Sept. 21: Fear on Mute
Just recently, I had a long drive home on a dark, rainy night. Alone in the car, my mind began to turn over an issue that was causing me some concern. With every swipe of the wiper blades my own internal conversation with my anxiety intensified (not unlike some kind of “pain-loop” of fear). Finally, it occurred to me that I had a choice: I didn't have to listen to or converse with my own unhealthy fears! I felt a wave of peace break over me. But I confess, at the same time, I wondered if this strategy was perhaps denial.
The next morning, my question was answered as I was reading from the book of Isaiah. At chapter 36 we find the king of Assyria attempting to paralyze the people of God with fear. In verse 1 we learn that he had already conquered all of the fortified cities of Judah. Now his sights are set on Israel, ruled by King Hezekiah. The Assyrian king blasphemes to Hezekiah’s representatives, deliberately within earshot of citizens in Jerusalem. He says, “…who of all the gods of these countries have been able to save their lands from me? How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand?” (Isaiah 36:20). And yet, notwithstanding this terrifying propaganda (wind shield blades on full swipe!), we are told, “…the people remained silent and said nothing in reply, because the king had commanded, ‘Do not answer him.’” (verse 21).
There was the “mute button” – that mute button that silences the fear that would seek to undermine our trust in God’s faithfulness. We don’t have to listen to this unhealthy fear. We don't have to listen to it go on and on and on. We don’t even have to face down our fear and win the argument. In God’s strength, we can ignore these false sirens. In just these circumstances, the Lord simply says, “Do not be afraid of what you have heard….” (Isaiah 37:6).
So if I refuse to listen to or engage with unhealthy fear, what do I do instead? If not these false sirens, who should I be talking to? Rather than get caught up in his own internal “fear-loop,” King Hezekiah refashions his anxious thoughts into prayer. Praying into the presence and sovereignty of God, we are told, “Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: ‘Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth.’” (Isaiah 37:15-16)
The Lord’s response to Hezekiah’s prayer is worth noticing because we don’t see an instant fix. The Lord doesn't start at that place of removing Hezekiah’s foe – not because He likes to keep us waiting but His heart for us is always so much more. God’s immediate answer to Hezekiah is the gift of restored hope. God reassures him, “This year you will eat what grows by itself, and the second year what springs from that. But in the third year sow and reap, plant vineyards and eat their fruit…The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 37:30, 32b). This is a wonderful picture of God’s promise of faithful and abundant provision – provision that has nothing to do with Hezekiah’s efforts but all about God’s faithfulness; a provision that is multiplied. In this way, God lifts Hezekiah’s eyes off of the taunting enemy in front of him and sets him on an upward trajectory of hope.
In times of challenge God will always seek to renew and strengthen our hearts with His living hope. Of such a hope, Peter wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 1:3). I wonder how many times I have pushed past this gift because I was far too preoccupied with wanting an instant solution?
Having restored hope, the Lord does answer Hezekiah’s prayer. God promises, “I will defend this city and save it...” (Isaiah 37:35). And contrary to fear’s propaganda, God is faithful. He both overcomes the king of Assyria and even turns the enemy against itself (Isaiah 37:36-38).
At the Cross, Henry Blocher wrote, “…God turns [evil] back on itself. He takes the supreme crime, the murder of the only righteous person – [and makes this] the very operation that abolishes sin. …” Because of this victory, Paul would both censor fear and restore God’s hope in each of us. He wrote to Timothy, “The Lord will rescue [you] from every evil deed and bring [you] safely into His heavenly kingdom.” (2 Timothy 4:18).
In Jesus, you don’t have to listen to or even engage with unhealthy fear. With the encouragement and the power of the Holy Spirit, you can push that mute button. Instead of engaging with fear, God would have you engage with Him. Bring Him all your burdens for He delights to breathe His eternal hope in you, and to defend you and to save you.