With his great power the Lord warned me not to follow the road which the people were following. He said, “Do not join in the schemes of the people and do not be afraid of the things that they fear. [Isaiah 8:11-12 (GNT)]
Knowing that God’s people must be fully committed to their cause in battle, Deuteronomy 20 provided several exemptions from combat. Because men too preoccupied with concerns at home wouldn’t fight wholeheartedly, those who were engaged to be married, had built a house and not dedicated it, or planted a vineyard and not harvested it were released from service. An anxious man wouldn’t have his mind on battle and could make blunders that might endanger the entire army. Moreover, anyone who admitted to being afraid was also sent home. This was done to keep their negativity and fear from infecting the entire army’s morale. A small army of faithful men was better than a large army of worried, frightened or fainthearted ones.
While the anxious and fearful soldiers were sent home, it’s not so easy to avoid those kinds of people in our daily lives. We all know people who seem to carry a dark cloud of pessimism over their heads. It doesn’t just rain on their parade—negativity pours down on everyone around them as well. For example, the husband of a woman I know had a cough. By the time his wife was done fretting about it to family and friends, it was turning into bronchitis, which, of course, would lead to pneumonia which, naturally, would mean hospitalization. This led at least one family member to be sure the husband’s death was imminent and funeral plans soon needed to be made. The wife’s negativity and fear were far more contagious than the cough which, incidentally, never turned into bronchitis and is now long forgotten.
I’m not Pollyanna and I know that some coughs do lead to pneumonia, not all biopsies come out benign, bad things happen to good people, and not every story has a happy ending. That, however, doesn’t mean I have to put up my umbrella at the first cloud or focus on the storm rather than pray for a rainbow! Whether my glass is half empty or half full, I know that God will make sure I have all that I need in it.
The Old Testament advice is simple: stay away from the faint-hearted, pessimistic and fearful lest they infect you with their lack of faith. While we can be protected from the flu, measles, chicken pox and pneumonia, there’s no vaccine for panic, negativity or anxiety and they’re far more contagious. While at the hospital recently, I saw a sign that said, “Keep calm and wash your hands.” That’s good advice when dealing with communicable diseases and pessimism is definitely a communicable disease. When exposed to it, we don’t want it to infect us any more than we would the flu. Let’s resolve to remain calm, wash our hands, and refuse to spread it any further.
Fear is catching. He whose heart fails him makes his brethren’s heart to fail, like his heart. [Matthew Henry]