Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Fear: the Enemy of Faith and Progress

It's interesting how our fears change over time. When I was a kid I had a recurring nightmare. The dream would start with me on the Pee-Wee baseball field at North Houston National Little League. Behind the fence and rising up above the scoreboard in left field was a huge wall of trees. Because it was my dream I would inevitably make the game winning play in the last inning.

As we celebrated on the field a huge Tyrannosaurus Rex jumped up from behind the trees, let out a huge roar and came crashing through the trees. He took a huge bite out of the scoreboard and started coming after me. My family and I jumped in the car and my dad would speed through the parking lot trying to escape. The T-Rex chased us through the parking lot as we desperately tried to escape to the front gate of the ball park. However, with each step, he was gaining on us. To the right of the gate a man sat playing a guitar with his pet chihuahua by his side. I've never figured out what he was doing there. Back to the nightmare, the tires would screech, the car would swerve and my dad kept the gas pedal down as we sped toward the gate. Right before the T-Rex got to us, we would get to the gate and I would wake up.

I know, it was terrifying just to read, wasn't it? I am a little ashamed to admit this, but as I grew up and moved from the Pee-Wee field to the Majors field and to the Senior Major Field, I would often look at the trees and wonder when the T-Rex was going to come crashing through the trees. On Monday night I took Luke to his baseball practice, and I cut my eyes to the trees once or twice.

While it is true that most of us eventually outgrow our childhood fears, most of us never outgrow fear. Fear is the enemy of faith and progress. We often find ourselves paralyzed by fear- fear of the unknown, fear of rejection, fear of opposition, or fear of failure. Because of this, many of us never get past our fear and make progress in rebuilding the broken down areas of our lives.

In Nehemiah 3 the people overcame their fear of persecution at the hands of pagan rulers and began the important task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Chapter 3 records the names and families of those who stepped out in faith and rebuilt the walls. The moment they stepped out in faith, opposition arose. Sanballat and others who opposed the rebuilding project mocked the Jewish people and hurled insults at them (Neh. 4:1-3). "They'll never be able to do it. They are too weak. They won't be able to revive the dead stones of this wall."

Nehemiah responded to the opposition as we all should: he prayed (Neh. 4:4-5) and he kept on building. Faith was still overcoming fear at this point and the people were able to build the wall to half of its height (Neh. 4:6). But the opposition continued. They devised plans to cause confusion among the people and to stop the work (Neh. 4:7-8, 12). As the opposition continued, the people began to lose faith and fear took over.

When fear overcomes faith we become consumed by "what ifs". "What if I am attacked? What if I am not strong enough? What if I can't salvage my marriage? What if I can't rebuild my broken financial situation? What if I fail? What if I am overrun? What if the job is too big" When fear takes over, discouragement settles in and progress stops.

This happened to the Jewish people as they faced opposition. "And Judah said, 'The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed, and there is much rubbish; so that we are not able to build the wall" (Neh. 4:9). Does that sound like someone you know? Does that sound like you? Are you saying "It can't be done. My marriage is too far gone. My relationship with my child is broken beyond repair. There's no hope for the church. My finances are such a mess that no one will be able to help!"?

Opposition to the work of God in your life is a constant. Jesus said we should expect difficulty in this life (John 16:33). However, when you see an area of your life is broken down and God gives you the vision of what should be, arise and build. Don't stop just because someone says you can't do it. Don't give in because quitting is easier than continuing. Opposition to the work of God in your life is really an opportunity for God to work.

When the people got discouraged, Nehemiah put them behind the wall by families with their swords, speaks and bows. Then he said to them, "Do not be afraid of them: remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses" (Neh. 3:14). In other words, have faith, not fear. When opposition comes, that's the time to fight, not surrender.

What happened in Nehemiah's story will happen in your life. Faith began to overcome fear and the people "returned to the wall, every one unto his work." Your part in rebuilding is to have great faith and work hard. God's part is to turn opposition into opportunities. Trust him. Work hard. And do not fear the "T-Rex" beyond the trees. God is big enough for him as well.

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