We started a series last week looking at our emotions and how to deal with them when they emote! We started with anger, but emotions are more than just anger. Matthew Elliott writes: “Everything we do, say and think is, in some sense, emotional. We enjoy it, we dislike it, or we just don’t care. We describe our experiences and ourselves by describing how we feel.”[i]
In fact, we tend to make our decision based on how we feel. Is that right? Is that wise? Can emotions be trusted? At the end of the day, “we are responsible for our emotions,” according to Elliott, “because they are based on beliefs and evaluations.”[ii] Emotions can surprise us or even ambush us. Emotions can sometimes be unpredictable, so how should we prepare in advance for coming “feelings?” Today, we take a look at fear. What terrifies you?
Let’s go beyond spiders, snakes, and clowns. I want you to go deeper in your heart or mind. I want you to consider what is driving the fear that you are experiencing? Is your fear based on something—you might lose? Something you cannot control? Or something you might miss?
Elliott defines fear as: “the feeling which comes from the anticipation of something bad happening in the future to an object you love.”[iii] Fear is closely related to the idea of risk. John Piper describes risk “as an action that exposes you to the possibility of loss or injury.”[iv] He goes on and says: “Risk is possible because we don’t know how things will turn out.”[v] If we don’t know and we can’t control—that can be scary! Suddenly, we need a bag to breathe into!
Writer and missionary, Elisabeth Elliot points out: “Fear arises when we imagine that everything depends on us.”[vi] Life is hard and managing our emotions can be difficult. Let’s look at a story that involved fear and see what we can learn about ourselves and about God. If you have your Bible or electronic device, grab it and meet me in Judges 6.
The Backstory (6:1-10)
Judges 6:1-6—The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds. For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number—both they and their camels could not be counted—so that they laid waste the land as they came in. And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the LORD.
The power of Midian was oppressive. They disrupted life—causing the Israelites to hide. Their crops and livestock were ruined. Verse 7—Says that they “cried out” to the Lord—says nothing of repentance. In verses 8-10—God reminds them of what He has done for them—“led” and “delivered” them from the hand of the Egyptians.
Basic root cause is found in verse 10.
Judges 6:10— And I said to you, ‘I am the LORD your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.”
Root cause is disobedience. No surprise, sin results in a big mess and that is where we pick up our story today. In verse 11, we are introduced to a man named Gideon. In his story, let me give you a few observations regarding God in our fear.
Judges 6:11—Now the angel of the LORD came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites.
The job that Gideon is doing is usually done in an exposed area so the wind can carry away the chaff…but he is improvising—he’s hiding! The unusual guest speaks:
Judges 6:12—And the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor.”
Interesting statement and descriptors for a person hiding out, likely in fear. Notice how Gideon responds.
Judges 6:13—And Gideon said to him, “Please, sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
“If”—why??? We often see problems as the result of God’s absence. Notice too, that Gideon is seeming waiting around for God to do something—like remove this problem! Then the “angel of the Lord” perhaps surprises Gideon:
Judges 6:14—And the LORD turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?”
Glad you asked. I am sending you! Who me?!! Gideon is skeptical and expresses doubt and makes excuses.
Judges 6:15—And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.”
My resume doesn’t look too great. He is correct about one thing—he cannot save Israel by himself, in his on strength. But notice verse 16.
Judges 6:16—And the LORD said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.”
The promise of presence. But who is promising their presence? It would seem fair to say the “angel of the Lord” is a preincarnate appearance of Jesus. Which brings us to my first observation.
Observation #1: In my fear, God sees more than I see and provides exactly what I need.
God’s perspective is broader than mine. In fear, our perspective gets very narrow! He can even see my potential. Verse 22—Gideon recognizes that there is something different about this person. He recognizes that he has experienced God face to face…He knows that that typically doesn’t end well. Verse 23—But the LORD said to him, “Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die.”—With the promise of presence, comes peace. Verse 24—Gideon builds an altar and worships. The story continues and we move to a second observation.
Observation #2: In my fear, God expects obedient action.
Judges 6:25-26—That night the LORD said to him, “Take your father’s bull, and the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it and build an altar to the LORD your God on the top of the stronghold here, with stones laid in due order. Then take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah that you shall cut down.”
An assignment that is not without risk. In verse 27 Gideon acts at night because he is afraid. He is scared, but obedient. In verses 28-32 there is fall out and reaction. Next are threats and accusations and it is decided that if Baal is a god, let him contend for himself! James Smith writes: “We don’t believe instead of doubting; we believe while doubting.”[vii] We can’t wait to be without fear to be obedient. No, we act in obedience even though we are scared.
Observation #3: In my fear, God remains faithful even when my faith falters.
In verses 33-40, the bad guys are coming…again. Our record against these guys is not good. So, Gideon seeks God for something to build up his faith. He needs it because his faith is not constant, and neither is yours. Here we find the famous fleece test. Gideon asks God to make the fleece wet and the ground dry. Then he asks God to make the fleece dry and the ground wet. Often, we need a reminder of the character and nature of God. We need help in our unbelief!
Psalm 27:1 (ESV)—The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
Observation #4: In my fear, God will stretch my faith.
In Judges 7:1-8, Gideon starts with an army of 32,000 and God reduces it to 300! Do you think Gideon’s stress level is up? Does it scare you when God’s plan doesn’t look like your plan? Does it scare you when God’s plan doesn’t make any sense! Ask yourself, how may God be working in your fear to stretch your faith?
Observation #5: In my fear, God will provide encouragement.
In Judges 7:9-15, Gideon is beyond second thoughts, he is probably having third thoughts at this point. He now has less than 1% of his original army and is facing an opponent that has a nice winning streak going. Doesn’t look too promising. Then in that moment of likely fear and dread…God shows up. He initiates.
Judges 7:9—That same night the LORD said to him, “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand.
God gives a word of encouragement.
Judges 7:10-11—But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant. And you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.” Then he went down with Purah his servant to the outposts of the armed men who were in the camp.
“If”—you are afraid take “Purah” with you. A word can encourage, but so can some company! Who do you have in your life that will help you brace up against fear? Who do you have in your life that will bring perspective to your situation and circumstances? Who do you have in your life to help you see and think rightly? Gideon and Purah over hear about a dream and its interpretation. The Midianites and the Amalekites are worried. And Gideon is encouraged!
Observation #6: In my fear, God will finish the story.
In 7:16-25 Gideon carries out his plan. Note verse 22.
Judges 7:22 (NIV)—When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the LORD caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords. The army fled to Beth Shittah toward Zererah as far as the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath.
Who caused? The Lord caused! He finished the story! Victory! Salvation/deliverance is always by God’s action, not ours. God loved us so much that He sent is Son to rescue us (John 3:16). His Son, Jesus, came willingly while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8) and died for us so that sin and separation and fear would not be the end of our story! Here is what we learn about Gideon’s story and what is also true about your story. FEAR IS PART OF THE STORY; IT’S JUST NOT THE END OF THE STORY.
Of course, you will be scared, doubt, and shallow breathe. You don’t want to lose it. You don’t want to not control it. You don’t want to miss it. You don’t want to hurt or to feel the potential pain. Of course, you will be scared. You don’t know it all, you can’t see it all, and so it “feels” risky. You are thinking, “if I only knew the outcome, then…” then what?
Here are three truths to remember.
God is with you
Isaiah 43:5a (ESV)—Fear not, for I am with you;
Hebrews 13:5b (ESV)—“I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
God is for you
Psalm 56:9 (ESV)—Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call. This I know, that God is for me.
Psalm 56:11 (ESV)—in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?
Understanding that God is with you and for you results in confidence and trust.
God has changed you
Romans 8:15 (ESV)—For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
What has made this change possible? The work of Jesus! Out of love, He came and paid a great price for you to be transformed.
1 John 4:18 (ESV)—There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
Jesus has taken the punishment that you deserve…His works makes fear something that can be mastered. Fear is part of the story; it is just not the end of the story.
Mike was a man of conviction and courage, but he recognized that fear was a monster that would regularly be encountered regardless the road he traveled in life. He learned quickly that to stand up for something he believed in would inspire and unite some, but others would become mad, even violent. He felt compelled to right a wrong and to bring justice to a situation that was clearly unjust. His growing influence brought attention both to him and his family in the way of regular threats—often death threats over the phone.
One night after hanging up from one of these calls, he expressed that it seemed all his fears came down on him at once. He had reached the saturation point. He got out of bed and begin to pace and made some coffee. He was ready to give up. He tries to think of a way out of his leadership role without looking like a coward. He was exhausted and his courage was all but gone. Mike decided to pray…out loud. He told God that he was trying to take a stand for what he believed to be right, but that he was afraid. He told God that people were looking to him for leadership and that if he went before them without strength and courage, they would falter as well.
Mike confessed that he was at the end of his powers, that he had nothing left, that he could not face the future alone. He said, in that moment, he “experienced the presence of the Divine.” He felt at that moment his fears begin to go, that his uncertainty disappeared, and that he could now face anything.[viii] That is good—it is important because his ability to successfully lead the non-violent Civil Rights Movement would depend on how he would master his fears. See, “Mike” as called by his family and close friends was Martin Luther King, Jr.
In his fear, he turned to God and found help. Where will you turn in your moments of fear? Fear is part of the story; it’s just not the end of the story! God is with you. God is for you. God can transform your life and deliver you from your fear! Run to Him now!!
Manuscript for sermon originally preached on 9/30/18 at Connect Church.
[i]Matthew A. Elliott, Faithful Feelings (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2006), 13. [ii]Ibid., 39. [iii]Ibid., 200. [iv]John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2007), 79. [v]Ibid., 80. [vi]https://www.instagram.com/p/BncDYR5hDpU/?utm_source=ig_share_sheet&igshid=1en8st8tuplcj [vii]James K. A. Smith, How (Not) to Be Secular (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 4. [viii]http://www.beaconbroadside.com/broadside/2016/01/martin-luther-king-jr-and-rosa-parks-on-the-dangers-they-faced-in-the-civil-rights-movement.html http://i-love-my-life.com/2011/01/17/marting-luther-king-jr-a-legacy-of-fearlessness/file:///Users/apple/Downloads/21July1957TheMastery.pdf