David Jeremiah - Slaying the Giant of Fear
After the door to her small apartment closed in 1949, Marjorie Goff went out three times in 30 years. She went out once to give some ice cream to a friend of hers who was failing in health. She went out the second time for an operation. And she went out the third time for the funeral of one of her family members. But aside from that, she entered her home on her 31st birthday and she did not come out again until she was 61 years old. She imprisoned herself for 30 years. She was suffering from what they call agoraphobia which is the fear of open spaces and so she locked herself in her home.
I read this week about a guy who drives a semi-truck and he has to cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and he has a fear that one day he's gonna stop his truck in the middle of the bridge and get out of the truck and jump off the bridge. So this is a true story. His wife agreed to handcuff him to his steering wheel so he wouldn't be tempted to do that. These are some bizarre stories of people who have phobias but let me ask the question this morning, how many of you are fearful of some particular thing? Let me see your hands.
Now, c'mon, ladies, you don't like snakes and spiders, I know that. Some of you are afraid of elevators. Some of you are afraid of heights. Some of you may be afraid of airplanes. I don't know what your fear is. We're not necessarily talking about those particular things. What we're talking about today is the spirit of fear that can take over one's life. A fear that can come and begin to dominate. Because, you see, fear is not bad. God created fear so that we would have the opportunity to have sudden bursts of energy and strength and speed during times of emergency. But when fear becomes a permanent condition, it can paralyze your spirit, terrorize your heart, and penalize your life.
I have to admit that in my 30 years as pastor/teacher, I've met fear more than once. I've been in the hospital when families have gotten tragic news and seen the fear in their lives. I've tried to help spouses who've just been told that their partner was divorcing them. I've been present when a doctor told two young parents that something was wrong with their newborn. I have stood to speak in front of huge crowds, believe it or not, been terrified at the thought. I've been stabbed in my heart with fear as I've seen my two sons take vicious hits on the football field and lay on the ground for what seemed like an eternity. Stayed all night with my daughter Jennifer in the hospital after she got a concussion playing soccer when she was a little girl.
I've watched my children as they've entered new schools and seen the fear in their lives as they wondered if they would be accepted and if this was gonna work. I've driven them across the country to universities far away from here and felt their fear as I've watched them move into their dorm for the first time and try to get acquainted with people they've never met before in their lives. And I've also known personally the kind of fear that can grip you when you are told that you have a serious disease.
Fear is not a stranger to me. And it's probably not a stranger to you either. If we're honest, we're all a lot like the little boy who had two lines in a play. The two lines that he was supposed to say when he walked out on the stage were these: "It is I. Be not afraid". But he came out on the stage and saw the crowd and what came out was: "It's me and I'm scared". Someone has defined fear as "a small trickle of doubt that runs through your mind and eventually wears such a great channel that all of your thoughts drain into it". The Bible doesn't paint the picture of God's people living without fear, and there's no such thing as reality without fear. There will always be some fear. In fact, in the Old and New Testament there are many, many stories that are dominated by the theme of fear.
What about all those stories of the disciples on the Sea of Galilee at night when the storm comes up and they're so afraid and the Lord has to come and calm the sea? There are many, many occasions when fear is the main play in the story like David and Goliath. The reason Saul wouldn't go out and face Goliath is because he was afraid. They couldn't find anybody in all of Israel that was willing to go out and fight this giant, except for David. But the story in the Old Testament, in my estimation, that best illustrates the principles of fear that you and I deal with every day is the story of the 12 spies who left Kadesh Barnea and went into the land of Canaan to spy out the land that God had given them.
Now, that story is told primarily in Numbers 13 and 14, but it is reviewed in a very condensed version in the book of Deuteronomy and the first chapter. So I'd like for you to turn with me to Deuteronomy chapter 1 and there, beginning at verse 19, we have the record of this event in the history of Israel. What I'd like to do today, people, is to take that story and to tell the story but to build the story around the principles of fear that come right out of the text. If you know anything at all about the setting, you know that what happened was Israel had been freed from Egypt and they had come across the little desert and they were now ready on the threshold to go into the land of Canaan.
This was the land that had been promised to them by God. It's the land that was given to Abraham. It was the land that flowed with milk and honey. It was the Promised Land, the land they had dreamed about through all those years of slavery in Egypt. And now, here they are on the very threshold of entering into Canaan. And God allows them to send some spies into the land to check it out, to figure out which was the best way to go into the land and to look at the cities. And so you know the story. The 12 spies went into the land to spy it out. And as we review the story, we see these principles so very clearly and they remind us that the principles that dominate us when we have the spirit of fear are not any different now than they were back in the times of Joshua and Caleb.
For the first thing we realize as we read the story is that fear disregards God's plan. Beginning our reading in verses 19, we read these words: "So we departed from Horeb, and went through all that great and terrible wilderness which you saw on the way to the mountains of the Amorites, as the Lord our God had commanded us. And we came to Kadesh Barnea. And I said to you," Moses is speaking, "'You have come to the mountains of the Amorites, which the Lord our God is giving to us. Look, the Lord your God has set the land before you; go up and possess it, as the Lord God of your fathers has spoken to you; do not fear and do not be discouraged.'"
Here was their warrant for possessing the land. Here was their invitation to go and take that land which God had promised to them. But they would not go up because of fear. Fear took hold of their lives and they couldn't allow themselves to believe that God had actually brought them to the place of their inheritance and their blessing. I wanna tell you something that fear will do if you let it dominate your life. It will keep you from experiencing God's plan in your life because, you see, we have an inheritance today as well. And our inheritance is reviewed for us in the words of Paul to Timothy and he says to us there that "God has not given to us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind".
God has not created us to be creatures dominated by fear. He's given us the principle of faith upon which we may live and if we determine to live in fear, we are disregarding God's plan for our life. The same principle is given by Paul in the book of Romans where we are told, "For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, 'Abba, Father'".
Hear me carefully today, the Word of God tells us that his plan for us, his desire for us, is that we live above fear, that we walk in the power of his love, and that we're not dominated by fear. But if we allow fear to take over, we will miss out on God's plan. The second principle in this passage of Scripture is that fear distorts God's purposes. It's interesting to me what can happen to us when fear begins to dominate our life. Everything gets out of perspective. Everything gets into distortion. And it's illustrated here in the story. The ten men who came back from Canaan with their report brought back such a distorted picture of what was there.
We read about this in verses 27 and 28 where the Scripture says: "And you complained in your tents, and you said, 'Because the Lord hates us, He has brought us out of the land of Egypt to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us. Where can we go up? Our brethren have discouraged our hearts, saying, "The people are greater and taller than we; the cities are great and fortified up to heaven; moreover we have seen the sons of the Anakim there".'" These ten men came back and they told the Israelites, "This is a great land but we can't go in there. There's no way we can go into that land. Why, the land is filled with the Anakim".
That's a word for giants. And they did see some giants but there's no evidence that every person they saw was a giant. How many of you know that fear takes one giant and turns him into the whole population? Have you noticed that? Intimidates you. They saw cities that had great walls and they actually were so impressed by the inhabitants of the land of Canaan that when they came back, they convinced themselves that the reason God had brought them to the threshold of Canaan was because God hated them and he wanted to destroy them. You say, "That is the most irrational thought you could ever have of God," and yet, when fear begins to control your life, you don't think correctly and rationality goes out the window. Fear distorts your life and the picture of everything.
If you determine that you will let fear take over in your life, you can be sure you're gonna have a distorted picture of life. Fear will take everything that's going on in your life and destroy it. It will take everything that's going on in your life and distort it. And it will discourage everybody you come in contact with. You see, fear isn't just an isolated thing. Fear isn't something that just touches you. Fear touches everybody you touch. Isn't it interesting?
Think about this for a moment. Ten men out of the twelve came back with an evil report and those ten men so determined the destiny of the entire nation of Israel that the course of the nation was changed for the next forty years, just by the testimony of ten people. How many of you know that fear is infectious? Somebody said that when they came back from the land of Canaan they not only talked about the giants they saw, they brought one of the giants back with them, the giant of fear. And that giant walked into their camp and destroyed everything that was in the heart of the whole nation. It was almost as if you were in the midst of a huge building packed with people and somebody hollered "Fire," and the whole landscape changes.
Fear distorts God's purposes and it discourages God's people. But number four, fear does something else. Fear disbelieves God's promises. Notice in verses 29 to 33 how carefully the wording is given to us: "Then I said to you, 'Do not be terrified, or afraid of them. The Lord your God, who goes before you, He will fight for you, according to all He did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness where you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came unto this place.' Yet, for all of that, you did not believe the Lord your God, who went in the way before you to search out a place for you to pitch your tents, to show you the way you should go, in the fire by night and in the cloud by day".
Listen to me, people. This challenge in the lives of the Israelites wasn't just God's introduction to them. This wasn't God saying, "Oh, let's start from this place and go into the land of promise". God had been with them through the whole experience in the wilderness, through all of their time in Egypt. And the Bible says he had carried them along as you carry a child, and he had walked them through every experience. He had been with them, he had ministered to them, he had fought their battles, he had provided their food, he'd given them direction by the cloud and by the pillar of fire. And all of that experience is in their heart and here they stand on a challenge to do what God tells them to do and it's like everything God had done for them was gone.
You know what I've been learning as I get older? That while faith is important and it's important to build your faith muscles, sometimes every experience of faith is like starting over. Have you noticed that? It would seem like if you've watched God do some great things for you in the past, you should be able to climb up on that. It'd be real easy to trust him again. But how many of you know sometimes it doesn't work that way? And the Israelites are a certain illustration of that. They decided that in light of all that God had done to demonstrate his goodness in their behalf, that they would not believe his Word. Fear disobeys God's principles, that's the fifth thing.
Notice: "Nevertheless," verse 26, "you would not go up, but you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God". I know this is gonna be a little harsh for some of you but let me say it to you again. Here's where the crux of this whole thing rests. Fear is disobedience. Fear is disobeying God. You know, there's a little phrase in the Bible. Somebody said they counted them and there's 365 of them. I don't know if that's true because I haven't counted them. I tried to count them once and I couldn't get to 365 so I don't use this illustration as fact but many, many times in the Bible is this little phrase. You know what the phrase is? "Fear not". Say it out loud. "Fear not".
How many times does God have to say to us, "Fear not," for us to understand that if we fear, we're not doing what God tells us to do? "And to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin". You say, "Well, Pastor Jeremiah, I can't help my fears". Well, we're gonna talk about that in a few moments. But you know, it's a very important thing to understand that if God has given us the principle of faith, to deny that principle is to deny God's plan for our life. And fear destroys and disobeys the principles of God. Says here: "Nevertheless you would not go up, but you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God".
Now, what's the result of all of this? I'm trying to tell the story as quickly as I can but, listen to me, the result of it was because they would not believe God, God wasn't gonna provide for them what he provided for them, what he had promised he was gonna give them. And so in the next passage of Scripture that you read in the book of Deuteronomy and again in the book of Numbers, what you discover is this: that the whole generation that did not believe God was prohibited from going into the land of promise.
All the adult generation, the generation of Joshua and Caleb, that whole generation was forbidden to go into the Promised Land and they spent the next 40 years wandering around in the wilderness until that whole generation died off. The only two people that were allowed to go into the Promised Land were Joshua and Caleb. And you know what Joshua and Caleb did for the next 40 years? They kept coming back across the border to go to funerals of their friends because they had to wait for everybody to die. And the interesting thing in the passage is that the children who they were afraid were gonna be destroyed by the giants in the land, the children were the only ones among them who were going to be allowed to go in the Promised Land. After the adult generation died off, the children then were able to go into the Promised Land under Joshua's leadership.
How many of you know that if fear dominates your life, ultimately it destroys everything God wants to do for you? How many people I've known whom God has spoken to, God has given them a direction in their life, he's maybe called them to some ministry, called them to some mission field, called them to do something special, and out of fear they have refused to do it and their whole life becomes just kind of a rambling, meaningless journey. My friends, fear can steal away from us the very thing God wants to give us. Fear is a powerful force. The spirit of fear that dominates a life can keep God from doing what he wants to do in you.
So you say, "Well, Pastor Jeremiah, what do we do about fear? I don't wanna just bring these problems to you. We all know that fear's a problem. Some of you have come here today with fear as a great problem. What do you do when fear begins to dominate your life? Well, I wanna give you four or five things that I've learned from studying God's Word. Number one, you confront your fear honestly. You have to confront fear. Fear isn't gonna go away. If you have a spirit of fear that chases you around and won't let you alone, it's not gonna just one day not be there. You have to confront fear. You have to, first of all, understand what it is that's causing you to be fearful.
I've had people say to me, "You know, Pastor, I don't know what I'm afraid of. I just have this spirit of fear". We need to ask God to help you isolate what that fear is and confront it because I promise you, it's not something you can run away from. I read this week about a Canadian family who, fearing that another world war was coming, decided to move to another part of the planet where peace was guaranteed. So after months of deliberation, they chose the remotest spot they could imagine and in March of 1992 they relocated to the Falkland Islands. And five days later, the Argentineans invaded, marking the start of the Falklands War.
You can't run from fear. You know what? If you run from fear, wherever you show up, fear will be waiting for you at the door, so you got to confront it. Secondly, I've alluded to this already but let me put it in positive terms. You need to confess your fear to the Lord. Confess it as sin. If God says, "Fear not," and we fear, we're disobeying God. You say, "Well, you can't command your feelings". No, you cannot command your feelings but you can allow your will to obey the voice of God and you can fill your life with his truth. Psalm 34:4 says: "I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all of my fears".
There's only one way to get rid of fear. Like any other sin, we have to recognize it and confess it and repent of it and claim God's promise of forgiveness and go on with our life. So you have to confront your fear honestly, you have to confess your fear as sin. Thirdly, you need to claim God's promises of protection. Did you know that the Bible is filled with promises?
And if I were a person who had a fearful spirit I would take some 3 x 5 cards and I'd go home today and I'd take these references I'm gonna give you in a few moments and I'd copy these verses out on a 3 x 5 card and I'd put one on the visor in my car. I'd put one on the wall in the bathroom. I'd put one under the glass at my desk. I'd put one in my wallet and maybe one in my inside pocket. And every time the spirit of fear began to invade my life, I'd pull out one of the promises of Almighty God and read it out loud. God has given us his promises to encourage and strengthen us.
You say, "What kind of promises are we talking about"? Let me give you four or five that you can put down on your list.
First one, Deuteronomy 31:6: "Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you and He will not leave you nor forsake you". That's a good word, isn't it? Read these out loud with me, all right, as they come up on the board.
Number two, it's Psalm 27:1: "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid"?
Psalm 118, verse 6: "The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me"?
Proverbs 3:25-26: "Do not be afraid of sudden terror, nor of trouble from the wicked when it comes; for the Lord will be your confidence, and will keep your foot from being caught".
Proverbs 29:25: "The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe".
Here's my favorite one, Isaiah 41:10. Read it out loud together. "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you. I will uphold you with My righteous right hand".
You put those verses in your heart. Put 'em on your 3 x 5 cards and when the spirit of fear begins to move into your life, just get 'em out and start to read 'em and don't stop with these. Do your own research. You can find the word "fear" in the Concordance of your Bible. Look up all of the places where it's found and mind those truths and make them a part of your system. And when the enemy comes along with his little whispers of fear, you tell him, "Forget it. I have a word from God. Fear not". Then you need to do something else that's gonna sound a little strange and maybe like a pat answer but it's not and I hope you'll stay with me here. You need to cultivate a closer relationship with God.
Now you say, "Pastor Jeremiah, can't you come up with something more original than that"? But hang with me because this is really important. There are 2 men out of the 12 who came back and saw everything everybody else saw. Joshua and Caleb went every place where all of the other men went. They saw all the giants. They saw everything. They saw the walled cities. But they came back with a different view of things. They came back and said, "We can do this". I often like to tell people the difference is the ten who came back with the negative report saw the giants compared to themselves, and Joshua and Caleb saw the giants compared to God.
It makes a lot of difference where you make the comparisons. But the Scripture tells us that the only two men who were allowed to go into the Promised Land were Joshua and Caleb and the reason God blessed them was because there was something uniquely different about them than the other ten men who represented Israel in that reconnaissance trip.
What made the difference for Joshua and Caleb? I wanna give you three verses; the first one in Deuteronomy chapter 1. It says: "Except Caleb the son of Jephunneh; he shall see it, and to him and his children I am giving the land on which he walked," now say this out loud with me, "because he wholly followed the Lord," all right? The next one's in the book of Numbers. Notice what it says: "But My servant Caleb, because," here it is, "he has a different spirit in him and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land where he went, and his descendants shall inherit it".
Once again, in the book of Numbers, notice this about Joshua and Caleb. Clear at the end of the verse it says, read it out loud with me: "For they have wholly followed the Lord". The difference between Joshua and Caleb and the other men was the fact, and one of the passage, it says this: "They were filled up with Almighty God". They had developed a relationship with God that made God the most important thing and the dominating thing in their life. So surely, when they walked into this land that God had promised them and they saw the giants and the high walls and all the terror of the land which the Bible says "devoured its inhabitants," Joshua and Caleb just looked at that and said, "Well, this is no big deal for God. I mean, God, we can do this. God, you've given us this land. We can do it".
You see, what we do when we're afraid is we cultivate a relationship with God that makes us begin to understand who God is and what his capabilities are and what his power is and then we begin to see our fears in the perspective of a God who is great and mighty and powerful and for whom nothing is too hard. In the New Testament there's a verse, if I had to pick a verse that's the most important verse about fear in all the Bible, this would be it. And I wouldn't have said that until I began to study that this week. It's 1 John 4:18. I want you to read it out loud with me. "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love".
Now I wanna ask you a question. What is the opposite of fear? What is the opposite of fear? What is it, class? Trust. That's a good one. What else? Courage. Those are all good but they're all wrong. The opposite of fear is love. That's what the text says. God has not given us a spirit of fear but of love. And in the book of Timothy where Paul is speaking and we mentioned this at the very beginning, what was the lesson? "God has not given you a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a strong mind, a sound mind".
So how is love the opposite of fear? Watch carefully. When your little child wakes up in the middle of the night as they sometimes do and they're terrified of the darkness, you don't rush into the room and say, "C'mon, be courageous". You pick the little boy up in your arms and you hold him as tight as you can and you tell him how much you love him and everything's okay and you're gonna be all right and you envelop him in your love. Isn't that what you do?
One of my favorite preachers of another generation is a man by the name of Harry Ironside. Harry Ironside said that he and his little boy, when his son was little, used to play this game in their house called "Bears". He said, "I was the bear and my son was the one I was chasing and he'd look at me," and today it's not bears, it's monsters. But in his day, it was bears. And he said, "We used to play this game all the time". And he said one day when they were playing "Bears" the excitement got a little bit too intense and the boy got cornered and all of a sudden he got scared and for a moment he hid his face. Then whipping around and throwing himself into his father's arms, he said, "I'm not afraid of you. You're not a bear. You're my daddy".
And that's what God wants us to do when we're afraid, isn't it? Throw ourselves into his arms. He's our father. The opposite of fear is love. When we understand how much God loves us, when we get a hold of that truth, we will not be afraid. We will know that he loves us too much to allow anything in our life that can hurt or destroy us, that he is our Father and he loves us desperately. And then as we cultivate that love back to him, remember, we can only love him because he first loved us. When we begin to love him as he has taught us by his love for us, that love begins to dispel fear. And when fear comes, we begin to express the love of God in our hearts that's shed abroad by the Holy Spirit, by reaching out to those around us and ministering to them, there's nothing that can take you away from the paralysis of fear like getting involved in ministry to God's family and helping them and encouraging them and being a part of the things that trouble them.
"Perfect love casts out fear". So develop a close relationship with God. Learn to know him as your Father. Don't spend so much time thinking about your fears; spend all the time you can getting to know who your Father is and you'll be so excited to know that he loves you as he does.
There's one last thought. I've been talking primarily to believers here about fear because we all deal with it. But I wanna take just a moment and talk to someone here today who may not know the Lord. Did you know that one of the fears, perhaps the one that dominates people more than any other, is the fear of death? Death is the great fear. I had a friend in the city where I used to minister who was so afraid of death he had a canister of oxygen in every place you can imagine in his home. He had one in all of his cars. He had one in every bathroom. He had one in every bedroom. He had one in the kitchen. He had one in the garage.
And I was visiting with him one day and I said to him, "What is this"? He said, "Well, I have a little bit of a heart problem," and he said, "I'm afraid that one of these days I might have a heart attack and I won't be able to get oxygen," and he said, "and then I'll die". And he said, "I'm trying to do everything I can to hedge my bet". He said, "I'm trying to put things everywhere so that if anything".
You know, I think it's right to be careful but that's a phobia. How many of you know that if death comes after you, all the canisters of oxygen you wanna put anywhere may not help? I know some people that are just terrified of the thought of death. I need to tell you something. I mean this sincerely. I am not afraid of death. I'm not. I looked death in the face and I'm not afraid.
Now, I don't wanna die. I want you to make sure you understand that. I wanna stay around as long as I can and torment you. But isn't it a wonderful thing to be able to say with absolute certainty, "I'm not afraid of death"? You know, the believer has the best that God has for him here and if God brings death into his life he graduates into the presence of the Almighty. But there are some people who go through all of their lives in bondage because of the fear of death. And I have a verse for all of you that I want you to notice. It's in Hebrews and I want us to see this verse up on the screen. Listen carefully:
Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
Isn't that an interesting verse? The Bible says that Jesus Christ came into this world and became flesh and blood and he went to the cross and he hung there between heaven and earth and he paid the penalty for all of our sin and he destroyed death's power over us so that the Bible truly says if you believe in Christ you will live and you will never die.
Now, you may die physically but you will not die spiritually, and physical death no longer terrorizes you. The Bible says Jesus Christ came into the world and hung on the cross and paid the penalty for all of our sin so that he could destroy the one who had the power of death. Who was that? The devil. And he could release us from the bondage of the fear of death that terrorizes us throughout our whole lives.
So if you see a Christian who knows the Word of God and knows the God of the Word, you see somebody who's different than anybody in the world. He's not anxious to die, he doesn't wanna die, but he's not afraid to die. Because, you know, absence from the body is present with the Lord. And I wanna ask you this question: do you have that assurance in your heart today? Are you sure that if you were to die you would go to be with God?
The only way you can ever be sure of that is to put your trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior and invite him into your life and accept him as your Lord and Savior and ask him to take away from you the fear of death and give you life everlasting. And he will do it. And just as I want to invite my Christian friends to get away from the spirit of fear and begin to believe in the God who loves them, I wanna ask all of you who may not know the Lord Jesus Christ to give Jesus Christ first place in your life and ask him to forgive your sin and give you life everlasting and he will take away from you the fear of death. He will give you the hope of eternal life.