Do Not Be Afraid
There are many kinds of ‘do not’ statements
by Helen Bryant (revised, originally published in 2010)
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To reflect on the command, ‘do not be afraid’ and the promise, ‘all will be well’.
Preparation and materials
I wonder if you can guess what is the most common phrase in the Bible. I’ll give you a hint: the first two words are ‘Do not’.
I guess that many of you will think of the Ten Commandments: ‘Do not steal’, ‘Do not covet your neighbour’s belongings’ and – among others – ‘Do not murder’. It seems that we are often being told what not to do. What often follows a ‘do not’ statement is an instruction to put something down or to stop doing something. However, the Ten Commandments are instructions about how to live and how to get on well with your fellow human beings. They are important laws: that is why the laws that govern our land and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are loosely based upon them.
In fact, ‘do not’ occurs many times in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, the part of the Bible that tells us about the time before Jesus was born. The ‘do not’ statements refer to all manner of things, including food and clothing.
However, the other two words that make up the most common phrase in the Bible paint a very different picture from that of a God who is constantly telling people not to do things. I will give you a few examples of when the phrase we are talking about is used. Then, see if you can work out what the other two words in the phrase are.
- The angel Gabriel used this phrase when he appeared to Mary informing her that she was going to give birth to a baby, Jesus.
- The same angel used this phrase again when he appeared to some shepherds on a hillside just outside Bethlehem.
- Jesus used this phrase to the disciples after he calmed a storm.
- St Paul was told the phrase by God before he went on trial.
Have you worked out what the phrase is yet? The other words in the sequence are ‘be afraid’, so the most used phrase in the Bible is, ‘Do not be afraid’. It is used some 365 times, sometimes to individuals and sometimes to groups of people. Some people are in frightening situations, some have just had big surprises; others are facing death, facing God or even just facing amazing events.
It is a simple message, yet it has an important meaning. To be afraid is to be frightened, scared and unsure. Being afraid can stop us from doing things, and fear can hold us back. What might have happened if Mary had run away from the angel Gabriel? A fear of heights, of the dark or of snakes may hold us back. Even a fear of something that we do not know or understand is enough to make us avoid different people or new situations.
What God is saying in the Bible is that we might feel afraid, but we can still move forward. He is telling us that even when we feel afraid, we can trust in him because he is always there with us in every situation. So the next time you find that you are afraid, either of something or someone, remember the phrase, ‘Do not be afraid’ and try your best to conquer that fear. It may not be as bad as you first thought.
Time for reflection
Hundreds of years ago, a woman named Julian, who lived near Norwich, suffered a life-threatening illness. After she recovered, she wrote a book about the things she had seen while she was in a coma. One of these ‘seeings’ included the following words, ‘All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.’
Julian lived in a time of war and plague, so she felt this to be God’s promise to her. We can think about this message, too. Even when things go wrong, we can be sure that eventually, things will change and ‘all will be well’.
Help me to be brave, even when it’s really hard.
When I feel alone,
When I’m cold and hungry,
When I’m facing tough decisions,
Help me not to be afraid.
Help me to know how to move on in the right way.
‘Peace is flowing like a river’ (Hymns Old and New (Kevin Mayhew), 412, 2008 edition)