Monday, May 23, 2016

Day 73: Mark 4:21-41 & Psalm 74 - What Makes Us Afraid?

Today's Reading: Mark 4:21-41 & Psalm 74

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What Makes Us Afraid?

"He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another,
“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” - Mark 4:40-41, ESV

We all understand that certain fears are more normal and rational than others. If you decide to go bungee jumping, it's normal to be afraid right before you jump off the bridge. But if you walk around your daily life terrified of the prospect of a Sharknado, that's a little bizarre. 

Jesus challenges our accepted categories. He shows us in today's passage that even our normal and rational fears have no place in our hearts if we have real faith in Him. Experienced sailors and fishermen, the disciples would not be terrified on the Sea of Galilee without real cause. They knew their lives were in imminent danger. But they were wrong.

Now God does not encourage us to be foolishly unwise in our decision-making. We shouldn't be recklessly disobedient to the wisdom of Proverbs and assume that nothing bad will happen to us. But if we're following the Lord and trusting in Him as our Lord, we don't need to be paralyzed by fear. In fact, we must not be paralyzed by fear.

But how can we escape the grip of fear on our hearts? The disciples' experience in the storm shows us the key: We are delivered from paralyzing earthly fears by a genuine fear of the Lord. We don't take the fear of the Lord very seriously anymore, which is a shame because it is centrally important in the Bible's teaching on faith. 

We are accustomed to a tamed version of the fear of the Lord that means a holy reverence or a solemn respect. But that's not the picture of the disciples, who were "filled with a great fear." Nor does it fit what Jesus said when He taught us, "do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28) Sometimes fear actually means fear. 

Why fear the Lord? Because He is terrifyingly holy. He is intensely, perfectly, unapproachably holy, holy, holy. He destroys sin and sinners by His intensely holy presence. Isaiah was terrified in His presence, as was Peter in the presence of Christ. He is also absolutely sovereign, having full rights as our Creator and King to do with us whatever He pleases. He is also the light that penetrates everything and sees all. In today's passage, Jesus tells us, "nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light." (v. 22) 

But because of the great love of the Lord, the fear of the Lord is liberating and not enslaving. 

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
23 They are new every morning;

Great is Your faithfulness. - Lamentation 3:22-23, NKJV 

It is dangerous to fear anything other than the Lord, because only the Lord is as absolutely wise, compassionate and merciful toward us in Christ as He is absolutely powerful, holy, sovereign and all-knowing. The greatness of God means that we must fear Him and no one else. The goodness of God means that we may fear Him with confidence and even with joy. In fact, we'll never find true freedom, confidence and joy anywhere else but in the soul-gripping fear of the Lord.

Prayer Based on Psalm 74:

O God, why do we sometimes feel like You have cast us off forever?
    Why does Your anger smoke against the sheep of Your pasture?
You church seems so lacking in power and influence, in purity and peace.
Remember Your congregation, which You have purchased of old,
    which You have redeemed to be the tribe of Your heritage!
    Remember You church, Your living temple, where You dwell by Your Holy Spirit.

Direct Your steps to the perpetual ruins, the seemingly empty and abandoned church;
    the enemy seems to have destroyed everything in the sanctuary!
Your people no longer hold fast to the truth of Your word,
    but prefer the lies of the enemy and ways of the world.
Your foes have roared in the midst of Your meeting place;
    they set up their own standards as the standard for the church.
They profaned the dwelling place of Your name,
    deceiving it down to the ground.
They said to themselves, “We will utterly subdue them”;
    they filled the meeting places of God in the land with lies and darkness.

How long, O God, is the foe to scoff?
    Is the enemy to revile Your name forever?
Why do you hold back Your hand, Your right hand?
    Take it from the fold of Your garment and destroy them!

Yet You, O God my King, are from of old,
    working salvation in the midst of the earth.
You divided the sea by your might;
    you broke the power of sin and death at the cross.
You crushed the curse of hell for Your people in the glory of the resurrection;
    You gave Your word and Your Spirit to Your people.

Yours is the day, Yours also the night;
    You have established the heavenly lights and the sun.
You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth;
    You have made summer and winter.
You rule over all absolutely.

Remember this, O Lord, how the enemy scoffs,
    and a foolish people reviles your name.
Do not deliver the soul of Your dove to the wild beasts;
    do not forget the life of Your poor forever.

Have regard for the covenant,
    for the dark places of the land are full of the habitations of violence.
Let not the downtrodden turn back in shame;
    let the poor and needy praise Your name.

Arise, O God, defend your cause;
    remember how the foolish scoff at you all the day!
Do not forget the clamor of your foes,
    the uproar of those who rise against You, which goes up continually!  

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