Facing Our Fears Part II
This is part II of III. In part III I will cover more detail in dealing with crippling fears that trap you in bad situations to include bad marriages where verbal and physical abuse is taking place. In this segment I would rather we learn how trustworthy God is in dealing with our fears and emphasizing that He knows us intimately and that we can trust Him! He has proven himself faithful as we will see.
Why then does God take so long to answer our deepest, most heartfelt prayers? From Abraham’s experience we may suggest three answers:
1. To develop perseverance in us.
To put it very simply, it would be too easy if God answered all our prayers the first time we prayed them. Not only would we take God for granted, we would also develop a shallow faith.
I knew of someone who was stuck in a difficult job situation. She works with a colleague who comes across as an easy-going nice guy to some. “But he’s not like that behind the scenes,” she says. Every time she has a good idea, he either steals it or complains to the boss if it wasn't an idea he could take credit for. He is always grandstanding and trying to impress those around him with his arrogance. He has a disdain for women and it has been demonstrated in the way he treats any female who appears to diminish or ursurp his authority by correcting his errors. And since his job is more important than hers, he always wins. He also uses threats and intimidation to get his way. He thinks only of himself and how he can get ahead, and he doesn't mind being ruthless if that’s what it takes to get what he wants.
Sound familiar? Every office probably has a manager or overly ambitious co-worker who answers to that description. When I asked my friend if she was planning on leaving her job, she gave a very wise answer: “I prayed for this job and he was here when I took it. I can wait and see how God is going to deal with the arrogance of this individual."
Here is a woman whose faith is growing stronger through a difficult situation. Every day she is being given new opportunities to trust God and to respond appropriately to an unkind coworker. Meanwhile, she prays for God to work in her and through her and, if necessary, to change his position or her situation. My own feeling is that God will eventually answer her prayers by either moving her on to a new job or by removing the other person. But that may not happen for months or years, and until then, my friend is developing many godly qualities as she patiently waits on the Lord.
2. To ensure that God alone gets the glory.
When Paul wrote about Abraham’s story, he mentioned this point prominently. Romans 4:19-21 says,
“Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead-since he was about a hundred years old-and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.”
Not only did Abraham have to wait twenty-five years for an answer to his prayers, he also had to suffer the humiliation of his own failed schemes. Immediately after God spoke to him in Genesis 15, he agreed with Sarah to sleep with their maidservant Hagar in hope of conceiving a child through her. It worked, and Ishmael was born. But this shortsighted attempt to “help God out” backfired and brought sadness and heartache to everyone involved.
God often delays his answers so that we will have plenty of opportunity to fail using our own resources. Only then does God act, but when he does, it demonstrates that he alone is responsible for answering our prayers and that he alone must get the glory.
3. To deepen our trust in God.
I think that’s why Hebrews 11 gives more space to Abraham’s story than to any other Old Testament hero. He is the preeminent man of faith in the Bible. When we read his story and see how long he waited (twenty-five years), we gain a new perspective on our own situation.
If Abraham had to wait, it should not surprise us that we will often have to wait a long time for the fulfillment of our dreams and the answers to our prayers. And as with Abraham, waiting is not bad if it causes us to deepen our trust in God and to learn more about his character.
The Answer is a Person-Himself
God’s answer to fear is not an argument or a formula. It’s a Person. That’s why he said to Abraham, “Fear not. I am your shield.” God himself is the final answer to every fear of the human heart. "Be still and know that I am God!"
Have you ever wondered why God called himself by the name “I AM” in the Old Testament? Above all else, it means that God is eternally existent and therefore all creation depends on him. God stands alone. No one can be compared to him. He is complete in himself. God doesn’t need us but we desperately need him.
Think of it this way. To say that God is the great “I AM” means that when we come to him, he is everything we need at exactly that moment. It’s as if God is saying . . .
I am your strength.
I am your courage.
I am your health.
I am your hope.
I am your supply.
I am your defender.
I am your deliverer.
I am your forgiveness.
I am your joy.
I am your future.
God is saying to you and me, “I am whatever you need whenever you need it." He is the all-sufficient God for every crisis.
From Fear to Faith
Let’s wrap up this message by looking at four principles that will move us from fear to faith.
1. Faith focuses on God, not on your problems.
A woman told me that she had changed her phone number and left it unlisted because she is gripped with fear as she thinks about certain people and what they might do to her. As we talked together, I finally said, “It’s time to move from fear to faith. Are you ready to move with me?” She smiled hesitantly and then said yes. We prayed, claiming God’s promises of protection. When I saw her the next day she said that she had slept much better that night because she wasn’t focusing on her fears.
Think of Abraham. The past argued against his ever having a child. So did the present. His only hope lay in the promises of God for the future. As long as he looked back, he would never have faith to believe God. His only hope was to step out into the future, trusting that somehow, someway God would keep his promises.
2. Faith trusts in God’s timing, not your own.
So many of our struggles with fear start right here. Deep down, we fear that God has somehow made a mistake in his dealings with us. Like Abraham, we have waited and waited-sometimes for years on end. Even though we may have seen many remarkable answers to prayer, the one thing that means the most to us has not been granted.
As I write these words I am thinking of certain people I know who pray faithfully week after week for their loved ones to be saved. Some of them write notes each week asking prayer for an unsaved husband or wife. Week in and week out the requests come in and the staff prays for them faithfully. One husband has been praying for his wife for many years with no real change in sight. Another wife faithfully requests prayer for her husband. Sometimes he seems interested in spiritual things, and then his interest suddenly seems to disappear.
Where is God? Why doesn’t he answer the fervent, heartfelt prayers of his people?
Of the many answers that might be given to that question, one answer must be that God’s timing and ours are often quite different. Sometimes it seems like we live in one time zone and God lives in another.
3. Faith grows by believing God in spite of your circumstances.
Sometimes our circumstances make it easy to believe in God; other times we have to struggle. As I write these words I have a friend who is entering the final stages of his battle with cancer. After long and difficult treatments, there is nothing else the doctors can do. He is one of the finest men I know; a man whose gentle spirit endears him to others. No one knows how much time he has left, but it seems to be a matter of a few days. The last time I talked with him, he spoke about the goodness of God. He added that he and his wife had had a long and happy life together and they knew that God would take care of them. His wife said simply, “No matter what happens we are trusting in the Lord.” That’s biblical faith rising above circumstances to lay hold of the eternal promises of God.
4. Faith obeys God one step at a time.
This principle is often overlooked by those seeking to do God’s will. God promised a child and Abraham desperately wanted to see the fulfillment of that promise. So what does God tell him to do? Round up the animals for a sacrifice (see Genesis 15:9-11). How do you get from there to the nursery? Abraham doesn’t have a clue and God doesn’t tell him a thing. But Abraham now has a choice. He can choose to obey God, round up the animals, and get ready for a sacrifice, even though it doesn’t seem to connect with the son of his dreams. Or he can argue with God or decide to take matters in his own hands.
How often we stumble over this. We slight the near in favor of the far, shirking the duties of today because we are dreaming about some distant tomorrow. But until we have done what God has called us to do today, we will never be prepared for what he wants us to do tomorrow.
In the end 99 percent of life turns out to be humdrum, ordinary routine. It’s the same old thing day after day. Yet out of the humdrum God is weaving an unseen pattern that will one day lead us in a new direction. Faith take the next step- whatever it is-and walking with God wherever he leads us. Sometimes it will make sense, other times it won’t. But we still have to take that step if we are going to do God’s will.
THE BIG QUESTION: Can God Be Trusted?
Everything I’ve been trying to say comes down to one simple question: Can God be trusted to do what is right? If the answer is yes, then we can face the worst that life has to offer. If the answer is no, then we’re no better off than the people who have no faith at all. In fact, if the answer is no or if we’re not sure, then we really don’t have any faith anyway.
I was a young pastor when my best friend's father died 39 years ago. I came face to face with the ultimate unanswerable question of life. Tom's dad, Neil, was an elder in the church and his death was terrible and sudden. I didn't know then why such a good man would have to die at the age of fifty-six. He was a model of perfect health but a irresponsible drunk ended a life that produced so much fruit. All of his sons had a deep commitment to God and to their community. He was a true shepherd-leader in his home and to those he had care of. I had no clue about what God was doing. In the years since then I have learned many things about life, but I confess that I still don’t understand why Neil died so young. It doesn't make any more sense to me now than it did then. I am older and wiser, but in the one question that really matters I have no answers. But I have learned since then that faith is a choice you make. Sometimes you choose to believe because of what you see; often you must believe in spite of what you can see.
As I look to the world around me, many things remain mysterious and unanswerable. But if there is no God, and if he is not good, then nothing at all makes sense. I have chosen to believe because I must believe. I truly have no other choice. Besides there is too much evidence that shows God to be a benevolent, loving God because of Jesus Christ and the finished work on a hill called Golgotha.
“But I Can Trust”
Pioneer missionary J. Hudson Taylor founded the China Inland Mission in 1865. During the terrible days of the Boxer Rebellion (1898-1901), when missionaries were being captured and killed, he went through such agony of soul that he could not pray. Writing in his journal, he summarized his spiritual condition this way: “I can’t read. I can’t think. I can’t pray. But I can trust.”
There may be situations so desperate that we can’t read the Bible as we should. Sometimes our situations are so desperate that we won’t be able to focus our thoughts on God at all. There are things that are so terrible that we may not even be able to pray. But in those moments when we can’t do anything else, we can still trust in the loving purposes of our heavenly Father. We simply look to heaven and tell God we are placing our life in His hands.
Fear not, child of God. No one knows what a day may bring. Who knows if we will all make it through this week? But our God is faithful to keep every one of his promises. Nothing can happen to us except it first passes through the hands of God. If your way is dark, keep on believing. His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he cares for you. If you really need some assurance of His attention to you individually then read this from God:
Isaiah 49:16 See, I have engraved you on the palm of my hand...
The last segment will cover dealing with the fear of those individuals who make you fear in order to control you, and those whose lives are so miserable that they want you to feel their pain by experiencing it yourself!
See you next blog,
See you next blog,