Finished With Fear
May 15, 2005 Preacher: Randy Smith Series: Miscellaneous
Finished With FearPsalm 27:1-14
Sunday, May 15, 2005
Pastor Randy Smith
Fear can be a healthy warning system given to us by God. Each and every day we are exposed to risks that could threaten our well-being. Henry Ward Beecher, the great abolitionist and preacher from the 1800s said, "God planted fear in the soul as truly as he planted hope or courage. It is a kind of bell or gong which rings the mind into quick life on the approach of danger. It is the soul's signal for rallying" (Christian Reader, v. 32, n. 4).
We can observe this development in the life of a child. At first they have no fears. They need to be told they cannot crawl on the stairs or touch the hot stove or cross the street on their own or take candy from a stranger. Then they begin to understand our warnings around the same time they intuitively learn about surrounding dangers. On their own they begin to rationalize: Going too close to the edge of this cliff could be dangerous. Drinking this liquid daddy has in the garage could make me sick. Hearing a strange noise in the middle of the night could be problems.
We are all too familiar with the fears of a child.
Consider Jenny: "One summer night during a severe thunderstorm her mother was tucking young Jenny into bed. She was about to turn the light off when Jenny asked in a trembling voice, 'Mommy, will you stay with me all night?' Smiling, the mother gave her a warm, reassuring hug and said tenderly, 'I can't dear. I have to sleep in Daddy's room.' A long silence followed. At last it was broken by a shaky voice saying, 'The big sissy'" (Source unknown)!
Consider Johnny: "5-year old Johnny was in the kitchen as his mother made supper. She asked him to go into the pantry and get her a can of tomato soup, but he didn't want to go in alone. 'It's dark in there and I'm scared.' She asked again, and he persisted. Finally she said, 'It's OK-Jesus will be in there with you.' Johnny walked hesitantly to the door and slowly opened it. He peeked inside, saw it was dark, and started to leave when all at once an idea came, and he said: 'Jesus, if you're in there, would you hand me that can of tomato soup'" (Charles Allen, Victory in the Valleys)?
As children come to grips with the concept of fear, often their fears are misplaced. It is normal for a child to have misplaced fear. But it is much different for the child of God to have misplaced fear. It is normal to have a healthy sense of fear. But it is much different for Christians to be paralyzed by their fear. Unnecessary fear, or if I could use some synonyms that might hit home a bit harder - worry, anxiety and concern - is the cause of not only emotional and physical problems, but also is to be blamed for a defeated spiritual life in many.
It would be an interesting study to chronicle all the commands of Jesus Christ. I have never attempted that, but have you ever wondered which command Jesus spoke most often? Could it possibly be, "Fear not?" Over and over again in the Gospels we read of Jesus saying, "Do not be afraid, take courage, it is I" (cf. Mt. 9:2; 10:30; 14:27; 17:7; 28:5; Jn. 6:20)!
Why did Jesus repeatedly seek to abolish the fears of His people? Why is fear an offense to God? What are the tragic results of living in fear? How can we overcome fear? What are the blessings of a fearless life?
God's Word has answers for these questions in Psalm 27. This morning we will see how David sang with confidence in the face of fear.
1. THE OBJECT OF OUR TRUST
Let us begin with, "The Object of our Trust."
The reason we have fears is because we believe something is threatening something else that is very dear to us. For example we may fear surgery because we are unsure of the outcome. We may fear losing a job because we don't know how we will provide for our needs. And the list goes on: impending death, unexpected bills, prolonged illness, losing a loved one, persecution, children leaving home, relational difficulties - all threaten to take away from us something special.
But if we could have the guarantee that someone or something is bigger than our circumstances, someone or something that could ensure everything was in control, someone or something that could promise everything was going to turn our all right, well, then all of our fears would dissipate, right?
In Psalm 27, David faced pressure that would have caused even the bravest soul to flinch. Yet something gave him tremendous confidence in the midst of such overwhelming anxiety.
Consider his situation: Verse 2, "When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh, my adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell." Verse 3 reads, "Though a host encamp against me, my heart will not fear; though war arise against me, in spite of this I shall be confident." Half way through verse 12 he said, "For false witnesses have risen against me, and such as breathe out violence." What was the source of his strength? What was his "rock" as he said in verse 5? The answer: It was God! F. B. Meyer remarked, "God…is the end of fear; and the heart that realizes that He is in the midst…will be quiet in the middle of alarm."
But how do we know God really cares and is able to help? How do we know He is in our midst? After all, this talk about trusting in God makes for great sermon material and provokes a few amen's, but how can we be so sure and confident when so much is on the line?
Once again, as we learned last week, David found great comfort in the character of God. He knew all the resources he needed to abolish fear were found in the sufficiency of Jehovah!
First, in verse 1 he said, "The Lord is my light."
Children are naturally afraid of the dark. Even Plato, the Greek philosopher, said, "We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark." But then he continued, "The real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light." Think back to the time when you were a kid. It is scary at night, but the light of the sunrise tends to dispel all fear. 1 John 1:5 says, "God is light." Since David had a secure relationship with God, he was no longer afraid of the dark nor was he afraid of the light. Far be it, he said, "The Lord is my light." Since God was his ongoing light he had no reason to fear the dark moments in his life.
In verse 1 David also said, "(The Lord is) my salvation." In the midst of such anxiety, David knew that the Lord was his salvation.
And knowing that God is our salvation stills fear in our lives. On a horizontal level, not a soul can lay a finger or an accusatory word against us apart from the sovereign permission of God. In this way, God promises to save us from our enemies. One commentator said, "God saves through trouble, out of trouble, or from trouble altogether" (William Plumer, Psalms, p 353). Martin Luther said, "Of whom shall I be afraid. One with God is a majority."
Yet on the vertical level and a deeper level, sin, death and the forces of hell have no influence on our lives either. God promises to deliver us safely to His heavenly kingdom. God has a firm grip on His children. Our eternal security is so confident that we can sing with David, "He is my salvation." He will not take me until His appointed time and when I go, I go to a far better place. Therefore, even our greatest fear - death - is no longer a threat.
Also in verse 1 David said, "The Lord is the defense of my life."
There is no doubt that David felt weak in the midst of such turmoil. Like us, he was human. He felt his frailty and was aware of his inadequacies, but God was his strength. God was his stronghold, his place of refuge as he repeated so often in the Psalms. "He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken" (Psm. 62:2).
God was David's light, David's salvation and David's strength. Commenting on this over 100 years ago, Henry Law said, "No darkness can bewilder, for the Lord is his light. No destruction can overtake, for the Lord is his salvation. His life can never perish, for the Lord is its strength. May we never rest until our lips can sing thus happily!"
You may be thinking, well, that was King David. As much as I desire it, I could never experience that kind of a relationship with God. But Christian, have you ever thought of this - Our confidence in God should exceed that of David's because we possess a better covenant with God!
The Old Testament saints could only look forward to the greater promises we experience in the New. David personalized his God and rightly so, but do you recall the words of Jesus that speak of God's deeper presence in the life of the New Covenant believer? "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you" (Jn. 14:16-17).
Listen to Paul speak about this mystery. "Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the Word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:25-27). Beloved, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, God Himself, has taken up permanent residence on our lives!
David said God was his light. Yet "the Light of the world" (Jn. 8:12) dwells within us. David said God was his salvation. Yet the "Savior of the world" (Jn. 4:42) dwells with us. David said God was his strength. Yet the Creator (Jn. 1:3) and Sustainer (Col. 1:17) of the world dwells within us.
No wonder Paul could conclude in Romans 8: "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, "For your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered." But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:31-39).
Understanding God's character and our inseparable bond with Jesus Christ gives us the faith we need to overcome the fear in our lives. Considering this, David said in verse 1, "Whom shall I fear" and "Whom shall I dread?" This was a truth well understood by the prophets of yesteryear. Like David, Isaiah said, "Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation" (Isa. 12:2). Of whom and what shall we be afraid when the Almighty God is on our side?
2. THE METHOD FOR OUR TRUST
But how (as we move to the second point)? How do we rightly appropriate the character of God in our own lives? We all know that this profound confidence in the Lord does not come naturally. So how do we go about developing the rock solid faith that king David experienced? The answers lie in this Psalm.
First, we must behold God.
Augustine rightly said, "Fear is the response of the human heart when its one thing is threatened." God has blessed all of our lives with many good things. We are to enjoy them and acknowledge God in gratitude, but we dare not make these good things our "one thing", for in doing so, they become idols in our hearts. Like Augustine said, when we foolishly make these good things our one thing, fear will result when they are threatened. As a matter of fact, fear, worry, and anxiety are a good indication that we have created idols and feel in danger of losing them.
However, Christ's goal is to pull our hearts away from these false gods and place them on the true God. Do you remember how Jesus praised Mary over Martha? Why? Because she chose God as her one thing. "But the Lord answered and said to her, 'Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things [and they were good things!]; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her'" (Lk. 10:41-42, italics mine). Therefore when God is our one thing, we never need to fear because our one thing is never threatened nor will He ever be removed from our presence.
Let's see if David lived by this principle? In verse 4 we read, "One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple." David conquered His fear by making the Lord is one thing.
While David could have easily desired a thousand things, the only thing he cared to have was God. Like the merchant in Matthew 13 who sold everything to obtain the one pearl of great price, David's only desire was to dwell in the presence of his Lord. "To behold His beauty," he said, "And to meditate (or "seek Him"-NIV) in His temple."
Verse 8 captures this thought as well. "When You said, 'Seek My face,' my heart said to You, 'Your face, O Lord, I shall seek.'" The one who really loves God longs to come into His presence and jumps at the Lord's command to seek His face (which suggests personal intimacy). He or she delights in giving Jesus Christ "first place in everything" (Col. 1:18). The one who beholds God in such a fashion lives in the presence of God thereby banishing all fear because his or her one thing is never threatened.
Pray to Him
In addition to beholding God, another way to dispel our fear is to pray to God. In verse 7 David said, "Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice, and be gracious to me and answer me."
God knows our weakness and is well aware of our fears. As a matter of fact, all of our trials come at His sovereign appointment to break us from self-sufficiency and turn our gaze to Him as the only one who can minister to our needs. Fear is an indication that we are trusting in ourselves. But prayer expresses our desire to rely on God as the sole provider when we undergo that which incites fear. David said (in verse 7), "I cry with my voice." Oh how God delights in such childlike dependency! John Newton, the man who wrote Amazing Grace once said, "If the Lord be with us, we have no cause of fear. His eye is upon us, His arm over us, His ear open to our prayer - His grace sufficient, His promise unchangeable." Why depend on anyone else? Our God is the "rock" (verse 5) and He is "gracious" (verse 7) to His children. Prayer is our pipeline to enlist the help of Jehovah. Could it be that we "do not have [peace and confidence and courage] because (we) do not ask" (Jas. 4:2)?
Learn from Him
We must behold God, pray to God and also, learn from God. Verse 11, "Teach me Your way, O Lord, and lead me in a level path because of my foes." David knew the necessity for knowledge.
This week I read a true, but very tragic story: A woman was once walking along a riverbank with her child. Suddenly the child slipped into the river. The mother screamed in terror. She couldn't swim, and besides, she was in the latter stages of pregnancy. Finally, somebody heard her screaming and rushed down to the riverbank. The utter tragedy was, when they stepped into those murky waters to retrieve that now dead child, they found that the water was only waist deep! That mother could have easily saved her child but didn't because of a lack of knowledge (Ray Comfort, Hell's Best Kept Secret, p. 160-161).
How much needless worry, fear and anxiety do we experience because we lack knowledge? David didn't seek the knowledge of the world, in verse 11 he said, "Teach me Your way, O Lord." David desired to know the ways of God and he did that by a fervent commitment to the Word, the Scriptures.
"Teach me Your way, O Lord" (verse 11). David knew that he needed God's knowledge in the midst of his trials. And what is the beginning of knowledge? Proverbs 1:7, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction" (cf. 9:10). Do you see an interesting connection? Knowledge of the Lord's ways dispels fear, but the beginning of knowledge is fearing the Lord? Hmmm, could it be the more we fear displeasing God and approach Him with reverential awe, the greater He will appropriate Himself in our lives? And the more we have of God, the less we will battle the short-lived, trivial fears of the world? Could it be that if we fear God there will be no one and nothing else left to fear? Wasn't this the teaching of Jesus? "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Mt. 10:28).
3. THE RESULT OF OUR TRUST
Time is calling me to move on to our final point. We already mentioned that fear will be lost when we trust God, but do we gain anything in return? If we lose the negative, do we gain any positives? Again Psalm 27 gives us the answer.
First of all, when we trust God we gain joy. David said in verse 6, "And now my head will be lifted up above my enemies around me, and I will offer in His tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord."
There can be no doubt that fear casts out joy. It goes without saying that some of the most joyless people are those who struggle the most with the burden of anxiety. "An anxious heart weighs a man down," says Proverbs 12:25 (NIV). But we can also say that joy casts out fear. Remember Ezra's great line? "For the joy of the Lord is your strength" (Neh. 8:10; 1 Chron. 16:7). Therefore when we depend on the Lord in wholehearted trust we will like David lose our fears and sing "with shouts of joy."
Furthermore, we will also experience love when we trust God. David said in verse 10, "For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me up." There are few things we cherish more than our earthly relationships, but even if we lose those earthly relationships that are most dear to us, even if our loved ones forsake us in whatever manner, the child of God needs to know that the Lord's love is unfailing. He will "never desert (us), nor…forsake us" (Heb. 13:5). As Spurgeon said commenting on this verse, "(He) will espouse my cause, will uplift me from my woes, will carry me in His arms, will elevate me above my enemies (and) will at last receive me to His eternal dwelling place" (Spurgeon, Treasury of the Psalms, p. 4) Why did David fear no evil? Because "His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord" (Psm. 112:7). And the more he realized the Lord was trustworthy, the more he discovered and experienced for himself the awesome unconditional and unending love of God.
Finally, David experienced greater faith as He trusted God. As a matter of fact, he encouraged others in their faith that God can be trusted in all situations. In verse 14 he told others, "Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord."
Do you know what fear is? Fear is simply a lack of faith. The great man of faith George Muller said, "The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith, and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety" (George Muller, Signs of the Times, Christianity Today, v. 35, n. 1). I like the unknown author who once remarked, "Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered. No one was there." The more David trusted the Lord, the more his fears disappeared and the more his faith grew. He could tell others with confidence, "Wait on the Lord!"
Let me ask you beloved, why would we ever settle for fear, anxiety and worry when we can be given by God joy, love and faith?
Black Bart was a professional thief whose very name struck fear as he terrorized the Wells Fargo stage line. From San Francisco to New York, his name became synonymous with the danger of the frontier. Between 1875 and 1883 he robbed 29 different stagecoach crews. Amazingly, Bart did it all without firing a shot. Because a hood hid his face, no victim ever saw his face. He never took a hostage and was never trailed by a sheriff. Instead, Black Bart used fear to paralyze his victims. His sinister presence was enough to overwhelm the toughest stagecoach guard.
Jesus said, "And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life" (Mt. 6:27)? What have we ever gained from our fear and our worries? Like Black Bart, they scare us and paralyze us and rob us of our joy, but those who trust in the Lord can see through the mask and realize the emptiness of their threats. We must come to realize they are all bark and no bite.
We need to understand the character of God, realizing that He is our light, salvation and strength. We must appropriate the Lord by beholding Him, praying to Him and learning from Him. And when we do this, we will lose our fears and experience joy, love and faith in return.
Each day offers us two handles. We can grab the handle of fear or we can grab the handle of faith. May we proceed with childlike faith following 1 Peter 5:7, "casting all (our) anxiety on Him, because He cares for (us)" (cf. Psm. 55:22).
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