Thursday, April 7, 2011

Be Afraid . . . Be Very Afraid

The Bible is full of exhortations to not be afraid. A couple of the more common examples are: "... Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:9, NASB) and "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (II Timothy 1:7, NKJV). We need to keep these verses fresh in our spirits, and in times like these, they can be much needed encouragement. However, there is a verse in the Bible when we are told that we should be afraid, and as the Lord's people, we need to remind ourselves of this one, as well.

Hebrews 4:1 tells us that God has made rest available to us, and we should "... tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it" (NLT).Experiencing the Lord's rest is so important that the Bible actually tells us that we should tremble with fear at the possibility that we might miss it! Let's consider this for a minute.

What does it really mean to experience the Lord's rest? What does the Bible mean when it says we should "fear" that we might miss it? As most of you know, the New Testament was originally written in Greek, and the Greek language is much more expressive than our English language. Where our language simply says "rest," the original Greek reads "to settle down, abide and colonize." If we take our English understanding of rest and combine it with this additional insight from the Greek, we can better understand what the Lord's rest really is. In our society, rest is an occasional experience. For many, rest comes at bedtime and the hours between getting up in the morning and going to bed at night are filled with stress and worry about family issues, anxiety about our finances and striving to somehow live a life that will please the Lord. Even the "restful" hours can be filled with waking up thinking about deadlines, bills and the problems we are likely to face the next day. All of that is the opposite of rest. This is not what the Lord intends for us. He intends for us to experience His rest, which can be defined as not relying on our own strength and resources to provide for us, but,settling down and taking up residence in the Lord's finished work.

That's what it means to rest. It means that we our trust and confidence is in Him and what he has already accomplished. Jesus made this clear when He said:

"Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will
give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you. Let Me teach you, because I am humble and gentle
at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light (Matthew 11:28-30, NLT).

That flies in the face of so much that many of us have come to believe, but we need to reclaim this understanding. Most of us walk around with the weight of the world on our shoulders, and we were never meant to carry that weight. We spend our time trying to figure out life's problems, when the Lord already has every solution. Many of us live with a fear of what will happen if we fail, but the Lord has already succeeded, and as we walk with Him, we will also succeed.

It is important to understand that this doesn't mean that we become lazy people who just wait for the Lord to drop every provision in our lap. We still have to work - we just don't have to strive and toil. If you think back to the Lord's commission to Adam and Eve, they had the responsibility of tending the garden. Work is fundamentally a part of our purpose, but it's not supposed to be the frustrating, heavy yoke that many of us regularly experience. Jesus invited us to share His easy yoke. Working with Him should be productive and gratifying, and not the drudgery that has become the norm in our society.

Now that we have briefly discussed the rest, let's go back to the fear again. As we read in Hebrews 4:1, we should be afraid of not entering this rest. This is another example of the insufficiency of the English language. All our language says is "fear," but the original Greek word used in this verse is "phobeo," which is the word from which we derive our English word "phobia." Have you even been around someone who is afraid of spiders when one comes crawling down the wall? Have you ever watched someone run in terror when a bee buzzed by? Those are examples of how powerful fear can be. We need to have the same reaction to the idea of trying to rely on ourselves instead of placing our trust in the Lord. As long as it is up to us, we will be under pressure and have to deal with stress and constant anxiety that what we have not done enough. However, if we leave it up to the Lord, we can dwell in a continual place of rest knowing that He has it all figured out. Billy Graham once said "I don't know what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future." As we look to the future, it is difficult to see anything but uncertainty, but in spite of it, we can rest knowing that the Lord will always guide us and provide for us. The only thing we have to fear is what might happen if we try to do it on our own without Him. Let us keep our eyes on Him and enjoy the continual rest He has made available to us.

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