Everyone faces times of change in life that leave us feeling unclear about the future. It may be a health issue. You may lack confidence when you bring your first child home from the hospital. The breakdown of a marriage may be weighing on your heart. You might have decisions looming about your career.
Chapters seven and eight of Isaiah give us a picture of a man who was living in fear of the uncertainty of the future. King Ahaz was threatened by a super power. Out of fear and against God’s direction, He made an alliance with another nation for protection. King Ahaz knew what God had promised but because he couldn’t see how things could work out, he decided to take matters into his own hands. He was afraid and his fears drove his actions.
The Existence of Fear
There are different types of fears, both healthy fears and unhealthy. A healthy fear gives you caution. An unhealthy fear keeps you from doing things that may be good for you. A healthy fear gives you causes you to move quickly and carefully when crossing a busy road. An unhealthy fear would keep you from ever crossing any road.
Coupled with fear is our level of confidence. On one extreme is anxiety and the other is a sense of bravado. There is an impact on the way we couple our type of fear and our type of confidence. A healthy fear and strong bravado can lead to a false confidence which can lead to foolish choices. A healthy fear balanced with anxiety can lead to a safe decision. When you exercise bravado with an unhealthy fear, it can result in courage and a willingness to take things on. Anxiety with an unhealthy fear will cause us to miss out. The bottom line is that all fear isn’t necessarily bad and all confidence in the face of fear is not always good.
King Ahaz had a healthy fear because there was a super power seeking to overtake Judah. But it was also an unhealthy fear because he didn’t factor God into the equation. Instead he took matters into his own hands, made an alliance that wasn’t necessary, and missed out on seeing God. He wasn’t able to trust God.
Fear is the result of lacking trust in God. Instead of trusting, we do things our own way, with our own strength, and in our own time. We don’t wait on God because we’re afraid he won’t come through. When we talk about fear, it’s more than the emotion of fear. It’s about our conviction and our ability to act on something that is good, right, and true. Convictions can usually be placed into one of three categories: public, private, and core. Public convictions are those things we present to others. They can often be different than our private convictions, which aren’t as obvious to everyone. But our core convictions are revealed when we are stressed and under pressure.
Core convictions emerge when we feel betrayed, lonely, hurt, or financially strapped. Fear is often the place where our core convictions tell us we can no longer trust God or allow Him to lead. When we have experiences and the evidences shows us that things seem to be against us, that’s when fear thrives. Even our experiences in prayer may drive our reactions. There are times when we pray and God doesn’t give the answer we hoped for. Suddenly we find ourselves wondering if God is listening or if He cares. Author Madeleine L ‘Engle describes it like this:
Those who believe they believe in God without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even, at times, without despair, believe only in the idea of God – not in God Himself.
King Ahaz had all the evidence against him. But he was shaking against people instead of shaking before God. He feared Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah’s son, even though God warned him that they were not a real threat. Over and over God assured Ahaz, but still he tried to work things out on his own. There was something significant that King Ahaz was missing.
The Existence of Faith
Faith and fear are not necessarily opposites. We often think that if we have faith, we will not face fear. But faith often shows up in the midst of our greatest fear. According to theologian Martin Luther: “Faith is a free surrender and joyous wager on the unseen, unknown, untested goodness of God.” Faith is not only trusting God for a positive result. Faith is following God even if you don’t like the result. For King Ahaz, that meant trusting God even though everything around him seemed bleak. In this moment of bleakness, Isaiah gives a great prophecy in Chapter seven, verse 10:
Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.” Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and[e] will call him Immanuel.
Those were cryptic words in the day if Ahaz. When Isaiah looks to the future, there was an Immanuel born in the lifetime of Isaiah. This was a small fulfillment of this prophecy. But as with most Old Testament prophecy, there is a a relatively immediate fulfillment, but there is also a longer term ultimate fulfillment. In Matthew 1:22-23 we read, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).” Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah. Jesus is with us. Immanuel says many things to us today:
- There is a God: When the world feels out of control, it’s natural to feel alone. Jesus coming to earth reminds people everywhere that there is a God who holds the world in His hands. He is knowable. He is powerful. He is with His people. He is present, available, and ready to work in our lives.
- God is with us: This is not an exclusive “us.” This is an invitational us. Whoever comes and acknowledges Jesus as Lord and Savior can know that God is with them.
This Immanuel truth about God can overcome fear. Whether you have anxiety or bravado, healthy or unhealthy fear, you can be assured that God knows what is going on in your life. He came as a child and lived on this earth with no advantage. Yet, He has all the power in His hand. If you will acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior, this is the God who is with you wherever you are and in whatever you’re facing. God does not always give you what you want, but God will always call you to what is best. Real faith is following even when you don’t love or like the result.
The song of Immanuel is meaningful when things are bleak and fear is reigning. A gentle God through a child in a manger assures us that we are not forgotten. We only need to trust and God will work in a way that you can’t understand. If you are alone, you don’t have to compromise your standards. If you’re in a broken marriage, you can trust God instead of your circumstances. If you struggle to forgive another, God will give you the ability to forgive. So often fear encourages you to take care of it on your own. Jesus is the ultimate reminder that God is trustworthy. You can trust Him with eternity and you can trust Him with every day of your life. You can leave the results in God’s hand. Theologian Henri Nouwen describes trust in this way:
To be grateful for the good things that happen in our lives is easy. But to be grateful for all of our lives – the good as well as the bad, the moments of joy as well as the moments of sorrow, the successes as well as the failures, the rewards as well as the rejection – that requires hard spiritual work.
Until you can thank God for all things in our lives, you are using God as a means to an end. Real faith doesn’t just trust God for a good result. Real faith honors and trusts God no matter what the result. God is with you. You can choose to honor God even when it isn’t the obvious choice.