A few years ago, when I was in my previous parish, a member of the congregation, who was also friend of mine, asked me to go visit his Dad in the local hospital. His Dad has recently received a diagnosis of terminal cancer and he was very anxious and afraid.
Fear is a very powerful emotion. All of us have fears and our fears tend to control us. Whether it is a fear over making a major decision, or fear over writing an upcoming exam, or fear over having a tough conversation with a friend or co-worker, or fear over what other people might be saying about us, whatever our fears my be, they control us by leading us into behaviours like avoidance, or controlling, or procrastination because we want to try to manage or avoid the situation. But our fear-filled behaviours don’t really deal with the situation and they usually make things worse for ourselves and for those around us.
We even us religion to try to manage our fears. There is an idea out there that if we believe in God and do the right things then he will help us to avoid our fears and he will give us a pain-free life. Nothing could be further from the truth. For God loves us too much to leave us in our fears. We know that because the Bible tells us in 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)
God wants us to be free, not fearful. He want us to be free from being controlled by our fears, free from being manipulated by others who are afraid, free to follow wherever he leads, free to be wise and loving even when we are surrounded by others who are filled with fear.
Perfect love drives out fear.
To take a closer look at how God’s perfect love drives out our fears, let’s look at Exodus 14. The background to this passage is that the Israelites were being held in slavery in Egypt. But after a series of ten plagues, Pharaoh finally told Moses that the Israelites could leave. So the Israelites gathered together whatever belongings they could carry and they left in the middle of the night.
We begin our look at Exodus chapter 14 with verse 5: 5 When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, “What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!” Let’s focus on this phrase in verse 5, What have we done? This is a statement of fear. As you look at verse 5, I invite you to think about this question: What are Pharaoh and his officials afraid of? They are afraid of losing their economic engine, which was the Israelite slaves.
You see, your fears reveal what you value and fear losing. Do Pharaoh and his officials fear the one true God? No. They don’t value God at all.
We continue with verse 6:
So he had his chariot made ready and took his army with him. 7 He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them. 8 The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly. 9 The Egyptians—all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, horsemen and troops—pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea near Pi Hahiroth, opposite Baal Zephon.
10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?
Now let’s focus on a particular phrase in verse 11, when the Israelites said to Moses, “What have you done to us?” This also is a statement of fear. Notice how similar it is to what the Egyptians said. Remember your fears reveal what you value and fear losing. What were the Israelites afraid of? They were afraid of losing their lives. Did the Israelites fear God? Not as much as they feared losing their lives.
And in this way, all of us are exactly like the Israelites. We may believe in God, but all of us have something that we value and fear losing more than God. And that fear keeps us in bondage. When we are afraid of losing our lives, then we are never free to give our lives towards something worth dying for. When we are afraid of loneliness, then we are never free to give ourselves to someone else. When we fear failure, then we are never free to take a chance to learn and grow into the person that God wants us to be. When we fear poverty, then we are never able to see how rich we are in Jesus. When we fear conflict, then we are never free to be a person of peace.
God wants us to be free and he loves us too much to leave us in bondage to our fears. And so, God helps us to deal with our fears is by leading us toward and through our fears, not away from them. God led the Israelites right into the situation they most feared, being under mortal danger from the Egyptian army. And then God led them into the scariest part of their deepest fear by leading the Israelites into the Red Sea. Remember, these are people who do not know how to swim. And in Hebrew thinking, the sea was a place of chaos and danger. And yet, with God, their deepest fear became the way of salvation for the Israelites. You could say that God saved his people by baptizing them, that is, by immersing them in the waters of the Red Sea and then raising them safely to new life on the other side.
Because God wants us to be free, he leads us into our fears. And then he brings us safely through our fears to new life on the other side where we realize that our fear was nothing but a lie. And the value and the trust that we had attached to what we feared losing gets transferred to God because it was God who saved us. God’s value to us increases because we have experienced his deliverance, and our faith grows.
So when you find that God has brought you to the place that you fear most, what do you do? The answer is in verse 13. 13 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today….” When you come face to face with your fears, the best thing to do is to stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring to you.
A few years ago, I realized that one of my great big fears was to lose a child. And eventually I was able to come to a place in my mind where I was able to truthfully say to myself that, if that happened, I know that God would somehow get me through it. But it is one thing when you face your fear is an abstract way, and it is quite another when you do it in real life. In the summer of 2012, my fears became real when my son Logan nearly drowned and ended up lying in a coma, cold and still, in a hospital bed in Kelowna. I was totally and completely helpless. And during that first night in our motel room, after everyone was asleep, I took a shower. And I broke down and wept in that shower and I cried and cried until I had nothing left in me. I was spent. All of my strength was gone, but so was all of my fight and my fear. I was still in the bottom of a deep, dark pit, but I was not alone. God was with me in that pit, and that made all of the difference. And over the course of the next several days, God lifted me through that pit and safely to the other side, and he will do the same thing for you.
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, I am challenging you to give your fears to God. You see, the goal of our faith is not to avoid our fears. The goal of our faith is to not be afraid of anything, but God. When the only thing that we are afraid of is God, then there is nothing to be afraid of, because God is love, and perfect love drives out fear. The goal of our faith is to be a person like Moses, who was able to keep his head when all those around him were losing theirs, and then say to a friend or a loved one, “Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you.”
I visited my friend’s Dad in the hospital and I served him Holy Communion, just like we are going to receive in a few moments. Later, my friend told me that my visit with his Dad was a turning point. He was no longer afraid.
A few weeks passed and my friend asked me to visit his Dad again. This time his Dad was in hospice and bed-ridden, and death was not far away. I asked him if it would be okay if we prayed and he said, “Sure!” I asked him what should we pray about and he said to me words that I have never forgotten, “Pray for my deliverance.” We prayed together. And a few days later, God answered his prayer and delivered him from this vale of tears to rest in the arms of his Saviour Jesus until the day of Resurrection.
Dear friends, we have a God who loves us too much to leave us in our fears. So do not be afraid. Stand firm, and you will see the deliverance that the Lord will bring you. Amen.
(This message was shared at Walnut Grove, Langley BC on March 12, 2017.)