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Fear or Faith?Fear or Faith?
by Scott Owings

    Fear or faith? Yes, THAT is the question. Though few of us would like to admit it, fear is one of the overriding emotions that we face today. The world markets reflect our fear as the past few days have shown. Jobs are being cut. Travel security is up. Troops are being deployed. It’s a scary time.

    Of course, fear is “nothing new under the sun.” As biblical scholar N.T. Wright points out, “No other command is found more often in Scripture than ‘Do not be afraid’.” Angels, prophets, and our Lord himself often uttered these simple words: “Fear not.”

    But you might ask, “How? How can we respond with faith in times such as these? How can we put to death the fear that so easily arises in our hearts?”

    In a word, the answer is PRAYER.

    There are lots of prayers found in Scripture that we can, and should, pray in times of uncertainty and fear. But for a few moments think with me about Jacob. You remember that rascal-vagabond-heel-grabber named Jacob? After years of deception (and yet blessing from the Lord’s hand), Jacob came to the point where he had to face his fears, namely, his fears of his brother Esau.

    How did Jacob respond to these overwhelming fears? He began by trying to get his proverbial “ducks in a row”; you know, taking care of business, settling the family down, and then getting away for some time alone. Who knows, maybe he thought the Lord might give him another one of those “Stairway to Heaven” dreams? However, nothing seemed to work — no rest, no sleep, only the fearful thought of what tomorrow might hold.

    Genesis 32:22-32 tells us the story of what did work — how prayer was the weapon that enabled Jacob’s faith to win the victory over fear! The narrative graphically describes Jacob wrestling all night with a mysterious visitor; that is, with God himself! When we have fear and uncertainty, God comes near. We may not have the words but God meets us where we are—warts and all. In fact, it very well may be that we come to understand God not so much when we are having a “mountain-top experience” but as we struggle, in silence, to understand what he’s doing in the world. Paul says as much in Romans 15:31-32: “I urge you brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus and Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying...”

    The story goes on to tell us how after wrestling with God all night, Jacob asked for a blessing. No, he didn’t sing God bless America, but he did understand how God was the one who gives children, land, prosperity, and safety. The surprising thing, however, is how God blessed Jacob. He replied, “You shall no longer be called Jacob but Israel for you have striven with God and man, and prevailed.” (Gen. 32:28) Jacob, like so often is the case with us, thought blessing involved receiving new “stuff.” What Jacob received was a new name, a new identity. From now on he would be called God rules/God preserves/God protects. As we pray and sing for God to bless our country, are we prepared for what he might give us? And most importantly, are we prepared, like Jacob, to become a blessing to all nations?

    Another striking thing that this story teaches us about prayer is that God did not give Jacob what he asked. Jacob wanted to know God’s name, his identity. Even though Jacob’s request was a good one, God did not grant it. The revelation of his name would have to wait for several hundred years when he revealed it to Moses (Exodus 3). This reality may likely apply to us as well. That is, though God hears our requests to know him and understand his ways on the earth, he may not give us the answers we desire. Without doubt, he rarely answers our prayers on our timetable. Waiting is never pleasant or easy; however, it is one of the mysterious realities of prayer.

    We can also learn from Jacob’s prayer encounter that being in the Lord’s presence may affect us in dramatic ways. For Jacob, coming face to face with God was glorious and full of blessing. But it also marked Jacob with a new limp. As God meets us in prayer, we will be touched as well. As Rich Mullins sang, “we are not as strong as we think we are.” In prayer, we come face to face not only with God, but also with our weaknesses — weaknesses that will go with us throughout our walk with God.

    One thing is for certain: Jacob’s night of prayer changed him. And prayer will change us! May we have the faith to struggle with God and the boldness to ask and receive his blessings.

    Let us pray...

      © Copyright 2001, Scott Owings. Used by permission.

      Title: "Fear or Faith?"
      Author: Scott Owings
      Publication Date: October 1, 2001

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