April 19, 2018

"Lift it up, do not fear"

"Get yourself up on a high mountain,
O Zion, bearer of good news,
Lift up your voice mightily,
O Jerusalem, bearer of good news;
Lift it up, do not fear.
Say to the cities of Judah,
'Here is your God!'"
Isaiah 40:9

Some of you will know, and others of you may be surprised to know, that I sometimes struggle with significant fear in the matter of lifting up my voice to speak God’s word. Sermon preparation can, at times, be quite nerve-wracking as I agonize over whether I am getting this or that item right. Second-guesses (not of the Bible, but of myself) also occasionally come into my mind, mid-sermon: ‘Did I say that right? Is the way I phrased that sentence misleading? Did I cite that commentator correctly?’ And then, even after my voice has been lifted up, and the sermon is done, there is the further challenge of putting the sermon online, and wondering the above sorts of things all over again. Pray for me! For, though such fears may sound absurd, they seem very real when I am in the midst of them.

Maybe you are sometimes afraid of (or afraid while) lifting your voice, too. Maybe, when sharing the gospel, or teaching a Bible class, you worry about whether you are getting it right – not because you don’t know the Bible well enough (which is a legitimate reason to second-guess yourself!), but because you’re a worrier, like me. Or perhaps you have a fear of speaking God’s word to people because of the potential of getting a poor response from them. ‘Will they mock me? Will they become angry with me? Will they distance themselves from me, relationally?’ And then there is just the plain old fear (regardless of the content spoken) of speaking in front of a group, or to someone we don’t know well – a fear which can weigh heavily upon us in various situations, including those in which we are called to speak for our God.

How do we overcome such fears? Well, I’m no expert. I often struggle mightily. But one strategy I’ve found helpful is to quote or paraphrase to myself, just before going into the pulpit, those words from Isaiah 40:9 – “Lift up your voice … Lift it up, do not fear.” These words, of course, remind me that I must not fear. But they also imply, it seems to me, that I need not fear; that the God who has called me to speak for Him will be with me in that speaking, so that I can be confident, rather than afraid. And maybe Isaiah 40:9 will be helpful to you in that way, too. Store it in your memory bank, and remind yourself of it when it’s time to speak for the Lord.

Remember, too, that your opportunities to speak “the good word of God”, and any specific gifting you have for doing so, are among the talents (Matthew 25) that God has entrusted you to steward. And you mustn’t hide them in the ground. You must use what God has given you, my friend! You must “lift up your voice”! “Lift it up, do not fear.” You won’t do so perfectly. You won’t always do so painlessly. But, with God at your side, you may do so confidently!

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