HEARTLAND | Eric Reed
The world has gotten scarier in recent months. If the ongoing threat from Al Qaida, government-sponsored terror in Syria, escalating conflict in Israel, and the persecution of Christians across the Middle East were not enough, now there’s the march of ISIS, a vast, mobile, and unpredictable kind of terror that produces beheadings on our TV screens and a surge in troop deployment.
We might soothe ourselves by saying, “That’s far away—over there,” if not for Ferguson, Missouri. The scenes of protests following the shooting death of a teenager by a city policeman are still fresh, and the threat of deadly riots pending the outcome of a grand jury investigation of the policeman’s actions is even scarier. Our Illinois friends who live in metro St. Louis television market have been subjected to four months of daily news coverage predicting trouble. Teachers, pastors, and church leaders have all been advised what to do if protests again turn violent.
And don’t forget Ebola. For people all over the world, these are scary days. But into such frightening times, God often sends a message: fear not.
The Lord assures Joshua as he assumes command after Moses, “Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
Gideon, ordered to save Israel from the Midianites, is fearful until he hears from God himself: “But the Lord said to him, ‘Peace to you. Don’t be afraid, for you will not die’ (Judges 6:23).
From Lamentations, the prayer of all Israel: “You come near when I call on You; You say: ‘Do not be afraid.’” (Lam. 3:57).
And most famously, the head of a night-sky army tells a little band of shepherds outside Bethlehem, “Fear not, for behold…” In their declaration there’s a reason for steely nerve: A savior, a rescuer has been born.
When God sends the message to be brave and courageous, he often couples it with an assurance of his own presence. “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
In Isaiah’s question, “Who has believed what we have heard? And who has the arm of the Lord been revealed to?” (53:1), the prophet is referring to the coming Messiah. God’s strong right arm is Jesus himself. That’s who will defend us. That’s who will protect us.
“Fear not” is not an idle command; God backs up what he says. “For behold” is an invitation to look and see that His promise is ready to be tested and fully verified.
Jesus, walking on water, tells the disciples: “‘Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’
‘Lord, if it’s You,’ Peter answered Him, ‘command me to come to You on the water.’
‘Come!’ He said” (Matt 14:27-29).
Fear not, Peter, the Lord’s strong arm will hold you up, even on the roiling sea. With such an all-powerful guard alongside, there is no reason to be afraid.
Kizzie Davis, owner of the Ferguson Burger Bar, told KMOX radio last week she refused to board up her new business, as other owners were doing ahead of the grand jury’s report. The mom-and-pop hamburger shop opened one day before the death of Michael Brown and survived the first protests. “We had no issues at that time,” Davis told the reporter. “Prayerfully, we won’t have any issues if unrest occurs this time.”
Customers commended her brave stance. “Cool management. They fear no one, but God,” one posted at the restaurant’s website. (And the turkey burger topped with a fried egg got five stars.)
Davis reminds us all that we can’t live in fear, even in fearful times. And if we follow her example, we too will stay open, keep cooking, and pray.
Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist and associate executive director for IBSA’s Church Communications Team.