September 18, 2017
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!”
When Fear Overcomes Me
By Tessa Afshar
The alarm clock glows green in the darkness. It seems stuck on 3 o’clock. Sleep eludes me, although I feel shattered with exhaustion.
I started a new project and it’s weighing heavy on me because I know I am fallible. I may leave gaps, forget important details, make mistakes and hurt others in the process. It’s quite possible that I will fall short of other people’s expectations. I may prove insufficient or just plain bad.
In an odd way, this scenario reminds me of soldiers of old.
Ancient Roman soldiers sometimes used a short sword they called the makhaira for eliminating their enemies. Because of its compact length, the soldier had to draw very near to his victim, almost like an intimate embrace, as he delivered the final strike. In that moment, all the victim could see was the face of his assassin. He forgot the world, he forgot hope and lost his fragile grasp on any remnant of a fight lingering in his heart. He saw only that hard, unflinching face bent on his destruction.
It is this particular word for “sword” that the apostle Paul uses when he asks the questions found in our key verse: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” The makhaira?
Clearly, I have never been a Roman soldier. But I think I know what it’s like to have a makhairapointed at my jugular. Its name is Fear.
Like that short Roman sword, when fear comes, it is as if the world disappears so I can only taste and smell and see one thing: The ugly face of fear.
In my mind, Jesus fades, and fear becomes a giant.
Perhaps one of the greatest areas of fear is our work. The work of our hands has so many complex, emotional threads connected to it. We long to be useful. To make a difference. To meet expectations. Add to that the reality that in our world, one’s stability is often attached to work.
We can’t pay the rent unless we get paid. Whether you’re a mother, doctor, loan officer, teacher, receptionist or work in any other field, we all face a multitude of pressures regarding our work. There are layers of fear running through our jobs, layers that, to some degree, remain beyond our control.
The prophet Isaiah said, “You shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear” (Isaiah 54:14b, ESV). In other words, fear causes oppression.
In all its iterations: anxiety, worry, agitation, trepidation, panic, fear of failure, of rejection, of letting people down, of abandonment, of not measuring up, of being sick, of ending up alone, of the calamity that might visit our loved ones, financial fears, fear of death — every manner of fear is a chain that binds. Oppresses. And one day, Isaiah says, that oppressive fear shall cease. It shall cease because the Messiah will overcome it.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall fear? Certainly not.
And yet there are days when I see the face of fear more clearly than I do the face of my precious Savior.
On those days, I try hard to hold on to Jesus’ words on the cross: “It is finished” (John 19:30b, ESV). He meant, of course, that His work was accomplished.
So therefore, all the work my soul needs — its redemption and restoration and forgiveness, its renewal and re-creation and salvation — all this is finished. The most important work in the world has been completed.
But I sometimes fancy that the completed work of the cross casts its shadow on other parts of my life, too. Because Christ has finished the most crucial work on earth, something of that completion covers all the unfinished parts of my life.
Even small tasks find their rest in Jesus. They shrink to the right size. The lips that ordained my work spoke the words, “It is finished.” My work will finish and be completed according to the will of the One who called me to do it. It will be fulfilled through His strength and counsel.
As I learn to hear God’s voice more clearly than the voice of fear, I become more like Him. Something in me shifts. Grows.
This is the irony of our present lives: In the process of the wounding, bloody battle with fear, we become more whole.
Because in that process, we learn to trust our God.
Dear Jesus, thank You that You have broken the oppression of fear over my life. Please remove from my heart the fear of failure, of rejection, of financial insufficiency, of being somehow not enough. Help me remember I can rest in Your finished work. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.