I have shared in previous posts that my testimony has a lot to do with overcoming fear – namely, the fear of death. I have attended more funerals than I can count, and my experience with death began at an early age. Even though I no longer fear death, I still don’t enjoy having it thrown in my face, which is why I don’t really care for crime scene shows, the zombie craze, Stephen King books, or realistically violent movies.
Psalm 23, one of King David’s poems, is often read at funerals with the intention of comforting people, but to be honest, I always found it a bit creepy: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death …” (v. 4, NJKV). It conjures up images in my mind of something sinister lurking behind a bush, waiting to jump out and snatch me. Shadows are menacing. After all, how many horror movies are set in broad daylight?
It took me many years to come to the realization that the “shadow of death” can be a comforting shade, not a threatening omen, to the believer in Christ. Think about it … how do we gauge parking spaces in the summer heat? The best spaces aren’t judged by distance from the front door, but by proximity to shade! Shade is simply a shadow, and we love it, in that context. Or, consider the story of Jonah, chapter 4 – God allowed a plant to spring up suddenly to provide much-needed shade for Jonah, and he was grateful (v. 6).
The “shadow of death” does not have to frighten us. As followers of Christ, we can find comfort in our mortality because to be apart from the body is to be in his presence for all eternity (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). When life tries to beat us up, we can “take refuge in the shadow of [God’s] wings,” as David wrote in Psalm 36:7.
I heard a sermon recently that shed some wonderful new insight about a story in John 9, and I can’t wait to tell you about it. You may have heard the story before: the Pharisees berated Jesus for healing a blind man on the Sabbath. However, that’s not the part of the tale that we’re going to talk about today.
On two occasions in the story (three times if you count his parents’ account of his birth), the person healed by Jesus is simply referred to as “the man who had been blind” (John 9:13 & 24). We don’t know his name, but he was given an informal title of who he was before he encountered Jesus.
Do you have a title? I don’t mean Mrs., Mr., Dr., Esq., or some other courtesy title. I’m referring to the “title” of who you were before you met Jesus. I’ve been thinking of mine for days, and the one that keeps coming to mind is “the woman who had been afraid.” Fear (and the removal of it) is the essence of my testimony. I went through a period of time where I was afraid of things that now seem laughable, but at the time were crippling. I once cried in school because I had to give a presentation in front of my classmates. And look at me now: I’m a professor! I talk in front of people every day, and I love it.
Fear of being in the spotlight was only the tip of the iceberg; I was also very afraid of dying. By the time I finished middle school, I had attended more funerals than I can even recollect, and the number has at increased by at least 15-20 since then. It was actually the fear of dying that led me to the Lord. I was afraid of not knowing if I would go to heaven. I wanted to know for certain that I had eternal life with Jesus, and after I gave my life to him, I clung to verses like 1 John 5:13 for reassurance.
I love the title of “the woman who had been afraid,” because it reminds me of how good and faithful God has been to me during our journey together. Have there been times when I felt afraid even since I became a Christian? Absolutely, but those moments are fleeting and no longer debilitating. Fear doesn’t define me like it might have before.
The neat thing is, if you have a descriptive title of who you were before Christ, then you have the beginning of a faith-story to tell others. Like the man in John 9, you have a unique experience to share about what Jesus has done in your life.