We are finishing a season in which God kept telling people to not be afraid:
Zechariah faced with an angel in the temple – “do not be afraid.”
Mary greeted by Gabriel – “do not be afraid.”
Joseph wondering if he should divorce Mary quietly – “do not be afraid.”
Shepherds in the hills seeing angels – “do not be afraid.”
God, or the angels speaking for God, might have had to keep repeating this sentiment because being in the presence of God was probably pretty scary. But the immediate Presence is not the only thing that leads to fear.
The uncomfortable truth is, God tends to call us to do things that scare us. And it is really hard to not be afraid!
Joshua is faced with taking over for the ultimate beloved former leader – Moses. He faces the idea of leading the people into a new land, which already has people already living in it, and the locals are not likely to go quietly. He has seen the people rebel again and again against Moses, who was the one who had led them out of slavery. Did God really think that Joshua was up for the challenge?
As it turns out, God knew he was up for it. God also knew that he was scared. And God told him to not be afraid.
It might seem like God doesn’t know us at all. We get assignments that leave us shaking in our shoes, and the best God can do is say “do not be afraid”? And why don’t we get to be afraid?
We don’t get to be afraid because God knows that once the voice of fear gets into our head, it drowns out the other voices. Once we start listening to it, we get distracted from the call of God. Unfortunately, the voice of fear can be really, really loud.
In the Dune books by Frank Herbert, highly educated people facing danger or fear spoke the “Litany Against Fear” to keep their minds focused in times of peril:
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
The phrases were calming and powerful. Something for them to hold onto. God gave Joshua something strong and powerful to hold onto, as well:
Be strong and very courageous.
Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:7, 9b NIV)
God told God’s people to not be afraid. And then God called upon them to do some pretty terrifying things: Joshua leading the people to the promised land; Zechariah raising the herald of the Messiah; Mary giving birth and Joseph calling the child his own; and the Shepherds going out and telling everyone that they had seen the salvation of the Israel—all these did the very thing that scared them. And the litany against fear that was on their lips was, “do not be afraid, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
May it be on our lips also.