It’s said that faith is the perfect antidote to fear. Of course, we also know that perfect love casts out fear. Love, faith, trust, belief, these are essentials of the Christian walk. But we are fallen creatures in a fallen world, and all too often we have to face the truth: Fear is stubborn. It always has been. When circumstances become intimidating, we naturally become afraid. We might know God has things under control, but we feel afraid. And we can’t just make it go away, can we?
Here’s some good news: In those moments of fear, you’re not the first. You’re not the first to be threatened, to be thrown into a very real danger, or to be intimidated by worry. One only needs to flip through a few pages of Scripture to find countless examples of others who have come before us and experienced all kinds of fear. Which brings me to one of my favorites, Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles.
We meet Jehoshaphat in a time of prosperity. After a great battle, the Lord had sent Jehu to Jehoshaphat, telling him to return to the Lord, and upon his return, he appointed judges throughout the lands, and charged them to rule with the fear of the Lord. “‘Consider what you do, for you judge not for man but for the Lord. He is with you in giving judgment. 7 Now then, let the fear of the Lord be upon you. Be careful what you do, for there is no injustice with the Lord our God, or partiality or taking bribes.’ (2 Chronicles 19:6-7 ESV)” So we come to a time of peace throughout Jerusalem, when the people are following the Lord. And everything changes overnight.
Isn’t that how it always seems to happen? Just when you get your life in order, calamity hits, and worry sets in. You’re not the first.
Cue turmoil in Judah: “Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A great multitude is coming against you from Edom, from beyond the sea; (2 Chronicles 20:2 ESV)” and what was Jehoshaphat’s reaction? What any human’s reaction would be: fear. “Then Jehoshaphat was afraid…” but, what happened after the fear is important. This is where the jewel is, the lesson. This is what I call the formula for fear. Pay attention, and be encouraged.
“Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the LORD; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD. (2 Chronicles 20:3-4 ESV)”
Seek the Lord, check. Step one, is always, always, always, to seek the Lord. He is our refuge. He alone brings peace. He alone is hope. Then Judah proclaimed a fast. When we hear the word “fast” today, we tend to think of a strict regimen of, well, water. Sacrificing food. But I put to you that a fast isn’t just a ritual. In my life, I fast from distractions. Tv, music, media, anything that takes up brain space or has the potential to separate me from the Lord. I fast from these, not because tv or music is bad, but because I can use that time to seek the Lord during a time of trouble. That’s what a fast is to me. Giving up pleasure and putting aside distractions to seek the Lord.
Then the people assembled to seek the Lord in their fast. And what happened next? Prayer. When they put aside distractions, and turned their hearts to seek the Lord, then they made their appeal to Him. Read it in 2 Chronicles 5-12, it’s really a beautiful prayer. “‘O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (2 Chronicles 20:12 ESV)”
Judah had every reason to fear. Alone, their defeat was inevitable. How many times have you felt that? Thought that? “You don’t understand. This is hopeless. I’m doomed. There’s no way out.” These thoughts may torment us, but we see Judah’s response, they appealed to the Lord in prayer, knowing that they were powerless, crying out that “We do not know what to do” but asking, and trusting God to do what they could not. And He did.
Here’s an important part of prayer: You have to stop and listen. Listen for the Lord’s response. See Judah: “Meanwhile all Judah stood before the LORD, with their little ones, their wives, and their children. And the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel…. And he said, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the LORD to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s. (2 Chronicles 20:13-15 ESV)” The battle is not yours, but God’s. Always God’s. Our job is to pray. To seek Him. Then to listen for His response. Following this, the Lord provided detailed instructions on how they were to be victorious. “You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you. (2 Chronicles 20:17)”
Still following? Because there’s a crucial turning point here. This is the first call to action. It would be tempting to rejoice that the Lord said the battle is His, pack up, go home and rest. The truth is, the Lord always brings His people rest, but there is a call to action before that. He wants us to seek Him. He wants us to pray, and listen for His response. And He wants us to be obedient when He gives us instructions. Judah gives us a great example of obedience. “Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf.” These were their instructions.
“And they rose early in the morning and went out into the wilderness of Tekoa. (2 Chronicles 20:20)” 20/20 Hindsight, anyone? Continuing the battle: “And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the Lord and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say, ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever.’” This is amazing to me. They went to battle, and rather than taking up arms, they worshiped. Worshiped the Lord. Sang His praises on the battle field! “And when they began to sing and praise, the LORD set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed. (2 Chronicles 20:22 ESV)”
As promised, the Lord delivered them, and fought the battle for them. “When Judah came to the watchtower of the wilderness, they looked toward the horde, and behold, there were dead bodies lying on the ground; none had escaped. When Jehoshaphat and his people came to take their spoil, they found among them, in great numbers, goods, clothing, and precious things, which they took for themselves until they could carry no more. They were three days in taking the spoil, it was so much. (2 Chronicles 20:24-25 ESV)” What you should notice here, is Judah spent three days reaping the spoils of war, a war they didn’t even fight!
The Lord not only answered them,
The Lord not only delivered them,
The Lord gave them abundantly more than they could have expected.
How great is our God?
Because they sought the Lord, because they fasted and put aside distractions, because they prayed and listened, and because they were obedient to His instructions, He delivered them, and provided abundantly. And, as if it wasn’t enough, He finally gave His people that one thing we all desire in times of turmoil: Rest. “So the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet, for his God gave him rest all around. (2 Chronicles 20:30 ESV)”
Friends, when that stubborn, nagging seed of fear knocks on your door, remember Jehoshaphat. Remember Judah. Remember that fear is only a prompting to seek the Lord. Follow Judah’s example, seek the Lord, put aside distractions, pray, listen, and when He speaks, be obedient. In the end, you, too, will find your rest. For our Lord is ever faithful.