“Fear of What God is Asking Me to Do”
Pt. 1 of the Series: “Fear Not”
December 9, 2018
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” 34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.” 38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
Fear. I remember when I was about 8 that my parents took me to an amusement park at, I think it was, Asbury Park New Jersey. They had this thing called a fun house. Let me tell you that fun house was not fun for me. It was a labyrinth that you walked through, pitch darkness. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. At certain places bright lights would pop up that were designed to scare the bejeebers out of you. I wasn’t scared of them. I was scared of the darkness, the alones. I finally made it out of that thing and I was sobbing. I was terribly afraid. As you can see, it made a lasting impression on me. Fear. We have all experienced it. Perhaps fear crops up when cancer comes or when kids leave or when you’re fired. Perhaps you experience fear when you go into a bad neighborhood or when you have an operation or when you feel all alone.
- The effects of fear
The psychologists tell us that fear can get you sweating or increase your heart rate or initiate a fight or flight response. Fear can incapacitate you, keep you from doing things, such as with people who have phobias or anxiety disorders. Fear can induce irrational thinking and behavior. One guy spoke about how, one day, his wife was 10 minutes late coming home. He started thinking about the “what ifs”; what if something happened to her, what if she was in a car accident, what if she was dead. He started thinking that his life was over that he would have to quit his job to care for his six kids. Since his wife home schooled the children, this guy started thinking that he would have to home school them. He started thinking that, with him home schooling, he was going to have 6 stupid kids. He starting thinking that he would lose his job, that nobody would marry a man with 6 kids, that he was going to be an 80 year old bachelor with dumb kids. All of that was because his wife was 10 minutes late.
- The adrenaline junkies
Then, there are those people who enjoy fear. They go to scary movies or ride those crazy roller coasters or they enjoy extreme sports. They are adrenaline junkies. So, we heard about President Bush 41 who jumped out of an airplane at 90. Was he nuts?! Me? I got all white knuckled when I did one of those para sailing things that went about 800 feet up. I was praying to the God of the universe that I would get back down so I could kiss the earth.
- Is fear an absence of faith?
Theologically speaking, people have said that fear is an absence of faith. One preacher, Craig Groeschel, said that fear is not an absence of faith but that it is faith. He said that fear is just faith in the wrong things. He said that fear is placing your faith in the what if’s as in; What if the economy falls apart? What if I lose my job? What if someone I love gets cancer? What if I never get married? What if I marry a jerk? What if I marry a jerk and I have kids that look like the jerk and it’s an eternal reminder that I married a jerk. What if? What if? What if?
- Fear in the Christmas story
Interestingly enough, fear is one of the central emotions of the Christmas story. Three times in the stories surrounding Christmas we hear an angel say, “Fear not.” The angel said, “Fear not,” to Mary and to Joseph, and to the shepherds. We don’t hear an angel speak those words precisely to the kings, but with the maniac Herod trying to find out when and where the Christ Child was born, there could have been great fear among those kings. After all, Herod was a guy who had 2 brothers-in-law executed, a wife and 2 sons, and who would later call for the killing of all the male children around Bethlehem, an act which had Joseph and Mary and the Baby Jesus flee to Egypt. We are going to look at those four stories, examine why the angel said, “Fear not!”, and see how we connect. In the next 3 weeks, we will look at; fear of what others might think, fear of one’s standing before God, and fear of what tomorrow might bring.
Today, we will look at fear of what God might be asking to be done. The Christmas character that illustrates this for us is Mary. Our Scripture for today begins by saying;
“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.” Luke 1:26-27
The sixth month is a reference to Mary’s aunt, Elizabeth, who had become pregnant in her old age. She was the mother of John the Baptist. It was in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy that the angel visited Mary in her little Podunk town of Nazareth. She was pledged to be married to Joseph. They were betrothed. They were engaged which was a legally binding thing but which did not include conjugal visitation. So, Mary was a virgin. I’ve been teaching this lesson to the Preschool children in chapel all this week. You try explaining what virgin means to 2, 3, and 4 year olds. You don’t know how many times I said, “Go home and ask your momma.” No, I didn’t say that. I simply said that Mary was going to have a baby and she was not married. I also didn’t tell these little ones that marriage, these days, is not a requirement to have a baby. When they asked me about that, I said, “Go home and ask your momma.” Enter the angel, Gabriel.
- Gabriel addresses Mary;
“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Luke 1:28
The word for greetings in Latin is “Ave” where the term Ave Maria comes from. Ave doesn’t mean that Mary should be worshipped or prayed to. Ave means, “Hello, Mary” in older English, “Hail Mary” again which simply refers to two things; just a greeting or a pass that the quarterback throws with only seconds on the clock as a desperation attempt. The angel says; “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” In verse 30, the angel says it this way; “Mary, you have found favor with God.” This is not that Mary had been a good girl, a very good girl, that out of all of the females who ever lived or who would ever live, Mary was better, she was holier, than all of them. That is not what is meant here. That thinking has led to people praying to Mary, almost seeing her as the 4th person of the Trinity, and beliefs that Mary was perpetually a virgin, that she was sinless, and that she never died but was assumed into heaven. No, it wasn’t that Mary earned her role of mother of the Christ Child. God was the agent here. God was the one who favored Mary. God gave grace to Mary. Mary was an ordinary young woman whom God had chosen to accomplish His purposes. What was
- Mary’s reactions to Gabriel’s words
Verse 29 says that she was “greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.” And, Mary’s reaction? She was greatly troubled and in wonderment at what this might mean. She was confused and disturbed. Mary was afraid. We know that she was afraid because that is what Gabriel told her. “Do not be afraid, Mary,” or, in the King James Version, “Fear not!” For, Mary’s life, this would be one huge interruption. But, that leads us to some
- Principles for Dealing with Fear
The first principle for dealing with the fear of what God is asking me to do is a shift in thinking. You might see what God is asking you to do as an interruption to all of the stuff you have going on in your life. But, here is the shift;
- What we call interruptions, God calls invitations
- In Mary’s life
Mary was probably about 15 or 16 years old because that is when girls got engaged to be married in those days. Being engaged to Joseph, Mary was probably dreaming about what was to come. She was probably totally involved in finding just the right reception hall—Dad, did you put down that deposit?--going to tastings of the wedding cake, hiring the best photographer, searching on Pinterest to find some creative way to make the table favors, and asking the local preacher to do the wedding. Don’t forget the preacher. They always forget the preacher. She was probably dreaming about how many children she would have and picking out their names. She was practicing signing her name with her husband’s last name on her checks—come to think of it, what was Joseph’s last name? She had her future all laid out for her. She dreamed of what was to come and all of a sudden, God sent this angel who interrupted all of that. “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Verse 29 says that she was “greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.” God sent this angel who was putting a huge kibosh on all of her plans. This was a tremendous inconvenience. It was a huge interruption. But, remember what Mary was being asked to do. She was chosen to be the mother of the Savior of the world! What we call interruptions, God calls invitations.
All throughout the Bible, God interrupted people’s lives and those interruptions became invitations for ministry. God interrupted Moses one day when he was tending his father-in-law’s sheep. God interrupted Moses and invited him to tell Pharaoh, “Let my people go.” God interrupted David’s sheep tending to eventually become the second king of Israel. God interrupted Saul from his persecution of the church to become Paul and to devote his life to the spreading of the Gospel. God interrupted people’s plans and when He did that, He was inviting people into a deeper relationship with Him, inviting people to do His work.
- In your life
So, you are zipping along in life and all of a sudden, you get sick. You’ve got this thing on your plate and that thing on your plate and then, all of a sudden, you get sick. That sickness is a huge interruption. You don’t have time to be sick. You have every minute in your schedule all planned out and yet, you get sick. That sickness is a huge interruption. But, what we call interruptions, God calls invitations. What is sickness an invitation to? It could be God telling you to slow down. It could be God telling you that you can’t burn the candle at both ends that you need to have some down time, some time to rest. That’s one of the reasons God gave us the 3rd commandment, to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. One of the reasons for the Sabbath is to rest. Or, that sickness could be an invitation to a deeper relationship with God. When you’re sick, especially if that sickness is serious, it is amazing how your prayer life just takes a giant leap forward. All of the sudden, you feel a need to pray more. You feel a need to be sure you are right with God.
Or, how about volunteering to teach Sunday School. You like coming to church and worshipping. Every 7th or 8th Sunday, the pastor has a good sermon and you are patient enough to wait for that good one. You like staying in the sanctuary and worshipping, but, then the call goes out that they need a teacher for the 4 year olds. How dare they? They have the nerve to interrupt your Sunday routine to challenge you to go downstairs and teach 4 year olds. That would scare you to death. But, what we call interruptions, God calls invitations. You don’t even like 4 year olds. But, somehow, the Holy Spirit convinces you that you need to go on down. You do it once and you survive. You do it again, and you start to like it. Pretty soon, you find that this is your best hour of the week, to sit with the kids and teach them about Jesus. What we call interruptions, God calls invitations.
Or, you notice that your co-worker looks down. They look depressed. Or, you look around at church and you see somebody over there who looks teary eyed. It could be because they can’t wait for the sermon to get over, but somehow you think their tears go well beyond the pastor’s sermon. Or, you have a friend who is in the hospital. Now, in any of these situations, you could say, “That’s not my business.” Or, you could say, “I wouldn’t know what to say if I went over and asked what’s wrong.” Or you could say that you are too busy, that you don’t have time to be interrupted to speak with them. But, what we call interruptions, God calls invitations and something moves you to go to the person at church or your co-worker or that friend in the hospital. It scares you to death to do it. You have no idea what to say. And—I don’t know if this has ever happened to you, it has to me—but there have been times when I wondered what to say to someone and then I opened my mouth and 20 minutes later I am walking away and I look back and it was like God had a hold of my mouth. It was like He was using my brain and my mouth to say just what He wanted me to say and I almost had no control over it. I know this sounds weird but there have been times when I have met with someone and I speak and, as it turns out, it was exactly what that person needed to hear and I have to admit; “God gave me that. God gave me just the right words to speak.” It was an interruption.
Teaching Sunday School, speaking with someone who is hurting, visiting someone in the hospital—all of these things could scare you to death. But, what we call interruptions, God calls invitations. So, when you are afraid of what God is asking you to do, realize that what you might call an interruption, God would call an invitation. When you have interruptions in life, interruptions that shake up your life, interruptions that might totally change your future, interruptions that might make you feel troubles and in wonderment, interruptions that might make you feel confused and disturbed, interruptions that might provoke all kinds of fear in you, you can deal with that fear when you realize that what we call interruptions, God calls invitations. Now, another way to deal with fear when God asks you to do something is to realize
- God’s purpose is often way different than your plans.
- In Mary’s life
Mary’s got her plans all laid out; white picket fence, 2.5 kids—I don’t know about that ½ kid, a dog, not a cat. The angel comes to Mary, interrupts her with a purpose that was way, way, way, beyond her plans. The angel said that Mary was going to have a baby. That wasn’t in Mary’s plans. Just the thought of that would make her feel troubled and in wonderment and afraid. She was thinking that this was a bad dream, that the Chinese food she had last night was giving her a nightmare. But, then, it was sinking in. This was for real and she was afraid. She was wondering what would Joseph say and what would he do? The law said that he had the right to divorce her. Would he do it? He could divorce her by making a big stink about it. He could even have her stoned to death. Or, he could divorce her quietly. In that case, she would just be a marked woman. Very few, if any, men, would want to marry her. It would be almost impossible for her to find work. Typically in that culture, the only job a woman who had a baby out of wedlock could find was as a prostitute. She would have to live with her parents. But, what would they think? What would they say? What sort of scorn would come crashing down on them? Mary was afraid. God interrupted her plans and now she was afraid of what might happen.
But, God’s purpose is often different than your plans. The angel said that Mary was going to have a baby all right, but that baby would be named Jesus and He would be great, and He would be called the Son of God, and He would sit on the throne of His father David for forever. Here, let me give you God’s higher purpose for Mary quite succinctly; Mary would give birth to God. She would be the mother of God. Now, how would that change everything for Mary? One moment, she is inundated with “what ifs” and the “how am I gonna’s”. She is overwhelmed with fear. The next moment she is blown away that she was chosen to be the mother of God. Out of all of the women who ever lived or who would live, God chose her to give birth to Jesus. God’s purpose for Mary was way different than her plans.
- In your life
So, you are way busy doing life when that interruption occurs and it blows you away. You could lose your job and you think that that is the worst thing ever. How will you pay your bills? How will you get another one? What will you do? But, then you hang in there and you find out that God gives you another job, or He sets you up to start your own business which you were thinking about doing, or maybe you get a job with lesser pay but it gives you a chance to make a difference in other people’s lives, maybe your new co-worker’s lives, and you find out that God’s purpose is way different than your plans.
Or, maybe you are in this relationship and you are thinking you want to marry that person. But then, your relationship goes south and the relationship ends. You may be thinking that you will never get married and you are full of fear. But, then God has someone else in mind for you, or maybe you remain single but God fills your life with so many other things and you find out that God’s purpose is way different than your plans.
And, what you find out, what allows you to get rid of that fear when God asks you to do something is that you realize that God does indeed have plans to bless you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a hope and a future and He may interrupt you and you may be troubles and be in wonderment and be afraid, but God’s purpose is way higher than your plans. One last way to deal with fear when God asks you to do something is to realize
- God overshadows you
- In Mary’s life
Mary had her life interrupted and she heard what an incredible purpose God had for her, that she would be the mother of God. Now, Mary asks a pretty mundane question. She asks how can she become pregnant, how can she give birth to the Christ child when she is a virgin. We talked about this in preschool staff devotions the other day. Mary’s question was a mechanics question. It was a “how” question. It was a birds and the bees question. Here is what the angel said—I want you to pay attention to these words, they are so important;
“The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you… For no word from God will ever fail.” Luke 1:35, 37
Underline those terms, will you; “come on” and “overshadow”. Just try to imagine those terms. The Holy Spirit will come on Mary. The Holy Spirit will come beside her. The Spirit will walk with her, will accompany her. The Holy Spirit will overshadow her. She will be in the shadow of the Holy Spirit. For, the angel was telling Mary, that no word from God will ever fail. Or, as other translations have it, nothing is impossible with God.
- In your life
So, you are doing life and all of a sudden, God interrupts your life in one way or another and you are afraid. He has a huge purpose for you and it is way beyond anything you ever imagined and you are troubled, you are in wonderment over it. What would it do to your troubled feelings, your wonderment, what would it do to your fear when you realize that, just as with Mary, the Holy Spirit is upon you, He is upon you and will never let you go. And, the Holy Spirit will over shadow you. You can rest in the shadow of His wings. What would it do to your fear if you knew that the Holy Spirit was there for you, never letting you go? And, what would it mean that, as you looked at what God was asking you to do, what would it mean for your fear, that you are being enveloped by the Spirit. I like the image of an alternative way of pronouncing that word. The Holy Spirit enveloped her, like putting a letter into an envelope, so Mary was enveloped by the Holy Spirit. What would it mean for your fear of what God is asking you to do if you knew that God was enveloping you, that you might not see how it can be done and you might be afraid but—listen—what would it mean for your fear when you discover that nothing is impossible with God. Last thing;
- Mary’s ultimate response
Her ultimate response was this;
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Luke 1:38
- The outcome is God’s responsibility. Obedience is yours
What’s going to happen? How will this get resolved? Where is this all going to come down? That’s up to God. All you do is take the step of faith. All you do is obey. You cannot predict the outcome. You cannot ever imagine it. All you do is be obedient with the next step. You simply surrender. When you are afraid of what God wants you to do, you simply surrender to God, just like a virgin did 2000 years ago when God in His plan, interrupted her with an invitation to a higher calling because His purpose is higher than ours. In her mind, she could not conceive how things would all work out but what she did know was that all things are possible with God. Mary could say, “I have no fear about your plans because I am your servant.” You don’t have to have fear about what God is asking you to do because you are the Lord’s servant and your God is good and His plans are always right and just and true and He might interrupt your life for something better and He might have a higher purpose than you could ever imagine but in the end, you just trust Him. In the end, you realize that what we call interruptions, Go0d calls invitations and God’s purpose is often way different than your plans, and that God overshadows you and to all of that you simply say, “I am the Lord’s servant,” and when you do that, when God asks you to do something for Him all of that fear will go away. That is how you can deal with the fear of what God is asking you to do.
In Jesus’ name.