Nelson Mandela once said “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” This is so true. I’ve found too many people who think that because they feel fear, they are not courageous. This isn’t true. Feelings come and go, but it’s what you do in reaction to feelings that betray you or support you.
Every life faces scary times when it seems that everything and everyone is against you, especially if you are daring to do something that makes others uncomfortable, like live a life of faithfulness in a faithless world. So, being afraid isn’t failure. Giving in to fear is failure. But, how do you tame fear?
Look at our lesson today in Isaiah 41:4-14:
Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am He. The coastlands have seen and are afraid, the ends of the earth tremble; they have drawn near and come. Every one helps his neighbor, and says to his brother, “Take courage!” The craftsman encourages the goldsmith, and he who smoothes with the hammer him who strikes the anvil, saying of the soldering, “It is good”; and they fasten it with nails so that it cannot be moved.
But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; 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 victorious right hand.
Behold, all who are incensed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish. You shall seek those who contend with you, but you shall not find them; those who war against you shall be as nothing at all. For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I will help you.” Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I will help you, says the LORD; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
In Isaiah’s day, the people of God were surrounded by enemies bent on their destruction. A mighty and powerful Empire to the North of Judah was bearing down on them and threatening to destroy the last vestiges of the presence of Abraham’s offspring from the land where God had saved His people. Things looked very bleak indeed.
But God had another message for His people.
And it had everything to do with God’s faithfulness and not the temporal strength of Judah’s army! Notice how God encourages His people. First God calls His people by their name: Israel. And that means in Hebrews “May God Prevail.” But more than the meaning of the name, it’s the relationship that is meant to give people courage in the face of fear. God also reminds His people that they are His servant that God has chosen. And that God’s people are the offspring of God’s “friend” Abraham. It’s all about relationships!
It’s when I am neglecting my relationship with God that I am most vulnerable to fear and doubt. When I am attentive to my relationship with God, I am constantly reinforced with the strength and wisdom of God’s love and care for me. All the more reason to make sure each day includes a moment where I reorient my thinking, my life, to prioritize my relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church. The prayers, fasting, and almsgiving of a faithful Orthodox life are all meant to overcome the power of fear, to blind me to just Who it is I am with! But the whole world seems geared to draw my attention away from this central reality. So, when I get distracted, that’s when I stumble. When I get confused as to priorities, that’s when my life gets out of balance. When I let lesser loves take the place of my First Love, that’s when doubt and fear start sickening my soul.
So, Today, God says to you “Fear not.” But you aren’t going to hear these words of comfort if you are allowing the noise of life to drown out this true source of courage in your life. It’s only when we are Orthodox on Purpose that the swirling chaos of life blinded by fear is calmed and peace is restored!