Topic: Fear Passage: Isaiah 41:1–41:14
For the next four weeks we are going to be looking at what the Bible says about fear and I want to recommend a book that we have on the booktable called Running Scared by Ed Welch. If fear is something that you deal with frequently or are dealing with now, I think you will find this book very helpful as it combines rich scriptural teaching with some keen insights into the nature of fear and how to combat it.
Let’s face it, most of us experience fear to one degree or another. Very few people are truly fearless. For some of us fear is an uncomfortable but manageable part of life, for others fear is a paralyzing emotion that effects every other part of life. Fear comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes. If you look up phobias – which are irrational fears that people have – you’ll be surprised how many phobias there are and what people fear. You name it, someone’s afraid of it. Some phobias make sense, like fear of failure, fear of making decisions, and fear of death. But other phobias really seem irrational, like,
- Linonophobia – fear of string.
- Geniophobia – a fear of chins. How do you get that fear? And what do you do for relief? Everywhere you look there are chins!
- Anthrophobia – fear of flowers. Flowers are the most peaceful, non-threatening thing you can imagine. But some people are afraid of them.
- Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia – the fear of long words. It seems wrong to name a fear of long words with a long name. The only people who would ever need to use that word can’t use the word cause they’re afraid of it!
Some fears might seem amusing to most of us; to the person suffering from them, they are anything but funny. Fear has a way of tormenting the soul like few things can do, and everyone of us has felt the icy fingers of fear reaching into our hearts in one area or another. My prayer is that the Lord uses this series to speak the peace of God’s word to the winds and waves that fear can whip up in our lives.
Isaiah 41:1-14 (pray)
Fear has been an unwelcome but frequent houseguest in my life. The first intense fear I remember having was a fear of water. I got it from my mom who never learned how to swim and was deathly afraid of water. I was afraid to put my face under water. I remember my dad urging me to jump into his arms at a swimming pool and being too afraid to try it no matter how much he urged me. With the help of a mask and snorkel I finally learned to swim in a pool at the age of 8 and that helped to overcome my fear of water.
I was very afraid of tornadoes. I grew up in Michigan and tornadoes are pretty common there but every time it got dark or rainy I was so nervous about tornadoes that I’d get sick to my stomach. I’m still afraid of heights – I do fine standing on a tall building or flying, but I get very uncomfortable on a high ladder or climbing a tree.
And I also had a serious fear of public speaking. I remember being asked to give an oral report in a class in high school and being so nervous that my hands and my voice were shaking the whole time. I wish I could say that I am a fearless person, but fear has accompanied me pretty much all my life, and maybe you can say the same thing.
Here’s what we will learn from the Bible: God cares about our fears and speaks words of reassurance and courage to our fears a lot. In fact, the most frequent command in the Bible is some form of “do not be afraid”. Over 300 times God speaks to the fearful and says things like, “do not fear, do not be frightened, do not be dismayed, fear not”. And God didn’t just speak these words to the losers and wimps of the Bible; He spoke them to some of His greatest servants like Abram, Joshua, Jeremiah, and the apostle Paul. God knows that His servants deal with fear and so God speaks to our fears. The problem is we have a hard time hearing what God speaks because fear speaks so loudly to our souls. Before we hear what God speaks, let’s take a minute to consider what it is that fear speaks.
I. Fear speaks
a. I’m in danger!
At its most basic level, fear says we are in danger. The most basic fear is for our physical safety. When you’re walking along a wooded path and come across a full grown grizzly bear fear speaks and says, “you’re gonna die!” and it’s probably right.
Worry and anxiety is fear over the future and it says there’s danger down the road. Maybe I can’t see it, but worry warns me that the danger is there – just around the bend. Fear of man is fear that my reputation is in danger. Fear of failure, rejection, loss, sickness, and for the safety of a loved one, all pounds at our hearts with the message: our well-being, our safety, our loved one, is in danger.
Dread is the fear of the unknown – which is often more frightening because we don’t know what it is we’re afraid of. And then there is that great fear that overhangs most of us even though we try to push it from our thoughts: the fear of death. The fear of how we might die. And the fear of what comes after death. Fear says we’re in danger. But if we slow down we can hear other things that fear speaks to our souls.
b. Run away!
Fear says “run away!” “get out of danger as quickly as possible!” Fear is impatient, when it begins to bang at our hearts, it wants relief as quickly as possible. That’s why we often make hasty decisions or choices out of fear that actually make things worse. Fear is an expert at running away from things, but it doesn’t know what it’s running to.
ILL: 4 years ago there was a story in the news about a guy in Florida who was caught burglarizing cars in a parking lot and to get away from the police he jumped into a retention pond to swim to the other side. It was night and as he was swimming across the pond he was attacked and killed by a 9 foot alligator. Witnesses said they could hear his agonized screaming from the pond. Running away so fast, he didn’t take time to consider what he was running to.
So it is with fear in our lives. If you struggle with fear you probably run from things. But fear doesn’t know how to run to peace and it’s impatience often only makes things worse.
c. Fear says something about us
Fear isn’t just something outside of us that comes on us every once in a while – it’s inside of us, connected to our hearts and if we slow down and listen it will give us a window into what we love, what we think we need, what we want, and what we live for. Fear fears that something we want or think we need will be taken away from us, or that something we don’t want will be given to us. It’s not enough to learn techniques to help manage our fear. If we’re going to be delivered from fear, we need to see where fear is hooking our hearts and ask God to help us change from within.
d. Fear says something about God
Fear says God can’t be trusted. It usually isn’t quite so blunt, but that’s what it is leading our hearts to – don’t trust God, He’s not enough. He’s not strong enough, loving enough, faithful enough, real enough – fill in the blank – to save you from what you fear.
We live in a dangerous world and so the voice of fear isn’t completely wrong or foolish and there are times when we need to listen to the voice of fear – but over the voice of fear God speaks to His children and that’s what we need to learn to bend our ear to.
II. God speaks
In Isaiah 41 God begins by telling the pagan nations that there is something coming down the pike that they should fear. Isaiah is looking ahead two hundred years to the time when God will raise up the Assyrians under the leadership of Cyrus and nations will fall like dust under his military might. God makes it clear that it’s He who is in charge and it is He that has stirred up this calamity. Verse 4: Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the Lord, the first, and with the last; I am he.
In their fear the pagan nations will encourage each other with empty words and turn to the gods they have fashioned with their hands and propped up with their nails but it’s an empty hope that they’re clinging to.
If you not a Christian, the Bible doesn’t tell you not to fear – it says you have more to be afraid of than you can imagine. There is a day of judgment coming and it won’t be a peaceful white light that makes you feel warm and loved inside, it will be the piercing light of truth exposing the stain and wickedness of your sin. That’s not the self-righteous rant of a religious snob who thinks he’s better than you because he has religion. No, I am as deserving of God’s judgment as you are. Only by trusting in Jesus Christ and his death on the cross in our place can we be saved from that judgment. The right kind of fear – the fear of the Lord – will lead you to Jesus and he will save you if you believe in him.
So God begins by speaking to the pagan nations, but then God speaks to His exiled people Israel words of comfort, and these words are just as true for those who are His people today, those who have trusted in Christ as their Savior, and I want us to especially consider His reassurance in verse 10. This is one of my favorite verses to memorize to combat fear:
Fear not, for I am with you;
Be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Three things God speaks to our fears in this passage:
- Fear not, for I am with you
These are reassuring words -this isn’t a command of authority (though God is speaking with authority) so much as a command of assurance. Fear not – don’t be afraid. It calms us, slows us down. When fear speaks with impatience and hurry, God says to our soul: be still. Be still and know that I am God. Slow down. Fear not.
The reason God gives them (and us) not to fear is simply this: He is with them. Fear not, for I am with you. That’s the reason, for I am with you. Over and over again God’s great reason for not fearing has nothing to do with the circumstances changing, but with God assuring with His people He is with them. When Joshua, as a young man, is about to step into the shoes of Moses and lead the nation of Israel into the promised land, God speaks to him and assures him,
Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous… (vs 9) Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Josh 1:5-9)
I will be with you, I will not leave you or forsake you…do not be frightened and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Brothers and sisters, our greatest antidote to fear is knowing that God is with us. Jesus said that he would be with us even to the end of the age. If you are a Christian and are trusting in Christ, then God is with you to watch over you, to protect you, to keep you, to give you courage in the face of your fears.
Fear says that God isn’t trustworthy, God assures us over and over again He is. Fear says that God will abandon us, faith believes God at His word that He never will. Faith in God’s promises, His faithfulness, and His care over our lives combats the lies that fear speak to us. Fear not, for I am with you.
2. Be not dismayed, for I am your God
Dismay is an expression of fear – it’s the kind of alarm and panic that can overtake us when we’re in the grip of fear. Dismay is the kind of fear that has us run away as fast as we can but doesn’t know what to run to.
God says that we are to run to Him – when we are afraid, run to God. Dismay has us run away from the thing we fear, God calls us to run to Him in times of fear.
I mentioned earlier that I was dreadfully afraid of public speaking. I never thought of it like this before, but God’s path for my life didn’t detour around that fear but went right through it. I have needed God’s help in this area, not to avoid it, but to overcome it.
Consider your fears. Some fears are best to be avoided, but others God might want you to face down. You might spend a lot of energy running and avoiding something that God wants you to overcome with His help. To run away from it might mean missing what God has for you.
We’re still running, but instead of running away from something, we’re running to Someone. God. When we run to God in the face of our fear, we find that God is bigger than our fear. He is almighty. He is Lord over all. He is the Sovereign One who controls everything.
3. I will strengthen, help, and uphold you
God declares that He is our God, that He is with us, and here He promises that He will come to our aid. Do you need strength? He will strengthen you. Do you need help? Is something beyond your control, beyond your ability to change it? He will help you. Are your feet slipping? Are you on a cliff about to fall off? Are you in a river and the waters are rising? God promises to reach down and uphold you.
Fear makes us feel helpless, God says I will help you. The stronger our faith is that God is our help, the more fearless we become in the face of danger.
Conclusion: If fear is speaking to you right now, or you struggle with the voice of fear, as we close here are a few things to prayerfully consider.
- Slow down. God says be still and know that I am God. Fear magnifies the danger. I remember a Far Side comic strip where two people are in a car and the passenger looks in his sideview mirror, which has this message: Objects in mirror are closer than they appear. And the entire sideview mirror is filled with this monstrous eye of some huge creature behind them. Objects in the mirror of fear appear bigger than they are. Slow down, and know that there is only one God – He is almighty, He is sovereign, and He is with you.
2. Trust God when you are afraid. Psalm 56:3 says, When I am afraid (David the psalmist knew fear), I put my trust in you. As we close with a song, if you are struggling with fear, put your trust in God. Reach out and ask God to help you not be afraid. Ask Him to strengthen and help and uphold you.