Fearful Heart or True Heart?

 

Get and keep the kind of heart God has for you.

Some folks think courage is something like adrenaline: it will be there when you really need it. That makes for a good story, but it is rarely true.

The fact is, courage is like a muscle you build through constant exercise.  Like all character traits, it must become a functional part of us through repeated practice.  I realize words like “practice” and “exercise” are not popular words and they do not make for a dramatic story, but they are the means by which character is built.

So, in order to have courage when you need it most, you have to exercise it every day.  It’s the little decisions, the daily tests that develop more courage in us.

  1. Fear God only; do not have an anxious heart (see Leviticus 26:36-37).

In a lengthy section detailing the warnings of penalty for disobedience, God said, “AS FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO ARE LEFT, I WILL MAKE THEIR HEARTS SO FEARFUL IN THE LANDS OF THEIR ENEMIES THAT THE SOUND OF A WIND-BLOWN LEAF WILL PUT THEM TO FLIGHT.  THEY WILL RUN AS THOUGH FLEEING FROM THE SWORD, AND THEY WILL FALL, EVEN THOUGH NO ONE IS PURSUING THEM.  THEY WILL STUMBLE OVER ONE ANOTHER AS THOUGH FLEEING FROM THE SWORD, EVEN THOUGH NO ONE IS PURSUING THEM.  SO YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO STAND BEFORE YOUR ENEMIES.’

An anxious heart can be a sign of disobedience.  Among all the warnings in this section, this one has to do with a state of heart.  If they won’t fear God and respect Him, then He will ironically send a fear so strong that they will retreat from shadows; worry over nothing.  The picture here is rather comical; like Abbot and Costello or “Dumb and Dumber,” these characters are going to be falling over one another to retreat from things that are not actual threats.  Though is mocking or comical, it’s not a funny situation.  The outcome will be constant defeat: YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO STAND.  This truth is also expressed in the form of a contrast in PBS 28:1; THE WICKED FLEE THOUGH NO ONE PURSUES, BUT THE RIGHTEOUS ARE AS BOLD AS A LION.

An anxious heart can be a sign of discouragement.  Ten times in the Old Testament fear and discouragement are directly linked.  God repeatedly said to His people; “Do not be afraid or discouraged.”  There were different threats at different times, but always His message was the same; “do not be afraid or discouraged.”  Based on human nature, fear and discouragement are typically our first responses when we have to face setbacks.

  1. God does not want you to have a fearful heart (see Isaiah 35:3-4).

STRENGTHEN THE FEEBLE HANDS, STEADY THE KNEES THAT GIVE WAY; SAY TO THOSE WITH FEARFUL HEARTS, “BE STRONG, DO NOT FEAR; YOUR GOD WILL COME, HE WILL COME WITH VENGEANCE; WITH DIVINE RETRIBUTION HE WILL COME TO SAVE YOU.”

The context of this Scripture is a word of encouragement first given to the Jews who were captives living in the nation of their conquerors.  The people of God spent 70 years in captivity before these promises were fulfilled.  These promises are also for us, for our encouragement in anxious hours.

A fearful heart needs to be strengthened.  We can strengthen our human nature by means of reason and emotion, but we can receive spiritual strength only as we rely on God.  Prayer and knowledge of the Word are used the Holy Spirit and are the ways we begin the process of receiving this strength from God.  The process continues with the encourage-ment God’s people give to one another.  Fear in one’s heart weakens not only one’s resolve but also one’s hands; our physical strength is sapped when fear takes over.

We are strengthened by trust in God.  There are two specific promises in this passage.  When He appears, God will bring about completion of all the woes of creation.

He will bring about perfect justice.  This is indicated twice in our text: HE WILL COME WITH VENGEANCE, and WITH DIVINE RETRIBUTION.  These promises have a negative ring in the ears of some.  However, we need to be reasonable; the only way perfect peace can be achieved is by the destruction of all evil.  This isn’t negative at all; it is God keeping His promises and rewarding the faith of His people.

He will save you.  He will save His people from all their enemies, all evil doers.  He will save them for eternal fellowship with Him and with one another.

The two sides of the ultimate victory of God are the eternal life given to His people and eternal destruction visited upon those who refused to be His people, choosing evil instead.

3. Follow Joshua’s example to have a courageous heart (see Joshua 1:5-9 + 18)

God promised Joshua complete victory over his enemies.  There were a lot of them and the territory they occupied is described in v. 4.  Let’s note all God’s promises:

– “I WILL GIVE YOU EVERY PLACE YOU SET YOUR FOOT, AS I PROMISED MOSES.” (3)

– “AS I WAS WITH MOSES, SO I WILL BE WITH YOU; I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU OR FORSAKE YOU.” (5)  Moses occupied a unique and important role in God’s salvation plan, but the grace of God did not end with him; it continued with Joshua as Moses’ replacement.  What is noteworthy here is that it is the presence of God that makes all the difference.  Military power or any kind of earthly advantage is nothing compared to the works of God.

– “YOU MAY BE SUCCESSFUL.” (7)

– “YOU WILL BE PROSPEROUS AND SUCCESSFUL.” (8)

– “GOD WILL BE WITH YOU WHEREVER YOU GO.” (9)

– “GOD IS GIVING YOU YOUR OWN [land].” (11)

God repeatedly commanded Joshua to be “STRONG and COURAGEOUS.”  Moral strength and courage are part of this command.  As God repeated promised His people, doing the right thing is a key to achieving the right result.  This is important because people can be stubborn or in some similar way display something that looks like strength or courage.  However, it is the strength and courage that come from God that matter.  These we receive by faith and obedience.

 

Biblical courage can be defined as “following through on your faith-based decision to obey God’s will.”  This results in doing the right thing without regard for earthly support or opposition.  Courage is built by consistently choosing God’s way in the daily and seemingly trivial daily decisions we all make.

For example, why do bullies prosper?  It’s because their victims are not prepared to exercise courage from the beginning, when the stakes are comparatively low.  Instead, they give into their emotions early and repeatedly until their emotions get out of control and they explode from pressure.  The result is sometimes very unpleasant and always avoidable.  (Think of “Ralphie” teeing off on “Scot Farkus” in the movie “A Christmas Story.”)

One other example.  Some of the most courageous acts we do is to have an open mind and trust others.  The person who insists on “my way or the highway” is a bully whose mind is closes and is distrustful.  Courage is manifest in the undramatic and ordinary circumstances where we obey God in His timing.

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