Fear Cannot Dwell in the Shelter of the Most High

 Hello 67 Owls Readers!  This blog post is going to feature an excerpt from a chapter in my upcoming book: Psalm 91, Under the Wings of Jesus. I hope it will be ready to go by the end of May! I’m so excited to share all the amazing truths I learned about Psalm 91.

Fear is one thing we all seem to be struggling with these days, so I think this is the best chapter to feature. No matter what you fear, Jesus has a refuge for you tucked under his mighty wings!

Thank you for reading and being an encouragement to me. Below is the chapter excerpt titled: Fear Cannot Dwell in the Shelter of the Most High

  FEAR–this simple four-letter word has the power to cripple our walk with Jesus if we don’t learn to master it. Creeping behind us with outstretched claws, it waits for the perfect opportunity to shred every ounce of hope. Truth be told, fear has driven me to my knees more than I care to mention. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because it’s better that we give it to Jesus, so it doesn’t take over our hearts and minds. But in order to dwell with Christ and live out the promises of Psalm 91, we cannot let it be our daily companion. It is like two opposing forces walking side by side–one is faith, while the other is fear. They will compete for our time, energy and allegiance.

Jesus suffered on the cross for six grueling hours, staring fear and death in the face. He knew it was the Father’s will that he should suffer, die and then resurrect. In this bold move of true sacrifice, he overcame fear and death itself. He nailed it to the cross not for himself, but for you and I. This selfless, yet astonishing act created a dwelling place where fear could not reside. When he held out his arms on the cross, mighty wings opened up for us to take refuge.   

Dwelling with Jesus isn’t possible if we are abiding in fear. Even small inklings can hinder our calling. I can speak from experience because it has obstructed my path far too many times, and I wonder what blessings I’ve missed as a result.  Would you be surprised to know that fear almost kept me from writing Psalm 91, Under the Wings of Jesus? During those times, I was not dwelling under Christ’s wings, as Psalm 91 declares. Instead, I cowered in the shadow of an enemy who laughed as I worried, and rejoiced as I wept.

All the promises of Psalm 91 tell us that Jesus has control over every part of our lives from sickness to natural disasters. It reminds us we should not fear “the terror of the night,” or the “plague that destroys at midday.” Yet fear is still a very real enemy that leers around every corner, waiting to pounce at the right moment. 

A few years ago, I heard a pastor share an acrostic for fear which has helped me tremendously. He boldly stated, “Fear is FALSE EVIDENCE APPEARING REAL.” The overall point of this explanation was that in some cases, we are the ones who give power to fear. In essence, we are basing our feelings on a lie. Many times, we are afraid of something because our mind has conjured up false evidence that has no basis. I can recall many occasions where I’ve imagined the worst-case scenario for a particular situation. The fear would steal my joy and cause unwarranted stress. Other times, I’ve allowed people to plant ideas in my head, which wreaked havoc on my faith. Whether the fear is real or imagined, it’s a huge stumbling block that interferes with God’s plan for our life. 

While fear can be a product of false evidence, it can also be tied to circumstances that are truly terrifying and hazardous. For instance, if you are hiking in the woods and an angry mama bear approaches you, your first instinct should be to move away from the danger. Ignoring it could get you killed. God has instilled us with fight or flight responses, which are there to protect us during stressful or life-threatening situations. Our bodies will respond through physical changes such as an increased heart rate, as well as blood pressure. Breathing becomes rapid and heavy as the body distributes oxygen to the places that will need it the most. Furthermore, vision and hearing become sharper, allowing us to carefully evaluate the environment. A surge in blood flow and adrenaline allows the muscles in our arms and legs to prepare for a swift and powerful response. Whether we have to fight or flee, God has designed our bodies to take action.  

 So how do we know what action to take in both real and imagined situations? My friend Karen shared an acrostic that addresses our negative response to fearFEELINGS ESTABLISHING ANXIOUS REACTIONS. When we feel afraid, a myriad of reactions can unfold. Screaming, running, fighting, freezing and even fainting are all possibilities. Additionally, many people will become anxious, as the acrostic describes. This anxiety often leads to reactions which may not be helpful, and could impede our ability to respond altogether. It’s important that we have an effective strategy for dealing with these responses. Philippians 4:6 gives us a positive response to fear and verse 7 reveals the life-giving results: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  

The best response we can have is to give our fear to Jesus. Matthew 11:28 reminds us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” This echoes back to the first line of Psalm 91 which declares, “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” When we dwell with Jesus, he will give us the rest we need and the fears that burden us will disappear.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was no stranger to fear. He witnessed the rise of Nazi power in 1933, which was led by Adolf Hitler. Evil knocked at Germany’s door. Once opened, fear gripped the country, allowing dark forces to tighten the noose around the necks of its frightened citizens. Before long, the ideology of hate spread like a virus and infected the minds of many Germans. Bonhoeffer, who was a Lutheran pastor, immediately protested against the regime and its views of anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, many Protestant pastors and churches did not follow his lead. Instead, they received and supported the racist views of Hitler–some did this out of fear, while others were in agreement. Bonhoeffer would not go along with the narrative and instead became a leader in the Confessing Church, which rejected the principles and ideologies of the Nazis. Bonhoeffer openly admonished Hitler and his policies. As a result, he was banned from making public speeches and barred from publishing his work in Germany. Undeterred, he joined the resistance movement, even participating in a plot to assassinate Hitler. Eventually he was arrested by the Gestapo, taken to a concentration camp and sentenced to die.  

This courageous pastor would not have been able to stand against evil if he did not dwell under the wings of the Most High. It doesn’t mean he was never afraid, but rather he would not let it hinder the will of God in his life. Bonhoeffer had a lot to say about fear and why it’s essential that Christians do not bow a knee to it. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

     In January of 1933, he gave a powerful sermon to a troubled congregation. It was the very month that Adolf Hitler would come to power. The widespread fear of communism loomed over the people of Germany as the country’s republic teetered on collapse. No one knew what the future would hold. Bonhoeffer saw the storm coming, but he challenged his congregation with the truth that in all things Christ would be their shield and strength–their Psalm 91. Below is an excerpt from his sermon on fear.

     “The overcoming of fear–that is what we are proclaiming here. The Bible, the gospel, Christ, the church, the faith–all are one great battle cry against fear in the lives of human beings. Fear is, somehow or the other, the archenemy itself. It crouches in people’s hearts. It hollows out their insides, until their resistance and strength are spent and they suddenly break down. Fear secretly gnaws and eats away all the ties that bind a person to God and clings to them–they break and the individual sinks back into himself or herself, helpless and despairing, while Hell rejoices.”

Bonhoeffer was saying that Christ is the reason we should not fear. He has overcome this archenemy that seeks to bind and cripple us. Faith in Jesus is the opposite of fear and if we can grasp this powerful truth, we will not dwell in defeat.

“Fear not” is one of the most common commands in the Bible. According to theologians, there are at least 365 times where scripture reminds us to “fear God,” “be not afraid,” “do not worry,” or “receive God’s peace.”  Do the math–that’s one reminder not to fear, for every single day of the year! No matter how it’s stated, the underlying meaning is that we are to fear only one thing–God himself. This doesn’t mean we cower in the corner, worrying that God will punish us, or send great calamity to our door. Instead, the message is that the only thing we should fear is not doing what God asks of us! We should have such reverence and trust in him that we will “fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith,” as 2 Timothy 4:7 declares. In our eyes, this may appear frightening. But as Bonhoeffer reminds us, Christ is the “battle-cry against fear.” We must raise a shout and do the Lord’s will.

Courage stands in opposition to fear. This word is used in at least 41 verses of the Old Testament alone. Perhaps one of the most well-known examples comes from Joshua 1:9 which says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified: do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” I don’t know about you, but I immediately recognized the numbering of the verse, which is 1:9–that’s right, it’s 91 backwards. I bring this up because it’s important to realize that Joshua had to choose to dwell under the shadow of God’s wings (Psalm 91) in order to lead Israel successfully. Only by overcoming fear would they be able to receive all the blessings promised to them. 

To capture the full meaning of what courage represents in Joshua 1:9, we must travel backwards to the verses which precede it. Joshua 1:1-8 begins with God appointing Joshua as the leader after Moses’ death. In verses 2 and 3 it says, “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give them–to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.”

Joshua is taking Moses’ place as the leader–these are huge shoes to fill for anyone. He is about to lead the people across the Jordan River and into the Promised Land. The task required is what I like to call ginormous. I know it’s not a standard word, but it captures the idea that the things Joshua will be required to do are gigantic and enormous. They will be more than he can handle on his own. 

      Let’s look at verses 7-8 to get a clear picture of what Joshua must do.

     “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

I don’t know about you, but it would take an abundance of courage and discipline for me to do all of the things mentioned in those verses. Joshua had to obey ALL THE LAWS and could not stray to the left or right. He must do everything that’s written in it. I would have failed on day one because I cannot keep the entire law or do everything it says! However, when I do keep God’s commandments, it often takes courage. I find that I have to step outside society’s box of conformity and walk a narrow path set before me by biblical scripture. It’s much easier to go along with what popular opinion commands. The words strong and courageous take on completely different meanings in today’s world. Promoting and celebrating lifestyles that are contrary to biblical truth is seen as brave. The media, politics and the rich and powerful become the voice of strength and courage. The proclamation of self-love trumps God’s perfect love. But as we see in the story of Joshua, this is not courage at all. God’s Word outlines what bravery looks like. 

Courage comes from knowing and following God’s Word in the midst of turmoil, sadness, evil and injustice. It comes from a heart that’s filled with Christ’s redeeming grace. Interestingly, the words courage and heart are closely related because in Latin, cor means heart. This has carried over to other languages such as French and Italian, whose words for courage are corage and coraggio. In early renderings, it meant “to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Therein lies the question–who does our heart truly belong to? As Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it?” It is only the blood of Jesus Christ that can transform us into the strong and courageous people God made us to be. Psalm 51:10 says, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”  Courage without Christ doesn’t really exist because without his spirit, we are dwelling in man-made security and hope. Abiding in the world is not brave. It’s an illusion that holds us captive.

     Joshua was under no such illusion. He knew he could not inherit the Promised Land without following God’s commands. He had to meditate on them day and night. Right after God tells him to keep the law close to his heart, he repeats in verse 9, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified: do not be discouraged.”

     Fear will discourage you. It will seize your courage and crush your heart. If we want to be strong and courageous, we must dwell under the shelter of the Most High. The Word of God and his promises are tucked under these wings, waiting for us to take refuge. Every single day we must take that bold step toward his open arms and trust he will give us the guidance we need to be strong and courageous.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer followed Jesus to the very end. A concentration camp doctor witnessed his hanging on April 9, 1945. Below he describes what happened.

     “Through the half-open door in one room of the huts, I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued in a few seconds. In the almost 50 years that I have worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.” 

Being strong and courageous really means that we are willing to submit to God and his will. Whether this means we become a great war hero, or a martyr at the hangman’s noose, is up to him. When Dietrich Bonhoeffer stepped up to the gallows, he took his place under the wings of Jesus. These same wings escorted him to heaven. 

     Psalm 56:3-4 NLT says, “But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you. I praise God for what he has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?”

Man can take our life, but not our eternal promise from God. Even if our worst fears transpire, they cannot triumph over the plans God has for us. 1 Corinthians 15:52-55 NLT shouts this truth. “It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this scripture will be fulfilled, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory. O death, where is your sting?’” 

No matter what happens to us in this life, our destination remains the same. Death cannot overcome eternity. And as Romans 8:38-39 NLT declares, “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries for tomorrow–not even the powers of Hell can separate us from God’s love.” Fear falls flat on its face when we embrace this powerful truth. 

Jesus is Lord over fear so if we dwell with him, we can overcome its power. The cross is the weapon we wield as we take our stand against this enemy. In our life of uncertainty, we must take up our sword and strike down fear with every ounce of courage we have. If we live under the wings of Jesus, fear cannot nudge its way into our hearts. Instead, it becomes the outcast, with no victim to harass.

The next time fear whispers in your ear, take up the Word as a sword. Strike down this enemy before he has time to plot his next move. You will not “fear the terror of the night”, or any “arrow that flies by day” as Psalm 91:5 declares. Dwelling under the Savior’s wings, you will respond with courage that flows from a heart surrendered to Jesus. Lion feature photo from Unsplash: Eric Combeau

photo Unsplash Aaron Burden

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