How to Face Your Fears
2 Timothy 1:5-12
Dr. Jim Denison
I learned this week that there are 628 kinds of phobias in our country, ranging from anuptaphobia (fear of staying single) and dromophobia (fear of crossing the street) to verbaphobia (fear of words), pantaphobia (fear of everything) and phophobia (fear of fear).
I wanted to title my sermon, “Everything you always wanted to know about phobias but were afraid to ask.” But I was afraid to.
One psychologist said that the only two groups of people who are free from fear are the dead and the deranged. And that was before September 11.
Consider these headlines I clipped from last week’s newspapers: “Doctors given guidelines to treat inhaled anthrax,” “Postal union says it will sue to close tainted NY mail center,” “Teens’ hearing today in campus anthrax hoax,” “Salmonella shipped to Clinton,” “U.S. tests drug to battle smallpox,” “Our nervous nation—have terrorism and anthrax made us afraid of our own shadows?”
Recent Newsweek covers shouted: “Biological and chemical terror: how scared should you be?” and “Anthrax: a spreading scare, the medical facts.” People weekly was titled: “Calming your fears: the facts about bombs, airplanes and anthrax; separating rumors from reality; ways to comfort your children.” Time’s cover: The fear factor: anthrax letters. FBI warnings. Bin Laden’s videotapes. Bombarded by threats real and imagined, a nation on edge asks, What’s next?”
We’ve been studying the Holy Spirit, his person and power. Now let’s close by asking: how does his power help us with fear? Fears national and personal? Fears we all feel and fears you feel this morning? Let’s see.
Admit your fears (5-7)
Our text is addressed to Timothy, Paul’s young “son in the faith.” Timothy was one of the greatest missionaries in Christian history. He helped start the first church in Europe, then planted churches across Macedonia and Greece and helped churches in Thessalonica, Ephesus, and Corinth. He was at Paul’s side in his first Roman cell, then pastored at Ephesus, the largest church in the world. He was with Paul when he died. His life and legacy left a permanent mark on the global Christian movement.
But there’s more to Timothy’s story. In the last letter of Paul’s life he has to encourage his young associate with this fact: “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.” Why?
Timothy, for all his greatness in ministry, was a man plagued by fear.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul sends this instruction to the church: “If Timothy comes, see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you” (v. 10). In his first letter to his son in the faith he admonishes: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).
Later in our text he must encourage Timothy: “Do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner (2 Timothy 1:8). Still later: “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1).
It’s not hard to read between the lines. Timothy was a young man afraid. Afraid of suffering, perhaps; of older leaders, of prison, of persecution. Here’s my point: if Timothy had fear, so can we. It’s normal, natural, human to be afraid, especially in times like these. We do ourselves no good in denial.
It is not courage to pretend you’re not afraid. It is courage to admit your fears in faith. Start there today. What most worries you this morning? What fears plague your mind and make restless your heart? What washes over you in a wave of anxiety? Where are you like Timothy?
Believe God is stronger than your fear
Admit your fears. Then believe that God is stronger than they are. His word will help us.
This week I researched the biblical command, “fear not.” I discovered 58 times where God speaks these words to his people. Let’s look at six of them, for every one of us is somewhere in their number today.
The first is in Genesis 26, where we find Isaac afraid for his future. His growing family has become a threat to the neighboring Philistines, so their king banishes him from his land.
Isaac retreats and digs a water well, crucial to his family’s survival in this undeveloped land. But the Philistines take it from him, and threaten more of the same with every well he might dig. Their terrorist-like attacks jeopardize his security and imperil his future.
But that very night, “the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘I am the God of your father Abraham. Fear not, for I am with you. I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham” (v. 24).
What happens? Abimilech comes to Isaac with his personal adviser and the commander of his forces, something like the president visiting you with his chief of staff and the Secretary of Defense. He apologizes and makes a treaty of peace. The next day Isaac’s servants find the water well which will preserve their lives and future.
When God says “Fear not,” he means it.
The second episode is in 1 Kings 17, where we find God’s prophet Elijah in a time of horrific drought and starvation, worse than the Dust Bowl and Great Depression combined.
A widow living in the town of Zarephath is gathering sticks to make a last meal for herself and her son before they starve to death.
But God’s prophet says, “Fear not…This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land'” (vs. 13-14).
And what happens? The widow has enough flour and oil to feed herself, her son, and God’s prophet until the very day the drought breaks by the grace of God.