KENNER, La. (BP)–I have two brothers with diabetes, so when I came down with some of the same symptoms, my first thought was to have the doctor check me out. “Your blood sugar is fine,” she said. “You do not have diabetes.” Reading the fine print on some medical publications, however, I discovered the symptoms I’ve been experiencing are actually the side effects of the medicine my doctor has me taking. Everything is fine.
Charlsie wakes up in the middle of the night anxious. A nameless, faceless fear invades her bedroom threatening to rob her of her peace. She wonders, “If I’m a Christian and the Lord is with me, why do I have this fear? What’s wrong with me?” As her pastor, I assure Charlsie that she’s just fine, and that there could be a hundred reasons for such anxieties, and that she would do well to shrug it off and go back to sleep.
“I don’t feel saved,” Robert says. I say, “How does ‘saved’ feel?” “Aw, preacher, you know what I mean,” he says. “No, I don’t. Tell me,” I say. Robert describes how distant God often feels to him. That’s when I tell him the story of Rachel. Rachel is a preschooler, I suppose, and lives with her mom and dad. Her father is a pastor and recognizes a great spiritual lesson when he sees one, so he passed this one on to us.
Recently, Rachel has been awakening in the middle of the night, afraid and crying. Only crawling into bed with her mom and dad soothes her fears. Then, her mom announced to the family that she would be out of town for a few days on a business trip. Her dad could see he needed to take pre-emptive action. “Rachel,” he said, “I have an idea. While Mom is away, suppose I sleep in your room on the top bunk bed.” She thought it was a great idea.
That night, Rachel went to sleep on time. A couple of hours later, when her dad crawled into the upper berth, she was sleeping soundly, and she slept like that all night. The next morning, her dad congratulated her on a full night’s sleep.
“It’s because you were in the room with me,” she said. “But how did you know I was there?” he asked. “You were asleep when I came in and you never woke up the whole night.”
Rachel said, “Because you said you would be there.”
Of all the promises our Lord has given us, nothing means as much as his promise to be with us. Nothing banishes fears or inspires courage so instantly as the knowledge that the Lord is by our side.
In the Old Testament days, whenever God called someone to serve him, they began putting up excuses: I’m too old, too young, can’t speak, that sort of thing. Invariably, God’s response was the same each time: “I will be with you.” God thought the fact that he was near should take care of all fears of the enemy and doubts about ourselves. David said, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.”
In the New Testament, we see a change of tone. Instead of the Lord specifically promising each individual he calls that he will be with us, he gives to all disciples a blanket promise: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” Mark 3 tells us Jesus chose 12 apostles “to be with him.” And maybe best of all is Hebrews 13:5-6: “‘I will never leave thee nor forsake thee,’ so that we may boldly say, ‘The Lord is my Helper and I will not be afraid.'”
We may have to learn what Rachel already knows: to take the Father at his word. You will not often feel him near for the simple reason that God’s Spirit is not detectable by the human senses, no more than our eyes can see him or our hands can touch him. Believe that he is here, and go forward accordingly.
When the apostle Paul was facing a second trial before Caesar, he knew it could be the end of the line. Yet, as he reminisces in 2 Timothy 4, he went forward with confidence. The first time he appeared before Caesar, all the other disciples had abandoned him and he went alone. “Nevertheless, the Lord stood with me,” Paul said, “and strengthened me.” Why? “So that through me the gentiles might hear the gospel.” Think of the congregation Paul had that day — all the dignitaries of Rome, from Nero on down.
It reminds us of the promise of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 10, preparing the disciples for the time when they would be tried in courts and beaten in synagogues, brought before kings and governors “as a testimony to them and to the gentiles.” When that happens, Jesus said, “Do not worry about what you are to say. The Holy Spirit will give you what you are to say.” He would be there and he would be on duty.
So, did Paul feel the Lord’s presence that day? We’re not told. I guarantee he felt a lot of things — like hostility from the bleachers where the Roman officials sat in judgment and hatred and ugliness from the crowd. Did he feel the Lord’s nearness? There are two answers: 1) We do not know and 2) This is not about feelings. It’s about the Lord keeping his promises and our believing him.
Try this. The next time you feel estranged from the Lord, give him thanks that he is near. Ask him to remove any sin that separates you from him (Isaiah 59:2 comes to mind) and reaffirm your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Then, go to this little three-word prayer.
“Thank you, Jesus.” Say it over and over: “Thank you, Jesus.” I promise you the last thing on earth the evil one wants is you praising the Lord. Let anxiety and worry jump-start your thanks to the Lord Jesus. Watch how an indescribable peace settles in.
Fear, always remember, is “False Evidence Appearing Real.” Faith? “Forsaking All, I Take Him.”
McKeever is pastor of First Baptist Church, Kenner, La.