If God’s said it once, He’s said it a hundred times: “Don’t be afraid.”
What happens in you when you hear those words? Do they feel to you like words of comfort, or like one more huge rock to trip over, one more heavy command you can’t seem to obey?
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Wearing winter coats and toting musical instruments and casserole dishes, the family crowds through the door into the small porch. The young boy steps in, and his quiet world erupts in the panic of friendly paws against his chest and an enthusiastic pink tongue licking his face. He stiffens, cries out, and whirls around to find his daddy. His daddy is there in an instant, pushing the puppy away, scooping his son out of reach of the friendly offender who continues to dance her noisy welcome around the father’s legs.
“It’s okay, I’ve got you.”
Twenty minutes later the young boy is still perched on his daddy’s knee. Slowly, slowly, he’s making friends with the puppy. His daddy reaches out a hand to pat the puppy; the boy timidly touches the curly white hair too. He’s watching his daddy, learning what’s safe. He can only learn this in his daddy’s arms. At his own less-than-three-feet, the puppy takes over his world, threatens to push him right over. From his daddy’s arms, he can begin to see that the puppy-monster is not so fearful after all. Step 2: don’t be afraid. It follows on step 1: learn that you’re safe. His daddy knows that. So, over and over, for as long as his son needs, he speaks with soft words and arms that hold tight, “You don’t need to be afraid.” They’re words of safety, of love, of presence. “I’ve got you.” Words of reassurance, not judgment.
The daddy’s “Don’t be afraid” is never followed by “I told you not to be afraid! Stop disobeying me and get down there and play with the puppy!” It seems ridiculous even to think it until I notice how we sometimes hear God’s words.
Anne Smith’s comment rings in my ears: “Almost everyone’s struggle with prayer is because we have a truncated view of God.” What does the way I hear God’s “Don’t be afraid” tell me about where my view of God is too small?
I watch God gently reach out to his fearful children, see Jesus immediately respond to his fearful disciples (Matt 14:27), touching them as he speaks (Matt 17:7). I notice my Father’s fierce action against the things that threaten the child he loves, observe His instant presence when we cry, His protective reach to scoop us up into his arms (Ps 18:1-19).
He reassures us in personal danger (Matt 10:31) and political instability (Is 7:4), in surprising success and transition (Luke 5:10) and in our fear-full response to hearing God’s voice (Matt 17:7). Into our fear of death (Luke 8:50) and storms and the startling appearance of Jesus in our lives (Mark 6:50), He speaks, again and again, “It’s okay. I’ve got you. You don’t need to be afraid.”
“‘Do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand . . .
I am the LORD your God, who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.
Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob, O little Israel,
For I myself will help you,’
declares the LORD, your Redeemer,
the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:10,13-14)
How does this invite you to pray the next time fear is pawing at your chest and licking your face?