In my last post, I showed how our culture is bombarded with the selling of fear—it is in our politics, our advertising, and even in our churches. But God does not want us to fear in the way the world tempts us to fear. In Luke 12:4-7 (NIV), Jesus says:
“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
As I stated in my last post, Jesus exhorts us in this passage to resist fear. He knows that fear of people and circumstances is normal, but He asks us not to give in to it. Instead, He reminds us to fight fear with fear (v. 5). You see, the way to truly lose our fear of people, systems, and society is to fix our eyes on the Father.
Jesus said we should replace our fear of people with a healthy fear of God. This kind of fear is different from the kind the world tries to sell us. Fear of God is not cowering and hiding. It is not being afraid that God is going to squash us. Instead, it is a healthy reverence for God. Awe/Fear of God really is the solution to earthly fear because only fear of God has the spiritual power to overwhelm all the horizontal fears that can capture our hearts. These relational-situational-locational fears of this world are only put in their proper place and given their appropriate size by a greater fear—fear of the Lord.
In Dangerous Calling, Paul David Tripp writes, “A functional awe of God really is the key to your heart’s not being ruled by fear.” This is essentially what the writer of Proverbs means when he declares that “fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (9:10). Allowing ourselves to be twisted and turned by whatever earthly fear has us in the moment is an unwise, unstable, and unproductive way of living. Living just to alleviate fear never leads to being fear free. It simply makes us more fearful of fear. It is only when God looms larger than anything we are facing that we can be freed from the fear that either paralyzes us or causes us to make foolish decisions. Wise, stable, and fear-free living doesn’t require us to deny what we’re facing, but rather looks at whatever we are facing from the perspective of a gloriously freeing and motivating fear of the One who rules all the things that we would otherwise be afraid of.
Once we understand that God is bigger than all our earthly fears and that we should only fear Him, we can rest in His ultimate goodness. In verses 6-7 of the Luke passage above, Jesus calls us to replace earthly fear with faith in the goodness of God. We are “worth more than many sparrows.” God not only knows what happens to us. He cares. He loves us deeply.
Oftentimes, even Christians succumb and sell fear when we become too focused on this world and trying to fix things ourselves. That doesn’t mean we should never try to change things; it just means we should make sure that we are not focusing more on the world than we are on God.
Several years ago, when my oldest son, Timothy, was very sick and in need of brain surgery, my wife and I were both filled with trepidation. But the week before the surgery, we went to a church service on a Sunday night, and during one of the worship songs, God’s presence overcame me and filled my heart with peace. The song was “Trading My Sorrows,” and the lyrics go like this:
“I'm trading my sorrow. I'm trading my shame. I'm laying them down for the joy of the Lord. I'm trading my sickness. I'm trading my pain. I'm laying them down for the joy of the Lord.”
As I sang those words, I felt an overwhelming sense of confidence that everything was going to be OK. Nothing changed externally. Timothy wasn’t immediately healed. The surgery was still scheduled. But internally, God’s presence entered in and calmed my soul. I was able in that moment to let go and replace my fear of what might be with a faith in the goodness of God.
This replacement of fear with faith is a continuous battle, though. And with our present circumstances as a country, it is always before us. 1 Peter 5:7 (NIV) says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to a relative about this verse, and I reminded her that when we cast things, we have a tendency to reel them back in, which only means we must cast them again…and again. It’s an exercise in faith. And casting our cares, as we trust with awe and reverence in the God we cast them upon, is the only healthy way to respond to this world’s selling of fear.