True Confessions. When I read Don’t be afraid or Fear not in the Bible, I think of Jesus standing with his hands on his hips, frowning, scolding me. I mean, it’s a command, and it’s a command I break with frightening regularity, so Jesus is disappointed with me, right? Maybe angry?
Someone recently helped me see these commands in a different light, and I want to share that light with you. (Thank you Carrie Mars for your devotion Calm Your Anxious Mind.)
Picture the scene. You’re in bed in the dark, and a storm is raging outside. Wind pelts the house and rhythmically slaps rain against the windows. Shadows from nearby trees shift and sway around the room like wraiths. Lightning lights up the room and then casts it into deeper darkness, followed by thunder, sometimes startling cracks and other times a deep rumbling that begins in the distance and rolls to a crescendo before dying away.
Now imagine you’re three years old. Mommy and Daddy are in another room. The storm startles you with its violence, and you can’t see anything, and you’re afraid. What might you do? Chances are you’ll put your little bare feet on the chilly floor and race to the safety of your parents’ room between the crashes of thunder. When you arrive you’ll hang over the edge of the bed, breathless, and admit you’re scared.
What will your parents do? Odds are slim your loving parents will stand up with hands on hips, point at you, and command with a frown and an angry voice You just stop being afraid right now.
More likely they’ll invite you under the covers, warm with their heat. One or both of them will pull you close, cocooning you in quiet safety. Yes, they will say Don’t be afraid, but it isn’t a command. It’s a caress, a promise, a reminder. Don’t be afraid, little one. We’re here, and we’re bigger than the storm, and you are safe.
Those with a fearful heart
I love this verse in Isaiah: Tell those who have a fearful heart, “Be strong! Don’t be afraid! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, God’s retribution. He will come and save you”. Isaiah 35:4
Note how it starts with those who have a fearful heart. Scary things happen in this world, and God knows we fear. He doesn’t point the finger, but he says Look, I am stronger than what you fear. I’m coming for you. I know it’s scary, but hang on, because you are safe with me.
Another verse that makes it acceptable to admit fear is Psalm 56:3: When I am afraid I put my trust in you. This Psalm deals with David after the Philistines seize him. He says in the next verse he is not afraid, but look at the chronology. First David fears. Then he actively puts his trust in God, remembering who God is and what he can do, and he isn’t afraid anymore.
It’s not instant. Fear is an emotion. It hits when it hits. It’s that next step God worries about—do we run and jump into God’s bed, snuggling close and letting him protect us, or do we sit alone, scared, frozen, and wallow in our fear?
Snuggle or wallow
I choose jumping into the bed. So, it seems, did David. Only his term is Refuge. God is his refuge. You only need a refuge if you’re in danger. David knew danger. The guy lived in literal caves running for his life. If anyone understands the need for a good, solid refuge, it’s a guy who moved from cave to cave for safety.
And God, David says around 40 times, is that refuge. Not the guy pointing the finger when David got scared. Not the deity disappointed that the scary events of life take a minute to process and might result in the emotion of fear. No, God is the refuge. He’s the cave. He’s the warm bed and the comforting arms.
Many times in Scripture, when God says not to fear, he follows with a why. Don’t fear, because… God is with me. God is my stronghold. He delivers me. He is my ever-present refuge. God knows how difficult it is to heed a command like that when you are afraid. So he tells us why. He comforts us with the truths. Yes, sometimes it takes time to hear them, to settle and appreciate them. That’s why he’s a stronghold and a refuge, a place to go until we can clearly hear and trust those words of peace.
When Jesus comforts fear
Jesus constantly tells people not to be afraid. Most often, he addresses fear of himself. Jesus was something new, someone powerful. He had enemies. He took risks when he spoke of the leaders. Some thought he disrespected the laws by not interpreting them as the leaders did.
So he understood that those around him might respond with fear. And he addressed it. He didn’t scold or get angry. He didn’t refuse to heal those who feared. No, more than once he simply said Don’t be afraid, and then he healed. His heart was all about compassion. He didn’t heal only the bodies, but he meant to heal the souls, and a frightened soul needs healing.
See, he said, I have power over illness and death. You don’t need to be afraid of my teaching or my presence, because I’ve proven I love you.
A mid-January pivot
Recently God made it very clear that I need to pivot. I had plans for my year in the field of writing. Fiction, yes, always. But I was certain I was being led to write a Bible study on the Psalms of David. There are no passages of Scripture I know better than the Psalms of David. God speaks to me with David’s words constantly.
Long story short, I realized I am supposed to write a Bible study this year, but it’s on something else. It’s on Jesus and his compassion. It’s all about those reasons he tells us not to be afraid, because he is something new, something loving and compassionate unlike anyone we’ve ever met. When he tells us not to fear, there is no finger pointing. There is no anger or disappointment. Instead, he holds up the corner of the blanket and lets us crawl in.
Not to give away the actual meat of my study—I keep stuff like that close until it’s clearer in my head, and right now it’s more thoughts than structure—but I know that, when I am done reading and studying, I will personally need to be told less often Don’t Be Afraid because I will know Jesus like I’ve never known him before.
And that is the point. The better I know Jesus, the better I know God, the less often He’ll have to tell me not to fear.
Don’t be afraid, little one…
I recently finished a long bout of fear, but this time I was able to read all the fear nots as the gentle, comforting words of a loving parent, not words of failure. The words are not a sword meant to cut away an annoying trait but an invitation. Jesus says Peace almost as often as he says Don’t be afraid. He wants us to settle, to know his peace and comfort, to be so close that the natural responses of fear and anxiety fall away.
Get close to me, God says. The more you know me, the more you trust me, the more you snuggle up in the refuge with me, the less often you’ll give way to fear. And one day, if you keep it up, you will face all the scariness of the world with no fear at all.
That’s my goal, but for now, when I have to be reminded not to fear, I take it as an invitation to draw closer to God, not to hide in shame.
By the way, if this resonates, check out a similar post here about blanket forts, panic rooms, and once again trusting God as a refuge. And feel free to comment below about how you deal with God’s commands not to fear.