Imagined Dangers

by Bob Burridge ©2018
Listen to this presented as a sermon at Christ Central Presbyterian Church – Tampa, FL on 02/18/18.

Often it’s not the real circumstances in life that give us the most trouble. It’s the ones that are just in our minds.

A man once complained that he couldn’t sleep all night because of the noise of his neighbor’s rooster. The rooster owner was puzzled when he was told about it. He said, “The rooster only crows once each morning! How could that keep you awake all night?” So the man explained, “If you only knew what I suffer all night long just knowing that the rooster’s going to crow.”

Shakespeare put it a little more dramatically in Julius Caesar Act 2 Scene 2. Caesar was being warned about bad omens against him. He was advised not to venture outside. But he wasn’t about to become a prisoner in his house. His answer is classic. He said, “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.”

Some live in so much fear of what might happen, that they suffer more grief and missed opportunities than if the things they worried about actually came true. The “what ifs” can become as great a hindrance to us as the dangers themselves.

More than 800 years before the birth of Christ, God sent Elijah to wicked King Ahab. He was sent to tell him that a judgment was coming. A severe drought was going to strike Israel for three and a half years. It was punishment for the nations apathy and neglect of God’s ways.

During that time God provided for Elijah supernaturally. First the Lord sent ravens to bring him food near the brook Cherith where there was plenty of water. Then God provided grain and oil while he stayed in the home of a poor widow in Zerapaht. When the widow’s son became very sick and died, God brought him back to life through Elijah’s prayers. By these hard times God’s prophet learned to trust in God’s word and power.

After these important lessons God sent Elijah back to Ahab to tell him that the drought was about to end. Meanwhile the king had sent his servant Obadiah to find provisions for his horses and mules. Obadiah was one of the Kings servants who had remained faithful to the God of Israel.

Obadiah wandered the devastated land looking to find grass to keep the horses and mules alive. Along the way he saw the tragic results of the drought, the famine, disease, and death that accompanied it. The glory of the Kingdom of David and Solomon was gone. All because of the pagan life-style that caused God’s judgment to fall.

At the same time Elijah was on his way to the king to deliver God’s message that the drought would soon end.

An astoundingly unexpected encounter took place.

1 Kings 18:7. And as Obadiah was on the way, behold, Elijah met him. And Obadiah recognized him and fell on his face and said, “Is it you, my lord Elijah?”

In God’s amazing providence – these two men met. Obadiah was the single most trusted agent of the King, and Elijah was the man who alone held the key to the larger problem behind Obediah’s mission.

There’s no doubt – this encounter, like every other circumstance we face, was part of the plan of God.

Obadiah showed utmost respect and humility toward God’s prophet. When he recognized him, he fell on his face before him. It wasn’t worship. It was the common Eastern display of humble respect. He was showing honor to the great prophet of God. He said, “Is it you, my lord Elijah?” – a show of his humble submission.

Obadiah found something better than the grass he was looking for to save the king’s animals. He came upon the hope of saving the whole nation.

Elijah changed Obadiah’s assignment.

8. And he answered him, “It is I. Go, tell your lord, ‘Behold, Elijah is here.’ “

Elijah made no attempt to hide either who he was, or the difficult mission he was on.

But Obadiah was filled with fear over
what might happen to him
if he went back to the King.

9-14. And he said, “How have I sinned, that you would give your servant into the hand of Ahab, to kill me? As the LORD your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom where my lord has not sent to seek you. And when they would say, ‘He is not here,’ he would take an oath of the kingdom or nation, that they had not found you. And now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord, “Behold, Elijah is here.”‘ And as soon as I have gone from you, the Spirit of the LORD will carry you I know not where. And so, when I come and tell Ahab and he cannot find you, he will kill me, although I your servant have feared the LORD from my youth. Has it not been told my lord what I did when Jezebel killed the prophets of the LORD, how I hid a hundred men of the LORD’s prophets by fifties in a cave and fed them with bread and water? And now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord, “Behold, Elijah is here”‘; and he will kill me.”

Obadiah presumed his assignment was a punishment, and that he would die. He imagined that if after he told the King, Elijah might not be there. He imagined the king would think he was a liar and he’d die in disgrace! His whole career, his life, his reputation all destroyed! What had he done to deserve this?

But these things hadn’t happened. They were just things he imagined might happen.

Obadiah went into detail to explain why he was so afraid. The obsessed king had conducted a massive search for Elijah. While the prophet was in solitude at Cherith and Zerapaht soldiers went from city to city looking for him. They hunted for him both inside and outside Israel. Each nation and kingdom had to certify by oath that the prophet wasn’t there.

Obediah was afraid the Spirit would take Elijah away again as he had for the past 3 years and hide him. If this happened again the King might suspect Obediah of lying, or being insubordinate. Maybe the King will get angry and kill him! — He had all sorts of imagined dangers and speculations.

He told Elijah about Jezebel’s slaughter of the prophets. This king and queen kill their opponents! They had a whole history of violence like that. In her zeal to promote Baal worship Jezebel wanted to wipe out all that remained of the worship of Jehovah. She hunted down the prophets and killed many of them.

Then Obediah explained how he’d boldly protected some of the hunted prophets. He gathered up a hundred of these teachers of God’s word, divided them into groups of 50, and hid them in caves. He provided them with bread and water. It was both heroic, and difficult to do during the drought.

Yet it doesn’t seem like he was boasting. He was trying to let Elijah know that he wasn’t just another of the pagan servants of the pagan king. It was as if he was saying, “Surely Elijah, this proves I’m no coward or pagan. You can’t really want ME to go now and deliver this message. Maybe we can find some Pagan messenger?”

But it was just Obediah’s imaginations that caused these unnecessary fears. A. W. Pink commented, that the words of Obediah were, “not the language of tranquil faith, but of human fear and despondency.”

His fear of what might happen made him feel vulnerable, weak, endangered. When we forget God’s power and promises, we go through sufferings that have no basis anywhere but in our own imaginations.

Because of fear, believers often fail to stand up
for what God says or commands.

They imagine all sorts of bad consequences if they obey.

Fear of losing a friend or his respect can make them silent about explaining the hope of the gospel in Christ, or they might compromise and do immoral things to fit in with the crowd. Fear of losing their job or job advancements – might make them violate ethics, or even break the law for their boss. Fear of ridicule or embarrassment – might make them excuse themselves from publicly praying, or hide what they know God said in word. They might avoid giving godly encouragement to those in need.

But — these are imagined consequences. When God’s word instructs us to do something, our fears can become hindrances. Obadiah had boldly but secretly protected the 100 prophets. God protected him then, why not now? Would this approach to the King make it more difficult for God to protect him? His imaginings made him question God.

When Jesus called Peter to walk on the water to come to him in the storm there was no problem as long as he trusted in God’s power. But when Peter became distracted by the wind and the waves, he was afraid – he started to sink. When Obadiah thought about all the things that could happen to him, his distraction made him afraid, and he wanted to be excused from his new assignment.

But Obediah did go, and Elijah wasn’t taken away by the Spirit. Obediah wasn’t disgraced and killed. The King did meet God’s prophet.

So how did Elijah help Obediah get over his disabling fear?

Elijah turned Obadiah’s thoughts toward God’s promise.

15. And Elijah said, “As the LORD of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself to him today.”

It was God who spoke through his Prophet Elijah. He wasn’t being asked to take a human message to the King. This was a promise from God himself by his prophet. Our imagined fears should never be allowed to stand in the way of what God directly tells us to do.

Obadiah’s earthly master, King Ahab, had sent him out on a mission. Now his heavenly master, the King of all kings, was sending him on a different one. Which of these did he consider the highest authority?

Obadiah obeyed

16. So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him. And Ahab went to meet Elijah.

God’s word is reality. Obediah’s fears were imagination. The truly dangerous thing to fear, wasn’t the circumstances that might happen. It was the failure to humbly and thankfully obey God’s word. Instead of cowering to his imagined fears, Obadiah trusted God. All the imaginings were set aside and left in God’s hands. None of them happened any way!

Fears are real to us. We can’t just push them away. We need to get things back into perspective, and see the greater power in the God we serve. Even when the imagined things we fear do happen, let the consequences be their own suffering. Don’t let them make you suffer all your life anticipating them. Don’t let what might happen hinder your service for Christ. Things we suppose might happen should never keep us from obeying our Savior.

We need to change our focus. Instead of being overwhelmed by all the possible things that might happen, we need to occupy our thoughts with God’s assurances and promises – then – we move forward.

Paul gave us this same remedy in Philippians 4:8,

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

If fear of what might happen keeps us from doing what we know would most please God, we need to turn our attention to the record of God’s workings in Scripture, to those passages of promise, to the Psalms of hope and meditations on the goodness of the Almighty God. We need to be encouraged by God’s unfailing power.

He who made us, saved us, and calls us – must be served regardless of consequences. No imagined harm, inconvenience, or embarrassment could be as serious as discovering we have a low view of God. We should never let our fears become our master and god.

It would have been tragic if Elijah, Obadiah, Daniel, Paul, or Lydia were so afraid of dying for Christ, that they didn’t live for him! How tragic if we’re so afraid to stand up for Christ, for fear of nothing more than embarrassment, that we let imagined dangers replace our love for our Redeemer.

There’s great joy in overcoming our fears, and getting busy in the service of Christ and his kingdom.

Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

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