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WIMD Pulse - March 2014

This is what the Lord says… “Fear Not”
by Dr. Ruth Bates

The whole process of symptoms, differential and diagnosis is one with which are all familiar, but this past week I made a new personal diagnosis. I have research-induced asthma. Not so much wheezing, but distinct chest tightness and impending sense of doom. The context for this discovery was my first ever research elective – an entire month designated to making staggering progress on one’s neglected half-baked research project. I admire my colleagues who find this easy, but after the first days of being electronically ignored by the three essential people who needed to email me vital data, I was showing signs of wear. Time was passing and any progress, let alone the staggering type, looked doubtful.

I sort of liked the term “research induced-asthma” because, having made it up, I could define the syndrome myself. But probably our modern self-help culture would call it tension, burnout, workplace fatigue or – that ubiquitous catch all – stress. Look up any of those in a Bible concordance, however, and you’ll be disappointed. God calls it “fear.” Somehow realizing that was strangely freeing. We don’t talk a lot about fear nowadays. Fear is just what kids have – not intelligent healthcare professionals. But the truth of the matter was “Dr. Bates” was afraid.

Sadly, as I thought about them, they weren’t even very original fears. Fear of failure, fear of disappointing others, fear of being stretched beyond my capacity to exhaustion. Pretty much just common human experience – perhaps tailored a bit to my personality, containing a dash of perfectionism like everyone else in healthcare.

So, staring at these familiar beasts (looking back I’ve known them for years), I decided to study God’s answer to fear. Did you know that “Fear not” is the most frequent commandment in Scripture? It appears something like 150 times. I decided to focus on the “Fear not, ___” verses, since the blank nearly always contains some reason not to fear.

To Zachariah, we have, “Fear not, your prayers have been heard” (Luke 1:13); to Mary, “Fear not, for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30); to a bunch of shepherds, “Fear not, I bring you tidings of great Joy” (Luke 2:10); and to a crowd listening to wandering prophet, “Fear not, for you are of more worth than many sparrows” (Luke 12:7). One of my favorites was Isaiah 43:1, “...this is what the Lord says – (pause for emphasis) – the One who created you Jacob, the One who formed you Israel, “Do not fear for (#1) I have redeemed you, (#2) I have called you by name, (#3) You are mine, (and to top off, summarize, and guarantee all the others) I will be with you. (Editor’s Note: Verses are all paraphrased from multiple translations.)

But then it hit me. What about workplace fatigue? What about the fear of ever disappointing anyone in anything? Not only is my fear (in a general sort of way) unworthy of a child of God, but all my individual fears are unworthy. Great, I wasn’t even starting in the right place. What is really worthy of fear is being unredeemed, uncalled, unknown to God and alone from Him. Or going back to the verses from Luke, how awful would it be to find yourself unheard, unfavored, ungladdened and un-valuable? These are (if I can put it this way) weighty fears, lofty fears, terrible fates that our smiling successful non-Christian colleagues have to live with each day. But to us who are His children, He says, “Fear not.”

I wish I could say that my “research-induced asthma” was instantly and permanently cured, but it wasn’t. Probably for the same reason that God had to tell His people “Fear not” 150 times over. Hearts are slow, but thank God that wherever I am starting from Isaiah 43:1 will never be more true for me than it is now in Christ.

“Now this is what the Lord says—
the One who created you, Jacob, and the One who formed you, Israel—
‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name;
you are Mine. I will be with you…’” (Isaiah 43:1-2, HCSB).
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