Do not fear what you are about to suffer...so that you may be tested...you will have affliction...Be faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life.
Death seems to be everywhere in my life lately. In the past few weeks I have done two funerals, been to another and been connected to several people who have lost someone close to them. In addition, I am working with a couple people are are actively in the process of dying. One recurring theme is fear. Several times I have heard, "I am afraid to die."
Fear is real. Most folks I know have experienced it and some folks seem to have it as a constant companion. In many cases, fear is based on the 'unkown.' We are afraid of things that "might happen" or afraid of failure, loss or catastrophe.
"What would I do?" we wonder, imagining if we were confronted by some crazed gunmen at work, or a diagnosis of cancer, or an egregious act of injustice and violence. "Would I stand up and do the right thing, would I quake in fear, would I freeze?" Those who know best, the people who have lived through terrible events are the best source of wisdom. They tell us, "You will be surprised. We never know what we will do until the moment comes. Heroes are unexpected, so are cowards." It is said that in the early church, it was those who suffered torture and maiming who were often the most merciful and understanding toward those who failed the test. It is said that those who had suffered understood that it was a power not their own which sustained them. Clearly, those who ponder this from afar (intellectually not experientially) do well to simply listen.
One constant theme of the New Testament is the surety of thlipsis/tribulation and the suffering which comes with persecution. Most of us were born in a pro-Christian world. If fidelity was sometimes cultural and somewhat nominal, it was at least publicly supportive of church. As hostility increases many find themselves struggling with the new situation. Vile statements made about Jesus are now common in public forums. Ridicule of the Christian faith is widespread and growing. People are actually suffering loss due to their beliefs.
We do well, if we seek to follow Christ, to assume that rejection is not an anomaly. Following a crucified Messiah entails cross carrying. There is little doubt that the typical middle class church lifestyle has ill prepared us for any significant trials and tribulation, however, it is also likely that those originally addressed by the author of the Apocalypse were no less prone to worry and fear in their more austere setting. In every Biblical and post-Biblical generation the words, do not fear, be not afraid, resonate. We are not the first to wonder if we can stand up and be faithful. We are not the first to worry about what faces us in dying. We are not the first to be concerned about what happens afterward.
We have two promises: We should expect to suffer for the faith. We should believe that the victory afterwards is worth anything which we might endure! In the end, we have no more and no less than any person who goes before us or comes after us. SO be not afraid. Trust Jesus. Trust God...