One of the things that the present crisis has revealed or, some might say, caused – is a massive increase in fear. We all know that there are both positive and negative aspects to fear – but the fear I want to address today is of the negative variety
Many many people – perhaps at this moment even a majority of people in our country, live in fear. People fear catching the virus, they live in fear of its consequences, for themselves personally, in their families, communities, the care sector, and, of course they fear dying.
I suspect that moving forward, as various restrictions are lifted in the coming weeks and we try and return to some form of normality, the driving motivation for many people will be fear – fear of the future, fear that the virus will return, fear of financial hardship, fear over job security and many other things.
One of the massive problems for us is that this increase in fear is on top of an already fearful society. Way back in 2009 Mental Health Foundation released the results of a study entitled – In the Face of Fear. Some statistics were alarming –
• 800,000 more people in Britain now suffer from anxiety disorders than in 1993, taking the total number of sufferers to above seven million.
• Women were twice as likely to feel anxious and frightened as men, while young people were more likely than the older generation to be fearful.
• High levels of fear and anxiety are linked to depression as well as heart disease, and even conditions such as asthma and allergies.
• Dr Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the MHF – “This report shows that fear is having a serious negative impact on the mental and physical health of the nation”
And things have certainly not improved in the last 11 years – and now, today, we have fear on steroids.
And here is the interesting thing – as our society struggles to cope with unprecedented levels of fear and anxiety – when you look for solutions offered in the world of medicine and counselling – God is conspicuously absent. The very one who holds the key to fear free living is completely ignored.
Please do not think I am trying to minimise the suffering of millions living every day with fear – passing anxious hours with little hope of relief – I am not. Nor am I saying that a healthy fear of danger is not wise – it is. But if the Christian has no message of hope in the face of fear and the anxiety of the heart – something is far wrong.
One of the things you discover as you plot the concept of fear throughout the Old Testament is that when men and women lived in harmony with God – they did not experience fear – but when they live in rebellion against him – fear was their constant companion. Here is what God wrote to a rebellious people living in separation from his will and purpose – it is an amazing description of the result of living in fear –
“You will live in such fear that the sound of a leaf driven by the wind will send you fleeing. You will run as though fleeing from a sword, and you will fall even when no one pursues you. Though no one is chasing you, you will stumble over each other as though fleeing from a sword. You will have no power to stand up against your enemies.”
What imagery – and what an accurate picture of how fear affects us. And then we have a picture of a people freed from fear because they once again live in harmony with God –
“I will give you peace in the land, and you will be able to sleep with no cause for fear.”
The foundational factor in all of this has to do with a healthy relationship with God and our obedience to his will and purpose for our lives. This is something that today will, more than likely, never be mentioned in the national debate because God had to a greater or lesser extent been banished from our public forums.
And yet – throughout the Bible and world history millions people have found in their real life experience that it is to God we must turn if fear is to be conquered! Think of David – who saw more than his fair share of trouble and if anyone had a right to be afraid –
“Come, let us tell of the Lord’s greatness; let us exalt his name together. I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears.”
“God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear … “
Psalm 46: 1 – 3
Again think of Paul – who lived in constant danger and faced death many times writes –
“Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?”
Hebrews 13:5-7 (Quoting partly from Psalm 118)
And Corrie Ten Boom, a woman who lived the horror of the Nazi concentration camp – and yet could write –
“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to an all-knowing God.”
And it is in this relationship of trust – of abandonment to Divine Love and care that fear melts away. I know I say this so often – but it must be said again – this freedom from fear through trust and relationship is not found in a decision to follow religion. You can become religious – go to church – attend all the prescribed meetings, read your Bible twice a day, pray three times a day – but still live in fear. Why – because living fear free had to do with a love relationship – not religious observance –
“And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first.”
1 John 4:17-19
The reality of this statement is one that millions of people who call themselves Christian have never experienced! They are afraid of God – afraid of judgement day – they have no confidence. Why? Because they have never fallen in love with the Divine Lover – never known the embrace of the Father – never heard the word for themselves – “welcome home son – welcome home daughter – I love you – feel the warmth of my embrace and the passion of my kisses”.
Some may say – ah this is a sloppy sentimental from of Christianity – I don’t want anything to do with it! To such I would simply say – so be it – live in fear then if you want – hold on to you slave status! Because there is nothing else that can free you from fear! Even the apostle Paul – who some consider the hard headed theologian of the NT said this –
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.”
Fear free living is directly connected to walking in our heritage as sons and daughters of a loving God! Do you want to live fear free – embrace the Father and live as a loved child of a loving God! And the consequences of a life lived like this is described by Paul as he writes to Timothy –
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7 (NLT)
And it is only in such a relationship with the God of all things that our ultimate fear can be overcome – the fear that is the foundation of all other fears – death itself. This perhaps is a subject to pick up again another day, as much more needs to be said about it. But the truth is that for the believer death holds no ultimate fear for death itself has been conquered!
“Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.”
Hebrews 2:14-16 (NLT)