It has been said that the most frequent command in the Bible is "fear not." And for good reason. There is much in life of which to be afraid. Unfortunately, for many of us who live in relatively safe surroundings, this command gets watered down to minor fears that center around our personal comfort and well being, or that of our loved ones. Many of us invest a great deal of time and energy into making sure we have nothing to fear. We have doctors and medical facilities for our health fears, insurance to assuage the fear of loss, retirement accounts for our old age. We go to extraordinary lengths to make sure our children are safe at all times, often to the point that we've legislated out of their lives anything that could be remotely exciting, producing bored and apathetic adolescents and adults who specialize in risk-avoidance.
I like safety and security. I don't thrive on thrill-seeking for the sake of thrill-seeking itself. I was raised to live conservatively, to avoid risk. Most people who know me wouldn't believe that I've spent the greater part of my adult life facing fear. Every Sunday I would note the numbers; attendance, offerings, who was or wasn't present. If the numbers were going the wrong way, fear began to nibble at my heels. Early on in our time at Park church, we decided we wanted to become a single-point church instead of having to share pastoral ministry with another congregation. The financial implications of doing this were enormous for the size congregation we were at the time. We were afraid. Some years later, we decided to start a second service, and knew that some wouldn't be happy with that decision and would leave. And when we decided to build a new facility, we left the ease and safety of knowing we could handle the finances of a small building, but not so sure of managing the maintenance costs of a building three times the size of that meeting house.
Then there was 2004, when everything seemed to come apart at the seams. We weren't sure Park church could survive. I wasn't sure I could survive. I was afraid; not for me, but for the congregation. God watched over us in love and mercy, and here we are, a healthy congregation, poised to take on new ministry. Looking at it, fear is not an unreasonable emotion.
It occurs to me however, that if there weren't things to be afraid of, there would be no need for this recurring command. If we live our lives in safety and security, why would God have to tell us to not be afraid? There are very real dangers in life. We can avoid them in fear, or we can embrace them in faith. The presence of fear means we are living where God wants us. It is only in that place of fear that his command to fear not makes any sense. And it is only there that faith can come alive.
I don't like living in the place of fear, but I fear living in the place of safety, because when I am there, I am not in the place where God is, and where he can hide me in the shadow of his wings. Tonight, I choose faith in the face of fear, so that I may embrace and be embraced by Christ himself.