Preaching and Praying Your Way through Fear
Fears We Share
If I were to survey the audience, I wonder what fears would be common to all. Having no time to survey this group, let’s briefly conduct a survey of Scriptures dealing with common human fears. And if your fear isn’t on this list, the message doesn’t change; so don’t check out if you’ve got some unique fear that the Bible doesn’t specifically address. I believe God has something to say for every fear we experience. But for now, here’s a short list of three common and broad fears.
(1) “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28). Death is the broadest fear in all the world. Why is a man scared of heights? Why are some afraid of snakes? Why don’t some fly on airplanes? Why do we fear hunger or joblessness? Death! How many thousands of fears stem from the fear of death? Many disciples didn’t (don’t!) evangelize for a fear of those who might kill them for it.
(2) Herod heard an offensive message preached by John the Baptist, and the Bible records, “And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet” (Matthew 14:5). He didn’t spare John for a fear of Almighty God who’d commissioned his prophetic ministry; he spared John for a fear of people. What would the people think?
Make no mistake. This was not the same kind of fear shared by the disciples when they went out to preach a hard message to a hostile world. Herod wasn’t afraid like that. He was afraid of what people might think if he went against the broad mode of thinking. Countless fears and anxieties stem from a grand fear of people’s opinion.
The same fear is displayed by the Pharisees in Matthew 22, who feared the crowds and therefore did not arrest Jesus. I still fight this fear. What will people think if I wear this or say that or associate with such and such a group? It is a fear of people’s opinion toward me and you.
(3) In the parable of the talents, one man was granted only one talent from the Lord, and when the Lord returned, he said to him, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground” (Matthew 25:24-25).
What was the fear? It was a fear of failure. “I don’t wanna fail! So I’ll take this gift given me from God, and I’ll hull it up in some hidden place never to be shared and used for good.” How many are cowering under the fear of failure and therefore refusing to use God’s resources over which he’s made them stewards?
A fear of death, a fear of mankind’s opinion, and a fear of failure—I think these are the three most basic fears in the world. So I want this message to provide some fuel for acting courageously despite those fears.
Now, before we look to our text tonight, I want to make one more assessment: Fear, as a basic emotion, is not the enemy; paralysis is. Some fear is good, insofar as it keeps you doing what is right. But, Insofar as a fear immobilizes and petrifies and disables your ability to function in society or accomplish God’s will, it is a fear that needs to be crushed.
So I want to establish through the Psalmist a prompt for courage in the face of fear. Courage to evangelize, despite the fear of man’s opinion; courage to get out of bed, despite the fear of failure; courage to stand for what is right in the face of death.
The text tonight is Psalm 27, if you’d like to read along. We’ll begin with the first three verses.
1 The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? 2 When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall. 3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.
Now does that sound like a scared man? “Whom shall I fear! The LORD is my stronghold! Of whom shall I be afraid!?” He doesn’t sound afraid at all.
Now read with me from verse 7: “Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek.’ Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation! For my father and my mother have forsake me, but the Lord will take me in. Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies. Give me not up to the will of my adversaries; for false witnesses have risen against me, and they breathe out violence. I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
Does that give a different perspective to the Psalm? “The LORD is my stronghold! Whom shall I fear!” Then, “Hear, O Lord, when I cry to you!” Then, “Let your heart take courage.”
At what times do you tell yourself to take courage? When you’re feeling courageous? No! You say so when you’re struck with fear. So what was happening to cause David fear? At least six issues: He speaks of evildoers (v. 2), enemies (v. 2), armies (v. 3), war (v. 3), familial rejection (v. 10), and false testimony (v. 12). Those aren’t small problems. These are problems of which everyone would have fear. But the beauty of the Psalms is they not only share with us human emotion, but they provide divine direction in the midst of a given human emotion.
So Psalm 27 has two practical applications concerning proper conduct in the midst of natural fear: The first part is a sermon to self for courage (vv. 1-6, and 14); the second part is a plea for God’s aid (vv. 7-13).
Preaching Boldness to Your Fearful Spirit
There’s this idea in psychology which addresses deficiencies of courage and esteem by way of positive self-talk. Poorly esteemed persons are counseled to begin their day with a mantra of sorts—something like, “I am a confident, capable, intelligent man, and there is no problem too big for me.” Something like that.
Anyways, sometimes I think people (e.g. psychologists) strike at cords of truth without really getting the full picture. David is very clearly speaking positively to himself. In fact, the Psalms are full of men speaking positively to themselves concerning many matters. But there’s a major difference between the positive self-talk in the Psalms and modern day psychological theory.
We are told, look in the mirror and say, “I am my salvation! Whom shall I fear? I am a stronghold; of whom shall I be afraid?” Did David speak to himself like that?
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; the Lord is the stronghold of my life; he will hide me in his shelter; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock!”
David was full of positive self-talk; only the object of his strength was not himself, it was God! We sell ourselves so amazingly short when we preach, “I can do it!” I make for a terribly poor god, and the things I can accomplish on my own are very very small.
Now, concerning this inner sermon, how do you suppose David developed so great a confidence in the Lord to cast all the power of salvation into God’s hands? Two things:
(1) Look at verse 4: “One thing I have asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in his temple.”
David had spent a great deal of time in the temple of the Lord, meditating on his beauty and quite obviously his power. If you don’t have that concept of God, then you need to spend more time with him.
(2) Look at verse 9: “Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help.”
O you who have been my help! David had been here before. David had been faced with enemies before. David had prevailed out of dark situations before. And as he looks back on all that, he says, “That was all the Lord!” Do you look back on your triumphs that way? Have you walked out of some dark places you thought would end it all?
In your times of fear, look back on those dark hours from the past, and preach to yourself, “The Lord was my stronghold! The Lord brought me through! Therefore, the Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear!?” Such a sermon has grand power.
Seeking God's Face in Prayer
But there’s one thing that will make such a sermon totally powerless. It’ll fall like a Joel O’steen motivational speech. Such a sermon will only have power if your life is one of prayer and seeking the face of God.
David looked up to God, after preaching to himself of God’s saving power, and said, “You have said to me, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek.’” He was in a constant pursuit of God’s face.
Look at verse 4 again: “One thing I have asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in his temple.”
David isn’t saying all this stuff merely because he’s scared and sees God as a last resort. David has lived his life in the pursuit of God’s face! And I assure you if that’s your lifestyle, such an inner sermon will have grand power.
And one final point I want to make concerning David’s personal relationship with God as expressed by this prayer: David was totally humble and unassuming. He didn’t say, “Where in the world are you!? Get down here and help me!”
He said, “Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me!” He said, “Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation!”
So many elements of humility shine through in his prayer, but perhaps the chief one is a recognition of his own sinfulness and reliance on God for his grace. He said, “Don’t turn away from me in anger.” Why would he say that? David presumed he had sin in his life of some sort, and he wanted to make sure God knew he was aware of his imperfection. He was drawing after God’s grace, seeking his face, and humbly confessing his own imperfection, all while requesting divine protection against his greatest fears.
When you experience fear, what has been your tactic? Consider Psalm 27 and the approach of a man after God’s own heart. Consider the tactic of one of the most courageous men to have ever lived.
When filled with fear, preach to your inner man about God’s sovereign and omnipotent power over your life. And seek his face in humility.
© Finding Canaan