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Fear - Tackling this Joy Stealer|
Text: Deuteronomy 1:19-40
If you've been paying attention over the last several articles, this series of studies is about issues that threaten our spiritual well-being. We're calling them joy-stealers. Joy-stealers are common problems all of us struggle with at one time or another that seek to either destroy the work of God in us or seriously hinder it.
Opposite of Faith is Fear
In this article we're going to be discovering how to tackle the joy-stealer of fear. Did you know that the opposite of faith is not unbelief, like most of us suppose? The opposite of faith is fear. But even though they're opposite, both faith and fear share something in common.
Can you guess what that is?
It's the "future" - both faith and fear are focused on the future, the area of the unknown. Fear cancels out faith because it can freeze us in our tracks. But fear can be tackled by faith in the God who knows and controls the future.
As I did some research I found an internet site that has the address "Phobialist.com." It's a collection of the names and descriptions of more than 500 fears that a man named Fred Culbertson has collected and organized. He also sells a poster-size version of the entire list that can be hung on your wall. Mr. Culbertson claims all of the phobias mentioned on his site can be found in reference books or in medical papers.
Peladophobia: fear of bald people
Trichopathophobia or Trichophobia: fear of hair
Geniophobia: fear of chins
Arachibutyrophobia: fear of peanut butter sticking to roof of mouth
Phronemophobia: fear of thinking
Scolionophobia: fear of school
…Aulophobia: fear of flutes
Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia: fear of the number 666
Triskadekaphobia: fear of the number 13
Ecclesiophobia: fear of church
Homilophobia: fear of sermons
Hierophobia: fear of priests, pastors or other church officers
Hagiophobia: fear of saints or church people
…Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia: fear of long words
Seriously though, many people have phobias - those irrational roadblocks that keep them from doing things they want to do. Some people are afraid of heights, some of open spaces, some of airplanes. Of these more than five hundred different phobias, about 10% of the population suffers from one or more of them. We face many fears in this world, both real and imagined, so it isn't surprising that the most frequent biblical command is "fear not."
Fearing Not Always Bad
We will look at the spirit of fear that can take over our life and dominate us in a way God never intended. Fear is not always a bad thing. God uses fear to protect us - to keep us from doing things which might hurt us. But, when fear becomes a permanent condition, it can immobilize us and bring our entire life to a standstill.
Everyone Experiences Fear
Everyone experiences fear at different times. Sometimes I experience fear when I have to stand and speak in front of people I don't know and even at times people I do know.
Every parent has experienced fear when his or her children have been injured or thrust into new situations for which they are not prepared.
And some of us have experienced fear when we are told that we have a serious disease.
Ideally, those fears come and go. They don't dominate our lives. It's when fear takes over and keeps us from doing what we know God wants us to do and what we know we need to do that we know there is a joy-stealer present that needs to be tackled.
Fear Spoken About in Bible
We see fear illustrated for us in lots of places in the Bible. When the disciples were on the Sea of Galilee during a fierce storm, they were afraid. When the Israelites were confronted by Goliath, they were afraid.
Story of Kadesh Barnea
But, I believe the Old Testament account which best illustrates how to deal with fear is the story of the twelve spies who left Kadesh Barnea to spy out the Promised Land of Canaan. That story appears first in the book of Numbers 13-14, but it is repeated in a condensed version in Deuteronomy 1:19-40.
To set the stage, Israel has been emancipated - liberated from slavery in Egypt. And now they are approaching the Promised Land under Moses' leadership. Before taking the whole nation in, Moses sends twelve men into the land to check it out - to see how formidable the inhabitants were, how well the cities were fortified, and how fertile the land was. When we see the response of some of the spies upon their return, we learn that fear is the same now as it was several thousand years ago.
Let's take a look at…
I.What Fear Can Influence Us To Do
First of all it can influence us…
A.To Disregard God's Plan
Let's look at Deuteronomy 1:19-21:
"Then we set out from Horeb, and went through all that great and terrible wilderness which you saw on the way to the hill country of the Amorites, just as the Lord our God had commanded us, and we came to Kadesh-Barnea.
I said to you, 'You have come to the hill country of the Amorites which the Lord our God is about to give us.
See, the Lord your God has placed the land before you. Go up, take possession, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has spoken to you. Do not fear or be dismayed.'" (NASB).
Plan to Possess Land Disrupted by Fear
This seems to clearly indicate that it was God's plan for the Israelites to go up and possess the land of Canaan. Verse 21 reveals that would stand in their way to keep them from fulfilling God's plan - fear and discouragement. And that is exactly what controlled the people after hearing a negative report from ten of the spies. Fear took hold of their lives, and they couldn't believe that God had actually brought them to the place of their inheritance and their blessing.
Fear Keeps us from Spiritual Inheritance
Fear will keep you from experiencing God's plan in your life. Just like the Israelites had a physical inheritance, you and I have a spiritual inheritance today. Our inheritance is just as much the plan of God as was theirs.
And we have just as clear a warning from the apostle Paul as Israel had from Moses - a warning about fear:
"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (fear), but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline" (2 Tim. 1:7).
God has not created us to be creatures dominated by fear. He has given us the principle of faith upon which to live. If was choose to live in fear, we are disregarding God's plan for our life.
Not a Slave to Fear but a Spirit of Sonship
The same principle is given by Paul in the book of Romans: "For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship (adoption). And by him we cry, "Abba, Father" (Romans 8:15). God's plan for us, His desire for us, is that we learn to live above the fear and walk in the power of His love.
But fear, if we let it, can influence us to disregard God's plan.
Moving on we can see that fear can also influence us…
B.To Distort God's Purposes
When fear takes over our life, everything gets out of perspective: everything gets distorted. Ten of the twelve spies who returned to Kadesh Barnea brought back a totally distorted picture of what the Promised Land was really like. Their skewed report is found in Deuteronomy 1:27-28:
"And you grumbled in your tents and said, 'Because the Lord hates us, He has brought us out of the land of Egypt to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites to destroy us.
'Where can we go up? Our brethren have made our hearts melt, saying, "The people are bigger and taller than we. The cities are large and fortified to heaven. And besides, we saw the sons of the Anakim there."'
They came back and reported that the Promised Land was filled with Anakim, or giants. There were giants in the land of Canaan in those days (remember Goliath?), but not every person in Canaan was a giant.
Their fear caused them to see one thing and report another. They saw great cities which were well fortified, and they concluded that they would never be able to take them. In fact, their fear so totally distorted their thinking that they decided the only reason God has led them to Canaan was to destroy them! How's that for messed-up thinking! That'll wreck your day.
You may think, "That is the most irrational thought you could ever have of God!" But when fear begins to control your life, you don't think correctly - rationality goes out the window.
If you choose to let fear control your thinking, you will have a distorted view of the situation you are in and life in general. Everything will be totally out of perspective. You will think God has brought you into a terrible situation just to do you harm.
Fear can influence us to distort God's purpose for our lives.
Third, it can also influence us…
C. To Discourage God's People
A Communicable Sin
Not only does fear disregard God's plan and distort God's purposes, but it also discourages God's people. The kind of fear that we allow to control us is highly contagious. In other words, it's a communicable sin - it spreads very easily.
10 Fearful Men Infected a Nation
Think of the situation in Israel at Kadesh Barnea. Ten men out of twelve came back from Canaan controlled by fear, and those ten men determined the destiny of the rest of the entire nation for the next forty years.
Their fearful perspective so infected the rest of the people that the entire nation became fearful of going into the land God had promised. The fearful words of ten people adversely affected an entire nation.
Think about this for a minute before we move on: When the spies came back from the land of Canaan, they not only talked about the giants they saw, they brought one of them back with them - the giant of fear. And that giant walked into Israel's camp and destroyed everything that was in the heart of the whole nation.
Fear like this is a lot like someone yelling, "Fire!" in the midst of a crowded theatre. Without any knowledge of the facts, panic sets in and causes a stampede among hundreds of people. The entire landscape changes when one or more people are consumed by fear.
Fear can influence us to discourage God's people.
Next, fear can influence us…
D. To Disbelieve God's Promises
You would think that when Israel stood on the threshold of the Promised Land and faced a new set of challenges, they would have trusted God to see them through. Wasn't it and God who worked mighty miracles for them in Egypt? Look at Deuteronomy 1:29-31:
"Then I said to you, 'Do not be shocked, nor fear them.
The Lord your God who goes before you will Himself fight on your behalf, just as He did for you in Egypt before your eyes,
And in the wilderness where you saw how the Lord your God carried you, just as a man carries his son, in all the way which you have walked until you came to this place.'
God Keeps His Promises
Moses outlined what God had done for Israel in the past and how, on the basis of His past promise-keeping, He would keep His promise to deliver Israel into the land of milk and honey. But instead, what did fear cause here? It caused Israel to disbelieve the promises of God.
Think of all the things God had done for them: The plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the giving of the Law, the provision of water and food in the wilderness, defeating their enemies on the way, guiding them by a pillar of fire and a cloud. God carried Israel through the wilderness as a father carries a child. Shouldn't Israel, on the basis of all those demonstrations of God's power, have trusted Him one more time?
We Can't Live On Yesterday's Faith
I don't know about all of you. But, I have found that in my own walk with the Lord, each new test requires new faith. In other words, we can't live on yesterday's faith or even yesterday's victories.
Many Christians don't realize that they can trust God ten times in a row and then disbelieve Him the eleventh time if they allow fear to set in. Giving in to fear will lead to disbelieving the promises of God.
And fifth, fear can influence us…
E. To Disobey God's Principles
When we don't believe, we usually don't obey. Look at Deuteronomy 1:26:
"Yet you were not willing to go up, but rebelled against the command of the Lord your God" (NASB).
Fear is to Disbelieve God
This verse documents that Israel rebelled against the command of the Lord. This may sound a bit harsh. But, I believe it's totally true: fear is ultimately disobeying God. Many, many times in the Bible we are told, "Fear not," or "Do not be afraid." Now, if we are told by God not to fear, and we choose to live in fear, what are we doing? We are disobeying God.
Penalties for Disobedience in Fear
Because the people did not obey God, they did not go up into the land and receive from God what He had promised to give them. The entire generation of those adults who allowed themselves to be controlled by the fear of the ten spies was kept from going up and receiving their inheritance in the land.
That generation spent the next forty years wandering in the wilderness, slowly dying off, until their children's generation was of adult age. The only two people allowed to go into the land from the disobedient generation were Joshua and Caleb, the two spies who wanted the people to trust god for victory in the Promised Land.
When fear grips our lives, it ultimately destroys everything God wants to do in and through us. I have known individuals and groups to whom God has given a vision, a direction for their life and ministry, but who failed to follow through with God because of fear. As a result, their lives never had the same sense of purpose or direction. In essence, their lives became a joyless journey. Fear can steal the very thing God wants to give us.
What do we do when fear is invading our hearts and minds? How do we keep it from taking control?
Next time I want to share with you…
II. How God Wants Us to Respond to Fear
In Part 2, I will show you five principles that will protect you from being controlled and dominated by fear.
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