The Spirit of Fear

Charles Spurgeon once said It is a blessed fear which drives us to trust.” That is true. We should fear God and fearing Him should lead us to trust him. Charnock, in his Attributes of God, defined fearing God as a “reverential fear of him because of his holiness….” That kind of fear is healthy.

But there is another kind of fear that is crippling, the fear that Solomon called a snare: “The fear of man bringeth a snare but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe.” (Provs. 29:25) Again, the Psalmist spoke of a disabling kind of fear when he said “The Lord is on my side:  I will not fear what man can do unto me.” (Ps.118:6) The Israelites under the leadership of Moses, having been delivered out of Egypt by God’s omnipotent, demonstrative power, were afraid to enter the promised land because of the giants that the majority report described having spied out the land. (Numbers 13:31) They could see the land and they knew of its abundance and had received God’s assurances of protection and victory, yet only Moses, Joshua and Caleb of the two million or so descendants of Abraham that had become servants in Egypt believed that God would not only bring them out of the wilderness but also take them into the land He had promised them.  What was the problem?  Paralyzing fear: “But the men that went up with him said, we be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.” So, instead of entering Canaan in the eleven days’ journey that it would have taken them from Mt. Horeb to Kadesh Barnea (Deut. 1:2) they spent forty years wandering in the wilderness of unbelief. The culprit was a crippling fear.

And so it is.  We can choose to exercise faith.  We know what our destination is and we have experienced first-hand God’s faithfulness in all of the journey to this point, yet we are often still prone to be afraid of what lies ahead. The world-wide pandemic that we have been immersed in since the spring of 2020 has heightened the level of fear to an extreme. We have seen churches closed. Masks have been marginalized and mandated. Vaccines are required of many and have become the sine qua non for many in order to keep their life-sustaining employment. We are in a national panic. We have lost loved ones due to the Covid-19 virus. Millions have been hospitalized and have had to live by a life-sustaining ventilator. Has there been cause for fear? Well, undeniably, but there has also been opportunity like most of us have never experienced to have our faith strengthened and our trust in His promises to be heightened. Fear is such an immediate, natural response, even on the part of those who have put their faith in the promises and power of the living God.

Nelson Bell was the father of Mrs. Billy Graham and the Bells were missionaries in China in 1938 when the Japanese invaded. On Christmas Day Dr. Bell wrote his mother, “This past Thursday it was my time to lead the foreign prayer meeting, and I talked about the place of physical fear in the life of a Christian. Last week it dawned on me that our Lord, tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin, hungered, thirsted, became angry, and gave every evidence of His humanity, but He was never fearful. Fear, therefore, must come from lack of faith—sin.  Just as we never become sinless, so we never entirely lose fear, but it surely is His will for His children to live in peace in their hearts, trusting in His promises.”

David must have experienced hair-raising encounters dodging the spears of King Saul and evading Saul’s armies which had become death-squads whose only mission was to kill the would-be anointed king. Yet, David wrote, “The Lord is my light and my salvation: whom shall, I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life: of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps.27:1)

But, too often, we are like Hans Christian Anderson who, it was said, had a phobia of being buried alive; so much so that he always carried a note in his pocket telling anyone who might find him in a state of unconsciousness to not assume he was dead. And, he would leave a note on his bedside table at night stating, “I only seem dead.”  He did die succumbing to cancer in 1875 but evidently lived in the fear of death for years prior to his actual departure from earth’s sphere. We might assume that he “died a thousand deaths.”

Paul, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, said that God “hath not give us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Tim.1:7)

Years ago, evangelist Jerry Sivnksty, when conducting a revival meeting in our church, asked the congregation to recite with him each evening a verse for the week.  The verse reads, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee.” (Ps. 56:3) For years following that meeting as I would call upon members of our church who were facing difficult situations in life, all I would have to do was mention Ps.56:3 and the person I was visiting would then quote the verse to me before I had a chance to remind them of the words: “What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee.” That reminder has helped so many for so long, such a short but powerful reminder of whose we are and whom we must and can trust!

John Chrysostom was a 4th century preacher who at one time was exiled from the position that he had occupied as the greatest preacher of his age. Upon his exile, Chrysostom wrote: “What can I fear? Will it be death?  But you know that Christ is my life, and that I shall gain by death. Will it be exile? But the earth is the Lord’s and all its fullness are the Lord’s. Will it be loss of wealth? But we brought nothing into this world and can carry nothing out. Thus, all the terrors of the world are contemptible in my eyes and I smile at all its good things. Poverty I do not fear, riches I do not sigh for, and from death I do not shrink. “

Fear and faith are mutually exclusive: fear is futile, faith is fertile; fear binds, faith blesses; fear flees, faith flies. Into the granite stone that marks the grave of one of America’s astronomers is carved these words: “I have lived too long among the stars to fear the night.”

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” (I John 4:18)

For we have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” (Romans 8:15)

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