just doing something that you think is significant. Well, if I go out and commit random murders, then I’ve done something significant and have validated my existence. If I go out and make a lot of money and give it to a charitable cause to benefit mankind in various humanitarian efforts, then I’ve done an equal amount of effort to validate my existence.
But there’s no overriding moral principle to attribute goodness or evil to one act or another. So in existential thought everything is morally equivalent and the only thing we have to assign moral value to is just our own personal preference. What seems to work or what doesn’t seem to work. So existentialism at its core is honest with the human presupposition that there’s no God/god. So therefore, it recognizes the obscurity and meaningless of life, which leads to this concept of the existential dread and as a consequence of fear, recognition of this. This is what motivates a lot of people in their actions because they are basically fearful, because they have an uncertainty about life, because they are overwhelmed by this existential dread of insecurity. They have to do something to cover it up. So what are we going to do to anesthetize ourselves psychologically from the reality of fear? They try to do this through any detail of life that can be elevated to the height of deity and focused upon. Whether it is alcohol, whether it is drugs, whether it is pleasure, whether it is success, whether it is money and the things that money can buy. Whatever it is, any detail of life can be the focus of what we’re using to cloak ourselves so we don’t come face to face with this sense of fear and dread.
This is what happens with any believer that wakes up in the middle of the night, or going through the day and something happens that catches your attention. You lose your job, or your health is threatened; the health of your children is threatened. Any of these things can happen, and all of a sudden we realize how finite we are and how incapable we are of controlling the details of our life. So we have one of several directions to go, but the direction we should go in is that of depending upon God, remembering that we may not be in control, but God is in control; God is the one who can handle the circumstances, and I need to let Him handle the circumstances because I’m incapable; I’m not knowledgeable enough but He’s omniscient. I’m not powerful enough but He is omnipotent. I certainly am not aware enough of what is going on but He is because He is omnipresent. So we recognize that fear is the ultimate mover, the ultimate motivator within our sin nature and recognize that this is one of the most dangerous things that we can give into. We have the old adage that we should not take counsel of our fears; and that is exactly right. We recognize that there are going to be circumstances that make us aware of these limitations and that we will be fearful, but that does not mean that we should cave into those emotions that arise from the uncertainty of certain circumstances.
What resolves that is what we see in 1 John 4:18 “There is no fear in love.” The only way to remove fear from our soul is by having that close relationship and walk by the Holy Spirit with God. To be so focused upon God, His essence, His plan for our lives, and that relationship with Him, remembering that we are here to serve Him. This drives fear out of our soul. Sometimes that is easier than at other times. Sometimes there are circumstances that just seem to overwhelm us, and we let that sin nature get a hold of us. That is why learning these promises is so important, so that we can recall them and say them at those times again and again in order to refocus our thinking and to stabilize those emotions. 1 John 4:18 goes on to say, “fear involves torment.” This is the word “punishment.” It’s related to punishment. This is related to the consequence of sin and being spiritually dead and having a sin nature. So this is definitely a part of the human condition as a fallen creature. So we have the only solution, which is trusting in God.
Now a couple of things that we need to understand when it comes to handling these particular promises. Just a reminder:
The first step is to claim a promise. That is that we say, God, You’ve made this promise here and I am holding You to that. I am putting this on You, for an example that we’ll see here in a minute as we go through these passages. We are to cast our cares upon the Lord. I am putting this on You. You are going to be responsible for it. I’m not going to be responsible. Wait a minute. Give it back to me God, which is usually how we do it. Then there is this tug-of-war that goes on which may keep you awake for a long time at night. I know that has happened to me at times because we claim the promise and then we take it back and we claim the promise and we just go back and forth for a while and then finally, we really settle down. We can do that by thinking through the doctrinal rational, thinking through what’s there, and then we appropriate, we make it a part of our life. This is what we’ve seen in Isaiah 41:10. We fear not; we are not dismayed because we understand exactly who God is. If we can just think through His attributes, this is one of the things I think is a great way to utilize the “essence box”. It is to think through each one of these categories in relation to your problem:
God is sovereign. That means that He rules over the affairs of man. He is the ultimate authority in the universe. He knows how He’s created everything, and He is able to take care of the situations. He is righteous. So in His righteousness He is going to have an ultimately, just solution, which ties us to the next attribute. God is love. I am in the body of Christ. God loves me. He wants what is best for me, which at times may include divine discipline and judgment, because whom the Lord loves He also punishes or judges. He’s eternal life, which means that He’s always in existence. He never disappears from existence, so I’m not going to worry about God disappearing. And we can just go through each of these attributes. So let’s just review some basic points of fear:
1. Fear is an emotional sin that lies at the center of a web of mental attitude sins: anxiety, worry, fear, the sense of being terrified, resentment, discouragement, depression; all of these which are built upon fear. When we’re discouraged it is because we are afraid that we’re not going to be able to achieve the kinds of things we would like to achieve. We’ve been defeated. So the result of that is discouragement. Depression is often the result of realizing that we’re never going to achieve some of the things that we want to achieve; and as a result we feel a sense of hopelessness, which is directly related to the subtle thought that we’re afraid that if we can’t achieve that goal, then we can’t have stability and security in our lives. So it’s a clue to the fact that our mental attitude is focused on the wrong things.
2. Fear is a representative emotional sin and a negative in our spiritual life. Therefore, if we are being fearful, we are out of fellowship. That is a really clear barometer. If I’m anxious, if I’m worried, if I’m out of fellowship, then I’m not trusting God. I’m not in right relationship with Him.
3. Fear and the function of our spiritual life are mutually exclusive. You are either walking with the Lord, or if you are fearful, you are not walking by the Spirit. You are not walking with the Lord. You are not walking in the light. You are walking in darkness. So it’s one or the other.
4. Fear results when we lose focus on our personal eternal destiny and God’s plan for our life. God’s plan for our life may include going through some horrible things. Think about the situation with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego when they were refusing to bow down to the idol that Nebuchadnezzar had constructed. They knew full well that the punishment was going to be to be cast into the fiery furnace; and when they were “find-outed”, when they were identified and brought before Nebuchadnezzar, he warns them what those consequences are and they say, well, Nebuchadnezzar we have to worship our God and we can’t worship any other God and our God can deliver us. But even if He doesn’t, even if we have to go through this horrible death, nevertheless, we’re going to trust Him. That’s the reality for us as believers. Yes, those fearful things may actually take place. Those things that we are afraid of, those things that are the worst possible calamities may actually take place, but God gives us the resources to go through those difficult times, and these promises are part of those resources.
5. We see that fear in the soul represents emotional arrogance. When we are afraid we are saying I really ought to be able to handle this on my own. That’s the height of arrogance. We are not self-sufficient as human beings. We should be God dependent, not self-sufficient. Self-sufficiency is part of the core of emotional arrogance, so fear is always a distraction to our spiritual life.
6. This is why fear sees the problem and it intensifies. Fear focuses on the problem when faith looks at the solution and keeps marching forward to the glory of God. There are a number of different illustrations of this in Scripture: the faith of Abraham that when he was too old to have any children he continued to trust in God and did not waver in faith (Romans 4 says). Moses at the Red Sea is hemmed in. He’s got the Egyptian army and cavalry and the chariots in hot pursuit. His back is against the Red Sea. There is no way they can get across the Red Sea. He’s got two and a half to three million Jews with him; and so He is going to trust the LORD, and he tells the Jews “Stand still and see the deliverance of the LORD.” And so we see He focuses on the solution, which is God and not on the problem.
We see another example with David against Goliath. David’s great battle cry was “the battle is the LORD’S.” He went out into the Valley of Elah to stand up against Goliath who has all of the latest technology, the latest iron weaponry, iron armor, going against him, and David just took a sling and five smooth stones. Now you have to understand that someone who was in what would be light artillery at that time, using a sling shot, used balls that had been developed. I’ve seen the ones that have been discovered in archeologically in places. I’ve seen them in the Israel Antiquities Museum. These balls they fired were about the size of a golf ball; and they could whirl that sling fast enough to where this thing came out at a tremendous rate. And if David hit Goliath right between the eyes with these, it would almost kill him. It would have a tremendous impact. But he’s not trusting in the technology of his weaponry. He’s trusting in the LORD; that the LORD was going to give him the victory. We also have other examples. One I mentioned earlier Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego at the fiery furnace. Another is Daniel in the lion’s den, and numerous others that we could go to in Scripture. Fear sees the problem, but faith looks at the solution. We focus on God’s plan and God’s character.
7. Each believer emphasizes the use of the faith-rest drill in these situations rather than the problem. We have hope. Faith leads to hope. Hope focuses on that long-term consequence. It looks at life in terms of the end game and God’s ultimate resolution of the problem.
8. We see in each of these examples the individuals who avoided the distraction of fear. They by-passed the negatives of fear for the victory: occupation with God in the OT, occupation with Christ for the Church Age believer.
This gives us our focal point in terms of fear. We are to be focused on God’s love for us and not on our particular fear. In our next lesson, I want to come back and look at another complex of promises that we can talk about in terms of how to handle fear and anxiety: in Psalm 55, passages such as Philippians 4:5–6, and various others. One thing I’ll point out as we look at Psalm 55, sort of a preview of coming attractions, is we have this tremendous verse at the end that leads and is really the background for 1 Peter 5:7; and that is the promise “Cast your burden upon the Lord and He shall sustain you. He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.” Now if you look at the first part of that Psalm this is a classic, what’s called an individual lament, where David or the Psalmist comes and presents a problem to God. David is going through an emotional meltdown at the very beginning of this passage. He’s having almost what we’d call today an anxiety attack. He is so focused on the problem at the beginning that God just seems to be distant and unconcerned. And so he’s pleading with God at the very beginning of Psalm 55, “Give ear to my prayer.” I think that that sounds a little distant. We might say, listen to my prayer, God; and don’t hide from my supplication. He is emotionally involved in this circumstance.
We will look at Psalm 55:3, where he is surrounded by enemies. We don’t know the exact circumstances of these enemies, but he says, “because of the voice of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked, for they bring down trouble upon me and in wrath they hate me.” Now look at his result. Because he is focused on the problem he says, “My heart is severely pained within me.” It is like he is imitating a heart attack. He’s just seizing up with pain and anxiety in his chest. And he says, “The terrors of death have fallen upon me.” He’s just terrorized. He’s on the point of pushing the panic button and he is overwhelmed with fear so much that it is affecting him physically. Fearfulness in Psalm 55:5, “fearfulness and trembling have come upon me.” He is so fearful that he is shaking as he faces this circumstance and he is overwhelmed by horror. So when we look at the Bible we have to realize these saints that we talk about are not just plaster saints. David doesn’t just sail through these problems and difficulties that he encounters easily. They impact him just as much as they impact you and me. They cause us to think about if we are going to lose it all; it’s going to be horrible; it’s going to be painful; God’s forgotten about me, and we just absolutely get overwhelmed in the darkness of our fear. This is where David starts in Psalm 55. How do we get from there to where we see David as that spiritually victorious warrior going against the enemies of God? Well that’s how we use the faith-rest drill. So we’ll come back to that next time.