By Andrew Stoddard
It’s been noted by many a preacher that one of the most repeated commands in Scripture is to not be afraid. Oftentimes, the recipients of this instruction were frightened by seemingly insurmountable trials, challenges, or enemies. Those things can cause us to fear too. It’s a natural human reaction, especially when we forget God is always with us.
That was the case in Haggai 2; the people were discouraged and afraid. Rebuilding the temple was no small feat, and they felt overwhelmed with the task and the problems they were facing. They were stuck and were stalling. Even though they were likely excited about worshiping God in the temple once again, the arduous process and demanding labor was enough to dampen their spirits. Plus, they thought the rebuilt temple could never measure up to the glory of the former temple (v.3).
God’s loving proclamation in the midst of their discouragement was, “My Spirit is present among you; don’t be afraid” (v.5). Instead of promising them that their challenges would suddenly disappear, God comforted His people by reminding them of His presence. The people needed to pivot from their unhealthy fear of the task before them to a healthy fear and respect for God, the Most High. They needed to remember His Spirit was with them to direct and strengthen them for the work they were called to do.
Misplaced fear is crippling. It keeps us focused on our lack of resources, the size of our problems, and the strength of opposition we face. By contrast, God-honoring fear is rooted in reverential awe, worship, and a trusting relationship with our all-powerful God and Father. This kind of fear is freeing, healing, and energizing. Scripture tells us that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). We won’t be able to sustain wise, courageous action apart from the fear of the Lord.
It’s easy to look at the Israelites’ cycles of fear—from misplaced to proper, and back around again—and wonder how they could have missed the mark. This might be because we have the luxury of observing their stories from a distance. If we step back and examine our own lives with some degree of objectivity, we might see the same pattern of belief and unbelief, of faith and fear. We’re not so different from them.
I suspect fighting fear is something we will have to do our whole lives; it will never completely go away in this life. Knowing that, and knowing our proclivity to fear the wrong things, my prayer is that we’d focus on growing in a healthy, life-giving fear of the Lord. Fear rooted in the goodness and power of God propels us forward, despite the obstacles we face. It’s a fear that’s powerful enough to overcome all our other fears. So, let’s pursue the only fear that leads to peace—the fear of the Lord.
Written by Andrew Stoddard
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