Have you ever noticed that when all fails, fear can make us a praying person? As an eight or nine year-old I was leading my brothers on a climb along the river bank of the creek that ran behind our house. At the time it was an incredible adventure clinging to the steep river bank, struggling with footholds and handholds, and hoping not to get too dirty and face the wrath of mom! Suddenly I realized that occupying my next handhold was something scaly and brown coiled for an attack! I dropped into the water (mom's wrath was nothing now) and my brothers and I sprinted to the house so that the snake (whatever kind it was) would not kill us! Fear will make you a praying person!
As a twenty-one year old while working in western Kenya, I was driving home in a light rain at dusk with Moses, a Maasai leader, and Bob, a retired drag racer. Driving in Kenya was different, although not as bad as other places. At the time the saying was: "in Kenya you drive on the left, in Uganda you drive on the right, and in Tanzania you drive wherever you can." The road was flat and straight and I was pushing the diesel-powered Chevy Luv as hard as it would go when Bob suggested that I slow down. I ignored his advice (it sounded too much like my dad I guess) so he offered it again (and again).
Then I saw what Bob already knew. The flat road suddenly disappeared from under us and we were descending at a rapid clip down a series of broad curves. I braked and the back of the pick-up went one way the front the other. Bob yelled to cut into the spin. "I know" I yelled back. Then we went the other way cutting and correcting we continued the descent. All I can tell you about that few seconds was that Moses traveled the yellow line all the way down the mountain and Bob and I seemed to have alternated hitting every ditch. I yelled at Bob as the road leveled out "what was that?" He replied, "you just came down off the top of an extinct volcano." Fear will make you a praying person!
Today I want to turn to a person who was facing his fears in prayer when a word from Lord was delivered to him. Let me remind you of Jesus' father Joseph:
As I have reflected on this passage over the past week, the phrase "do not be afraid" or "fear not" has weighed heavily on me. No doubt this is in large part due to helping my daughter deal with her fears as she faced an emergency appendectomy last week.
I remember the thought of one of the rabbis on Moses encounter at the burning bush. He wondered if God was testing Moses at the burning bush to see if he were easily distracted. After all, you have to study a burning bush for more than a few seconds to notice that "the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed" (see Exodus 3:2). I wondered as God was deciding on who to trust the rearing of Jesus to if he was looking for people who stood firm at a "fear not" message. In our lives fear is an emotion that can be healthy when it helps us avoid danger. But fear can often lead us to avoid a step that leads to wondrous discoveries. What I am talking about?
Think about your first encounter with a stove. How many of us were told by a caring parent, and usually it was our mom, not to touch the stove or we would burn our fingers. For a while "because I told you so" worked to help us avoid the danger, but like Adam and Eve in the garden, we had to check out things for ourselves. We touched the stove, our fingers were burned, and we stayed away. But not forever! Eventually we have to come to grips with our fear of the stove or we will never come to experience the joy of preparing a meal for our family. Sure my eyebrows have been singed as I have tried to master the art of grilling, but being able to share a grilled chicken or even a hot dog with a friend and her child is a delight worth mastering our fear of the hot stove. I can tell you that I have not learned to scramble eggs to my daughter's satisfaction (mom's are better), but I can find my way around that which at one time seemed to be a great danger in my life.
And so it is with God. Only if we are able to stand firm at the "fear not" moments in our lives can the proverbial truth come to pass: "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10) or "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" (Proverbs 1:7). When we face rather than flee from our fears, when we learn to trust like Joseph rather than doubt, then Emmanuel (God with us) is revealed to us. To be at the center of God's will is not peace, as Erwin McManus reminded me several years ago An Unstoppable Force: Daring to Become the Church God Had in Mind. To be at the center of God's will is dangerous and God needs folks who will "fear not" and plunge into an uncertain future for the sake of the soon-coming kingdom.
As I have been thinking about the past year and my multiple roles as husband, father, family provider, pastor, team leader, vision-caster, etc. I find myself today paying attention to the moments when I let fear intervene. I also remember those moments when I heard a "fear not" and stepped forward — sometimes for the good and sometimes for the bad, but each time with Emmanuel – God with us.
So where are you today? What are the fears you are facing? Are you trusting that Emmanuel will help you face those "fear not" moments if you will trust in him? My prayer is that you will come to trust in Emmanuel: the One Who Is, the One Who Was, and the One Who Is to Come!