I've heard it said that there are 365 spots where the Bible says "Do not be afraid." I'm not actually sure of the validity of this statement, but I do know that it seems to be a constantly reoccurring theme throughout. I am often tempted to read into this command a promise of my own: that God will protect me from the things I fear.
And herein lies the temptation of the prosperity gospel, the idea that I will succeed in what I want because God is by my side.
In chapter 7 of Isaiah, we find the country of Judah in a tough spot: Assyria, with one of the most powerful militaries in the world, is headed their way and in their own backyard is the now-enemy nation of Israel. Obviously, the people have some fear-related emotions about this. I'd imagine it was somewhat comforting when the Lord's prophet arrived with a message that started, "Be careful, keep calm and don't be afraid' (Isa. 7:4). I'm sure there was a sigh of relief as they prepared to hear the promise of military victory with the help of the Almighty God.
And I'm sure their hearts dropped into their stomachs when the promise they received was quite different: "The Lord will bring on you and your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah-- he will bring the king of Assyria" (Isaiah 8:6). I wonder if they even heard the words that followed, the detailed prophesy of how their land would be destroyed. Because how could God tell them not to be afraid when he was promising them destruction? Wasn't God supposed to never give them more than they could handle?
And this is where the prosperity gospel falls to pieces. Sometimes God calls us not to fear, but also promises us defeat at the hands of our enemies. Sometimes the race we thought we were supposed to be running well was actually a path God never called us to walk. Sometimes "do not fear" doesn't mean "you will be successful," but actually means "I will still be Lord after your failure." We have been promised victory, but we were never promised victory on our terms or by our definition.
So why would He tell me not to fear if He isn't also promising safety? A few lines later the prophesy continues, "Do not fear what they fear and do not dread it. The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear" (Isa. 8:13).
This is not an easy truth, but it is an important one. The "Do not fear" command is not a promise that we will succeed. It is, instead, a promise that even in the face of what we see as earth-shattering failure, God is still on His throne and He is still good. He is still perfect in all of His ways.
"Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea." Psalm 46:2