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It wasn’t looking good for the people of Judah.
The northern kingdom of Israel was trying to overpower Jerusalem and defeat the southern kingdom of Judah. So far, Judah had retained their capital. But now, word came that Israel had allied itself with the kingdom of Aram, and all Judah was shaken.
But God sent his prophet Isaiah to Ahaz, king of Judah, with this message: “Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid.” Then God gave them some specifics about what would happen in that particular situation.
It strikes me that, regardless of the circumstances, this is a piece of timeless advice for all of us as believers. There are three important components of this short sentence that bear looking at more closely.
Be careful. Most of us are aware that we have to be careful of a lot of things, from slippery surfaces to slippery characters. Fewer are conscious that we would do well to be careful of our own capacity to slip into self-absorption, self-deceit and pride. We may check the credentials of various businesses or professionals before contracting with them, but how often do we check our own preconceived ideas, practices and motivations against God’s Word? When things are going well, are we so self-satisfied we don’t think we have to bother with measuring ourselves with His ruler (and making Him ours!)? If so, Paul has a reminder for us: So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Cor 10:12)
Perhaps fewer still are aware of another ever-present danger — especially in our Western culture. We need to be careful because we have an enemy who is hell-bent (literally!) on our spiritual destruction. Satan is jubilant whenever he can slip under our radar, because if we’re not aware of his tactics, we’re much more liable to be snared by them. But Scripture is clear that Satan is always ready to use whatever opportunity he can to derail us, and he’s not about to call attention to himself in doing it. He presents himself in many forms, and every one of them is deceitful, He’s subtle, relentless and insidious. So, we must Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith . . . (1 Peter 5:8-9). The more we are aware of Satan and his schemes, the less likely we are to fall prey.
Be calm. Well, wouldn’t we just love to! But for most of us mere mortals, calm sometimes — and maybe often — eludes us. Some of it may be the consequences of our own choices, but much of what scares, grieves, frustrates, angers and/or overwhelms us are things over which we have little or no control. Just the day’s news can be enough to stand your hair on end, without the attendant concerns of your family members, friends, colleagues, community, etc., etc., etc. Calm, it seems, is an increasingly scarce commodity in today’s world.
That’s why we should forget trying to find it there. We can find support and fellowship, and these are definitely helpful. We can take care of our physical needs for healthful food and adequate rest and relaxation. But after that, when we’re in a place where our hearts are thumping, our minds are reeling, or we’re just plain ready to explode, the best and immediately available remedy is to go to God. If you can, get to a quiet place (a bathroom stall if you have to) and ask God for His help. While you may be falling apart, remind yourself who you’re talking with. You’re powerless, but He is almighty. You’re devoid of control, but He is sovereign over all. You’re full of fear, anger, confusion or hopelessness, but He is full of love, compassion, guidance and hope — AND He has given you access to ALL OF IT. If you aren’t able to bring this all to mind when you need it, write it on a card and carry it with you. Calm comes when we make a decision not to give in to our feelings, but to give our feelings to God and trust Him to deal with them. This is hard for us; but like exercise it gets easier the more we do it, until it becomes a reflex.
Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves and it was completely calm. (Matt 8:23-26)
Don’t be afraid. Like being calm in the midst of a storm, not being afraid is counter-intuitive. That’s because it’s not natural; it’s supernatural. Just as our access to peace that passes understanding comes from our relationship with Jesus, replacing natural fears with supernatural trust depends on the depth of our faith in the character and power of our God.
Because he knew God and experienced His power, David was able to put fear in perspective: The Lord is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life — of whom shall I be afraid? (Ps. 27:1)
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise — in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? (Ps. 56:3-4)
Jesus directed His disciples to dispel their fears by focusing on their incredible value to God as distinct individuals, and through the precious gift of His Holy Spirit to minister to them in all times and places: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matt 10:29-31)
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)
Isaiah had one more compact piece of advice for Ahaz that applies to us all: “. . . If you don’t stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” (Isa 7:9)
Be careful. Be calm. Stand firm — don’t be afraid. God is on His throne.
Is He on yours?