Episode 1. The World's a Scary Place
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The world can be a scary place – so many things that strike fear in our hearts. And yet over and over again, God says “Do Not be Afraid.” What does that mean? How does that work? Why don’t …
The world can be a scary place – so many things that strike fear in our hearts. And yet over and over again, God says “Do Not be Afraid.” What does that mean? How does that work?
Spiders and Snakes
I don’t know about you but as I look around, it seems to me that the world can be a scary place. Take spiders and snakes – I mean, depending on where you live in this world, they are either dangerous or they’re not. Here in Australia we are seriously over represented in the world’s “top ten” list of most venomous creatures, so when I was growing up as a child I had good reason to be afraid of them. And still today, the idea of a spider crawling into my bed … ! It’s one of the scariest thoughts I can come up with.
Let me tell you a funny story. One of the most venomous snakes on the planet is the death adder – great name isn’t it? When I was in the Army training to be an officer at the Royal Military College Duntroon, we were one day out doing some grenade practice and that meant you had to sit in bunkers and the person who was throwing the grenade would go out and throw their grenade. Now we had New Zealanders as well as Australians at the Royal Military College and in New Zealand there are no venomous animals at all, so when the Kiwis come across the ditch to Australia, they are petrified of our snakes and our spiders.
Well one Kiwi, we’ll call him Rock – I’ve got to tell you this death adder story. He went out of the bunker to go and throw his grenade and we had a dead death adder. So we positioned it in the bunker so he had to sit down right next to it when he came in. Well he came in and he sat down and he looked at it and I’ve got to tell you, his legs were going before his backside was up off the log and he was running out. We can laugh about it now but the world can be a scary place, especially with friends like me. In my defence I was a young man at the time.
So this week we are starting a new series on the programme, it’s called “Do Not be Afraid”. There is a reason for that – there are lots of people in this world who spend much of their lives living in fear. Sometimes it’s because they are living in a war zone – I mean there are plenty of people listening to this programme today who know that only too well. People in the Democratic Republic of Congo for instance, where there is war raging in parts right now – some of those people are sitting in their homes listening to this programme today wondering whether they will see tomorrow or next week or next year.
Other times there are different life threatening things that happen. We can have a health scare. The morning I sat down to prepare this message was the morning of the funeral of a friend of mine. Now, he was just a couple of years older than me and he died suddenly of a heart attack. It’s easy to be afraid – and it rocks our confidence. And yet other people, they just live lives with a real sense of dread. There is always something there for us to be afraid of or to dread. There is always something lurking out there.
For me honestly, if I allowed it, I could be afraid of quite a few things. I mean, I have some things in my life right now that could cause me to experience fear – and that’s the thing. It doesn’t matter who we are or where we live or … whatever, we all go through times of fear. And that fear can rob us of life itself but time and time and time again, you read in God’s Word, these words from God to His people.
He says, “Do not be afraid.” And He speaks them right at the time when the people He is talking to have every reason to be afraid. They have got people and circumstances coming against them and conspiring against them and they’re experiencing fear and yet God wades in and says, “Do not be afraid.”
Now if God doesn’t want me to be afraid when I have every reason to be afraid, you know something? I want to have a piece of His brand of confidence. Don’t you think? I mean, think about it! What’s the point of God saying, “Do not be afraid”, when we have no reason to fear? It’s right in the middle of our fear that we need His confidence. I definitely want that – how about you?
Well, how can we have that confidence? That’s a good question – that’s what today’s programme is about – that’s what this whole four week series is about … ”Do not be afraid.” So I invite you to come on a journey with me. We are going to start that journey with an account of a time when God’s chosen people, Israel, had every reason to be afraid.
They were in exile – they had been living in the Promised Land for about five hundred years and yet they had struggled with God. They had worshipped idols and other gods and eventually the Lord their God lost His patience.
So in around 586BC, the Babylonians, who were the dominant world power of the day, invaded Jerusalem. They destroyed the place – they destroyed the temple, the place where God’s presence dwelt and they took this remnant of God’s people back to Babylon as slaves.
Talk about a crisis of confidence! Think about it – God made all these promises to Abraham and to Isaac and Jacob and then when Israel was enslaved in Egypt, He sent Moses and did amazing miracles and the whole Red Sea thing and the exodus and the manna from heaven … everything that got them to the Promised Land. And when they got there, with Joshua as their leader, they fought battle after battle against nation after nation that was bigger and stronger than Israel itself and yet God was with His chosen people and they took the land that God had promised them.
And now … now Babylon wins! God’s own temple is destroyed! Where is God? What happened? Are the Babylonian gods stronger than our God? They have a loss of confidence – it’s a big thing. I mean we hear people talking about shareholder confidence and consumer confidence and that feeling when you go to sleep at night, you know, you get that falling sensation and you wake up in a panic, grabbing onto the bed.
Confidence is the trust that the earth beneath our feet won’t move. It’s the trust that the stock market won’t fall; it’s the trust that the plane we are flying in won’t fall off the sky; it’s the trust that our governments will do the right thing – it’s about trusting, whatever. And then, it’s like the rug gets pulled out from under your feet and you lose confidence and panic and fear set in.
Why? Because we no longer feel safe – we are no longer able to trust in the things that we have always trusted in. That’s where Israel was – there was a complete loss of confidence in their God. Now He was punishing them but they couldn’t quite see that. It was like they were flying in a plane at thirty two thousand feet above the ground and all of a sudden, all the engines are silent – panic, fear! And fair enough too!
So what does God say to them right in the middle of their fear and panic … what does God have to say? We are going to take a look at that next.
I am Your God
So here is Israel in this scary, fearful place. They have in slavery, exiled in Babylon for the best part of three generations – that’s a long time – so only a handful of Israel’s elders who can even remember Jerusalem in its heyday. So what does God have to say to these people of His who are cowering in fear under the yoke of slavery?
If you have got a Bible, grab it and open it up at Isaiah chapter 41, beginning at verse 8 – he says this:
But you Israel, My servant Jacob whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, My friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth and called from its farthest corner, saying to you, “You are My servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off. Do not fear for I am with you. Do not be afraid for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with My victorious right hand.
See, the first thing that God does is He reminds them of His promises to Abraham. When Abraham stood in that Promised Land, centuries before, this is what God promised him – just flick back to Genesis chapter 15, verse 18:
On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abraham, saying, “To your descendants I give this land; from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates, the land of the Kenites and the Kenizzites and the Kadmonites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Rephaim and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Girgashites and the Jebusites.
See, God’s promise is that God had chosen them; God had chosen Abraham, their ancestor, God had promised this land and God said, “I will do this.” Notice it is all about God!
Do not fear, I am with you; I am your God; I will strengthen you. I will help you; I will uphold you with My victorious right hand.
The whole thing that God relies on here in talking to His people in their fear and in their despair, is not who they are or how strong they are or how clever they are, or how well they have done because they haven’t, they are there being punished. No, He is saying to them, “Look who I am, My promise, I am your God, I am with you,” but how does that help them? Isn’t He the God who failed them seventy years earlier? Okay, so He sends them some prophet, Isaiah, to tell them this – BIG DEAL!
And that may well be what you are going through right now. You look at your circumstances – they are so fearful! Okay, so God sends you some joker on the radio with a smooth voice who says “Do not be afraid”, but how can you put your confidence in that?
It was exactly the same problem that the Israelites had. Their circumstances, the Babylonians, looked so much bigger than their God. I mean, you think about it in your head and you know God is bigger than the things that we are confronting but in your heart, it’s so hard to believe in your heart – the fear is destroying any confidence that you might have in God.
God knew that – that’s why He also said this to them: have a listen to this … this is powerful stuff! So let’s pick it up in Isaiah chapter 40 – this is the chapter before the one we have been looking at, verse 18. Have a listen to what God says about Himself:
To whom then were you likening God or what likeness compare with Him, an idol? A workman casts it and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and casts for it silver chains. As a gift one chooses mulberry wood – wood that will not rot – then seeks out a skilled artisan to set up an image that will not topple.
Haven’t you known? Haven’t you heard? Hasn’t it been told to you from the beginning? Haven’t you understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He who sits above the circle of the earth and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches the heavens out like a curtain and spreads them like a tent to live in; who brings princes to nothing and makes rulers of the earth as nothing.
Scarcely are they planted, scarcely are they sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when He blows upon them and they wither and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
“To whom then will you compare Me, or who is My equal?” says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them by name, because He is great in strength and mighty in power, not one of them is missing. Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord and my right is disregarded by my God?” Haven’t you known? Haven’t you heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint and grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable.”
Do you see how powerful this is? God is saying, “Look, I am God. I created the whole shooting match. See those trillions of stars up there – lift up your eyes, have a look, who do you reckon put them there? I know the Babylonians worship them but I created them. They are out there every night because I tell them to march out there. This is Me who is talking to you – not some crummy idol like the stuff that Babylonians worship – I am bigger than your circumstances. It makes absolute sense to put your confidence in Me.’
See, God is speaking this stuff into the hearts of His people when they are afraid; when they have no hope and no future, God comes along and says, “Do not be afraid. Not because of who you are; not because of your circumstances, no, do not be afraid because of who I am. I will come to help you; I will fight your battles for you; I will be your God; I will keep My promises to you.”
A Part for God to Play
The hardest thing I think in overcoming fear in life is actually getting to the point where we have a high level of confidence in God; in who God is, what He has done – His might and His power and His sovereignty. That all sounds great in theory but what about the practice; what about when the rubber hits the road, then what?
See, I used to think it was up to me and I guess in part it is, but not completely. That’s just as well because you and I, we’re human. We can’t conjure up confidence; we can’t take this theory about who God is and let the theory somehow wipe away the fear because fear is real. Now, I need something more than that; I need something more than promises on paper and fortunately, that’s exactly what God had planned too.
He didn’t want to leave it all up to us – He wants us to actually experience His peace – not our strength – but a “peace” and a “strength” that come from Him and Him alone.
Let’s pick up the rest of this story in Isaiah chapter 40, beginning at verse 28. This is what it says:
Haven’t you known? Haven’t you heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable.
Great, there was the theory again! But now, watch for what comes next! Verse 29:
He gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
Do you see the point? The power and the strength, where do they come from – do you or I conjure them up? No, they come from God. He gives those things to us, why?
Even youths will faint and be weary and the young and the strong will fall exhausted, but…..” And here’s the ‘but’ – the glorious, wondrous, powerful ‘but,’ “but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not grow faint.”
You know what it means to wait? It does not mean to wait with a bad attitude; it does not mean to wait with grumbling in our hearts and on our lips; it doesn’t mean to stand there paralysed by fear either. No, it means to wait expectantly; to wait on God with the expectation that He is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He is going to do.
To wait, right in the middle of our fear – boy that’s hard – with our emotions on a rollercoaster; with our enemies around us; with our hearts cast down but with an expectation, never the less, that somewhere deep inside, that God is going to act.
Who knows – will God give us victory over our enemies today? I don’t know! I mean there were more Christians martyred in the twentieth century than in the whole two thousand years before that, combined. We all die sometimes – is He going to heal this cancer or let it take its course? I don’t know! But this one thing I do know, that:
those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they will mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
God is saying, indeed He is commanding us through His Word today, “Do not be afraid” instead, wait on Him. You know, when we are waiting in fear and when we are waiting in pain and when we are waiting and it is uncomfortable and unpleasant, we want to grumble and whinge and complain and blame everyone else and have bad stuff coming out of our mouths and have grumbling in our hearts … isn’t that what we want to do? We don’t like being uncomfortable; we don’t like being afraid, we just want it all to finish – “God what are You doing? Come on, move along, let’s get over this.”
But those who wait….who wait expectantly for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
See, come what may, if I am diagnosed tomorrow with terminal cancer, I still am going to put my confidence in God who has given me a life eternal with Him. Because Jesus said to His disciples when they were afraid…..listen to this, John chapter 14, verse 27:
Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I don’t give it to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled; do not let them be afraid.
And yet, so far as we know, each of these disciples, other than Judas, went on to do mighty things for God and then … then they died for their faith.
So often, we are focused on the here and now but God’s plan for my life and for your life is a life eternal. God’s perspective is an eternal perspective and that … that my friend is why you and I can put our confidence in Him. When we are afraid … when we are in this place that is so scary, we can go to His Word and say, “You know what it says – it says here that ‘those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength’.”
You know, you never feel big; you never feel strong when you are waiting for God. When we are afraid we feel so small – you know, I think God means it to be that way. When we humble ourselves and we just come before God and say, “God, I can’t do this. I don’t know. I’m afraid; I don’t know what to do next. I’m just going to wait on You. I’m just going to wait for You – I don’t know what You are going to do – I don’t know if You are going to show up, I don’t know if You are going to talk, I don’t know. I am going to put my faith in You and I am going to wait on You and I know my emotions are going to go up and down. I know it is going to be hard but I’m just going to wait for my God.”
That’s an eternal perspective – that’s a God perspective. Jesus had to put His faith in God. Jesus lay all His glory aside and He was there in the Garden of Gethsemane, just before He was crucified – struggling – He was afraid and He was hurting and He just put His trust in God.
Do not be afraid.
God gives us His peace; that’s what this passage from Isaiah says: “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength,” the strength comes from God. The “mounting up with eagles” doesn’t come because we flap a lot; it comes because we waited on God. The ‘running and not being weary’ comes from God. “Do not be afraid” – take God’s peace from Him – go and wait … just go and wait before Him and let Him pour His love and His peace into your life.
It doesn’t matter how big or bad or ugly the enemy is. It doesn’t matter how fearful we are. It doesn’t matter how dire the consequences of this particular situation might be. Why? Because God is the God who created the whole shooting match – every star in the sky, every part of creation -–God created it. God has an eternal perspective and when we wait on Him, He gives us His peace.
That’s the promise my friend! “Do not be afraid.” Let your confidence rest in God Himself and then, let Him do the rest. Wait on the Lord and you shall renew your strength. Wait on the Lord and you shall mount up with wings like an eagle. That’s the promise – it’s a God thing!