Wednesday, October 31, 2012

 Putting Fear In Its Place

Happy Halloween!

Halloween is a funny time of year.  We celebrate things that frighten us, most of which are entirely made up (monsters, for example), and everyone seems to enjoy it!  I’m sure all this “fear” stuff can be taken in an unhealthy and even sinful direction – as many movies and seasonal Halloween stores prove – but when it’s kept at a PG level, I enjoy Halloween traditions too.  And if your experience is like mine, Halloween has always been celebrated at a family-friendly, even kid-friendly level, which makes the season a fun one that I believe Christians can enjoy in good conscience before God.  I suppose the key is to keep all the fear stuff at an appropriate level.

And maybe there’s a faith lesson in there also, in keeping fear at an appropriate level.  What is an “appropriate” level of fear in the life of God’s people?

Well, when you read through your Bible, you will run across several events that tell us about fear, some of which could even make for a good Halloween story:

·         Saul went to a spiritist to speak to Samuel (who had already died), and the spiritist cried out with fear when Samuel appeared and spoke (1 Samuel 28).

·         During a stormy night, well after midnight in a boat on the Sea of Galilee, the apostles were terrified to see what they thought was a ghost walking on the water (Matt. 14:22-33).  It turned out to be Jesus, showing His power as God’s Son.

·         Moses and the Israelites were terrified at the fire and storm and quaking of Mount Sinai when God descended on the mountain (Exodus 19:18ff, Heb. 12:21).

·         When the guards at Jesus’ tomb felt an earthquake and saw an angel of God appear, they shook for fear and apparently went into shock (Matt. 28:1-4). 

·         God led Ezekiel into a valley of dry bones, and then Ezekiel watched as the bones came back to life (Ezek. 37)!  It never says that Ezekiel was frightened, but I sure would have been!

All of these events tell of fear, and all have one thing in common: in each case, the fear was produced when men saw the power of God in action.  And who could blame them?  They were seeing a power far beyond anything they could imagine, yet it was happening right in front of them.  We would’ve been terrified, too.

Scripture encourages us to “fear God” (1 Peter 2:17), or to notice that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), or to remember that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7).  Does that mean God wants us to shake with fear like Moses, or cry out like the apostles, or go into shock like the guards?  When discussing the ‘fear of God,’ most Christians don’t think God wants us to go into screaming fits, but rather to live life with a full respect for the God who is much more powerful than we are, and who holds the keys of life and eternity.  This fear does not keep us from functioning in life; it is an appropriate level of fear, that, in fact, makes us function in life even more effectively. 

How does fear of God make us function more effectively in life?  Well, a fear of God also produces something else, which at first doesn’t make any sense: fearing God produces a fearless life.  Think about that for a second.  And then look at Psalm 27:1:

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread?”

He goes on to say in verse 3: “Though a host encamp against me, my heart will not fear; …”

When we submit our hearts to an appropriate fear of God, something amazing happens.  We realize that we have aligned our lives with the God who is greater than all else, who in fact created everything else.  And if He is with us, and we are on His side, I agree with David: whom shall I fear? 

Suddenly, knowing I am on God’s side, I’m not afraid of anything the world can throw at me.  I don’t fear people (Matt. 10:28).  I don’t fear suffering (Rev. 2:10).  I don’t fear not having what I need (Luke 12:7).  I don’t fear failure or struggles (Josh. 1:8-9).  I don’t even fear death (Phil. 1:21).  Name whatever it is you might be tempted to fear in this life, and then notice that God is so much more powerful than that. “If God is for us, who is against us?”  (Rom. 8:31)  There’s a confidence there that you can’t find anywhere else. 

When I was little, I would occasionally wake up from a nightmare, and I would still feel the fear of my dream.  Eventually, I stopped running to my parents’ room, and settled on a new direction: I would pray to God.  Or I would sing a church song in my mind.  Or both.  There was a wisdom in that response that I hope I haven’t lost as I’ve grown older – lean on God in times of fear, and suddenly the fears fade into nothing as God moves to the forefront. 

Tonight, our culture will have fun with the idea of fear, hopefully in a family-friendly way.  As the vampires and ghosts and witches pass by our houses looking for candy, let’s remember the blessing Christians have that so many others miss: a fear of God that produces a life of no fear. 

So there we go.  Happy Halloween everyone – go enjoy it, fearlessly. 

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