A sermon preached at Ruan Minor on 23/5/93
All of us know what it is to be afraid.
For some it is a spider in the bath or a mouse in the kitchen,
for others it might be redundancy, or cancer or death,
or it may be the public exposure of some 'dreadful sin'.
How do we overcome fear?
Can we experience victory over this giant, fear?
Charles Swindoll wrote, "It is easy to talk about how you would handle
as long as they are miles away, lumbering across someone else's landscape.
But it's something else when you find yourself nose to knee with one on your own doorstep."
In the Scriptures there are thankfully a large number of examples of men
who learned how to defeat fear.
One of the finest is the well known story of the young shepherd, David,
when he strode off to keep an appointment with the original Mr Bigfoot, a man called Goliath.
Daily this massive giant challenged Israel.
And every day he used fear to intimidate and underline their weakness. Isn't that what fear does?
It makes us think that we are helpless, that there is nothing we can do.
We are immobilised: like the fly caught in a spider's web.
David saw through this Philistine strategy and withstood it through sheer, solid faith.
He was incensed that God should be so insulted by an uncircumcised Philistine.
You know the outcome.
With a well worn leather sling, a smooth stone, and an unbending confidence in his mighty God,
David 'introduced' Goliath and the Philistine hordes to the Lord of hosts.
Strange how Giants don't seem nearly so fierce in the prone position!
David was the son of Jesse. His first wife had died after bearing him 7 sons.
Then Jesse had married the widow of Nahash and they had a son, David.
He was the 8th and last son - not loved by his half-brothers;
and sent out alone to tend the sheep for weeks at a time. He loved his sheep.
So did some of the local bears and lions that roamed in that part of Judea.
But their desire for his sheep had cost them their lives.
God had arranged for David to have had some practice in overcoming fear!
So how may we learn to overcome fear when it suddenly arrives uninvited on our doorstep?
Throughout the scriptures, literally from Genesis to Revelation,
we are encouraged to "Fear not" or "Do not be afraid". At least 99 times.
1. Right Perspective - widen it
So often when something occurs that causes fear, we only see the problem.
Our vision is narrowed and our mind focuses on mounting debt or certain death.
On one occasion - in about 850 BC - Joram was king of northern tribes of Israel
And the Syrian king, Ben-Hadad kept on trying to catch Joram off-guard in a whole series of border clashes.
But somehow he was never able to achieve surprise.
Joram was always ready. God had told Elisha and Elisha had alerted Joram.
So Ben-hadad had it in for Elisha, who lived in the little hill-top village of Dothan.
One day when Gehazi, Elisha's servant, woke up there were thousands of Syrians completely surrounding the village.
They were not nice gentle soldiers who kept the Geneva Convention.
It was certain and painful death for him and his master.
And probably the whole village. He had good reason to be afraid!
"O, my Lord, what shall we do?"
"Don't be afraid", the prophet answered. (Some helpful answer, that is!!)
"Those who are with us are more than those who are with them."
And before Gehazi had time to say that he couldn't see any who were with us,
(he could only see the Syrians), Elisha prayed.
"O Lord, open his eyes so that he may see."
Then the Lord opened the servant's eyes, and he saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
At last his eyes could see the truth, the reality of God's protection; not just certain Syrian death.
The rest of the story is, as they say, history.
The Syrian soldiers were blinded and led away, back to their master unharmed.
But from that time on Ben-Hadad realised he was up against more than Elisha,
so he stopped his border raids into Samaria.
In times of fear we need to see the wider reality; the God perspective.
To realise the incredible truth that the Lord himself is with us.
That God, the Creator of all the universe, has promised never to leave me.
"If God is for us, who can be against us."
"That nothing can separate us from the love of God."
This is not just theory or theology: it is the absolute truth, that no man can destroy.
2. Righteous Prayer
Not false presumptions, but trust in God who is faithful.
One day in Babylon about the year 580 BC
Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue and told everyone to worship it.
He was probably the greatest absolute despotic ruler who ever lived.
But three young Jews refused to worship his statue.
Nebuchadnezzar was not just angry, he was livid!
Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (to give them their Hebrew names), answered:
"If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save
us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.
But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve
your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." Dan 318,18
i.e. They told the king that their God was greater than he was.
Whether he chose to save them from the fire or not.
The three were tossed into a specially heated furnace.
Never mind if some of Nebuchadnezzar's best soldiers were burned to death throwing them in.
But when the king looked into the furnace, there were the three were walking,
unharmed with One that was brighter than the furnace flames!
Their righteous, un-presumptuous prayer had triumphed over their natural fear.
Some 40 years later, also in Babylon, we read how Daniel prevailed over the lions.
The reason he was thrown to the lions was that he prayed three times a day, to the God of Israel -
"just as he had done before."
His strength lay in years of righteous prayer, which no new foreign law would stop.
He continued to pray to the God who still controls his creation.
After a long night with the hungry lions, Daniel was able to say,
"My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me."
Through righteous prayer he had learned to trust the Lord God.
3. Rigorous Practice
If we ask God to make us men and women of courage,
do not be surprised if God puts us in the school where we have to face unequal odds.
When circumstances arise which make us afraid, do we stand with God or cut and run?
Saul and all the army commanders had no answer to the fear which Goliath
When David volunteered, they dressed him up in Saul's armour.
What a sight! He could hardly walk. Wisely he took it off
Prevailing over giants is not accomplished using the latest modern technique or technology.
David did not win by dressing up and looking big and fierce.
"There was no sword in David's hand."
But there was a humble shepherd's sling and a stone.
David had learned over years of practice and courage how to use it with deadly accuracy.
God made you as you are.
Don't try to be someone else in order to overcome fear.
4. Respectful Patience
Habakkuk was grieved with the national evil and asked God,
"How long. O Lord, must I call for help and you do not listen?"
"The revelation awaits an appointed time; ... though it linger, wait for it." Hab 12 23
And incidentally the revelation was an almost unbelievable surprise.
God was bringing the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem and the Temple!
Both David and Jeremiah complained,
"Why do the wicked prosper, ... Why do all the faithless live at ease?"
David went to the temple and prayed; "then I understood their end"
God spoke to Jeremiah,
"Many shepherds will ruin my vineyard and trample down my field;
they will turn my pleasant field into a desolate wasteland." Jer 121,10
God answered them both, but answer required patience.
An arrogant farmer once wrote to the local newspaper,
"What's all the fuss about what I can or cannot do on Sunday.
I can do what I like. This year I have proved it.
I ploughed my land on Sunday, harrowed and drilled it on Sunday,
sprayed it on Sunday and finally harvested it on Sunday.
And it was a bumper crop. The best ever."
Underneath the wise editor had written, "God does not always settle his accounts in October!"
Many feel that as Christians everything is restricted, forbidden.
They fear the isolation, of being a minority, and often despised.
The fear of rejection can easily take root and grow into bitterness against God.
It is true that sometimes righteousness does cost. But the end is well worth it.
Some seek happiness now and holiness later.
But holiness now and happiness later is best.
God's commandments are for our best now; they are given for our protection.
"We (must) ... imitate those who through faith and patience
inherit what has been promised." Heb 612
Moses waited for 40 years as a shepherd in the land of Midian.
Abraham waited until he was 100 years old before Isaac was born.
Joseph was sold as a slave, exiled and then unjustly imprisoned for years.
After being anointed king, David spend 13 years in the wilderness chased by Saul
Their hopes were not set on the here and now, but on the sure promise of God for the future, for all eternity.
In Heb 1113-16 we read that
"All these people were living by faith when they died.
They did NOT receive the things promised;
but they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.
... they were longing for a better country - a heavenly one.
Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God,
for he has prepared for them a city."
Or as David said,
"The Lord is my light and my salvation - whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life - of whom shall I be afraid? ...
In the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling ...
I will sing and make music to the Lord ...
Teach me your way, O Lord; lead me in a straight path ...
I am confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the Land of the living.
Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." Ps 27
Patience is not easily learned, but the wisdom of God is wiser than men.
He knows what is best, both now and for our eternal good.
With a Right Perspective, Righteous Prayer, Rigourous Practice and Respectful
we shall learn to trust in the Lord, and not fear anything that man may do.
He who would valiant be
'Gainst all disaster,
Let him in constancy
Follow the Master.
There's no discouragement
Shall make him once relent,
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.
Whoso beset him round
With dismal stories,
Do but themselves confound;
His strength the more is.
No foes shall stay his might,
Though he with giants fight,
He will make good his right
To be a pilgrim.
Since, Lord, thou dost defend
Us with thy Spirit,
We know we at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies flee away!
I'll fear not what men say,
I'll labour night and day
To be a pilgrim.