"The First Enemy: Fear"
Sometimes, between the pressure of praying for our needs and the needs of others, and on the other hand, our desire to praise the “God from whom all blessings flow,” one essential goal of prayer is lost. Prayer is not only to ask grace or healing and to give praise and honor to God, but also to keep us mindful of God’s love and concern for us.
In traditional Morning Prayer, in the words of the Song of Zachariah, every day we recall the blessed promises of a God who – literally – is dead-set to deliver us “out of the hand of our enemies, so that we might serve him without fear all the days of our lives.”
Fear. The problem is not a healthy sense of fear. The issue is that uncontrolled and irrational fear may lead us to unbridled and unsubstantiated worry. One simple cough, and suddenly the ghost of cancer shows up. A relative is laid-off and panic sets in. What if I’m laid off? What’s going to happen with the next meal? What is going to happen to my children and great-great children and their relatives all the way down the line?
Uncontrolled worry drives people to become workaholics, which in itself is more dangerous that any economic or social crisis. Out of worry about what the doctor may say, some lose the chance of receiving timely medical care. Fear about change has driven many corporations – and indeed, even churches – out of business.
St. Peter, writing to the early church advised them this way, “Watch out! For your great enemy is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for dinner. But know this, in due course after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation.” In other words, don’t be worriers, for God is always looking after you.
The mission of unfounded worries, fears, and “doomsdaying” – the enemies of our souls – is to rob us of hope and faith in a God that is always looking for our bests interests.
The Collect for Advent calls us to cast away the dark undertones of irrational worries, fears, and concerns and to put on the armor of faith in a God “Who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. So, how will God not graciously give us all that we need?”
And today, being the fourth Sunday, we appoint a special time to pray for those who are sick. And so, our prayer’s aim is twofold.
First, we will ask God to touch the lives of those who are sick. James, in writing to the early Church advised our brothers and sisters that if anyone were to be sick they “Should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over the sick, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.”
Praying for the sick is an ancient and respected tradition in the life of faith. Moses asked for the healing of his sister Miriam, and Jeremiah entrusted himself to God’s healing power praying, “Heal me, LORD, and I will be healed.” Jesus himself, healed and cured many who came unto him – even those who had doubts about what Jesus could do.
So, let us come closer to the heart of God, to ask for healing.
Second, before any and all concerns about someone’s health, what we need to focus is to ask God to shine His light and to cast away any and all fears.
At the 2017 Neuroscience Education Institute (NEI) Congress, Dr. Mary D. Moller, director of Psychiatric Services, Northwest Center for Integrated Health, “outlined the potential consequences of fear on overall, physical, emotional, environmental, and spiritual health. The potential effects of chronic fear on physical health include headaches turning into migraines, muscle aches turning into fibromyalgia, body aches turning into chronic pain, and difficulty breathing turning into asthma.”
According to Dr. Moller, in the realm of faith, irrational worries drive people to bitterness towards God and others, to despair, and the loss of any sense of constructive hope and healing.
But it is not only Dr. Moller who is making a good point . There is an extensive body of clinical research on the negative power of fear on otherwise healthy individuals. And, conversely, there is growing clinical evidence of the positive power of prayer on sick people. And here is the thing – Not only of those sick in mind, but those with physical ailments.
So, let’s pray not only for healing of body, but for healing of body, soul, and spirit. Let’s pray that a quiet spirit of confidence in God’s love may drive away any and all fears.
Jesus said that the last enemy to be destroyed is death. But first Jesus came to live among us to destroy fear and unwarranted worries. Even if we are under the stress of healing as soon as possible, the first step towards healing begins with overcoming fears and worries.
And so, through God’s love and by being reassured by caring words filled with affection, hope, grace, and mercy, the road to recovery will begin.
In our first lesson, Isaiah sets the theme of Advent for us. “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
It is an open invitation. It is not an invitation to memorize the one hundred and seventy six verses of Psalm 119 or to know by heart the life of all the saints of God.
To walk with the Lord is not something we may do once we clear up all that is wrong with our lives – as if we ever could! It is an invitation to let go of fears, worries, and trepidations and to go out for a walk with a friend – the best Friend ever – No questions asked. No if or buts.
For It is never too late to start our walk with the Lord. A God who refuses to give up on us even when we give up on him. A God who refuses to hear those who condemn us, and yet is intent in hearing our cry, “Heal me O Lord, and I shall be healed. Save me O Lord, and I shall be saved.”
So let us begin this year with a pledge to walk in the light of the Lord. Let us join our Savior in full confidence of his welcoming love, and of his good pleasure in having us as companions on the way to the fullness of God, who created heaven and earth, and from whom all blessings flow. Amen.