We have been studying Nehemiah at church. With the wall of Jerusalem in ruins, the people live in fear of attack. Nehemiah courageously responds to God's call to lead his people in the rebuilding process. As they begin rebuilding, the Israelites are constantly surrounded by their enemy and the looming threat of being attacked in the exposed places of their fledgling wall. They are afraid! Nehemiah reminds them:
"Don't be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight ..." -Nehemiah 4:14
"Our God will fight for us!" -Nehemiah 4:20
Taking these promises on as shields, great progress is made so that only the doors are left to be set in the gates. The enemy, therefore, quickly begins taunting the Israelites that their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will be left incomplete. Nehemiah responds with this simple prayer:
"Now strengthen my hands." -Nehemiah 6:9
Indeed, God did, and the wall was completed in just 52 days.
We started this study on Nehemiah in January, long before my cancer diagnosis. Of course, I had no idea the life application it would soon afford. I remember my pastor stating that feeling fear is okay, but you cannot separate fear from God's presence. He pointed out that the command to fear not is usually followed by a command to remember God. We are human, so we will feel fear. As quickly as we feel it, though, we must remember our awesome God, who is capable of rescuing us from any fire.
Fire reminds me of the first Daniel, whose friends were rescued from it by the same God who rescues us today and who himself was rescued from a den of lions. It was after this miraculous rescue that King Darius issued this decree:
"In every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions." -Daniel 6:26-27
This passage from Daniel first brought me strength while I was working as a summer missionary in Estes Park, Colorado, during college. On Sundays, I led worship services in the Rocky Mountain National Park for travelers, but during the week, I worked at one of the attractions in Estes Park, which included go-karts, bumper boats, bumper cars, and miniature golf. The ministry looked for jobs that would help us make money for our upcoming school year, but also put us in a place where there was ample opportunity to share our faith. My job was a perfect combination. Indeed, I worked many hours and was able to save for school, but most importanly, I worked with about 30 other young people ranging from about 13 to 21. (I was 19 at the time.)
That area of Colorado had a certain spirituality about it, so the concept of God or at least a god, was not foreign. Jesus, however, as God and Saviour was definitely a new concept to many of those kids. A few of them seemed hungry to hear the truth about Jesus and how he had changed my life and most of the rest were at least tolerant of it casually being woven into daily discussions. (Jesus isn't something to be forced on others. He doesn't need us for that. If He wanted to force Himself on creation, He could have done that long ago. We are meant to testify of the difference He has made in our lives and let others know that He invites them into relationship with Him - an authentic relationship that breathes new life into every moment of every day.) One coworker, however, seemed to loathe me from the beginning. Granted, I think he loathed a lot of people and just life in general at times, but it was evident he had a special loathing for me. It became clear quickly that in attempting to show him the love of Christ, I would experience persecution. Indeed, he seized any opportunity to embarrass me, to make me feel out of place, to make me feel ... small.
Specifics aren't important. You need know only that he persecuted with skill. I feared having to work with him. It was never a fear of physical danger, though he was much bigger than I. His angle was purely psychological and every moment in his presence was dreaded. Then, God led me to this passage from Daniel. When I read that he had rescued Daniel from the power of the lions, I took it personally! I became Daniel (how handy that I had been given his name), and my coworker became my lion. I read this passage as God's promise to me that not only would he rescue me from the power of the lions, He had already done so! In my desire to honor Him, He would guard my way. My fear was harnessed every time I remembered God's promise to me.
Now, 14 years later, these verses are alive again. The lion has a different face, but the same God will deliver.
Because I know that feeling the fear is inevitable, I have sought out more ammunition against it in scipture. I'll share several of those findings with you later, but I wanted to share one more interesting thing I read regarding fear elsewhere first. It came from The Shack by William P. Young. Now, I know people either love this book or think it blashphemous, and I don't intend to endorse it or dog it. In fact, I haven't even finished it. I did find wisdom in this comment, though, and I think it's worth sharing no matter what you think of the book as a whole. In the book, Jesus poses this important question on fear: "Do you realize that your imagination of the future, which is almost always dictated by fear of some kind, rarely, if ever, pictures me there with you?" When I read this question, I realized that my fears surrounding radiation had indeed pictured me lying solo on the treatment table, heaving solo over the commode, and struggling solo to force food over mouth ulcerations. I was guilty of picturing my fear without the company of my best friend!
That brings me back to the ammunition I found in scripture, which never disconnects the Great Comforter from the fear.
"But Jesus came and touched them. Get up, he said. Don't be afraid. When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus." -Matthew 17:7
"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." -Joshua 1:9
The examples are endless and this post could go on forever. Bottom line: My fear is real, but my Jesus is here.
He is there with you, as well.
1. Radiation begins Monday morning. I am scheduled for 33 treatments to be given Monday through Friday lasting through the first week of August.
2. My new chemo regimen will likely start on Tuesday and be given in 3 six-hour sessions spread over the course of the radiation therapy.
3. It was a good day - I ate well again, had no bad side effects, and my pain is controlled with my current medication regimen.
4. Your encouragment means the world.