But God says, “Don’t be afraid”

Luke 1:6-8, 11-12, 18-20, 67, 74-75, 78-79 Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes . . . They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive . . . One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple . . . While he was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer” . . . Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure?” . . . Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born.” . . . Then John’s father, Zechariah, was filled with the Holy Spirit and gave this prophecy: . . . “We have been rescued from our enemies so we can serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness for as long as we live. . . Because of God’s tender mercy, the Morning Light from Heaven is about to visit us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us in the path of peace.”

Fear silences and debilitates. It distorts our vision, twists our thinking and distracts us from right action. It breeds rationalization, mistrust, suspicion, cynicism, anger, even violence.

And it’s ubiquitous. It’s perhaps the weapon our enemy wields most often and most effectively. Maybe that’s why we find the phrase “Don’t be afraid” at least 365 times in Scripture (depending on the wording chosen in a given translation). It’s an exhortation we need every single day.

I so relate to Zechariah. Don’t you? You can read the whole story in Luke 1. I would have been terrified too. I would have questioned God’s word, even with the evidence of a living angel standing before me to back it up. I know that because I have done so. I’ve chosen fear over faith and freedom. I love the fact that God’s work in Zechariah brought him full circle: We have been rescued from our enemies so we can serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness.

From Shutterstock by Nikki Zalewski

My second bedrock belief for walking through the challenges we face is this: God wants us to live in faith and freedom, not in fear.

My spiritual director will be delighted and maybe a bit surprised I’m saying this. She’s been patiently teaching me this truth for several years, and celebrates every time she sees me choose faith and freedom over fear. So I’m saying it not as a mandate, as if I’ve got this, but as an invitation to join me and grow together.

The thing is, the enemy of our souls plays dirty. He knows our vulnerabilities and doesn’t hesitate to exploit them. He knows what makes me afraid, which may be different from what makes you afraid. He can even throw in the contempt option, dividing us with the idea that your fear is more despicable than mine. Or play the shame card, driving me to hide my fear even though it’s controlling my feelings, perspectives, and actions. The enemy wants to keep us imprisoned and impotent.

More about the freedom and faith side in the next post—but for now I leave you, and myself, this familiar word from Paul:

God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).

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