Editor’s note: In lieu of Jamie Harms’ Toolbox feature, which was scheduled to run today, we want to address the fear and uncertainty that currently grips our nation and world. We plan to run the final Toolbox post later this week along with a final reflection on the book of Jude, so stay tuned!
By Jaime Sherman
Three months ago, I chose the word “courage” to define the upcoming year, writing here on this blog: “I wonder if this might be the word to cheer my heart as I look ahead and wonder what is hidden in the unknown of 2020.” I quoted Joshua 1:9, words that are especially fitting for this time in world history when the enemy’s tactics of fear threaten to crush us: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
For some of us, God may at times seem far off, especially in the looming darkness of the unknown — or the unpleasant reality of our own present circumstances. Some of the once-hidden mysteries of 2020 have been uncovered. From news headlines to notices hastily taped to grocery store shelves, we cannot go anywhere without the in-our-face reminder that a virus reached pandemic levels this past week. In the din of warnings, restrictions and worst-case scenarios, it’s easy to forget that God is with us wherever we go.
After time spent “out in the world” among frantic shoppers and troublesome headlines trying to plant a spirit of fear inside me, I knew I needed to spend time in God’s Word, to be rerooted in His truths. I opened to John 14 and began reading Jesus’ words in verse 1, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” I read to the end of the chapter, noting how verse 27 came back to the encouragement and charge of verse 1. But this time, Jesus added, “…neither let (your hearts) be afraid.”
I looked up the original word trouble, which means to stir up, to disturb, or to agitate, along with the word afraid, which is to live in fearful dread. Dread is described as being paralyzed by fear of the consequences of something or someone.
When Jesus spoke these words to his friends, He knew even better than we do what it means to be troubled and afraid. He had just foretold His death, listened to the denial of Peter, and watched Judas slip from the dinner table. His soul was troubled.
He would soon depart for His final hours of prayer in the garden, where in great trouble and distress His sweat would become “like great drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Jesus understood dread, and yet there He was telling His disciples to not allow the very core of their beings to be shaken because — and this is key — He would never leave them.
Yes, His physical presence would be taken from the world through crucifixion and then ascension, but He would send the Helper — the Holy Spirit — to His people (John 14:16) to comfort and to guide them. He would never leave His people to fend for themselves in trouble and fear, even though their sin would place Him on the cross to experience the separation from God that they deserved. He promised that He would never be a far-off god, but the ever-present One through the working of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus said, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:7).
The Spirit enabled them — and us today — to love the Lord (verses 21-24), to learn all things from Him (verse 26) and to remind us of all Jesus spoke (verse 26). In the Spirit we have the gift of peace, that quiet confidence of the soul that in Christ we are at rest, for the ruler of this world and his mischievous schemes to cause us to quake in fear have no claim on us. Our Jesus gave us a “spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7), and in His Spirit, we can say to trouble and fear that face us today, my God is with me!