“I will not be afraid because you are with me…” (Psalm 23:4 HCSB)
David, the shepherd boy who became king, had to live a very dangerous life. While still in his early youth, he was sent to graze his father’s sheep in the wilderness and part of his job was to protect the sheep from wild animals. He himself lacked what many of us took for granted in childhood – watchful parental care to ensure his own welfare and safety; but there in the wilderness fighting off bears and lions, he learnt to depend on the protection of God, his Shepherd.
All his youth, David was assailed by enemies intent on his destruction, and they came so close to succeeding, that he wrote, “If the LORD had not been my helper, I would soon rest in the silence of death” (Psalm 94:17 HCSB). His nights were often spent in hiding places as he fled the armies of King Saul, never certain whether he would wake up next morning. But David put his trust in God. “I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the LORD sustains me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me round about” (Psalm 3:5-6 NASB).
Fear is a strange and unpleasant sensation which drains us of strength. We learn about the origin of fear in the book of Genesis. Before the fall, it was God’s custom to visit Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. When sin entered their lives, their first instinct was to run away and hide from God’s – formerly welcome – presence. As Adam explained “I was afraid…” A previously unknown emotion had taken root in human nature, which affected human responses, words and actions.
From the safety, harmony, plenteousness and innocence of Eden, humans became susceptible to sin and a nagging fear of danger in a curse-stricken world. We learnt not only to fear God in an unnatural manner, but also to fear want, dangerous beasts, evil minded people, natural disasters, potentially devastating blows of fate and an uncertain future.
Yet, one of the marvellous benefits of a life lived in close proximity with our Shepherd is freedom from fear. Fear and anxiety, Christ said, are for pagans who do not know God – they run after and constantly worry about their daily necessities. For His sheep, “our boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places”; our inheritance includes a freedom from lack and victory over fear.
Christian growth involves a growing understanding of the Shepherd’s ability and willingness to deliver us from every fear that may beset us. A new confidence and boldness keeps growing within us – to go forth, and triumph over all adversities and every enemy that would waylay us. As we mature, we must learn to exercise this freedom with wisdom.
The scriptures teach us what we are to fear and what we should not fear. We are primarily taught to fear God. The fear of God precludes every other fear. “The righteous are as bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1 NIV).
The one who fears God has no need to fear man. We honour and submit to earthly authorities, but our first allegiance is to God, our Defender. The holy fear of God emboldened Daniel and his friends when they faced the wrath of kings who demanded not just honour but worship. When King Nebuchadnezzar threatened to throw Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the burning furnace if they did not fall and worship the golden image he had set up, they refused: “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18 ESV).
A wholesome reverence and fear of God is necessary in our lives, and for the formation of Christian character. Yet there is an unnatural fear of God, which arises from a lack of trust in His love, His wisdom, His willingness or His ability to meet our needs and deliver us from trouble. We see Him as a dreaded enemy. We worry that God is not pleased with us, that He will hurt us, abandon us, stop loving us or bring affliction into our lives and leave us alone to fend for ourselves. Such libel on the character of our Shepherd is an important weapon in Satan’s arsenal to deceive us and cause us to fall away. We should resist the enemy’s attempts to vilify our God and stand in faith. As someone who used to have a naturally anxious personality, this is something I am still learning to do.
“This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them” (Psalm 34:6-7).
Our Shepherd carries in His sling bag the perfect antidote for the fears that come knocking at the door of our minds from time to time.
Do you worry about the daily necessities of life?
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on… Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”(Isaiah 6:25, 32-33 ESV)
Do you fear the powers or authorities that rule over you?
“I, even I, am He who comforts you. Who are you that you should be afraid of a mortal man … and you forget the Lord your Maker? Where is the fury of the oppressor [when I am near]? [For] I am the Lord your God, Who divided the sea – The Lord of hosts is His name.” (Isaiah 51:12-15).
Do you fear war or famine or other disasters, as a daily reading of the news would incline you to do?
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea… though the mountains tremble at its swelling… The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Psalm 46:1-7 ESV).
Do you have enemies who seek to destroy you?
“Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory.” (Deuteronomy 20:3-4 ESV)
Do you live in fear for your future? Do you feel ‘hopeless’?
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope”. (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV)
“Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day. Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off”. (Proverbs 23:17-18)
Do you worry about the potential outcome of your present (and possibly chaotic) circumstances?
“In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.” (Proverbs 3:6-7 ESV)
Do you worry about your children, and your limitations as a parent to guide them?
For thus says the Lord: “Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken, and the prey of the tyrant be rescued, for I will contend with those who contend with you, and I will save your children.” (Isaiah 49:25 ESV)
“He will… gently lead those that are with young.” (Isaiah 40:11 ESV).
What more do we need? The Shepherd doesn’t just promise us the protection of His angels, but He has promised to stand with us, hold our hands, guide us safely through every dark passage and blind alley, and to bring us out in triumph. How wonderfully safe and secure we are in the midst of all the storms of life.
God, thank you so much for your protection which surrounds our lives. Keep us trusting in You at all times and teach us to be completely free of fear. In Jesus’ name.