A new devotional series! I welcome you to join me in exploring the most common phrase uttered on behalf of the triune God when angels, prophets or the Lord Jesus appeared to people: “Fear not…” It is not a surprising remark, for when people encounter the holiness of God, they fall down in fear and reverence. The sinfulness that they might have carefully pushed down to an overlooked compartment is exposed in a flash. But although the Lord wants to convict us of our sin, he does so as a loving father who gathers us in his arms. Fear not, he whispers, for I am with you. I will never leave or forsake you. Come and be clean, and live a life free of fear. I am with you, beloved; I love you.
We all harbor fears of some kind. When I originally wrote this set of devotionals (they appeared previously in Day by Day with God), I had before me the cares and concerns of family and friends. My daughter was been complaining that it hurts to walk. A close family member had just come out of the hospital after a heart-related blood clot (that thankfully went to her kidney and not to her brain). Another close to me who was seemingly fit and healthy (and only forty-seven) recently had a heart attack. I had friends who were facing surgery on a daughter after a freak accident, another whose father seemed to be losing the will to live, another whose husband had just left her for another woman, another who was escaping an abusive marriage but who was also enduring a long and protracted divorce… the list goes on. In each case, the Lord says to us, “Fear not. I am with you.”
Harboring fear can be like letting a wild animal into our house. It roams where we know not, crouching at the end of our beds in the middle of the night and popping up when we’re having our morning cuppa. If we’ve let fear camp in our rooms, we can find it difficult to make it leave. But with the power of the Holy Spirit, we can cleanse our homes and our hearts, asking God to dwell with us and to bring his peace, hope and love. When we feel fear taking over, we can cry out to God, perhaps simply through calling on the name of Jesus. As we put our concerns and fears into his outstretched hands, we will receive the peace that passes all understanding.
After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” (Genesis 15)
Can you hear Abram’s tone of voice? The Lord appears and tells him not to fear, promising protection and provision. Abram replies in turn, perhaps with some indignation: “How? You’ve not given me the one thing I need – a child – so what can you possibly give me as a reward?”
Abram’s fear is speaking. I don’t think he means to lash out at the Creator of the universe, but he’s feeling sore and doubtful. The Lord had previously promised to make him into a great nation (Genesis 12:2–3), but Sarai remains barren and for an heir they have only a servant. Yet the Lord seeks to build Abram’s faith and assuage his fears: “See all of the stars? So will your offspring be.” Then God makes a covenant with him, not only that Abram will have countless descendants, but that they will (eventually) inhabit the Promised Land.
So too will the Lord meet us as our greatest points of need, whether it be for love, companionship, meaning, peace, beauty, or grace. We might think that the Lord will or should answer our prayers in a particular way – for that person to be our spouse; for a particular job; for a child; for our loved ones to succeed. Although God doesn’t always give us what we ask, eventually we can see his purposes and plans. Yet it might be four hundred years later, as with Abram.
I write this knowing that unanswered prayer can be a huge stumbling block to faith; it certainly was a hurdle I nearly tripped over. If you’re struggling in this area, I recommend Pete Greig’s God on Mute. And I pray for us all, that God will enlarge our imaginations to know his neverending love and kindness.
Prayer: Father God, you changed Abram and Sarai into Abraham and Sarah, the parents of many. We surrender to you our desires and fears, asking you to meet our needs.