You Are Never Alone: God’s Answer to Fear
May 7, 2020
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We all have burdens and concerns that keep us awake at night:
What will tomorrow bring?
Will our health hold up, or will we have a heart attack or a sudden stroke?
Will someone we know test positive for the coronavirus?
Will we end up in a nursing home or waste away in a hospital?
What about our children? What if something happens to them?
Who will take care of us in our old age?
Singles wonder if they will ever marry. Married couples look at all the divorces and wonder if they will make it.
We all have questions we can’t answer
Will we live to see our grandchildren?
We wonder where we will be in ten years.
Recent headlines don’t help:
“Panic Hits Global Markets”
“Anxiety Grips Companies Across the World”
“Most Daunting Virus in Half Century”
“The Food Chain is Breaking”
“Shoppers Throw Punches Over Toilet Paper”
The coronavirus pandemic reminds us we are not in charge, and we are more vulnerable than we dreamed. No one imagined a global shutdown four months ago. But here we are.
We are not in charge–and we never were!
That’s why we started a new series called “Big Promises: God Says You Are, You Have, You Can, You Will.” In these uncertain days we need to focus on the promises God has made. Here are three truths that ought to encourage us:
1. Don’t worry about tomorrow because God is already there. We received a note from our friend Greg Hatteberg at Dallas Seminary. As he prayed for us, he felt the Lord saying to him, “Don’t worry. I’ve got this.” That simple statement brought huge comfort to my heart. We all need to remember that “God’s got this.”
2. God promises to be with you no matter what happens to you. This is true today and tomorrow and the day after tomorrow and all the days after that. You cannot outlive God’s mercy. We come and go, but his mercy endures forever.
3. God has you on his heart at this very moment. He will not forget you because he cannot forget you. To all our fears the Lord simply says, “I am with you always.”
That brings me to our text:
He has said, “I will never leave you nor will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
God knew we would doubt this promise, so he wrapped it in five negatives. Twice he repeats two Greek words that mean no. Then he adds another word that also means no. It’s hard to bring out the proper emphasis in English. It’s as if God is saying, “I will never, never, never, never leave you or forsake you. Absolutely not!”
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake
This verse from How Firm a Foundation catches the meaning:
“The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”
When Charles Spurgeon preached on this topic, he pointed out four examples (out of many in the Bible) where God said to someone, “I am with you.” In this sermon, I’m following Spurgeon’s outline.
# 1: Jacob the Cheater
These are the words the Lord spoke to Jacob when he was running away from his problems:
I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. I will bring you back to this land, for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you (Genesis 28:15).
Jacob has been on the road for two days when he gets this message from God. He is running because he stole the inheritance from his brother Esau and then deceived his father into giving him a blessing meant for his brother. That double deceit destroyed his family and enraged his brother who wanted to kill him.
His family fractured, he runs for his life.
That night, with a stone for a pillow, sleeping in the wilderness under the starry sky, he dreams of angels coming and going on a ladder that stretched from earth to heaven.
Until this moment, God has never spoken to Jacob directly.
To his grandfather Abraham–yes.
To his father Isaac–yes.
God shouts to us in our pain
I’m sure the last thing Jacob expected to hear that night was the voice of the Lord. Why would God speak to him after what he had done to his father and his brother? God meets him at the point of his desperation, as he is leaving the Promised Land, running from his brother, running for his life, disgraced and guilty.
Now God speaks to him.
C. S. Lewis called pain God’s megaphone to rouse a sleeping world. The Lord whispers in our pleasure, but he shouts in our pain. Now at last, Jacob is ready to listen to the Lord. When the painful truth finally catches up with Jacob, he has nowhere to go. Why did he cheat? Perhaps he reasoned this way: “If God were here, I wouldn’t have to do things this way. But God’s not here, so I’ve got to take care of myself.”
Here is God’s message: “Jacob, I’m nearer to you than you think I am. I was with you when you tricked Esau and when you deceived your father. I am with you when you are running for your life. Everywhere you go, I will go with you.”
At this point Jacob feels
Guilty about his past,
Fearful of the future, and
Uncertain in the present.
To all of that, God simply says, “I will be with you.” It’s a total solution to guilt, fear, and anxiety.
We all need to learn there is no place we can go where God is not already there.
# 2: Israel the Terrified
The scene shifts to the Jews as they gather on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Moses is now an old man and about to die. Knowing the enemies his people would face as they enter Canaan, he gives this amazing promise in Deuteronomy 31:6:
Be strong and courageous; don’t be terrified or afraid of them. For the Lord your God is the one who will go with you; he will not leave you or abandon you.
When Moses says, “Don’t be terrified or afraid of them,” he’s talking about the pagan nations surrounding the Jews. The list includes the Hivites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Edomites, the Moabites, the Jebusites, the Perizzites, the Gergasenes, and the Philistines. That’s a daunting list of bad guys.
The Jews faced a math problem
I recently read a book about Winston Churchill called “The Splendid and the Vile.” It chronicles his first year as Prime Minister when the Nazis seemed unstoppable and the eventual destruction of England seemed inevitable. Hitler so far was undefeated as his armies rolled across Europe. In his first speech as Prime Minister, Churchill spoke with brutal honesty: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” The following years proved the truth of his words.
The Israelites faced a math problem. If you stacked up the armies, there were way too many bad guys for them to fight. They were doomed to defeat. But the question is always, who is on your side?
If God is with you, you can’t lose. It’s as simple as that. Yes, there will be blood, toil, tears and sweat. But when you fight with God on your side, you cannot lose.
That’s the message to the people of God.
# 3: Joshua the Fearful
Now we run the clock forward a few weeks. Moses is dead, and Joshua now leads the people of Israel. They still must cross the Jordan River and begin the long series of battles that would take seven years to complete. The question has become very personal: Is Joshua up to the challenge? Here is God’s promise to him:
No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. I will be with you, just as I was with Moses. I will not leave you or abandon you (Joshua 1:5).
As you think about this stupendous promise, don’t overlook one little phrase: “As I was with Moses.” Joshua knew all about Moses because he had been his right-hand man for many years. Moses stood before Pharaoh and said, “Let my people go.” When Pharaoh said no, Moses said it again. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that he would not show mercy. Then the plagues came down—boils and frogs and darkness and hail and water turned to blood. Pharaoh still would not relent. Finally, one terrible night the death angel passed over the land, taking the life of every firstborn son in Egypt. Only those with the blood of a lamb on the doorpost were spared. Only then did Pharaoh grudgingly relent.
It’s hard to be the son of a famous man
When the people of God were trapped at the Red Sea, Moses stretched out his staff and the waters parted, so they walked across on dry ground. Later Moses went up the mountain to talk to the Lord face to face. He came down with the Ten Commandments written in stone by the finger of God. Miracle after miracle happened while Moses was alive.
For 40 years their shoes never wore out.
For 40 years they never ran out of food.
For 40 years they never lost a battle.
Moses! What a man!
I don’t blame Joshua for feeling inadequate.
How do you follow D. L. Moody or Spurgeon?
How do you replace a legend?
Will God be with Joshua as he was with Moses?
The answer is yes.
Why? Because God said, “I will never leave you.”
That’s a wonderful promise.
Most of us know the antiphonal chant that goes like this:
Pastor: God is good.
Congregation: All the time.
Pastor: And all the time.
Congregation: God is good.
That chant started in the churches of Nigeria. When I mentioned that in one of my sermon emails, a woman in Lagos, Nigeria wrote me with an additional bit of information: “It’s true. We do say that in our churches. But we add something. After we say it, everyone then says in unison: ‘I am a witness.’”
That’s the deeper meaning of the promise God made to Joshua.
It’s not a promise of an easy road, unlimited victory, and no tears. After all, Joshua is a book of battles. God is saying, “You’ve got to fight for the land I am giving you.” But I will go with you as you go.”
# 4: Solomon the Timid
As King David grew older, he wanted to build a temple for the Lord in Jerusalem. But the Lord told him he couldn’t build it because he was man of blood. God’s house must be built by a man of peace. David accepted God’s decree and called on his son Solomon to build the Lord’s temple. Here is David’s encouragement to his son in 1 Chronicles 28:20:
Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Don’t be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He won’t leave you or abandon you until all the work for the service of the Lord’s house is finished.
That’s a heavy load to lay on a young man. Solomon was the wisest man on earth, but he followed the man after God’s own heart. Joshua followed Moses, and that was hard enough, but Moses wasn’t his father.
We all feel inadequate!
It’s hard to be the son of a famous man. David was a natural leader, a gifted poet, and he was a mighty warrior. He unified the tribes and inspired the nation. Without a doubt, he was the greatest king Israel ever had.
How would you like to follow a man like that?
We get a glimpse of the pressure he faced when David asked the leaders of the nation to support his son: “My son Solomon—God has chosen him alone—is young and inexperienced” (1 Chronicles 29:1). The Hebrew word translated “inexperienced” can also mean “tender” or “delicate” or “timid.” Clearly David wondered if his son was up to the task.
I’d be timid too!
I’d be fearful too!
I’d be worried too!
Who feels like you aren’t enough?
Who feels like you can’t do it?
Who feels like you are a fraud waiting to be uncovered?
No Unfinished Business
This is God’s Word to you.
He will not leave you.
He will not forsake you.
He will finish the work he called you to do.
Everything God has for us is contained in these simple words: “I will never leave you.” Whatever you need from the Lord, he will supply it because he will never leave you. If you feel inadequate, that’s good because you will depend even more on the Lord.
God finishes what he starts!
How do we know this is true? There are many answers to that question. We might simply remind ourselves of what God has done in the past. Has he brought you through deep waters, dark nights, and bitter tears? If he did not leave you then, why would he leave you now? Think of all the prayers God has answered. Will all that be wasted?
God never starts anything he does not finish. I remember landing in some African country and noticing a long stretch of unfinished buildings on either side of the road. Those brick-and-steel skeletons meant the government started them but ran out of money. That never happens with God. What he starts, he finishes.
That’s true of you and me. He has not brought us this far to leave us now. God’s honor depends on him finishing the good work he began in us.
Hold on to this truth.
God will never let you go!
Let me remind you one more time of the teaching of Hebrews 13:5. It contains five negatives that guarantee our salvation. As the songwriter said:
“That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!”
You are never alone.
You are never abandoned.
You are never on your own.
The God Who Goes Before
What should we take away from all this?
If like Jacob, you are guilty, take heart. God will never leave you.
If like Israel, you are terrified, take heart. God will never leave you.
If like Joshua, you feel unqualified, take heart. God will never leave you.
If like Solomon, you are timid, take heart. God will never leave you.
God is at work in the future while we live in the present
Think about it this way. He’s not only with you now, he’s way up the road ahead of you. He is the God who goes before his people. That’s a mind-blowing truth.
Are you worried about next week? Forget it. He’s already there.
What about that doctor’s appointment? Sleep well. He’s already there.
What about that tough decision? Fear not. He’s already there.
It would be enough if God walked with you through the events of life. But he does much more than that. He goes ahead of you, clearing the way, arranging the details, so that when you get there, you can have confidence that God has already been there before you. He’s at work in the future while we live in the present.
Our God was with us yesterday, he is with us today, and he will be with us tomorrow. That’s what it means to say, “I will never leave you.” Many of us need this truth right now. I know I do.
He Will Meet You in Baggage Claim
I passed over one part of Jacob’s story so I could mention it now. When Jacob awoke from his dream, he exclaimed, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it” (Genesis 28:16). How typical of us. We think the Lord has forgotten us, but we are the ones who have forgotten him.
Where is God when we need him? He’s where he’s always been, but we didn’t know it. You can run away from God to the other side of the earth, and when you get off the plane, he will meet you at baggage claim.
You can’t run from God forever
Relatively few people meet God on Sunday morning. You are more likely to meet God on the bed of affliction, or when you lose your job, or when your children are sick, or when your friends betray you, or when your marriage collapses. You are more likely to meet him after the accident than during the coffee hour on Sunday morning.
Often we don’t pay attention to the Lord until tragedy strikes. Then at last we look up to heaven and say, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”
That brings us back to the great promise: “You are never alone.” Let me tell you how I learned this. Soon after graduating from seminary, Marlene and I moved to Southern California, where I became the pastor of a small church in suburban Los Angeles. In the beginning, Marlene played the piano while I led the music and preached the sermon. I also helped teach a class of 5th-6th grade boys. One weekend we went to a retreat at a camp in the mountains above San Bernardino. I have forgotten everything about that retreat except for this. The speaker wanted to impress on the youngsters that God would never leave them. He had us hold up our right hands and starting with the thumb, he had us repeat this phrase, touching a different finger with each word:
Try that right now. Hold up your right hand and touch your fingers as you say, “I will never leave you.” How powerful is that simple exercise? It’s been 40 years, and I still remember it.
Chin up, child of God!
Build your life on this truth: God has said, “Wherever you go, I will go with you.” That leads me to this simple conclusion: Christians ought to be the calmest people on earth because we know the Lord, and he holds the future in his hands.
He was with us yesterday.
He is with us today.
He will be with us tomorrow.
Chin up, child of God. Stop staring in the soup. Pull those shoulders back. Put a smile on your face because you are never alone.
Forgive us, Lord, for doubting your presence. Thank you for being there, just when we need you most. Amen.