Spirit of Fearfulness

Today’s Reading: Acts 21:1-14

Now where were we? We were studying the book of Acts and took a break to look at some of the letters that the apostles wrote during that same time period – James, Galatians, 1&2 Thessalonians, 1&2 Corinthians, and Romans.

As we read on in Acts, we find all of Paul’s new Gentile friends begging him not to go to Jerusalem. They were afraid something was going to happen to him, but Paul responded bravely, “Why all this weeping? You are breaking my heart. I am ready not only to be jailed in Jerusalem but even to die for the sake of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13).

We hear Paul again tell his story of how God confronted his sin and changed the course of his life. Let’s backtrack a little and look over the portion of Acts we have read so far – all the way back to where the believers were gathered when Peter and John were arrested, this time looking through the context of a powerful statement Paul made in his letter to Timothy.

For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love and sound judgment. – 2 Timothy 1:7

The believers had formed a community, devoting themselves to the gospel and to each other. Peter and John went to the Temple one day and ended up healing a crippled beggar. An audience formed when the people saw the crippled man walking and heard him praising God. Peter took this opportunity to preach.

While speaking to the crowd, Peter and John were confronted by the priests, the captain of the Temple guard and some of the Sadducees. They were arrested, kept overnight and then commanded to never again speak or teach in the name of Jesus.

Have you ever been afraid? Have you ever experienced extreme fear? It seems safe to believe that the followers of Jesus were experiencing some fear while waiting for Peter and John to be released. When faced with fear and the threats that were being made against them, the believers chose to gather together and pray – not for the threats to end but for boldness in the midst of the persecution:

“…And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give your servants great boldness in preaching your word. Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant, Jesus.”

After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness. – Acts 4:29-31

When faced with a very difficult situation, the believers chose to pray. They knew who could take their fear and turn it into boldness. They did not just pray for survival, they prayed for power. They were unsure of the kind of persecution that was ahead of them but willing to be used by God if He wanted. He took their fear of what was ahead, answered their prayer and gave them great boldness through the Holy Spirit.

One of the reasons the believers had to be fearful was a man named Saul. Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them – both men and women – back to Jerusalem in chains (Acts 9:1-2).

But the man causing great fear experienced great fear when a light shone done from heaven and a voice said, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” The voice instructed him to go into Damascus until he was told what to do next. When he opened his eyes, he was blind. For three days he could see nothing – he did not eat or drink for three days.

The scriptures do not say how Saul was feeling during this time but I can only imagine how scared he must have been. He knew how vicious he had been towards those who believed in Jesus and now Jesus had come to him on the road to Damascus and said, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (9:5-6). What we know is that Saul spent these three days praying to God (9:11). Just like the believers, Saul chose to pray when faced with fear.

Now imagine the fear of another man – Ananias. The Lord also came and spoke to him, telling him to go to this man who had been pursuing the death and arrest of the believers. The short version of the story:
Ananias – “But Lord…”
God – “Go…”
So Ananias went…

“Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. Afterward he ate some food and regained his strength.

Saul stayed with the believers in Damascus for a few days. And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is indeed the Son of God!” – Acts 9:17-20

When faced with fear, we should pray. A simple statement but one we seem to forget so easily. Paul was blind and scared, so he spent three days praying to God. Ananias was scared to go to Paul, so he talked to God about his fear. God is waiting to fill us with His Spirit and give us strength for what we are facing. All we have to do is ask.

Fear…Prayer…Spirit …Strength. That seems to be the pattern here. When faced with fear, these believers fell on their knees in prayer to the Source of their strength. God filled them with His Spirit and they overcame their fear and became bold in their faith. What a great reminder for us today. No matter what is causing fear in our hearts, God is willing to fill us with the power of His Spirit if only we will ask.

For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love and sound judgment. – 2 Timothy 1:7