A Single Compound Sentence That Changed My Life

A very well-read man has said, “Books don’t often change your life.  Single sentences from books change your life.”  Words, then—even a mere sentence-full of them—are very powerful.

One such sentence that has impacted me perhaps more than any other I’ve ever come to know is a single, compound sentence from Isaiah 41:10.  There, God says to his people,

Fear not, for I am with you.

I have never read a single sentence that has impacted me as much as that one has.  It is incredibly simple as far as sentences go—two independent clauses joined neatly together by a coordinating conjunction.  And yet, the truth behind such deceptively simple sentence construction is breath-taking.

To begin with, God tells his people, “Fear not.”  It’s a command.  What’s more, it’s a command regarding our emotions.  He’s commanding us not to be afraid.  He’s ordering us not to feel fear.

Why?  On what basis would he make such a claim?  He doesn’t leave us guessing.  He gives us a rock-solid reason as to why we should not be afraid, introduced by the little word “for,” meaning because.  He commands us not to fear because he is with us.

I could not overstate the staggering implications of the fact that God is with me.  The thought has filled me with the deepest sense of awe and peace more times than I can now count.  The very being who stretched out the stars with his fingers (Psalm 8:3) and who actively upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3) is, right now as I type these words, with me.  He is present.  He is here.  He is with me.

I think this verse has meant so much to me over the past few years because of all that I see in that word “with.”  He’s not against me.  He’s for me.  He’s not distant.  He’s close.  He’s not working in opposition to me.  He’s working for my good.  He’s not aloof of my doings.  He’s involved at the very minutest detail of everything I do.  He’s not cold and indifferent to my needs and wants.  He knows me inside and out because he’s right here with me.

Ever needed someone to simply be with you?  It is impressive to me how someone’s mere presence, sometimes, is enough.  God is always with me.  He is good, and he is powerful, and he is with me.  As the psalmist said, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it” (Psalm 139:6).  It is beyond my ability to fully grasp.

May you come to know God this way.  So I say to you as God has so often whispered to me, “Fear not, for I am with you.”

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Fear Found Deep

There’s fear found deep behind those gentle eyes,
One fierce and raging ’neath a soft disguise
That’s been well practiced and refined, now played
As naturally as wind plays trees—fear weighed
In tons not ounces—fear acquired young
Though you’re not twelve—youth’s song now left unsung.
Like rust to a once well-sharpened knife your fear
Has dulled your wit and left your joy austere.
What ill, unblossomed flower, has wilted you
Before you’ve bloomed? What demon thing has tied
Your heart in chains of fire-wrought fear undue
For ev’n hell’s foulest beast? What judgment’s wide
Enough to turn hell’s black to heaven’s hue
And free your captive heart? God will decide.

© 2012 Eric Evans

2 Timothy 2:7

Pastor Sam Crabtree shared some very helpful words on fear from 2 Timothy, which I’d like to summarize here (click here for a video of his sermon and for his sermon notes).

2 Timothy 1:7 says, “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

God gives us a spirit of three things, each of which is antithetical to fear. That is, where each of these three things exists, fear does not exist.

The first one mentioned is power. Power works to stamp out fear. The example Pastor Sam gave was of a giant football lineman and a frail, 92-year-old woman. He asked if the lineman would be afraid of the 92-year-old. The answer is obviously no. Why? Because he’s a lot more powerful than she is physically speaking. Where power exists fear does not.

Next, God gives us a spirit of love. As is true with power, love and fear do not co-exist. The example Pastor Sam gave was a story he read many years ago in Reader’s Digest of a mother who saw her son grabbed and pulled into lake by an enormous alligator. What did the mother do? She headed straight for that alligator to get her son back, which she did! What compelled the mother to take on an alligator? Her strength? In this case, no. Would she have headed into the water after the alligator had it grabbed a million dollars? Probably not. So what did it? Love for her son overcame any fear she had of alligators and enabled her to perform a superhuman feat.

Finally, 2 Timothy 1:7 states that God has given us a spirit of self-control. (In other versions this word is rendered “sound mind,” “sound” referring to disciplined or controlled.) This, too, does not coexist well with fear. Pastor Sam’s example was of a hockey team who goes out to the middle of the hockey rink after a game to receive their medals. The players with ice skates have more self-control over their movements and therefore are not hesitant or afraid to waltz right out to the middle of the rink. The team’s coach and others who aren’t wearing ice skates and thus do not have much control over their movements are much more shaky and vulnerable and in that way are fearful as they make their way out on the ice.

So these three, power, love, and self-control displace and replace fear. Fear does not exist where these three things exist. It can’t.

Right after the declaration that God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power, love, and self-control, Paul says, “Therefore [as a result] do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord” (2 Timothy 1:8). God’s replacing fear with power, love, and self-control ultimately enables us to be bold witnesses of the gospel to those around us. The one who dwells in us is greater—as in, more powerful—than the one who is in the world, so why be afraid of anyone in this world? The love of an infinitely loving God has filled us. Let’s allow God’s love for others become our love for others and compel us to speak of that same love to others. Let us walk confidently, not fearfully, in the fruit of the Spirit, one of which is self-control. May we master our fear instead of letting it master us, and as we do so, may we speak with confidence the words of life to a dying world.

We believe, Father. Help us in our unbelief.

Five Steps to Fighting Temptation

A couple of Sundays back, my pastor’s sermon was incredibly helpful for the Christian’s fight against temptation. What he does when temptation comes his way is that he calls to mind this acronym: APTAT (which, unfortunately, my pastor lamented, doesn’t mean anything, but it’s useful nonetheless and easy to remember).

First, I’ll give you the acronym and what each letter stands for, and then I’ll narrate how the acronym works using an example.

APTAT

A — I admit I can’t overcome this temptation on my own.
P — I pray for God’s help.
T — I trust a specific, tailor-made promise of God.
A — I act, not waiting around for feelings to catch up.
T — I thank him for his help when the coast has cleared.

Without a doubt, fear is one of those temptations that’s seemingly always at the door for me. Here’s how APTAT works in the face of fear. Let’s say the fear of a job interview, for example. First, I admit to God that I can neither calm my fears nor ensure this interview goes well without God’s direct intervention. I come to him in utter humility, desperately needing his grace. If the well of God’s grace is dry at this moment, I’m cooked, and I admit it to God openly.

Then, I pray specifically for God’s help. Many times we don’t have something, like help, because we simply don’t ask for it. Cry out to God. Tell him, “I can’t, great God. This fear is going to consume me. I’ll melt before I even reach the office. I’m going to freeze and make a fool of myself. My mind is going to go blank when they ask me what my greatest weakness is! Was it that I work too hard or that I’m too kind? And what if they don’t like me? What if they don’t choose me? Take this fear away! Please, God, I beg you.”

After that, I trust a specific promise from God’s word. At the beginning of 2009, God gave me a verse that has proven to be for me personally one of the most powerful verses I’ve ever known. Countless times since then God has spoken to my trembling heart directly through this verse. This verse is as close as I’ve ever come to hearing the audible voice of God. The verse is Isaiah 41:10. In my most fearful, panicky moments, time after time God has bent down and whispered these words in my ear: “Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” And he speaks it to me personally: “Fear not, little sheep. I, the Creator of every atom in your body, am with you and not against you. You don’t have to be dismayed. For the LORD, not your job or that interview committee, is your God. They don’t have any sway over you whatsoever. I do. I will strengthen you for this task. I will help you right now in this job interview and at every other moment of your life. I will hold you up so well that you will neither stumble nor fall, and I’ll do it with my righteous right hand.”

And when his voice becomes quiet, whether my emotions have gotten the message or not, I act. Even if I the fear hasn’t completely dispersed and been replaced by warm fuzzies, I stand up and take a step toward the office door. And I open my mouth. And I answer their questions. All the while trusting that God is with me in that room, hemming me in behind and before and laying his hand upon me.

Finally, when I get done and head back out to the car, I praise him for his faithfulness in being with me. Whatever happens as a result of the interview, God was with me in it. He sustained me through it. He helped me as I was jabbering on about all my “qualifications.” What was it I was afraid of, exactly? Thank you, Father!

May this simple tool, five little letters that don’t spell anything in particular, help you fight the fight of faith.

For more examples of how to use A.P.T.A.T. against other, specific temptations, or to read or view the rest of this sermon, click here.