Friday, March 18, 2016

Facing Fear

Over the next few weeks, we are going to look in God’s songbook, the Psalms, and find courage in a fearful world. Singing songs has been a powerful way to bolster courage in trying times. Today, we are focusing on Psalm 23.

Many carry their fears around like weights. They are afraid of whether or not they will get into the right relationship, fix the relationship they are in, find the right job, break free from sin, losing influence on their child or a loved one, over a disease, etc.

Fear has a tremendous negative impact on our lives. Our fears are real to us; there is no doubt about this. Fear is a barometer of how much we trust God. It provokes an important question: “Do we have a God who is bigger than our fears?

Have you thought about the toll fear takes on your life and those around you? It is important to think about the destruction that unaddressed fear can bring to your life.

·         Fear steals my joy in the present and robs me of my hope for the future.

·         Fear leads me to obsess on my limitations instead of thinking about the possibilities.

·         Fear keeps me from trusting and connecting with other people.

·         Fear chisels away at my faith and eats away at my confidence.

·         Fear makes me feel stuck and keeps me from moving forward.

·         Fear distorts my view of reality.

·         Fear prevents me from living boldly and courageously.

We can focus our attention on our fears or problems, or we can focus our attention on God. In Psalm 23, King David chose to focus his attention on the God who is greater than our fears, “The Lord . . . My Shepherd.” The role of the shepherd takes us back to the days of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Our God, the Shepherd, is our protector and provider. David was completely dependent on the Father as sheep is dependent on its shepherd. The sheep depends on the shepherd’s safe care in the face of enemies or danger of death.

It is impossible to estimate the effect that this particular Scripture has had on people over the centuries. In times of grief, sadness, and doubt, the 23rd Psalm has been a statement of faith. The words are straightforward and simple to understand, but the meaning is so deep that we cannot fully fathom every application of these words.

Psalm 23:1-6 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name's sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,

    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,

I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

Psalm 23 is a song of trust for a fearful world. I want to focus on verse 4. At the heart of this Scripture is the reality of living in a fallen world. In our journey, we face the problems of suffering and fear. The key to enduring the adversities of life is to remain in the presence of the Shepherd; “for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

1. Remember God’s presence in the dark and frightening moments.

 “Most of us have experienced our children’s dependence on us to face their fears when they have nightmares or when it’s thundering and lightening during a storm. They’ll wake up, scream, and jump out of their bed. They will walk through the valley of their bedroom, down the valley of the hall, to the valley of your room. They jump in your bed, because what they need is somebody to be with them.”


Your hugging them doesn’t stop the rain, the thunder or the lightning, but it changes how they face it. They’ll fall asleep in your arms. The fear that they have alone, they no longer have, because Mama or Daddy holds them. You help them face their fears in the midst of their struggles. This is exactly what the heavenly Father does for us when we face our own fears or insecurities.”[1]


In Psalm 23, King David shows us the way to the Father’s presence when the storms come. David described to us what the Father does for us when we face the storms. He makes; “he makes me lie down in green pastures.” He restores; “he restores my soul.” He is with us; “for you are with us.” He prepares; “you prepare a table before me.” He anoints; “you anoint my head with oil.” Our Father is actively involved in our lives doing all of these things.


The same God, who is with us in the quiet paths of righteousness and peace, is with us in the valley of the shadow of death. Did you notice how David said that he would not fear? He made a choice to fear no evil. How could he make the choice to fear no evil? His focus was on the Shepherd. “You are with me.” The same protector who provided and led David was there to keep him from evil.


Jesus promised that he would be near to us as we carry out his mission.


Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”


Jesus is with us during the most painful dark times in our lives. Not only is Jesus with us, he understands what it is like to face difficulty. He is not a distant God, who has no understanding of our pain. Jesus is God in human flesh who has come to us, to save us. He has dealt with insults, rejection, pain, death, separation, misunderstanding, hurt, and betrayal. Jesus does not rescue us from all of the bad times, but he remains with us through them.


Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.


Jesus’ presence is always what we need, but it isn’t always comfortable. Sure, David was comforted by God’s presence when he wrote the 23rd Psalm. However, there were times in his life when God’s presence brought shame and humiliation.


David was called “a man after God’s own heart.” On the other hand, David’s life was marked by adultery, murder, and sexual sin. These failures in David’s life tarnished his legacy and were picked up by his children. David’s firstborn son Amnon was guilty of sexual sin involving his half-sister. This sparked the anger of David’s son Absolom became guilty of adultery, murder, and sexual sin. Solomon, David’s heir to the throne, was a sex addict with 700 wives and 300 concubines.


David had a lot of pain in his life that was rooted in his poor choices. Do you think he was glad that God was near to him in those moments? How do you think David felt when he saw his children heading down dark paths, taking cues from their father?


My point is this: Do not run from God’s presence in the midst of your mistakes and failures. Do not be like Adam and Eve, who God found in the Garden of Eden, naked and ashamed. Most of us flee, fight, or hide when we fail spiritually. When you fail, run to God. Let him restore you. The blood of Christ washes away all sin. We grow out of failure and pain, questions and struggles. If we do not acknowledge God in our brokenness and weakness, we won’t be ready when the big storms hit.


2. Remember God’s power in dangerous times.


The Shepherd has his weapons of defense. The rod and staff were the shepherd’s crook and the club. God can make us feel that even though things are dark, everything will be alright. God protects us by his power.


You may have been on an airplane when you experience turbulence. Like a shot out of the blue, the plane moves up and down, side-to-side. Your stomach tenses up. The armrest becomes a haven for your fingernails, as you cope with the anxiety. You try to keep your mind occupied as you read the same paragraph over and over again in your book.


You may also know the feeling of hearing the pilot on the intercom. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have entered some choppy air. We are making adjustments. Soon, we will be in calmer skies.” This doesn’t take the turbulence away immediately. However, you are now able to move your focus from the turbulence to the fact that the pilot has a plan in the midst of the choppy skies.


Jesus is the power and presence of God working in our lives. The same Jesus, who died on the cross for our sins and rose again, is the Shepherd, who is near us and protects us by his power. We can trust in Jesus Christ despite the problems in life, including the dark valley of death.


One thing I have noticed about the valley of the shadow of death: God often does his most profound and meaningful work in our lives in that dark valley. My experience working with people as a pastor for the last twenty-two years has brought me behind the curtain of discomfort and anguish in many people’s lives.


I have noticed that a lot of the deepest hurts happen in midlife. It is during midlife that many of us go through tremendous changes that sneak up on us. Men and women go through changes in health. For many, they are dealing with adolescents in the home. Midlife is a time when many in the workforce have to be retrained for new technologies. Aging parents become an issue. To keep moving forward, we must go through changes. To face the changes well, we must be aware of where we are on our journey and be assured that Jesus is with us.


Henry Cloud said, “We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing.”[2]


The valley of the shadow of death is a valley of change. Through the pain of change, we get closer to Jesus Christ. We mature and grow. In the intensity of particular experiences, if we respond to God’s work in our lives, we can find greater health and develop as an individual as never before.


A few years back, I developed a personal growth-process for my life during a valley experience. I discovered that to live my life to glorify Jesus Christ; I needed to allow God to shape me as his disciple. Every day, I endeavor to live my life on point. The word P-O-I-N-T represents a philosophy of spiritual growth I attempt to live by. Each letter in “point” stands for a question I ask myself each day.


Live Your Life on P-O-I-N-T

P- Who am I PARTNERING with on Christ’s mission today? The Christian life is meant to be lived in community, not solitude.

O- How am I OWNING Christ’s mission? I am called to bring others to Jesus Christ, and I will be held accountable for this calling.

I- How am I INVESTING in my personal growth today? I am called to be a maturing disciple, and the process never ends.

N- Who am I NURTURING in the faith? God does not want me to be self-absorbed and isolated.

T- Am I TEACHABLE when I am confronted with my inadequacies and shortcomings?


This philosophy has helped me to discover the skills I need to live in this phase of my life, with the new challenges that come each day.  These questions give me a “gut check” and help me to evaluate my motives.


Why is this important? To make it through the valleys of life, you need a full sense of who you are and what you are about. For example, before Jesus was arrested, he took a towel and basin and washed the disciples feet. This was a job for slaves, not for the God of the universe! Jesus even washed the feet of Judas! The Apostle John made an interesting observation.


John 13:3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands and that he had come from God and was going back to God.


Because Jesus was fully aware of who he was and what he had come to earth to do, he was able to break free from the expectations of others and follow God’s plan for his life. Jesus was able to stoop down to wash muddy feet. He was able to walk with boldness toward the cross.


When we have a deep awareness of who we are—God’s children—and what we are here to do—carry out his mission with him as our personal guide—we have the courage to do life as God intends. We can live counter-culturally. We can treat our spouses and children in healthy, biblical ways instead of living like the world around us. When you find yourself in the dark valley on your journey, remember that this is where God’s work in your life can shine the brightest.

[1]Tony Evans, Tony Evans Book . . ., (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishing, 2008), 103.  
[2]Henry Cloud and John Townsend, Boundaries with Kids, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 72.