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When you’re afraid to follow God

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: 2 Timothy 1:1-12

We’re talking this morning about fear. Apparently, the experts think we have much to discuss.

It’s a new year, so you could have Neophobia, the fear of anything new. Given your location, you might suffer from Ecclesiophobia, the fear of being in church. Most people find this phobia increasing as the offertory time draws near. You might earlier have experienced Melophobia, the fear of music. You might now feel Homilophobia, the fear of sermons.

I’ll try to help you avoid my favorite phobia: Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia, the fear of long words.

Today I want to talk with you about Theophobia, the fear of God. More precisely, Fiduciatheophobia, the fear of trusting in God. As we begin the new year by seeking to live in the purpose and will of God, let’s discuss the greatest obstacle standing between most of us and such obedience: our fear of following God’s will.

The fact is that most of us, somewhere in our lives and stories, are afraid of what would happen if we were to trust God fully. Our Western culture likes to trust what we can see, measure, and predict. We like five-year plans and long range goals. We see history as linear, and the lack of contradiction as the test for all truth. We want our future to be planned and predictable. But we cannot see God. And we cannot plan or predict his will.

And so we’re afraid that he will ask more of us than we can give, more than we are able to do or give to him. He’ll ask us to teach when we can’t teach, or to give more than we can give. Or we’re afraid that he’ll ask more of us than we want to give, that he’ll lead us where we don’t want to go, that the price of following him will be higher than we want to pay.

Most of us have an area or person in our lives which we are afraid to surrender to God’s purpose and will. Do you? Where’s yours?

Remember who you are (vs. 1-7)

Fear of following God was young Timothy’s greatest problem in his life and work.

“If Timothy comes, see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you, for he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am. No one, then, should refuse to accept him. Send him on his way in peace so that he may return to me” (1 Corinthians 16:10-11).

“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).

Timothy wept when the apostle left him in Ephesus on his departure to Macedonia (2 Timothy 1:4; cf. 1 Timothy 1:3).

His first fear was ours: we are unable. If we trust fully the will of God, he will want us to do things we can’t, to give more than we can give, to do more than we can do.

Moses stuttered, so he told God he couldn’t speak to Pharaoh. Jeremiah told the Lord he was too young. Isaiah confessed that his lips and life were unclean. When Peter saw Jesus perform a miracle he exclaimed, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

Most of us feel the same way. If you surrender your life and year to God, he might lead you to do more than you can do, and you’ll fail. Here’s what to do.

First, remember who you are: a child of God (vs. 1-2).

Timothy was Paul’s “dear son” in the faith (v. 2). And he was the child of God before he was the “son” of Paul. So are you.

Your culture says you are what you can produce, or how you look, or how well your kids do, or what you own. God says you are his child: “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:16). And no good Father will ask his child to fail.

Next, remember where you’re from: your heritage in faith (vs. 3-5).

Timothy’s father was not a believer. The people of his hometown of Lystra stoned Paul and left him for dead; what might they do to this young disciple of his Lord? But God used his mother Eunice and grandmother Lois to lead him to Christ and nurture his faith. God protected him and then gave him the greatest apostle in Christian history as his ministry partner.

God has brought you this far. If your parents were godly, remember their gifts to your soul. Remember your salvation and those who helped bring you to Christ. Think of Sunday school teachers, pastors, friends who have helped you in the faith. Think of times and places where God protected you from harm. He didn’t bring you this far to leave you. He’s not going to fail you now.

Now, remember what he has given you: your spiritual gifts (v. 6).

Timothy was given spiritual gifts which are exactly what he needed to fulfill God’s will for his life. So have you. He has already given you whatever you need to do what he wants you to do.

But like young Timothy, we must “fan into flame” this gift. How do you fan a spark into flame? You feed it the fuel of wood and oxygen. You protect it from winds which would extinguish it. You continue to grow it, adding more and more fuel as it is able to use them effectively. You diligently focus upon it, not sporadically. You do this with urgency, for the fire is important to you in the cold or with the food to be cooked.

So with your spiritual gifts. Do you know yours? Are you feeding them through prayer, Bible study, and worship? Are you focusing upon using them to fulfill God’s will for your life? God’s gifts will not let you fail his purpose for you.

Last, remember who lives in you (v. 7). Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. He did not give you a spirit of timidity, fear, cowardice. If you’re afraid to follow his will, the fault is not his. Rather, he has given us a spirit of power (“dunamis” in the Greek). All the power of the Spirit who created the universe lives in us. We have that spirit of “love” which seeks the other’s good. And we have a spirit of “self-discipline,” the ability to use God’s power and love to fulfill his will for us. The Holy Spirit will not let you fail.

Remember where you’re going (vs. 8-12)

What are you afraid to surrender to the will and purpose of God today? There are times when we’re all afraid that God will ask of us more than we can do or give. If that’s your fear today, remember that you’re his child, and your Father wants you to succeed; he hasn’t brought you this far to leave you; your gifts are enough to accomplish your purpose; the Holy Spirit will not let you fail.

Now we are to join with Paul “in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God” (v. 8b). Join Paul in trusting the will of God, no matter what it costs. Here we find our other fear about surrendering to the will of God: will it cost us more than we want to pay? Will it lead us where we don’t want to go?

In a word, no.

The One we trust has already saved us by his grace (v. 9). He loves you this much. You are headed into the future he has planned for your life.

He has already destroyed death and brought into being life and immortality (v. 10). You are headed for immortality and eternity if you will follow him.

You are headed for a purpose of meaning and joy (v. 11).

And so you can say with Paul: “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard that which I have entrusted to him for that day” (v. 12). “Guard” means to keep safe and secure. “Entrust” means to put on deposit. We might say, “I know that everything I have deposited in his bank will be kept safe.” Everything.

He will only lead you into that future which is for your best.

If Noah had been afraid to trust the will of God in building the Ark, would he have survived the flood? If Moses, with his stuttering problem, had refused to say to Pharaoh, “Let my people go,” would he have died in Egypt? If David, the small shepherd boy, had been intimidated by the threats of Goliath, would he have been king? If Isaiah had been afraid to say, “Here am I. Send me,” would he have become Jesus’ favorite prophet? If Daniel had feared the lions more than the Lord, would we know his name? If Jonah had persisted in fearing Nineveh more than he feared God, would we have his story?

If Peter and Andrew, James and John had been afraid to leave their nets and boats to follow Jesus, would they be honored by our faith today? If Paul had been more afraid of the authorities than his Master, would the New Testament be half its size today? If John had been more afraid of jail on Patmos than Jesus, would we have the Revelation?

Pete Rose’s confession that he gambled on baseball has apparently done little to rehabilitate his reputation. David’s confession to adultery and murder enabled God to cleanse his soul and use his legacy to bring us the Messiah. Jason Allen Alexander, the man who was married to Britney Spears for 55 hours this past weekend, will soon be a trivia question answer. Joseph the carpenter, the man who was willing to marry the pregnant Mary, is a hero to Christian history.

It’s all in the One you trust. His plan for your life is better than yours: “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart'” (Jeremiah 29:11-13). Either his word is true or it is false. Either his plan for your life is good, or it is not. There’s only one way to find out.

Conclusion

There are two ways to see life. Shakespeare’s Macbeth represents one:

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

To the last syllable of recorded time,

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more: it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing

(Macbeth, Act 5, scene 5).

Many people in our culture agree: life is chaos, with no meaning beyond what you can make of it today. If that’s true, if the God who made us is such an “idiot,” then we’d best not trust our lives to his plans. He may well ask what we cannot do or don’t want to do. Ask him to save your soul from hell, but don’t trust him to guide your life or year.

Before you choose that view of life, remember that this God sent his Son to die in your place, on your cross. Remember: you are his child; he did not bring you this far to leave you; his gifts are all you need to fulfill his purpose; his Spirit will not let you fail; he has a plan to prosper you and not harm you, to give you hope and a future.

Don’t be afraid to trust your plans and hopes, your family and future, your dreams and goals to this God. Be afraid not to.

This is the invitation, and the word, of God.