I bring this series on courage to a close with the text that has served to relieve my fears more often than any other text in the Bible — namely, Isaiah 41:10. I’ve told you the story before. But since it’s Father’s Day, I will tell you again, as a kind of tribute to my father — and my heavenly Father.
Heading for Germany
On July 27, 1971, Noël and I boarded a 707 to fly from New York to Munich, Germany. We believed God opened the door for us to go study at the University of Munich. I was twenty-five years old, had just graduated from Fuller Seminary the month before. God had turned my life around in seminary so that I was eager for studies not for their own sake but for Christ and his church.
I had written in my journal on July 12,
My desire is to throw myself into the church and be employed by the Lord to do what he would in this day and through me. I am not alienated from her. I am in love with her. I want to teach in her and be taught in her. I want to be a channel of life for her and receive life through her. I want now to be about my studies in preparation, and I thank God for these times at home to see some needs — in the church and in myself. My how imperfect and weak I feel at home because I am not as loving as I ought to be. I am a long way off from holiness realized.
The Promise of Isaiah 41:10
Now with that sense of desire to serve the church and that sense of weakness and imperfection I was in New York, fifteen days later, ready to leave for Munich for three years. My father couldn’t be there to see us off because he was doing the work of an evangelist in another state. My mother and grandmother were there. To give a sense of realism here, let me read from my journal entry two days later.
We picked up mother and MaMohn and headed for New York. At about 2 PM we found Cargo Hanger 67 at Kennedy Airport where we unloaded our 400 pounds of extra luggage and paid $253 to have it shipped on our own flight. Then we went into Manhattan to see the town, and decided it would be preferable to sit in Radio City Music Hall than fight that crazy traffic and heat. From Radio City we called Daddy long distance to say goodbye. I felt so frustrated to make our goodbye appropriate. I came closer to crying there than when I left Mother and MaMohn at Pan Am. He gave me three passages to read: Is. 41:10 [today’s text]; Is. 50:7; II Tim. 4:1–5. Noël and I read these together before going to bed tonight. My how I love Daddy. I think every time I am thrown into a new situation where I may be afraid or alone my mind turns to the kind of life Daddy has been called to live for almost 30 years. I love him for following through in that call. Oh how I pray that I will have the faith and confidence he has in our Lord for trying times.
For three years in Germany, Isaiah 41:10 was on my lips and in my heart during anxious times more than any other verse. In fact it became so instinctive to say it, that today when my mind is neutral the spinning of the gears is in Isaiah 41:10. I can remember riding my old-fashioned, secondhand, balloon-tire bike on the bumpy, cobblestone back streets of Munich along the Isar River on the way to a class where I might have to use my German in front of the other students, and saying over and over again to myself, “Fuerchte dich nicht, denn ich bin mit dir; shau dich nicht aenchstlich um, ich bin ja dein Gott. Ich staerke dich, ich helfe dir, ich stuetze dich mit der rechten hand meiner Gerechtigkeit.” And seeing God again and again and again come through for me.
Passing It on to My Own Sons
And now I am a father with sons. And I rejoice that I can do for them what my father did for me. So last Wednesday evening just before Benjamin left for boot camp in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, we all sat down in the living room and I said, “There is a special verse I want to send with you, because my father sent it with me. It served me well and it will serve you well. ‘Fear not for I am with you. Be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.’”
When I sought for a concluding text for this series on courage and fearlessness and risk-taking, it had to be the one that God has used in my life more than any other to help me through times of stress and fear.
Two Commands Supported by Five Reasons
Let’s look at the verse, Isaiah 41:10, and then see how the preceding verses intensify the point of the verse.
There are two commands in the verse not to fear and five pillars of fearlessness. “Fear not” is the first command at the beginning of the verse. And then the second is “do not anxiously look about you” (RSV: “do not be dismayed”).
As always in the Bible, there are reasons for the commands. Commands don’t hang in the air with no basis in reality. If God commands us to do something, there are good reasons to do it. And power comes from understanding and believing those reasons.
The Five Pillars of Fearlessness
Here there are the five reasons:
- “For I am with you” — “Do not fear, for I am with you.”
- “I am your God” ;— “Do not look anxiously about you, for I am your God.”
- “I will strengthen you.”
- “Surely I will help you.”
- “Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”
Restated, the five pillars of fearlessness are:
- God is with me;
- God is my God;
- God will strengthen me;
- God will help me;
- God will uphold me.
When God calls you to be free from fear as you do evangelism, as you take a test, as you face an interview, as you take a stand against an unjust business practice, as you confront someone with sin in their life, when you leave a secure position and take a risk in a new venture, when you face an operation or a treatment, when you lose a spouse or a friend — when God calls you to be free from fear (to overcome this natural emotion and have peace), he does not leave the command hanging in the air. He puts pillars under it. Five of them. That’s the nature of all biblical commands. They come with divine support.
- Fear not . . . God is with you;
- Fear not . . . God is your God;
- Fear not . . . God will strengthen you;
- Fear not . . . God will help you;
- Fear not . . . God will uphold you.
The Key to Overcoming Fear
The key to overcoming fear is resting on the pillars of the promises of God.
We’ll come back to these pillars in a moment. Look with me for a minute at the verses leading up to verse 10 to see how they intensify these promises and strengthen these pillars.
If the key to fearlessness is believing that God is your God and is with you and will strengthen you and help you and uphold you, then knowing the greatness of this God will intensify your faith and your fearlessness.
Four Glimpses of God’s Greatness
So look at the Glimpses of God’s Greatness that Isaiah gives.
Glimpse #1: The Judge of All the Earth
In Isaiah 41:1 God says, “Coastlands, listen to Me in silence, and let the peoples gain new strength; let them come forward, then let them speak; let us come together for judgment.”
Here is a picture of God calling all the coastlands and all the peoples to gird up their strength and come before him for judgment. The God of Isaiah 41:10 is the judge of all the earth. He calls all nations to give an account of their lives and their religions and their thoughts. He is not called to account. He is not on trial. They are. They come into his courtroom. He is the judge of all and will pass sentence on every person. That’s the God who is with you to strengthen and help.
Glimpse #2: The Ruler of All Rulers
In Isaiah 41:2–3 Isaiah asks, “Who has aroused one from the east [probably Cyrus the Persian king that God stirred up to come against Babylon] whom He [God] calls in righteousness to His feet? He delivers up nations before him, and subdues kings. He makes them like dust with his sword, as the wind-driven chaff with his bow.”
Here is a picture of God rousing a king and leading him in conquest and delivering up nations before him. So the God of Isaiah 41:10 is Ruler of the rulers of history. He controls the affairs of men and nations for his purposes. That’s who gives the pillars for fearlessness in Isaiah 41:10.
Glimpse #3: The Uncreated First, Yahweh
In Isaiah 41:4 Isaiah asks, “Who has performed and accomplished it, calling forth the generations from the beginning? ‘I, the Lord, am the first, and with the last. I am He.’“
Here is a picture of God not only judging the nations and ruling the rulers of the earth but calling all the nations of the earth into being — “calling forth the generations from the beginning.” God is the first — he is the absolute reality before all other reality and on which all other reality depends. He is the uncreated first. And he will be there with the last when all is accomplished according to his eternal purpose.
When God answers, “I, the Lord, am the first . . . ,” the word “Lord” is “Jehovah” or Yahweh. Franz Delitzsch comments on this verse: “It is the full meaning of the name Jehovah which is unfolded here; for God is called Jehovah as the absolute I, the absolutely free Being, pervading all history, and yet above all history, as He who is Lord of His own absolute being, in revealing which He is purely self-determined; in a word, as the unconditionally free and unchangeably eternal personality” (cited in E.J. Young, The Book of Isaiah, vol. 3, p 76). That’s the God of Isaiah 41:10 who strengthens and helps and upholds.
Glimpse #4: The God Who Chose His Own People
In verses 5–7 Isaiah shows us the desperate attempts of the nations to persuade themselves that they and their gods are strong. Verse 5: they are afraid and they come together. Verse 6: they try to encourage each other not to be afraid, and say, “Be strong!” Verse 7: the idol makers who smooth the metal and nail up the idols with nails try to encourage each other and say, “It is good.”
In other words, there is a picture of the unrepentant nations desperately trying to convince themselves that their self-wrought gods, made with soldering and nails, are really adequate for their needs.
Over against this desperation of self-reliance and idolatry God says to his people in verses 8–9, “But you [are] Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, descendant of Abraham My friend, you whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called from its remotest parts, and said to you, ‘You are My servant, I have chosen you and not rejected you.’“
In verses 1–9 there is a picture of the God who judges the nations, and rules the rulers of the nations, and calls the nations into being, choosing his people for himself, calling them from their hopeless distance from him, and taking them to be his servant.
That is what God has done for us in Christ. He chose us before the foundation of the world. He called us out of darkness and death. And he took us for himself to be his. To make himself our God.
These Glimpses Intensify the Five Pillars
Now all that, I say, intensifies the five pillars of fearlessness in Isaiah 41:10.
- The God who judges all the earth and calls the coastlands to give account . . .
- The God who rules the rulers of history . . .
- The God who calls the nations of earth into being because he is first and last . . .
- The God who calls his own people and makes himself their God freely and graciously . . .
That God says to us who believe,
- I am your God.
- I am with you.
- I will strength you.
- I will help you.
- I will uphold you.
Then Comes the Command — On These Pillars
- Therefore — because I am the judge of the nations . . .
- Therefore — because I rule the rulers of history . . .
- Therefore — because I call nations into being . . .
- Therefore — because I choose freely my own . . .
- Therefore — because I — this great and sovereign God —
- am your God and
- am with you and
- will strengthen you and
- will help you and
- will uphold you . . .
Therefore, do not fear.
Or change the image for a moment. Not five pillars. But God in five relations to you expressed in five different prepositions.
- I am your God — over you.
- I am with you — by your side.
- I will strengthen you — from inside of you.
- I will help you — all around you from wherever the enemy comes.
- I will uphold you — from underneath you.
Over you, by you, inside you, around you, underneath you.
Therefore do not fear.
Our Final Ground for Fearlessness
We come to the end of this series with one great ground for fearlessness — God!
- I am your God.
- I am with you.
- I will strengthen you.
- I will help you.
- I will uphold you.
I call you this morning to stop defining and limiting your future in terms of your past and start defining it in terms of your God.
I call you to recognize that God is greater than your personality. God is greater than your past experiences of timidity. God is greater than your “family of origin.” And God calls you to joyful fearlessness.
The crucial factor in your fearless living is not your family but your God.
“Let not your hearts be troubled, believe in God.” Believe in God! Trust God! Let God be your God! Your help. Your strength. He will uphold you with his righteous right hand.
Read or listen to the first message in the series: