Fear not little flock…

So, where is your anxiety level these days, level orange? Our culture of fear has provided lots of munchies to feed our fear monsters: terrorism, angry and unstable people (could be a neighbor who seems normal but keeps to himself) committing acts of violence, eratic North Korea, Russian involvement in the current administration, the confusion of our political system, the future of health care, the debt-ridden-no-budget economy of Illinois, West Nile virus, Ebola, SARS… do you remember these last ones?

The world-wide fear over SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) which originated in China in 2002-3 is a fascinating study of how an irrational fear properly fed, grows out of proportion to the danger of the crisis. SARS had infected over 5,000 people worldwide and killed over 300, which was a tragedy.  However, at the same time in the U.S. alone 700,000 people died from heart disease and 550,000 from cancer. In 2012, the West Nile virus infected 4100 in the U.S. and killed 286, again a tragedy. However, during the same period 71,000 people died of diabetes and 62,000 of pneumonia.

Mysterious diseases, political intrigue, acts of violence and terrorism make big stories and media hype tends to report the reality disproportionately.  If you still watch the evening news on tv, you almost need a sedative afterwards.  Such news feeds our fears and diverts our attention from dealing with present issues and concerns, as well as stepping out of our bubble and taking risks for the sake of the gospel.

In “Break Open the Sky” Stephan Bauman (former president of World Relief) says, Fear is popular today because it’s profitable. Producers of media in all its forms have become merchants of fear, stoking fires of controversy, threat, or anger in search of larger audiences. Politicians, both conservative and progressive, traffic in fear to secure support and shore up votes. Corporations employ fear to make us buy more of their products. Friends warn us of the latest health scare, food allergy, or crime epidemic. Even religion, as an enterprise, makes use of fear. 

We Americans are experts at trying to control our own lives. We are self-sufficient and we tend to provide for ourselves quite well, thank you! We reduce our risks to the minimum, fix all our own problems, and anticipate all eventualities- well, at least we try. When something comes along like a new strain of flu bug for which (we are told) no antedote yet exist, we feel helpless, frustrated, and out of control — a feeling that Americans hate.  We also start to connect our present fear to all the rest in our anxiety-arsenal and overwhelm ourselves with worry and precaution and a bit of paranoia –because it might be terrorist related.

Earlier Christians (and many in the third world today*) lived in unsafe and hostile societies which were vulnerable to constant war, natural disasters without warning, and real incurable diseases. They had little control over their lives and had little sense of a bright earthly future. However, they did have faith in a God who never forgets the cross and would never forget them.  Their antidote to fear was not an inoculation but trust in a sovereign and loving God who has all things under control.

When the prophet Habakkuk looked at his uncertain future he was overcome with fear. However, he did not allow this fear to paralyze him and he chose to do two things: focus on the character of God who never changes (1:12); listen to God’s counsel to quell his fear.  “The just shall live by his faith” (2:4). The antidote for fear is not courage but faith.

So if we really want to listen to a Sovereign God who never changes then we must begin by hearing the consistent message spoken to the people under the old covenant and to those of us under the new… DO NOT BE AFRAID!

I won’t list all these passages but will mention one found in Luke 12:32 where Jesus told his disciples, “Fear not little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” I wish I had a visual of Jesus speaking to this insigificant little band of wide-eyed men who were ready to be sent out into a violent world to spread the gospel, with little provisions and seemingly little hope of success. And yet Jesus said My little flock- those who are my special ones under my care whom I love- FEAR NOT! The reason not to fear is becuase your Father is absolutely delighted to give you a future, the very Kingdom that you are being sent out to share with others will be your eternal inheritance. And since he will bestow upon you a future glory that you cannot imagine, you do not need to worry that He will provide everything you need in this life as you risk it for His Kingdom.

“He who did not spare his own Son, how will he not also along with Him give us all things.” There is nothing that will come to you that does not first pass through the hand of your heavenly Father and is designed to make you more like Jesus. FEAR NOT…

 

 

*In an essay “The Epidemic of Worry,” David Brooks wrote, According to the World Health Organization, 18.2% of Americans report chronic anxiety while only 3.3% of Nigerians,

 

How can God carry the burden of this world? 

I am at a place in my life where I can hardly pray without my heart being so burdened with the weight of the requests that it really feels like it is breaking. I have a dear friend who just passed away, another who has cancer, another who is in recovery from a broken neck, another who is recovering from back surgery. In addition, prayer for  the suffering places of the world where hunger and deprivation reign and where innocents suffer from the greed of the powerful. Lastly, prayer for the victims of senseless acts of violence wrought by terrorists or those motivated by anger in the workplace or by road rage.

Who can bear the burden of prayer for these things? And yet there is God… He hears my requests and yours as well, and the cries of those who are suffering alone and forgotten– constantly and all at once! He is not limited by the boundaries of a finite nature, a changeable character, or the whims and oddities of emotions.

I have never before thought of the infinitude of God in relation to prayer.  There is no waiting list or pecking order to his attentiveness.  There is no favoritism to his love. His answers don’t always come immediately nor in the shape of our desires or passionate pleas, which any parent can understand, but they will come because he hears them all.

He does not hear us according to our worthiness, but according to his love for us in Christ. Nothing that comes from his hand is meant for evil nor for our punishment, though it may involve suffering and hurt like … There is no one so sinful that God will not hear his cry of repentance.  There is no one so prodigal that she will not have the Father’s embrace.

The only prayer that God rejects (at least that I know of) is the prayer of the self- righteous heart.  In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus compares the prayer of the Pharisee who is obsessed with his own virtue with the prayer of the despised tax collector who humbly asks God for mercy. Jesus said,”I tell you this man (the tax collector), rather than the other, went home justified before God.”

So my dear sister or brother, why do you hesitate to pray? Are you afraid that you are not worthy enough or that God has more important things to do than listen to you? Do you feel you have prayed and prayed and God has not answered? Do you feel that what you are facing is the punishment for the sins of the past? Do you no longer feel like praying? I have felt all of these deceptive hindrances to prayer and found only one solution; to just pray!  After all this is what faith does; it humbly acts on what it knows to be true even though everything in and around it screams the antithesis.  One Puritan preacher said that when Jesus cried out “my God, my God, what have you forsaken me” faith was evidenced not at the nadir of joy and peace but at the meridian of darkness.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds ye so much dread, are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head. 

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense; but trust him for his grace; behind a frowning providence he hides a smiling face.

William Cowper, 1774