How God Responds to Your Fear: A Study of Scripture
(Inside: Help me not to fear. How can I remove my fear? If these are your prayers, walk with me through a brief look at examples of people in the Bible who were afraid and how God responds to their fears. Do not fear – let’s learn how.)
“Be strong; do not fear!” (Isaiah 35:4)
My friend and I were discussing God’s do-not-fear command in these not-exact words:
Me: God commands us not to fear, but it’s so hard. My perfectionist-brain tells me that I never do this right. I always feel fear. I imagine God booming from heaven, “Don’t fear! I got this!” in a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps sort of way, but I just can’t. Fear can be too intense. It takes hold of my heart, my soul, all of me and I feel like I can’t think or move or do anything.
Friend: Go on…
Me: I try so hard to do what’s right, but I just can’t “not fear.” Then not only do I still hold fear, but I now feel disappointed in myself for not having enough faith to “not fear.”
(I am never dramatic or high-maintenance at all.)
Friend: Hmmm. I’ve always thought of God’s “do not fear” command differently. Like the father who kneels down next to his 12-year-old son getting ready to pitch his first baseball game and saying, “Don’t fear son. Just pitch like we practiced – you’re going to do great!” Or a mom stroking her daughter’s hair saying, “Don’t fear, dear one. I’m with you. We’ll figure this out.”
Help me not to fear…
This is why faith conversations with friends are so important. I can respond well to the pick-yourself-up-brush-yourself-off-and-move-on encouragement. So, the idea that God speaks to us in a different way, my stuck-in-its-ways-brain doesn’t go there without the help of someone else who walks with God in their own unique way.
Since this conversation with a friend, I wanted to do some more research on how God responds to fear. So, I looked up Bible characters who were afraid and recorded how God responds to them. Here’s what I found…
“Help me not to fear” – God responds by comforting those who fear
God comforts those who fear. We see examples of this in the lives of Mary, Elijah and Hagar.
Mary, Mother of Jesus (God comforts)
Situation: God tells unwed, young Mary that she is “with child.” But not just any child, the son of God. (No pressure there.) An angel appears to her, she doesn’t know how her fiance will respond to all of this madness, and I imagine she has moments of faith mixed with moments of fear. (Luke 1:26-38)
How God responds to Mary’s fear: He sends her to live with her older (wiser) cousin, Elizabeth, who is also pregnant. Mary is comforted and nourished in Elizabeth’s home. (Luke 1:39-56)
Elijah, Old Testament Prophet (God comforts)
Situation: Elijah has just shown how great God’s power is by defeating Baal followers in a show of whose-God-can-supernaturally-light-this-altar-on-fire contest. The God of Israel won. A leader in the Baal-nation, Queen Jezebel, was ticked off that Elijah showed her god up. She threatened to have Elijah killed. In fear, Elijah ran like Forrest Gump. (1 Kings 18:20-19:4)
How God responds to Elijah’s fear: God tells Elijah to eat and rest. He leads him away from danger and gives him plenty of time to heal and recover. Then, God whispers only the next right step to Elijah. (1 Kings 19:5-18)
Hagar, Rejected Slave Girl (God comforts)
Situation: God has promised Sarai and Abraham a son. There’s one problem: Sarai and Abraham are old and they’re struggling to believe this promise. Especially, Sarai. So, she takes matters into her own hands and has Abraham have a child with his servant, Hagar. Sweet Hagar gets pregnant and all goes exactly as you’d expect – Hagar treats Sarai with contempt, and Sarai gets jealous and gives her the boot. Hagar finds herself on the run, alone on the road to Shur, seated beside a spring of water in the wilderness. Think of all the emotions this pregnant servant girl must be feeling: anger, rejection, sadness…and fear. (Genesis 16)
How God responds to Hagar’s fear: God sents an angel to comfort Hagar and give her the next best step accompanied by beautiful promises:
“Then the angel of the Lord told her, ‘Go back to your mistress and submit to her.’ The angel added, ‘I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.’ The angel of the Lord also said to her: ‘You are now pregnant and you will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard of your misery.” (Genesis 16:9-11)
“Help me not to fear” – God responds by carrying out “His Will”
Sometimes I fear that I won’t be obedient and “God’s will” won’t happen. (Feel free to laugh.) Friends, we don’t hold that kind of power. We can be afraid and even resist God, but He’ll continue to pursue a relationship with us and point us in our ordained direction.
Moses, His Call to Free the Israelites (God’s will is done)
Situation: God appears to Moses in a burning bush and tells him he’s going to lead the Egyptians out of Isreal. Moses is afraid and argues with God – repeatedly. (Exodus 3)
How God responds to Moses’ fear: God is persisted with Moses. He shows Moses convincing signs. He provides Moses’s brother to go with him to talk for him after Moses argued that he’s not good with words. God makes sure his will happens; God will free the Israelites through Moses. (Exodus 4-13)
Jonah, preaching to Ninevah (God’s will is done)
Situation: God tells Jonah to preach His word and promises to Ninevah, and Jonah doesn’t even like those people, so he’s like…nawwwww. Then he runs, boards a ship, sails as far as he can get away from Ninevah. Well, until God sends a storm, gets Jonah thrown into the sea, and causes a big fish to swallow him. In the belly of fish, Jonah does what every terrified human finds himself doing – crying out to God. (Jonah 1-2)
How God responds to Jonah’s fear: “No big deal, JOnah, I saw that little *detour* you took, but it’s time to fulfill your calling – go to Ninevah and preach to those people whom I love.” And so Jonah did – despite his initial disobedience, Jonah had a heart for God and was pursued until he did the right thing. (Jonah 3-4)
“Help me not to fear” – God responds by teaching that joy doesn’t depend on perfect circumstances
God continually shows us that it’s not just the rich or those with the perfect teeth who can be happy. Joy isn’t dependent on perfect circumstances, rather we can glean indescribable happiness through walking with God.
Israelites, in the desert (Joy doesn’t depend on circumstances)
Situation: The Israelites have been freed from slavery, but remember, Egypt is all the Israelites have known. For generations. This wandering in the desert thing is nutso and the Israelites become restless and cranky. They’re especially irritable after they find “their promised land” is full of big-scary people, apparently. All these big emotions stem from one powerful weapon Satan uses against us – fear. (Exodus & Deuteronomy 1-2)
God’s response to the Israelites in the desert’s fear: This is where it gets tricky. Even though God has freed them from slavery, supernaturally fed them in the desert, and led them through awe-inspiring ways, God doesn’t just *poof* give them their promised land. Nope. He tells the generation of whiners, it’ll be their descendants who inherit the promise. Not even Moses gets to enter, rather their new leader Joshua.
Repeatedly, God teaches that our joy and contentment don’t stem from the perfect situation. Because if that were true, only the rich could be happy.
God was with the Israelites every step in the desert weaving love and joy and relationship into the mundane:
“The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything.” (Deuteronomy 2:7)
“Help me not to fear” – God responds by giving the next right step
Israelites, escaping Egypt (God gives them the next right step.)
Situation: The Israelites are heading towards freedom when the Egyptians changed their minds and charge after them. The Israelites are scared. Moses comforts them saying,
“But Moses told the people, ‘Don’t be afraid. Just stand where you are and watch, and you will see the wonderful way the Lord will rescue you today. The Egyptians you are looking at—you will never see them again.'”(Exodus 14:13)
How God responds to the Israelites’ fear when escaping Egypt: After Moses’ words of comfort, God tells Moses to act. Just take the next right step: raise your staff!
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Quit praying and get the people moving! Forward, march! Use your rod—hold it out over the water, and the sea will open up a path before you, and all the people of Israel shall walk through on dry ground!'” (Exodus 14:15-16)
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, at the tomb (God gives them the next right step)
Situation: Jesus has been crucified and is buried in the tomb. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary enter the tomb, most likely to dress Jesus’s body. The tomb shook with an earthquake and an angel appear. The women are scared.
How God responds to the woman’s fear: God gives the women the next right step. He gives them just enough information for them to move forward:
“The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.’
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. ‘Greetings,’ he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’” (Matthew 28:5-10)
“Help me not to fear” – God responds by saving those who fear
God sometimes supernaturally saves. Think back to a time in your life when you saw this. For me, I was driving on the icy highway and my car slid into a 180 degree turn to where I was facing oncoming traffic. Miraculously, my car weaved through a sliver of space between cars onto the shoulder of the road. God responded to my fear and cry for help by saving me.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in the fiery furnace (God saves)
Situation: King Nebuchadnezzar has made an image of gold of requires all of his subjects bow down to his god. Shadrach, Mesach, and Abednego refuse saying:
“King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18)
Heat up the fire, friends, because these men are being thrown in… (At this point, I would be terrified. I might have shown resolve in deciding to follow the one true God, but my heart would be beating out of my chest.)
How God responds to Shadrach, Meshach, and Adenego’s fear: He miraculously saves them. He sends an angel (or some say Jesus) into the fire with them and not even one hair is singed. (Daniel 3)
Daniel, in the lion’s den (God saves)
Situation: Same story, new characters. The leaders are made that Daniel is a man of integrity after God’s heart. He’s not worshipping their false gods or falling in line with culture. Daniel is thrown into the lion’s den. (No reason to fear at all there, Daniel.) (Daniel 4-6:18)
How God responds to Daniel’s fear: God shuts the lions’ mouths and saves Daniel. The end. *I’m the one true God.* Mic dropped. (Daniel 6:19-28)
Peter, walking on water (God saves)
Situation: Peter is in a boat and sees Jesus walking on water towards him. Peter so wants to trust. Here’s how the story plays out:
“But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ ‘Lord, if it’s you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’ ‘Come,’ he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” (Matthew 14:27-30)
Peter, the doubter – always aiming high, then disappointing himself.
How God responds to Peter’s fear: Jesus calls out Peter’s lack of faith, but then…guess what…he still saves him. Matter of fact, he saves him first – then challenges him to have faith.
“Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’” (Matthew 14:31)
“Help me not to fear” – God responds by still using those who fear in world-changing ways
Do you think God can’t use you because you perhaps don’t have enough faith or the right type of faith? Think again, my friend. Look at these examples…
Peter, denies Jesus (God still uses him)
Situation: Ahhh…it’s Peter, again – blessed imperfect man. Jesus is put in prison, being beaten, crucified, the whole nine yards… And three times someone says to Peter, “Hey, aren’t you a friend of Jesus?” And Peter – most likely, terrified – says, “No way, man, not me…” (Matthew 26:69-75)
God’s response to Peter’s fear (and denial): Jesus not only knows Peter’s three times denial is going to happen, he tells Peter this prediction. God knows were humans, so we are going to do human-like things. Peter still becomes the greatest preacher of all time. (Matthew 26:31-35)
“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18)
“Help me not to fear” – God responds by providing help
David, running from King Saul (God provides help)
Situation: David, the God-chosen next King of Isreal, is running from the current King Saul. Saul is jealous, in a rage and is set out to kill David. David is scared. (1 Samuel 20)
How God responds to David’s fear: God provides his dear friend, Jonathan, son of King Saul, to find out inside information about the King’s plan, then help David escape. God often sends people to help when we fear. (1 Samuel 20)
How God responds to our fear – what ties all these stories together
When people in the Bible were afraid, God responds by:
- providing comfort
- persistently pointing people to the direction he wants them to go, making sure “his will” happens
- teaching joy doesn’t depend on perfect circumstances
- giving them simply the next right step
- saving them
- still using those who fear in world-changing ways
- providing help
A common thread runs through all of these responses – God is continually for as and is working in our lives in our best interests, for His glory. (Mind-blowing!)
Because God is always for us, we can release fear and confidently embrace faith.
To those who fear – God is always for you
The next time you fear, think of the dedicated dad giving his son a pep-talk before he pitches the next game. “Do not fear, son, you’ve practiced hard – you will do great. And I’ll be close cheering you on.”
Or think about the mom that gathers her daughter into her arms and strokes her hair, “Do not hear, loved one. We’ll figure this out together.”
Sit in Jesus’s embrace, then believe him. We really don’t have to fear. He was with us yesterday, next to us now, and is in our future. God is for us – always and forever.