Multitudes of people never fulfill God’s call for their lives because fear stops them. But scripture says, “Fear not, for I am with you.” Is. 40:1 The Bible directs its attack against fear’s attack by hitting at the heart of fear’s ultimate power—the false belief that one is isolated and without aid. Fear tells us we are merely one and no more and there isn’t anymore or certainly not enough. It speaks to us saying, “Here you are all by yourself, just you, and nobody coming to help. And what, dear friend, can you do all by yourself?” Of course, fear isn’t your friend most of the time. Faith tells us the truth when it says, “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
Battling fears is a lifetime task. Fear imprisons us in lives less than full, smaller than we want them to be, and as persons frailer than we seek to live. But there’s more to you and more to the Lord than we too often accept. When you feel like you’re slipping and you fear what may come next, God “will not let your foot be moved,” says our psalm. Don’t listen to a fear that says you’re in this all on your own. You’re not alone. “The Lord is your keeper,” says the Bible.
There’s a short story that goes: “Once the Creator had a dream. God dreamt that only he knew the secret to the universe. What was to happen, if she were to die? This worried and troubled her. He awoke and decided to make man and woman. Then the Lord made a further decision: to throw away the keys to the universe. So that now every woman and every man have to create the world anew.” We’ve been created for bigger things than we might normally think. But fear can reduce the world, starting when we’re young, of course; however, the wisdom needed to overcome fear can also happen when we’re young.
A mom wrote about her eight-year-old son. “Three years ago, my son and his friends encountered an aggressive dog and overnight, he was utterly terrified of anything with a tail. He would cross the street if he would see even a puppy approaching and if a dog got near him, he would scream and jump a mile high. This went on for a few months and then Benton appeared. Benton was a small white dog with a brown tail—and my son’s first imaginary friend. Later he had others too: a cat, a horse, a tiger, an invisible boy. At some point, they went up to eight and it was crowded at home. But Benton was the first one and stayed with us the longest. My son was able to explain what the dog was currently doing at any given moment, and we talked about him often. We even wrote one and a half books about him (I got lazy after that).
Over time, when we met a dog, after the initial scream, he would look at it and start finding similarities with Benton and show more and more interest in dogs. Two years after Benton came into our lives, my son was able to spend time with dogs and even play with them occasionally. He is still not their biggest fan (we are cat people in our house), but he feels quite comfortable with our friends’ very real dog who lives in our shared yard.”
How smart or wise was that eight-year-old! Be like that kid. Don’t settle for fears that reduce your world, your life, that keep you from what you want to do, want to say, where you want to go. Take your time. Be patient with yourself but get freed from fears.
I love what someone wrote in a poem: “Why, when God’s world is so big, did you fall asleep in a prison of all places?” Talk about a mind-expander, a mind-blower. First and front and center this one line pushes us to remember this world is God’s world and God’s world is so big. It’s not just the tiny thing we inhabit and concern ourselves about so often. So many people are anxious these days, and much of it arises from thinking the tiny island I’m standing on is all I got. If what we think is ours, if all we believe the Lord has put in our hands, and on our shoulders, and under our feet, if all that we’re responsible for and we have a right to look out over, is a one foot by one foot patch, then you better believe you’re going to be anxious and concerned. “It’s so small and this all I got?” If something goes wrong, then it’s over. For some, fear makes their world smaller and smaller, but it doesn’t make them feel safer or stronger. We just get anxious.
If you find this is what things are like for you, take on other things. Include more into your life. God has given you more to oversee, to enjoy, to inhabit. The Lord calls you to come out of your cell and breathe in the air that surrounds the entirety of your life, the lives of those who love you, the ministry you have, the good you’re doing or can be doing.
I want to give the respect the poet’s author deserves. Jelaluddin Rumi, better known as just Rumi, was a 13th-century Persian or Iranian poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and celebrated Sufi mystic and saint. His major work is the Masnavi, a six-volume poem regarded by some as the Persian-language Qur’an. It is considered by many to be one of the, if not the, greatest works of mystical poetry. The Masnavi amounts to around 25,000 verses or 50,000 lines, teaching Sufi Muslims how to reach their goal of being in true love with God. According to Professor Majid M. Naini, “Rumi’s life and transformation provide true testimony and proof that people of all religions and backgrounds can live together in peace and harmony.”
We’re never sure why we’re thinking the way we do. Why do I doubt so much, that is, if you’re a doubter? Why do I fear this or that, if you’re a fearful person? Is something bad really going to happen? But somewhere in all this is a kernel of a hard bit of truth that comes from Rumi’s saying: “Why, when God’s world is so big, did you fall asleep in a prison of all places?” The hard bit of truth is that there is a certain amount of choice involved. We’re not totally passive. We’re selecting paths. We may not be able to see that far in front of us; well, to be honest, we don’t know the future at all. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a say in things. It’s not like tomorrow isn’t built somewhat out of today. One might expect things to have some similarity from one day to the next because, well, they do. Learn today’s lessons so you don’t have to face tomorrow without them. Work harder for wisdom. Refuse to be surprised or shocked by how things turn out. Rather, refuse to be the same person again and again.
If you think this is all only for younger people, try again. Listen to these: The oldest blogger is a 109-year-old woman, the oldest scuba diver is a 93-year-old man, probably the oldest skydiver is 101, and the oldest college graduate is a 95-year-old woman. Don’t let your fears hold you back. God’s world is big, but it’s not so big that you’re forgotten. Get rid of some fear that’s working against you. Recognize it as soon as it comes up. Be wiser than before, and more willing to wake up!
Peter’s great escape from prison in our scripture this morning says he didn’t lock himself into a prison, of course. He was thrown in there. But what it does tell us is that we have a tool to free us from prison. Prayer is that powerful tool, the powerful gift to free us from even the worst places. If you want to get out of the prison of your fears, to wake up from the sleep of little hope, the key is in your prayer.
What is prayer? Prayer is the time you spend going from doubting and fearing to believing and trusting that God will open doors, lift gates, and lead you out. Prayer turns our mind away from the smallness of our strength to the greatness of God’s care. Prayer gives us a chance to come to terms with something that overwhelms. Prayer places us under the Lord’s shield. Prayer stops the world from spinning out of our control and lets God slow things down so we can see where we still fit in. Prayer gives us a chance to see that life isn’t over when fear tells us differently. Give yourself a chance to hear God say, “I am your keeper.” Find time with the Lord so you can be assured that “your foot will not be moved.” We have help from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
I can’t imagine what Brittney Griner, the WNBA player arrested in Russia and now held there since February, is going through. In letters to her wife, Cherelle, she says she is struggling and is terrified. She also wrote, “I won’t let them break me. I know they’re trying to, but I’m going to do my best to just hold on until I can get home.” My hope is she is turning to prayer, and she’s getting freed from her fears. When we run out of options and fears take hold, praying is a powerful help and support. We will put Brittney Griner in our prayers this morning.
Did you know that there is something called phobaphobia, which is the fear of being afraid? How’s that for fear squared! Comedian Jerry Seinfeld observed, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that seem right? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” Yeah, being afraid can do quite a number on us.
Don’t let your fears be your keeper. Learn to pray through them and the Lord can be your keeper instead. God’s world is bigger and therefore better than so many permit. But it’s not so big you’re forgotten. Don’t listen to a fear that says you’re in this all on your own. You’re not alone. Good things, God’s things, are happening. Trust in the Lord and wake up. Let go of fears and keep faith instead.
Can the church say Amen?