Living With Fear And WinningErwin W. Lutzer | February 23, 2003
Selected highlights from this sermon
Fear consumes many of us, and for the rest, it lurks in the back of our minds. But as God’s people, what do we have to fear? If we truly understand God and His promises, what can actually trouble us?
David faced some difficult circumstances, even as a child of God, but his testimony reminds us that God is our protector, who satisfies, accepts, teaches, and guides us. When we encounter trials, we know that we are still in the hands of our sovereign God.
We’re told today that there are five or six fears, and actually I have to say that probably every one of us has at least one fear, and maybe two or three fears. Oh the list could include such things as fear of rejection. It’s amazing what people will do to be accepted because we fear rejection from friends, and maybe even from a spouse. Young women sometimes marry unwisely because they fear that they might go through life without a husband, and that kind of rejection sometimes brings about unwise decisions.
I know it’s been said a thousand times but I’ll say it a thousand and one. It is always better to want what you don’t have than to have what you don’t want. Remember that. And we have some testimonies of that right over here. We could open the mic and we could hear it directly.
Secondly, there’s fear of poverty, economic uncertainty, fear that we won’t have enough to live, that we’ll be thrown out on the street, that we’ll lose our houses or our condos because we are losing our jobs. There’s fear of loneliness. Imagine being in a nursing home and nobody visits you and you’re just there alone, just you and Jesus. Imagine the loneliness and the sense of rejection.
Fear of sickness! I know someone whose wife would not go to the doctor because she feared that the test would reveal something. And she didn’t go and so she died from something that, humanly speaking, was quite preventable. But the very idea of having a test! She preferred not to know what was wrong with her body.
Fear of violence! We can now add terrorism. Did you buy your duct tape? I spoke to a woman this past week and she said that she bought a lot of it, and now her kids have convinced her to take it back to the store.
Terrorism, biological weapons, chemical weapons! We hear about the possibilities that are so horrendous that if that happens I think we’ll just want to say, “Lord, here we come. Let’s not try to figure all this out.”
What about fear of death? That’s a “biggie.” Martin Luther liked to tell the story about a Turkish army officer who promised his soldiers that if they died in a war that day, they would go directly to sup with Christ in heaven by evening. So many of them went, and some of them died, and some of them who lived came back and said to the officer, “Why didn’t you go into the battle and get killed so that you could sup with Christ this evening?” He said, “Well, I couldn’t do that because I’m fasting today.” Fear of death!
Now I want us to know that the answer to the problem of fear is a new understanding and a fresh understanding of God. That’s where it lies. And it’s because of some misconceptions of God that we sometimes find fears that are coming into our lives that would not have to be there if we just understood God a little better. King Saul hounded King David, before David was the king. He was running from cave to cave. Ten long years this harassment continued, and Saul intended to kill David, and David was running, and actually he not only ran, but it so destabilized him mentally that he actually ended up joining the Philistine army, the army of the enemy, for a piece. It’s amazing what harassment and fear can do, and you continue to run. And that’s what was happening to David, and it can happen to us. But the Psalm that I’ve chosen today is one in which David got his sight straight. It’s one in which he offers up hope because he’s thinking biblically about God. Let’s put it that way.
Psalm 27 is the Psalm and it was written when David was fleeing from King Saul. That’s where most scholars place it, and as a result of that, you find that David here is rejoicing in God, and he mentions at least four different blessings that come to those who are in distress. Are you in distress today? You’ve got four blessings coming your way and I want you to grab hold of all of them, and walk out of here today with all of these blessings safely tucked in your mind and heart. That’s the agenda.
First of all, what David says is, “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?” You know what a stronghold is. If you’ve been to Israel, you go to Masada. That’s a stronghold. There are huge mountains and steep cliffs. There’s no way that you can scale those heights, and what happened is the Jews were able to hold out there, as long as they had food and water, for years, and nobody could get to them. That’s the stronghold. God is our stronghold and we are in God.
Now David goes on and he says some things that you and I can’t say. In this Psalm he mentions some promises that you and I can’t claim. Notice what he says. “When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes,
it is they who stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.”
The part that doesn’t apply to us is when he says when evildoers assail him they are going to stumble and fall and they are going to vanish away. That may not be true of us. When we preach the Psalms, we have to point things like this out, and the reason that David could say this was because God gave him a promise that he would be king. And so he had this in his heart that no matter what happened he would live through it. But you and I don’t have that promise, do we? Not even Jesus, who always did the Father’s will, discovered that as armies came against Him they all stumbled and fell. No, they nailed Him violently to a tree. They crucified Him.
So how does this apply to us to say that God is our protector, which incidentally is the first blessing? The first blessing is that God is our protector. It simply applies in this sense. There is no way that an enemy can get to us unless God permits it. Unless God lets down the drawbridge and allows the enemy to attack us, no enemy can attack us without the express permission of God. That’s how it applies.
You say, “Well, why does God allow that? Why does He not just simply wall us off? Why don’t we just go through life without any enemies, without any attacks? Why can’t we just be secure in Him and sing all the songs of praises all the way to heaven without any care or concern?” Well, you know that God has a different agenda, don’t you?
It was Elizabeth Elliot who said, “We cannot explain why God allows some people to suffer in many different ways. We can’t explain that but we do know for sure that He loves us with an everlasting love. He asks us to trust Him until that time when the mystery of pain and His sovereignty will be unfolded.”
So God has His purpose, and part of that is going to become clearer as this message continues, but you and I don’t have the right to tell God how deep the knife might go into our soul. God is accomplishing something, but God shields us from so many different enemies that we don’t even know about, and He shields us from satanic attack. God IS our stronghold. He IS our protection. He is all that, but He allows the enemies through from time to time to teach us to trust Him in ways that we would never get to know Him, were it not that we walk through the valley of those fears.
The second blessing is David says God satisfies us. Verses 4-6 say, “One thing have I 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 inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock. And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord.”
Now if this indeed was written when David was fleeing from King Saul, think of what David is saying. He’s saying, “Not only does God protect me and shield me, but God satisfies me. I get to go into the Temple of the Lord, as it were, and behold the beauty of the Lord, and the Lord hides me in His tabernacle.”
The imagery is this: In the Middle East if you had a friend or someone who was even fleeing from an enemy, you could take that friend and you could hide him in your tent, and the enemy could not get to him unless the enemy got to you first. It was a sign of security, a sign of acceptance. It was guest rights, if you please. And David is saying, “You know, that’s what God does for me.” In the midst of my enemies and in the midst of my fears, there is a sense in which I get to worship Him and to enjoy His beauty in His tabernacle, and He surrounds me about in the hollow of His hand and His heart.” David says, “In the midst of my fears, God actually satisfies me. It’s not just that He protects me on the outside, but He gives me something within that is so fulfilling.”
Thirdly, he says, “God accepts me.” You’ll notice as he continues on, he speaks about seeking the face of the Lord. That is so beautiful that that really needs a separate message. I will not comment on it, although perhaps at the end I’ll say a word about it. But he says, “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!’” And then he says, “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in.’”
Now you have to understand David. David was the last born in his family, and he always struggled with this sense of rejection. And you remember what happened. All of the sons of Jesse marched before Samuel. And Samuel said, “I can’t figure this out, Lord, because you’ve not designated any one of these to be king, and apparently I’ve seen all of the sons.” The man said, “No, no, you haven’t seen them all actually. There’s a young one who is just tending to the lands and the sheep. You haven’t seen him, but there’s no way that this boy of 17 could be the right one.”
So David has this problem with wondering where he fit within the family, perhaps rejected by his older brothers, and also maybe rejected by his parents. So he says, “Even if my father and mother reject me.” I’m talking about abandonment issues. Those who do counseling know all about abandonment issues. If a child has been abandoned it is very difficult sometimes to establish comfortable and wholesome relationships because there is this fear that they are going to abandon me again. That’s why, by the way, the Church of Jesus Christ must become surrogate families for all the children who feel this sense of rejection and abandonment. That is our responsibility to be mother and father and cousins and aunts to those children. That’s what the Body of Jesus Christ is for. But in the process, what we do is we keep drawing them to God and saying, “Even though your father and mother have forsaken you (and some of you who are adopted feel that way, don’t you?), the Bible says that the Lord will take you up. God accepts you and receives you and you’ll never be caught in a child custody battle so far as God is concerned. You’ll belong to Him forever.”
So David says, “My major fear, which is the fear of abandonment, is being taken care of by God because even if my parents reject me, God will be there for me.” You know, that’s comforting, isn’t it? You may fear the rejection of a spouse. You may fear the rejection of your parents and relatives, or you may feel the sting and the hurt of betrayal, but God will be there for His people. The third blessing is He accepts us.
The fourth blessing is that He will teach and lead us. You’ll notice now that I’m actually in verse 11. “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. (We could read today terrorism.) 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!”
He says, “God will teach me and God will lead me.” Yes, through our fears God teaches us. God oftentimes takes all of those support systems that we think are so important and those are taken from us, and all that we have left is God. You’ve heard me quote the Puritans before, haven’t you?
“When all that we have is God, we discover that God is enough.”
There is such a thing as comfort and rest and security in God, and David says that that is actually the answer ultimately to those whom we fear, and the whole fear issue that is so important to us. And he says, “Lead me, Lord. Keep me from the desire of my enemies. They’ve laid traps for me.”
There are some of you who tomorrow morning are going to be in a work environment where there are people whose sole desire is to get you to fail. They want to see you fail. They want to set traps for you. They want to work it in such a way that you fail because it’s so important to them either to get your position, or else to feel better in relationship to you, full of envy. And then there are others of you who may be harassed and who may be in difficult situations. And David is saying, “Keep me from the desire of my enemies. Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, even though false witnesses have been raised against me.” And we find today that there are people all over the place who are willing to be false witnesses if you get money, if you get prestige or if it helps you. False witnesses abound in our culture. Sometimes even in Christian circles there are false witnesses that rise against us.
So what David is saying is, “Lord, You are giving me these blessings not when everything is going well.” You’ll notice he says, “He hides me in His tabernacle (as I mentioned a moment ago) in the day of trouble.” It’s not when you are healthy and well and when you get a windfall, and when everything seems to be going in your direction. Very much in the day of trouble God protects us, satisfies us, receives us, leads us, and in that we can be confident.
Now I began this message by saying that the answer to fear is for us to understand God, and His relationship to what’s happening in the world. And what I need to tell you is that obviously from this Psalm we can see that first of all, the bigger our God, the smaller our fears and our enemies, because you see that when David began to understand that the Lord was omnipotent and that He was God. That’s what instilled confidence. That’s what instills confidence in us.
Do you remember the early church? Do you remember that they were persecuted and they were whipped? They were taken and they were put in jail. And they came together for a prayer meeting, a marvelous prayer that was prayed in Acts 4. What did they say? “O sovereign Lord, we know that you are the creator of the ends of the earth.” That’s the way their prayer began. Why did they begin that way? They needed to remind themselves that God created even their enemies who were persecuting them, and they were dependent upon God for their very breath.
Listen! The person who has you in his sights, the person who would like to destroy you, I want to tell you today that that person lives and breathes by the mercy of a sovereign God who could snuff out his breath and his life in one second. And so the early church said, “Lord, you are the creator, and because You are the creator, You really do have the whole world in Your hands, and You are in control.”
There’s a second lesson, and now we get to the “biggie” that I think is going to be very helpful for all of us. Even when we are in the hands of wicked men, we are still in the hands of God. Even when we are in the hands of wicked men, as believers we are still in the hands of God. Who is it that crucified Jesus? Peter, when he was preaching to the people said, “You crucified Jesus. Wicked hands crucified Him and nailed Him to a cross. Wicked hands did it.”
And yet when Jesus dies on the cross and gives us those marvelous seven sayings from the cross, what is the last one that He gives. He says, “Father, into Thy hands I commit My Spirit.” Wicked hands can only do so much. Wicked hands can only snuff out your life or nail you to a cross, or cause an explosion, or cause a plane to go down. That’s all that wicked hands can do, but when wicked hands have done the worst that they can possibly do, underneath are the everlasting hands of God. And those hands sustain God’s people even when wicked hands do evil. Always remember that.
Remember that Jesus said some things about His hands. He said, “As far as My people are concerned, no one can pluck them out of My hands,” speaking of His people. And then He said in the very same context, “My Father who gave them to Me is greater than everybody, and nobody can pluck them out of My Father’s hands.” You have hands in harmony. You have the hands of the Son and you have the hands of the Father, and both of them are holding onto God’s people, and they hold onto God’s people even when God’s people are thrown to the lions, even when they are massacred and even when they die in airplanes. They hold onto God’s people. Those hands do not let go.
Let’s take Todd Beamer of Let’s Roll fame. Did he, as a believer, die under the hands of wicked men, or the hands of God? The answer is, of course, that he died under both hands. He was in the hands of wicked people on that airplane, you remember, that went down in Pennsylvania. Wicked hands were hijacking it, intending to take it perhaps to Washington to hit one of the buildings there. Wicked hands were doing that, but he died under the hands of God. And even though those hijackers were in God’s hands, and the Bible says regarding the wicked that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God, they also fall into God’s hands. But believers fall into God’s hands and they are taken to heaven along with Jesus who said, “Into Thy hands I commit My Spirit.”
I hope I’m making myself clear today. What I’m trying to say to you is that the providence of God does not leave you just because somebody who is wicked attacks you or even kills you. You are still in the hands of God.
I helped a woman understand this whose husband was murdered in a random murder. She was a believer. He was too. She struggled a great deal with this. She could never accept the death of her husband as being part of God’s plan because to her, God’s plan had only good things over here. It would never include evil things over here. Well, needless to say, God does not do evil. God did not murder her husband. Wicked hands murdered her husband, but even those wicked hands, as I have mentioned, are still in the hands of God, and the believer, her husband, died in God’s hands.
That’s why David said in just a couple of Psalms later in Psalm 31:14-15, “But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hands.” Your hands! Now he says, “Deliver me from my enemies and those who persecute me,” but “my times are in God’s hands.”
This evening, God willing, I am going to be flying to Canada. You know that there’s a big country to the north of us called Canada. God willing, tonight, if He wills it, I’m going to be in Regina, Saskatchewan, enjoying some fellowship with my parents. My father is 100 and my mother is 95, and I get a chance to visit them en route to Calgary where I’m speaking just for a couple of days.
Now I want to tell you in advance that I believe that the plane that I’m going to fly on is going to make it. Okay? Let’s just get that straight, but if it doesn’t, I don’t want you to think to yourself, “Well, you know, he died because this plane had mechanical failure, or because it was hijacked, or because of this or that (whatever the reason may be).” I want you to know that ultimately, despite all of these contingencies, I have the deep satisfaction that I will have died in the hands of Almighty God. And I want you to have that satisfaction, too, because when you begin to believe that, then fear begins to dissipate because you begin to say that there is no harm that will come to me except that it is a part of the divine plan.
Now, of course, we don’t do foolish things. We make wise decisions just like David did. When David was running from Saul he didn’t say, “God, You are going to protect me so here I am. Let’s all kill me.” No David was running because you have human responsibility connected with providence, but at the end of the day I want you to know today that we are in God’s hands.
That’s why Jesus said, “Do not fear those who are able to kill the body.” That’s all that terrorists can do. All that they can do is to kill the body, and then after that they run out of ideas. Jesus said, “Fear him rather who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
There’s a third lesson, and with this we will conclude, and that is that it’s not possible to simultaneously focus on God and focus on our fears. In fact there’s a verse in the Psalms that actually says if you fear God you need fear nothing else. You don’t even have to fear news from a far country, the Bible says, as long as you fear God, because there’s nothing that comes into your life but that it is a part of His permissive will - at least part of His permissive will.
Someone has said that fear - and here we have an acrostic now, F E A R – is false evidence appearing real. There are tons of fears out there that you and I have that will never come to us. In British Columbia I’m reminded of that prison made of wallboard that any prisoner could have pushed down, but it looked like concrete, so they never tried to touch it. In the very same way, many of our fears, if we push on them, we find are a puff of smoke, especially in the presence of a sovereign God. And that’s the way our fears are. As long as we think they are formidable, they are as formidable as we think they are. But if we are willing to trust God, the fear dissipates. Let not your heart be troubled.
There was a little girl who was riding on a train, playing with her dolls and toys on one side of the train, and when the train went into a tunnel the people that were around thought that the little one would cry. Suddenly this train, which was in sunlight, was engulfed in darkness. But she didn’t cry, and when the train came out on the other side of the tunnel everybody realized why she didn’t cry. She had left her dolls and toys and had rushed across the aisle and was securely being held in the arms of her mother. That’s what fear does to us. Fear makes us leave all the things that are important in life, and we run to God, and we say, “I want you to envelop me. I want You to be all that I am at this moment,” and God, figuratively speaking, puts His arms around us. Look at what David says here in the last verse of Psalm 27, “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!” Wait for the Lord!
Some of you are bearing burdens and fears that God never, never intended you to bear, and you are bearing them, and it hurts, and it’s destructive. Why don’t we just give it all to God today? Just let go and say, “God, You are stronger than I am. You know more than I do. You have a providential plan. You can hurt me as deeply as You think I need to be hurt, but at this moment I transfer my fears to You.” Can we do that?
Let’s pray together.
Father, before I came here today I prayed for the deliverance of Your people from fear, fear of illness, fear of terrorism, fear of rejection, fear of war. Today we pray, Father, that in a new way You will help us to see that we are in Your hand. May we transfer those fears to You!
Would you begin to do that right now? And I am speaking to the congregation and those who are listening by other means – maybe the Internet or radio. Would you transfer those fears to the Lord right now?
Father, we know that these things take time. They can’t be done in just a moment, but I wanted the opportunity to be given for everyone to say, “Lord, by Your grace I’ll bear these fears no longer.” The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? Who is out there? No one is out there who is as great as the One who loves me and cares for me, and hides me in His tent. Oh grant that, Father, we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.