God’s word always precedes his movement, and when God speaks, we don’t need to be afraid. Consider this—“Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. ‘Don’t be afraid, Mary,’ the angel told her, ‘for you have found favor with God!’” (Luke 1:29-30, NLT)
“Don’t be afraid.”
Fear is a tricky problem for us because fear establishes the limits of our lives. For example, if you’re afraid of heights, you’ll stay low. If you’re afraid of water, you’ll stay dry. If you’re afraid of failure, you’ll never take risks. So what was the root of Mary’s fear? Was it the appearance of an angel? Or was her concern more about the angel’s message from God?
I believe one of the reasons we don’t listen for God’s voice is because we’re afraid he’ll tell us to do something radical that pushes us beyond the boundaries of our security and comfort.
The reason we’re afraid to hear from God is that deep down inside our souls we are conflicted about what Jesus is really like. On one hand we have the domesticated Jesus of the American Dream. American Jesus calls us to get a good education, marry a good spouse, and work hard to build a career. American Jesus calls us to advance in our careers and to conduct our lives ethically and morally. Have kids. Go to parent-teacher conferences. Coach soccer. Put money in the 401K. Look forward to retirement when you can spend your remaining years in health and recreation. American Jesus also calls us to go to church “regularly” and volunteer when time permits. And, of course, give some money to charitable organizations. We’re not really afraid to hear from American Jesus because American Jesus is simply a projection of ourselves.
Biblical Jesus, on the other hand, is another story. He’s the one that makes us nervous. Biblical Jesus says things like…
… “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
… “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” (Luke 9:24)
… “Follow me now. Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:22)
… “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.” (Matthew 9:62)
… “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves.” (Matthew 10:16)
… “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)
… “So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.” (Luke 14:33)
… “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)
Mary taught us that when God speaks he may ask for hard things. At the same time, Mary inspires us to not be afraid of God’s requests. Obedience can be difficult and costly. But not as difficult or costly as disobedience, or worse, total indifference.