Craig Groeschel - The Unbearable Weight of Fear
Well, it seems to me like there are more things to be afraid of today than there were things to be afraid of years ago. Do any of you kind of agree with that? It seemed like there's more things that are just weighing on the hearts and the minds of people. In fact, if I go back to when I was a kid, life was simple. There were things to be afraid of, but there weren't very many. And what's interesting is there were kind of unwritten rules of how you should handle your fears. For example, I wonder how many of you can relate to the unwritten rule if a closet door is open when you go to bed, you are vulnerable as a kid, right? Because if there's something in there, they can just come out, so you have to have the closet door closed. No one ever told you that, but you just know it's true, right?
Same thing with when you're in bed, you can't leave a limb, a leg, or an arm hanging over the edge of the bed, why? Because whatever is under the bed will and pull you under! No one ever told you that, but you kind of just would feel it. And so you probably didn't do this, but me, if I was a kid and I had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, I would stand up on the bed, I would take a running jump over just so the arm couldn't get me. So I'd go in the bathroom, check behind the shower curtain to make sure no one was there. Come back in, close the closet door one more time, jump into bed, and keep everything in like this. It was simple back then.
There were a few things to be afraid of, but now, I'm living in a grownup world with grownup fears. How many of you know what I'm talking about? You can type it online. I'm in a grownup world with grownup fears. A lot of people worried about the economy right now, because the economy's tricky. Many people worried about losing their jobs or interest rates. How in the world are younger people or older people can afford a home? I know a lot of people that are worried about very significant health issues. Many people very close to me. Some of you, you might be worried about the decisions that your kids are making, others of you, you're worried about the decisions that you're making, right? And then there are all the things outside of our control, the war in the Middle East, the next presidential election. You might be worried that AI is gonna take over the world, which could happen.
I wanna talk to you today about fear, and some would say this about fear, they would say that fear is the opposite of faith. That sounds pretty good, right? Fear is the opposite of faith. But I would suggest to you that fear is actually faith. It's just putting faith in the worst possible outcome. And I wanna remind you today, if you are worried, if you have uneasiness, like most people that I do, that fear is not from God. In fact, 2 Timothy 1:7 tells us this, for God has not given us a what?
Say it with me, somebody, "God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but God has given us a spirit of power, and of love, and of self-discipline". God has not given us a spirit of fear. So as we approach this Christmas season, what I wanna do is I wanna show you three different portions of the Christmas story, one portion each week. And we're gonna look at three different times in the Christmas story that an angel of the Lord appears and tells us, "Do not be afraid". If you find yourself with some weighty concerns on your heart today, I believe God's word's gonna speak to you. The title of today's message is "The Unbearable Weight of Fear". And with that, let's pray:
Father, thank You that Your word is living. Thank You that You are with us. God, we thank You that You have not given us a spirit of fear, but build our faith in You. Give us a spirit of power, God, of love, and of self-discipline. We pray this in Jesus' name and everybody said, amen.
Those of you online type it in the comment section, amen, so that we'll know that you're with us today. Luke Chapter 1 is where we're gonna be. In Luke Chapter 1, we're gonna see Mary. And if you've been around Christianity at all, we know that Mary is the mother of whom? Mary is the mother of Jesus, so we just know that. But in this story, if we look at it just from her perspective, she did not plan to be the mother of Jesus. When we're reading this story, she's just a teenage girl who probably is dating what she considers to be a very cute guy named, Joseph. She probably called him Joey. Her name was Mary, he probably called her Mary Bear. It's not in the Bible, I can just sense it. God just shows me things like that, right? I just take it, so she's a teenage girl, she's dating Joey. And we know that very likely, because this is true of most teenage girls, they have some sort of a plan or a dream for their life.
So I'm putting myself in her shoes. She is engaged to be married to Joey, and she's probably thinking Joey's a carpenter, and he's gonna start his carpentry business from the ground up, and God is gonna bless it as it grows. And we we're gonna get married, and she already has a date booked at the Bethlehem Wedding Chapel, and they're setting some money aside for their honeymoon on the beach. And they're gonna rent a very cute, little one bedroom apartment. And she's already got the colors picked out of what she's gonna put in the apartment. And they're gonna have about two years of just, you know, getting to know each other and loving each other. And then they're gonna try to have a baby, and boom, they're gonna have a baby. And she's already got a name for the boy baby and a girl baby. And the boy baby's gonna be Joey Jr. And the girl baby is gonna be Mary Bear, or whatever it's gonna be, if she's got her plan, because that's what most people do.
Mary had a plan, but God interrupted her plan. Has God ever interrupted your plan, raise your hand? Online, you can type, God has interrupted my plan. Why does God do that? Why would He interrupt your plan? We have to remember that even though we think we're pretty smart, He's actually smarter and His ways are higher than our ways. And that's why it's important to remind ourselves that God's purpose is often very different from our plans. God's purpose for our lives is often very different than what we think is best. And we see this in Luke 1:26, when scripture says this, "In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, God sent an angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David". What do we see here, that, "Gabriel appeared to her, and said, 'Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!'"
Now, that's pretty exciting, an angel appears to you. You weren't expecting that. I'm like hashtag blessed, this is fun. But what did Mary feel? Let's say it aloud, what'd she feel? She felt confused and disturbed. Confused, she wasn't planning this. Disturbed, this is out of her comfort zone. Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. She's a teenage girl. She has plans for her life. An angel appears to her and interrupts her plans. And what was she? She was confused and disturbed. Confused, like wait a minute, God, why in the world are You choosing me? And if I'm like highly favored and you're choosing me, what is it that you're gonna ask me to do? Because I've got a plan. But what's interesting to me, and I like that it's worded this way in the Greek, she's not just confused, but Luke uses a word that's translated, disturbed.
Not only am I confused, but I don't like this, God. In other words, don't mess with my plans. I wonder how many of you have ever felt like that? Like, you know what you want and you're going in a direction, and then God closes a door or something comes in and disrupts it, and you're thinking, "God, I am a little bit confused, but I'm also not happy about this". I love that it's in there, because sometimes, we think that that's not really spiritual, but that's just to be human, to say, "God, I don't understand, and I'm a little bit concerned that you're asking me to do something I don't wanna do. You're taking me to place that I don't really wanna go". God interrupted Mary's plans, and what I've discovered in many, many years of studying God's word and many, many years of watching God work through lots of people.
I've discovered that what we call God's disturbing interruptions are often God's divine invitations, what we call as an interruption, God says, "I may be taking you out of your plans, but I'm actually leading you toward my purpose, right? God, I don't get this. I mean like this is what I had on my five-year plan. I had it on my dream board, God. You know that dream board that I prayed about and I put everything on there, that this is the way it's supposed to be, God, and I don't understand what you're doing. You're interrupting my plans". And God said, "No, actually, your plans weren't my purpose. I'm interrupting you to take you to my purpose". And we see this many times in scripture. God interrupted Moses with a burning bush, and suddenly, he's standing on holy ground and God says, "I'm gonna call you out of where you were, and you're going to deliver my people".
God interrupted David when he was tending sheep. Instead, I've got a much bigger assignment for you. You're gonna be the next king of Israel. God interrupted Saul while he was persecuting Christians. And God sends a light from heaven and interrupts his plans, and said, "Hey, I have chosen you as my instrument, my chosen vessel to take the gospel to the Gentiles". And God may interrupt your plans. What you think you want, you knew you were gonna marry that person, but God interrupts that plan, because He has something else for you now or someone else for you later. You thought you were supposed to go to that school, you've always dreamed of gonna that school. You've been wearing the jersey since early in your life, and then you get interrupted and you can't go to that school, because God has someone for you to meet or something for you to do somewhere else, and He's taking you out of your plans into your purpose.
Some of you right now, you're watching a video and you weren't planning on watching it. You had just watched one, and suddenly, YouTube recommended another one, and here you are. You had a plan, but God had a purpose. Type it in the comment section right now. God had a purpose. Luke 1:29 says this, "Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think of what the angel could mean". How many of you find yourself sometime interrupted by God, and asking, "I wonder what God is trying to do. I just want some details. God, if you give me the reason, then I can take it. If you show me what's going to happen, show me the good that's gonna come out of this bad, then I'll praise you and be much more will. I just need to understand, God, help me to understand." and I wanna remind you that you don't have to understand the plan to trust that God has a purpose.
God is good enough and big enough not to give you all the details. In fact, there are some times where God's gonna take you on a journey that if He gave you the details, you would not go. Because sometimes, He has to take you through something you would never choose to do something in you that you could never achieve otherwise. God, I just wanna know what this means. I just really need to understand what You're doing. But the truth is, you and I don't have to understand the plan to trust that God is good, that He's working, and that He does have a purpose for us. So the angel speaks to her in verse 30, and says, what does the angel say? Let's all say it aloud. The angel says, "Do not be afraid". If you prefer a more formal angel, the King James version angel says, "Fear not".
I thought some of you may like a more formal King James angel. Fear not. Do not be afraid. And Mary, the angel told her, you have found what? Let's say it aloud, you have found favor with God. How many of you would say that you want favor from God? Raise your hands. Raise your hand. I want favor from God. What is favor? I looked it up to see how different people defined it. I'll give you their definition, I'll give you mine. One commentary called favor, demonstrated delight. It's God's demonstrated delight. Someone else said, "It's visible evidence of God's blessings". I would just define it this way, what is favor? Favor is the undeserved blessings God lavishly pours out on His children whom He loves. It's His visibly displayed lavish blessings that we do not deserve, that He just pours out. Sometimes, you're just going through life and they're like, "Wow, that's the favor of God".
One of my favorite times is I was traveling with Amy internationally, and we had a long flight, like 17-hour flight, and we always would sit in economy class, because I could never see why someone would pay more for business class. And that is because I'd never been in business class before. And we're just sitting there waiting on this long flight, and they said, "Craig Groeschel, please come to the counter". We came up to the counter and they said, "You've been upgraded to business". I don't know why, I mean, did I have enough miles? Did they love Life.Church? Was it a mistake? I don't know. The favor of God, and when I walked on that plane for a 17-hour for my whole flight, we had turned right and gone back to the prison, where you sit in this little, and they serve you jail food, and you sit next to someone and you gotta go to the bathroom, but you can't, 'cause you're stuck back there.
And it's like, hell will be something like that, I think. This time, we did not turn right, but we turned left. Hell's that way, and if you've never been there, heaven is this way. And we walked up and see and I had never seen this before, but they don't just have seats, but with the push of a button, these seats turned into beds. Beds, where you sleep and they do crazy stuff. They give you a scented washcloth to wipe your face clean. Your face isn't dirty, 'cause you're not back there with all the dirty people and they are touching you all the time, but you wipe it clean anyway. And then they bring you out snacks nonstop. They bring you out nuts, and your nuts just aren't nuts in a bag. They're nuts in a bowl, and they're actually warm. They warm your nuts. And that sounded weird, I know it sounded weird, but that's what they do.
They warm the nuts, nevermind that, but they're like, I've never had that before. And then they bring you a little thing, and then when you eat your meal, they bring you an appetizer, and a salad, and you have choices between things like salmon, and lasagna, and all these amazing things. And then they bring you a dessert, and then they bring you cheese plates after your dessert. And then if you wanna sleep, you've got little sleepy things for your eyes and stuff for your ears, and you can lay down and they bring you a blankie. And when you wake up in the morning, there's a washcloth for you again, and breakfast for you again, favor ain't fair. Sometimes, you just get the favor of God. And what's amazing about the favor of God is it's not just a nice seat on a plane. And it is not just material blessings or financial blessings, it's just that sometimes, people just like you.
People just... people bless you and people say they show you favor. And sometimes, favor is like really good relationships. Sometimes, favor is just being a part of a great church. Sometimes, favor is like having good health, especially with what we eat in this world, right? How many want the favor of God? Mary found favor. And if I'm Mary and I'm thinking God is giving me favor, I'm probably thinking my wedding is going to be a reality show, and it's all gonna be paid for. Something like that, God's gonna pay for my wedding and my honeymoon. And what does the favor of God look like? Verse 31 tells us this. "You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus".
Wait a minute, I was gonna name Joey Jr. The favor is you're telling me I'm gonna be pregnant, I'm not even married and you're already naming my kid for me? Jesus, "He will be very great and he will be called the Son of the Most High". Okay, now she's getting nervous. I'm gonna give birth to a kid I didn't choose, when I didn't choose it, you named it, and He's gonna be the son of the most high? When we just read the story and don't think like, what's going through her mind. This is not my plan. "The Lord will give him the throne of his ancestor David, and he'll reign over Israel forever. His kingdom will never end". Suddenly, she looks up and goes, "You have chosen me. Some little girl to give birth to the son of God".
I can't prove this, but I can almost guarantee you she's thinking that's a little more responsibility than I had planned for my life at this stage. How would you feel about raising the son of God? If you don't have kids yet, let me just warn you, raising a baby sinner is difficult, because that's what they are, they're sinners. If you don't believe in the sin nature, have a baby. They're little sinners. They'll sit there and you'll say, "Is there a poopie in your diaper"? And they'll go, "No". I say, "Are you pooping right now"? "No," and then they'll... And they're sinners, they just lie to you. They're stinky little vomiting, not sleep when you want 'em to sleep, not eat when you want 'em to sleep. Sinners. You love 'em. But raising a baby sinners hard enough. You're gonna raise the son of God in your home.
What do we know about God's favor? Sometimes, God's favor doesn't seem favorable at first. Sometimes, the favor of God is not what you would immediately choose. You're dating somebody, you think this is the one, and suddenly, it comes to an end. And I go, "This isn't what I wanted, God". It may be the favor of God, that one day you look back, and one of your biggest praise reports is that you didn't marry the one that you wanted to marry. The favor doesn't seem favorable in the moment, or you just know you're gonna get the promotion, or you know you're gonna get the job, and you don't get the promotion and you don't get the job. And I go, "This is favor"? Doesn't seem favorable, but you don't know that God has something different or some other plan that you can't see just yet. We had some friends years ago that couldn't get pregnant, couldn't get pregnant, got pregnant. They were so excited, God's favor.
And then in their pregnancy, they realized that their child had down syndrome. They go, "This is not what we wanted, this isn't favorable". And years later, they said there was no greater blessing in their life than raising this down child who was one of the sweetest people that ever lived. Sometimes, God's favor doesn't seem favorable at first. And the angel says to Mary, "You're gonna have a baby". In verse 34, "Mary asks, 'How can this happen? I'm a virgin.'" How are we gonna get there? Sometimes, God will start taking you down a path that doesn't make any sense, because you don't see the means to get to where you think God wants you to go. Mary's gonna look on and say, "Hey, this isn't just impossible. This is like absurd, I am a virgin. I have never had physical intimacy with a man. There is no way a baby can come from me, there is no way".
And in verse 35 and 37, we see this. "And the angel answered her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child will be born. He will be holy, He'll be called holy-the Son of God.'" Let's say this next part aloud and those of you online, please type this in the comment section. "For," let's say aloud, "For nothing will be impossible with God". Type it in the comment section. Nothing is impossible with God. Let's say it again. Nothing is impossible with God. Nothing is impossible with God. The angel reminds us that no matter what you are facing or what you need, with God, all things are possible. What's weighing on you today? What are you worried about? What are you afraid of? Whatever it is, God can intervene.
I wanna tell somebody. God can bring the right person into your life at the right time. God can do that all day long. God can transform the wrong person who's acting in the wrong way into a person with a right heart toward the things of God. God can do a miracle in the life of the person who is far from Him today. God can provide and meet any need that you have in your life right now. God is a healing God, and He can heal any sickness. God is your savior. God forgives. God can forgive any sin that the devil continues to throw back at you saying, "You are what you did". And God says, "You are not what you did". You are forgiven by the power of the risen Christ that is gone. The person in your family, the person in your life that is very far from God, you think there's no way. They're an atheist, they're mad at God, they hate God, they'll never believe in God, they're never gonna come to God.
God is so big by the power of His spirit, He can draw someone far to Him very, very quickly. All things are possible with God. So I believe the question that God would like for you to answer is this. What is God asking you to do or believe? What is God saying to you today? Like, Mary, is He calling, is He interrupting your plan, and calling you to do something different? Is He calling you to trust Him in an area that you've been trying to control? What is God calling you to do or to believe? For some of you, it's like to start a life group, to start a ministry. For someone else, that may be to go back to school or to reach out to someone, and to try to mend a broken relationship and believe that God is a God who restores broken relationships.
For some of you, God might prompt you to give something and you think, "How could I give that? I need that or I might need that in the future". Or God might prompt you to trust Him with a tithe. I return back to you 10% of what you trust to me. You think how can I do that? God says, "You gotta test me. You gotta trust me to see my provision". God might speak to someone and lead you to break up with the person that you're dating that is not honoring God. "But I've invested so much time and what's going to happen"? God is prompting someone to continue to believe for healing. When you've prayed and prayed and nothing's happened. God may prompt someone here to witness to a friend that you've witnessed to over and over and over again, and they continue to reject you. But God says, "No, no, love them anyway. Keep reflecting my love".
What is God calling you to do or believe? And an angel of the Lord tells a teenage girl, "You're gonna give birth to the Savior of the world". Fear not. Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God. And what does Mary realize? She realizes she has a choice to make. Does she continue on in her plan, or does she trust in God's purpose? The angel says, "Fear not, you found favor with God". And Mary realizes something that I hope that you realize, and that is this, that the outcome is God's responsibility, and obedience is ours. The only thing that we can actually do is to trust God's voice, to trust His word, to trust His purpose, even when we don't understand the plan. And so what if we try, and how are we gonna control the outcome? We can't control the outcome. The outcome, that belongs to God. Our assignment is simply to obey Him.
And so Mary, who had a very real plan for her life comes to a crossroads. God's asking her to do something that she didn't have planned. And her response is what I pray my response will be. And that is this, in verse 38, Mary responded, let's say it aloud, what'd she say? She said, "I am the Lord's servant". Type that online if you're watching online, type in, I am the Lord's servant. Let's all say it again, what are you? "I am the Lord's servant. May everything you've said about me come true". Would you mind saying that statement one more time? Say, "I am the Lord's servant". "I am the Lord's servant".
I wanna ask you a question, just real sincerely today, are you? Like, do you really want God's will? Or do you want your will? All Christians like, "I want God's will, God's will, God's will". Like, I don't know about you, but I want God's will until it's different from mine. Can I just say that? Like sometimes, I'm like, "No, no, no, God, I want my will". And sometimes, the biggest blessings are gonna be in the other side of surrendering your will, and trusting God's purpose. I am the Lord's servant. I am the Lord's, my life belongs to Him, because of who He is, Jesus, the Son of God, who never sinned. Who is perfect in every way, who gave His life on the cross, who rose again, so I could be forgiven, 'cause of what He did for me, my only reasonable response is all of me, all of me.
What does that mean? That means we lay down our lives. Jesus said, "You pick up your cross". That means like I die to my plans. You deny yourselves and you say, "I wanna live for you, I wanna follow you, I wanna be your disciple. I wanna show your love, my life is yours. I am the Lord's servant". May it be done unto me, according to Your word. So whatever you're facing today, whatever is weighing on you today, I believe God sent me to tell you, God has not given you a spirit of fear. The power of love and of a sound mind. And the same God that was with Mary is with you at this moment. So hear from heaven, the truth of God. You don't have to be afraid. Fear not. You have found favor with God, and the Lord is with you even now. So Father, do a work in the hearts of all Your people.
As you're reflecting today at all of our churches, those of you online, how many of you would say just in a moment of honesty, that there's something that's been weighing on you, you're afraid, you're worried about something, would you lift up your hands right now? In the comment section, you can just put it in your own words. I've been worried about something. You can even say what it is as long as it's not too personal. I'm worried about a child. I'm worried about my health. I'm worried about the health of whatever it is. Type it in the comment section. And now, what we're gonna do, is we're gonna cast our cares on God. This is what scripture says to do, to cast all of our anxiety, all of our cares on Him, because He cares about you. And so whatever it is, you can just say it quietly or say it in your mind:
I trust this to You, God. I trust my future to You. I trust my job to You. I trust my marriage to You. I trust my child to You. God, I trust my finances to You. I trust my will, my gifts to You. I trust my time to You. The very thing that I'm afraid of, God, I trust it to You.
And now, just very quietly, and you can type this in the comment section if you want. Just say it.
I am the Lord's servant. I am the Lord's servant. May it be done unto me, according to Your word. One more time, I am the Lord's servant. May it be done unto me, according to your word.
As you keep praying today, some of you, you're gonna recognize it, you're really not the Lord's servant. You're serving your own plans. You're serving your own will, and that's really, really normal, you know why? Because we're all born baby sinners. Every single one of us, we are born with a sin nature that separates us from God. And so the Bible says that all of us we're like sheep. We've gone astray, we each go our own way. That's just what we do, we go our own way, away from God and try to do our own will. But I wanna tell you about the lamb of God. His name is Jesus, He was born of a virgin, Mary. Therefore, He was not born with a sin nature. He was perfect in every way. And that's why He's called the Lamb of God, in the Old Testament that would make sacrifice. They would sacrifice a clean lamb for the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus is the lamb of God, He was clean and perfect. He was the sacrifice for the forgiveness of your sins. How do we receive forgiveness? We just step away. Instead of heading to the right, we head to the left. Instead of heading toward the things of hell, we head toward the things of heaven, and say, "I wanna surrender to You". We can't work our way to God. We can't be good enough for God. We just say, "I wanna be your servant". When we make Jesus first, when we make Him the leader of our life, the Lord of our life, scripture says that all of our sins are forgiven. Whatever it is that's weighing you down, that you've done, you feel guilty for, you feel ashamed of, God forgives it. He makes you new, and He fills you with His spirit, so you'll never be alone again.
Today, wherever you're watching from, those of you say, "I need that. I'm not turning right today, I'm turning left. I'm turning toward the things of God, and I'm surrendering my life to Him". When you cry out to Him, He'll forgive your sins, and He'll make you brand new wherever you are. Those who say, "I need Jesus. I'm ready, I wanna be the Lord's servant today. I step away from my old life, I step toward Him. I give my life to Him," that's your prayer. Lift your hands high right now all over the place. Lift them up and say, yes, as we've got people today, say yes to Jesus, calling out on Him. Online, you can just type in there, I am choosing to be the Lord's servant. I'm surrendering my life to Him. Type that in the comment section, and wherever you're watching from, would you just pray aloud today? Pray:
Heavenly Father. I wanna be your servant. I turn from my way and I turn to Your way. Jesus save me. Forgive me. Make me brand new. I die to myself. My life is not my own. I give it all to You. Be the Lord of my life. I am your servant. May it be done unto me, according to Your word, and Your will, and Your purpose. Thank You for new life. I give You all of mine. In Jesus' name, I pray.