Several years ago, I asked my dad what I was like as a kid. It might sound like an odd question, but having reached a point in my life where I was realizing my views of myself as a child didn’t always match reality, I was curious about his perspective.
His answer was blunt and to the point.
“You were always very fearful,” he said.
Though his response made me sad, it wasn’t exactly surprising, given my childhood propensity for worrying. Thankfully, though my fretting ways followed me well into my 20s, the stranglehold worry once had on me is largely a thing of the past. But, as I shared several weeks ago, fear still infiltrates my heart and mind from time to time—in frustrating and even debilitating ways.
Here’s the thing about this troublesome foe. While in certain instances fear is good and helpful, it’s also part of the messed-up wiring we all have due to the fallen nature of man. God knows this, which might be why “fear not” is one of the most oft-stated instructions in the Bible.
But have you ever noticed that it’s not a command that comes with impending punishment if it’s not followed? Instead, it’s the reassuring statement of a loving heavenly Father, who also happens to be the sovereign God of the universe.
When He tells us not to be afraid, we can rest assured that we have no need to be afraid.
And yet so often we are—for reasons far and wide, real and imagined, logical and irrational.
One of my favorite biblical personalities is Joshua, Moses’ assistant and eventual successor. One thing that has always intrigued me about his story is how often God reminded him not to be afraid (see Deuteronomy 31 and Joshua 1).
When I think about this, I can’t help but wonder why. Yes, the Israelites faced seemingly insurmountable challenges as they prepared to enter and conquer the Promised Land. Yes, Joshua was about to fill some enormous shoes.
But why was he, of all people, so afraid?
He had been with Moses for 40 years in the wilderness, after all. He’d witnessed the deliverance from Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the provision of water and manna. He’d gone up the mountain with Moses and experienced the glory of the Lord (see Exodus 24:13).
You’d think all that would be enough to bolster someone’s courage, wouldn’t you?
Did God ever tell Moses not to be afraid? I don’t think so—not in so many words. Moses had his faults—a temper, for one—but fear didn’t appear to be a struggle for him. But Joshua was different.
Maybe it had something to do with his personality. He was a great warrior, a strong leader, a person who wasn’t afraid to stand alone. But perhaps Joshua also was the contemplative sort, someone who needed more divine encouragement than his confident mentor.
According to Exodus 33, all the people were invited to visit the tent of meeting and “consult with the Lord,” but only Moses and Joshua actually did this. The fact that Joshua “would not leave the inside of the tent” even after Moses left suggests that he valued his time in God’s presence and recognized the true source of his strength.
Certainly, his life demonstrates what I wrote about here—that fear and faith can coexist in the same person (no matter what the clichés say).
Only God knows why Joshua apparently struggled with fear. And I love this about God.
He didn’t berate Joshua for being scared, question his faith or interrogate him about how he could possibly be afraid after all he’d witnessed and experienced with Moses. He simply repeated truth that Joshua needed to know and told him not to be afraid.
That was all.
I’m a tiny bit like Joshua, I think. I love spending time in the tent of meeting. I gain great strength and comfort from praising God. And, as I’ve already mentioned, I also struggle with feelings of fear at times.
But regardless of the source—an actual threat, imbalanced body chemicals, a lack of sleep, my own misperceptions, irrational thinking—these feelings are not the boss of me.
When fear becomes a problem is when it leads me to do something I shouldn’t do, or to not do something I should. When I hesitate to take the new medicine because I’m afraid of how I will react to it. When I fail to speak to someone because I don’t know how she will receive my words. When I don’t volunteer for something because I’ve never done it before, or because I think someone else can do it better. When I stay home from a conference that might encourage me spiritually because I don’t think I’ll know anyone.
Fear turns to faith when, despite my feelings, I take the medicine. I open my mouth to speak. I fill out that volunteer form. I put a smile on my face and walk into that crowded room.
No matter what fear—real or imagined—assails, God’s loving promise for Joshua is also true for us today: “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deut. 31:8).
P.S. Linking up this week with Kelly Balarie at Purposeful Faith, Jennifer Dukes Lee at #TellHisStory, Crystal Storms at Intentional Tuesday, Lyli Dunbar at #ThoughtProvokingThursday, Holley Gerth at Coffee for Your Heart and Aimee Imbeau at Grace & Truth.