March 8, 2013

Compassion for my fears

Nothing about my childhood ever made me afraid to go to sleep at night. My parents did not tease me with bogeyman stories or anything spooky or frightening. They must have been reassuring about other things for I don’t remember ever being severely frightened or even very anxious. Other than not liking the dentist very much (not my parents fault), I would try almost anything, including getting on those crazy horses that no one else would go near.
As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. (Psalm 103:13)

In the last of this series about God’s compassion, Spurgeon says that kind fathers who see that their children are afraid will do whatever they can to remove that fear because of compassion for their little ones. This is a small reflection of God’s concern that His children are not afraid.

My Bible has 33 places where it says “do not fear” and 37 for “do not be afraid.” A book I just read says there are at least 365 total places where God encourages His people to have no fear.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)

This tells me that fear is a faithless, weak, unloving and uncontrolled reaction on my part. It is also fueled by lies from my spiritual enemy who does not want me to trust God, be strong, love others and have a sound and self-controlled mind.

God has nothing to do with fear. It is not His idea, and when I struggle with it, I am in a spiritual battle. Fear indicates that my focus is not on the power and promises of God but on myself and my shortcomings. Since love is caring about others, fear drives love out too. God’s word contains many commands, but this one is repeated more often than any other; do not fear. Fear is the opposite of trust and faith, the opposite of power and victory. It makes love and sound thinking impossible. I cannot obey God and be fearful at the same time.

The problem with the command is that it sounds too much like “Don’t worry, be happy” as if worry and happiness are like faucets that can be turned off and on at will. This sort of determination does not work with fear either. The song says, “Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You ….” The question is: how can anyone move from being afraid of something or someone to a sound mind filled with confidence in God?

The psalmist said that the Lord shows compassion to those who fear Him. Interesting. The God who tells me over and over to not be afraid also tells me to fear Him. Of course, the words are different. Mostly, “fear” is from the same root word as phobia. It is about terror, like the way I would feel if I opened the door and a ferocious lion walked into my house. Fear of God is from another word that means awe, reverence, similar to the emotion felt when looking at a giant crater or an enormous waterfall.

Fearing God carries with it the idea that no matter what else can make me afraid, God is bigger, better, more, or whatever He needs to be to overcome or overwhelm that fearful thing that threatens me. He can stop lions in their tracks (He did it for Daniel) and can take care of anything else that seems formidable or dangerous. Nothing is too difficult for Him.

His compassion means that when I am afraid, I can trust in Him to deal with the fears. He will either remove the emotion and give me confidence in Him, even boldness so I can move forward and overcome it, or He will remove whatever it is that is making me afraid.

A multitude of examples come to mind, but the ultimate fear (despite the reports about public speaking) is death. However, trusting God means believing what His Word says: that Jesus lived to share the human experience of life with all its trauma and trials, then died and was buried, then defeated that final enemy and rose from the tomb. Knowing that happened changes the way I feel about dying.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14–15)

Because Jesus conquered death, what is there to fear? Because He has great compassion for those who fear Him, I can lay all my fears at His feet and let Him decide what is the best way to deal with them. As He does that, He also changes my phobias and gives me power, even boldness instead of weakness. His Spirit turns my focus to others so I can love them with a stable soundness of mind. Those fears are swallowed up by His grace to the point that I cannot remember what they were.

Because in His great compassion my Father can do all that, I stand in awe of Him.

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