Fear Not

It’s an odd world.  Less than two weeks ago I was significantly wealthier and completely free to go wherever I want whenever I want.  Today, I’m a bit stunned by the losses in my retirement accounts and I’m not going anywhere.  The illusion of my personal power and control has taken a bit of a beating.

As I write this, I’m sitting at home for the 5th or 6th day in a row.  I went out once for groceries and used being out as an excuse to get a coffee to go, but otherwise I’ve been good.  While not going out for coffee in the morning breaks the habit of a lifetime, how much of a sacrifice is that?   And since my wife who loves me is legitimately concerned about the virus, my choice is between love and arrogance.  So I’m staying home.

And of course, Susan is right.  I should be staying home.  It’s clearly the right thing to do especially for those of us who so easily can.

Instead of lamenting my lost coffee, I first need to be praying for those who can’t stay home such as doctors and nurses and those who are keeping our grocery stores open.  In addition, there are millions of hotel maids and janitors, restaurant staff, retail clerks and service providers of all kinds who were already living paycheck to paycheck and now can’t go to work.  In addition to our prayers, they need all the other help we can provide (more on that in a moment).

But to be the people God calls us to be, which is to say loving and willing and able to help others, we can’t wallow in fear.  Fear is paralyzing.  To address that fear I find it helpful to remember some of the times and places God told his people to not be afraid.

But to be the people God calls us to be, which is to say loving and willing and able to help others, we can’t wallow in fear.

When, for example, God announces to the world that His son is being born, He sends an angel to shepherds working outside of Bethlehem.  Angels must be intimidating creatures as the shepherds were “terrified.”  But then, as we all know, the angel said to them,

“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” Luke 2:10 (KJV)

In another instance six hundred years earlier, God offers encouragement through Jeremiah to a group of captive and displaced exiles in Babylon, when He says,

11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Jeremiah doesn’t use the words, “fear not,” but the implication is clear.

And finally, Jesus finishes his teaching on anxiety over food and clothing by saying,

“Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32

The circumstances of the people to whom each of these “fear not” passages are addressed are striking.  Neither the shepherds nor those in captivity in Babylon nor Jesus’ own disciples were wealthy, powerful or even assured of good jobs and financial security.  They weren’t prophets or priests, kings or generals. Rather, they were ordinary people going about their regular work in a harsh world.

Neither the shepherds nor those in captivity in Babylon nor Jesus’ own disciples were wealthy, powerful or even assured of good jobs and financial security

The shepherds were in their fields “watching over their flocks by night.”  This was not a high-end job in first century Palestine.  These were laborers more akin to parking lot attendants than to wealthy business owners.

Those in Babylon, though previously wealthy and powerful in Jerusalem, were now captives in a foreign land.  And they were going to be captives for a very long time.  In that context, God doesn’t tell them to despair or to aspire to regain their former status.  Rather He tells them,

5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 8

In other words, live everyday lives for your benefit and for the benefit of those around you.  As the briefest of asides, wouldn’t this attitude compel us to comply with the civil authorities to the best of our ability by staying home and thereby helping to slow the spread of the virus?

Consider, finally, Jesus’ words to his disciples.  Knowing how the story ends, we tend to view the disciples as heroes of the faith and to forget that in the words of their contemporaries, “they were unschooled, ordinary men, (Acts 4:13).  When they are sitting and learning at Jesus’ feet they are students of a rabbi who have no clue what the future holds for them or the role that they will play.  They only know, per Peter, “We have left everything to follow you.” Matthew 19:27

In point of fact, neither the shepherds nor the exiles nor even the disciples had any particular insight into what God was doing or why he was telling them to not be afraid.  What they did have was the ability to obey.  The shepherds “hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the baby, who was lying in the manager,” and then, “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child.” Luke 2:16-17.

In point of fact, neither the shepherds nor the exiles nor even the disciples had any particular insight into what God was doing or why he was telling them to not be afraid.  What they did have was the ability to obey.

The exiles also obeyed and returned to Jerusalem some seventy years later in greater numbers and with greater wealth than when they were taken captive.  As a result, they were able to rebuild both the temple and the walls of the city.  (Don’t miss the fact that their success followed 70 years of captivity.)

And the disciples obeyed as well, though perhaps with a bit less enthusiasm than one might hope.  When Jesus tells them they are going to Bethany near Jerusalem, Thomas “said to the rest of the disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’”  The disciples clearly weren’t eager to go with Jesus to Jerusalem . . . but they went.

If we listen carefully, we can probably hear ourselves whining or complaining from time to time as well.  I began this article by talking about not going out for coffee as if that’s some sort of sacrifice.  How wimpy is that?

I began this article by talking about not going out for coffee as if that’s some sort of sacrifice.  How wimpy is that?

Our task today is the same as every other day; we are to obey Jesus joyfully, intentionally setting aside our fears as an expression of our faith in him.  In the midst of this crisis, this is the first and most visible thing we can do for our family, friends and neighbors.  And the moment we set our own fears aside we can start helping others . . . even when we can’t leave the house.

A number of ministries already have very cool services up and running to help those impacted by the Corona virus.  We have a friend in San Diego who set up a GoFundMe account to support a restaurant that is providing free meals to the unemployed.  You can read about it on their Let’s Feed San Diego page. We have some friends at Bay Area Rescue Mission that are doing a similar program. For NCF Givers who would like to support displaced workers, fee free to call us for recommendations near you. Also, check our site for updates as we identify more programs in this ministry space. Finally, if you know of ministries doing good work in this space, tell us about it so we can reference them on our growing list of resources.

As believers, this should be our moment to shine.  We who know the Lord and who therefore know the end of the story ought to stand out for fearlessness.  A first step toward doing that is to remember Jesus’ own words to a group of unemployed fishermen, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good will to give you the Kingdom.”