This morning, I want to take a look at fear--the emotion that arises when we feel threatened by a physical or emotional or spiritual danger (whether real or imaginary).
Since we live in a dangerous world, fear is a universal and inevitable part of the human condition. Some people experience fear relatively rarely--for others, it is their most common negative emotion. Some primarily experience fear acutely, while others experience primarily as chronic, low-grade anxiety. Some typically react to fear actively (fight), while others react passively (flight). Some experience mainly fear rooted in past traumatic events, others concerning present shocks, while still others primarily about future threats. But regardless of these differences, we all experience fear--and we must all grapple with how to understand and respond to it.
The Bible is a uniquely rich source of wisdom for doing this. I want to survey some of its wisdom this morning. Lets begin by exploring how it corrects two common misconceptions about fear
2 common misconceptions
Some people think we should always follow our fears. Others think we should never follow our fears. But this is simplistic, because of the complexity and fallenness of the world and ourselves. Fear is like a usually-reliable but sometimes defective nerve-ending that registers pain.
Some fears signal real dangers that we should avoid (ME NOT STAYING AWAY FROM HOT STOVE; AVERSIVE FEAR OF HIGHLY MANIPULATIVE PERSON). To refuse to heed these fears is foolish.
Some fears signal real dangers that we should we should face, because something is at stake that is more important than our fears (PARENT GOING INTO BURNING HOUSE TO RESCUE HER CHILD; SOLDIERS BEFORE D-DAY LANDING; JESUS GOING TO THE CROSS). To heed fear in this case is cowardice.
Some fears signal false (BURN VICTIM PARANOID ABOUT SAFE HEARTH FIRE) or exaggerated dangers (HER CHOICES WILL RUIN YOUR LIFE). In such cases, we need to refute and lean against them.
How do you know which is which? The complexity of our fears brings two things into focus:
We need a trustworthy guide to show us how to interpret the fears we are currently experiencing. In some areas, other people can do this for us (MOTHER CONCERNING NIGHT-TERRORS; DOCTOR ABOUT FEAR OF SERIOUS ILLNESS). But in the most important areas of life, only God through his Word can be this trustworthy guide.
But it is not enough to get trustworthy guidance. We also need to trust and obey that guidance instead of submitting to our fears. Even when we follow the fear signal, it is because the guide says so. Without both of these, we will be deceived and controlled by our fears--which will damage not only our own lives (LIST OF FEAR-DRIVEN SINS: mean-spiritedness; passivity; compromise; workaholism; perfectionism; rigidity & close-mindedness; stingy selfishness; dishonesty; shyness), but also the lives of others connected to us.
Some people think that faith and fear are opposites--if you have faith, you will have no fear and vice-versa. This is also simplistic and naïve. Although stronger faith in God results generally in a more fear-free life (as well see), faith is strengthened primarily by following God into frightening situations. Thats why we talk lots around here about scary steps of faith.
EXAMPLES: sharing your faith; confronting or disciplining; assuming a leadership role; taking on a new ministry; teaching the Bible; sacrificial financial generosity; leaving an unhealthy relationship; enduring persecution for your stand for Christ; confessing sin; facing and working through past issues
This kind of fear, therefore, is a sign of spiritual health (we are allowing God to develop our faith in him) and inextricably linked with healthy spiritual excitement (BUNJI-JUMPING: the thrill of seeing Christ come through is inextricably connected to the fear of stepping out to trust him). Conversely, a life that consistently avoids scary steps of faith will result in spiritual boredom and (often) increasing bondage to fear (BOA CONSTRICTOR).
In the remaining time, I want to distill the Bibles positive instruction on liberation from a fear-dominated life. Lets start with its essential (both required and the heart of it) antidote.
The essential antidote to a fear-dominated life
Do you know what the most often-repeated command in the Bible is? Not one of the 10 Commandments, but Do not fear/be afraid. And its not even close--God says this hundreds of times in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. I infer from the frequency of Gods counsel on this that this must be the most common human problem. Of course, God is not forbidding us to feel fear (that is involuntary); rather, he is commanding us not to succumb to our fears, live as slaves to our fears.
Do you know the promise/reason God always attaches to this command? Not . . . because I said so, but . . . for I am with you. Our dangers may be real, and they may be bigger than we are--but they are not bigger than the God of the Bible. And if he is with us (ACCEPTANCE, ETERNAL LIFE, AVAILABLE), we need not succumb to our fears.
Notice that I said the God of the Bible. We are not talking about God as you like to think of him, or an impersonal force, etc. We are talking about the real God, the only true God, the God who reveals himself through his Word, the Bible. This is the only God who can free us from our fears, because this God is personal, all-powerful and absolutely good and loving and faithful to his promises. It is when you belong to this God, when you entrust yourself to this God that he will deliver you from your fears.
Read Ps. 46:1-3. Why can I not fear even if my very world is rocked? How can God be my refuge and strength and help in such times? Because of Gods character (read 46:7,10,11)--he is the Lord of hosts (mighty ruler of angels) . . . the God of Jacob (faithful to keep the promises he has made to his people). It is if I belong to this God and as I entrust myself to this God that he strengthens me to overcome my fears.
Another way to state this is found in Isa. 8:12-14 (read). Isaiah had people trying to kill him. The real antidote to our fears of dangerous people, circumstances, etc. is to fear the God of the Bible. To fear God means to humbly entrust yourself to his power and faithfulness. If you fear God, then he becomes your sanctuary--the place of safety in the midst of the storm.
In other words, the root cause of a fear-dominated life is really pride--the pride that insists that I have sufficient wisdom and resources to deal with the dangers in my life. This is why Peter says that humbling ourselves under Gods mighty and caring hand is the key (read 1 Pet. 5:6,7).
Have you ever entrusted personally yourself to this God? Have you admitted that you cannot handle life without this God? Have you admitted that trying to handle life without this God is rebellion and inevitably brings the fear-filled consequence of living without his leadership and protection? If not, I beg you to turn from this posture and bow to this God and ask him to forgive your for your rebellion through his Sons death. Then you will belong to him and he will be with you through his Holy Spirit. Then he can deliver you from your fears.
Fighting through your fears
Of course, receiving Christ does not mean that you will never have fear again. You still live in a dangerous world, and following Christ will lead you into additional scary situations. It means that you now have God with you--but you will have to learn how to entrust yourself to God over and over again in area after area of your life. God will teach you how to do this primarily through his Word. I think the best section of the Bible for learning how to trust God with your fears is Psalms. Here are some of the key practical lessons they teach us in this area.
Admit your fears to yourself, to God and to the people of God (Ps. 38:4-12). This includes admitting when you feel like God has abandoned you (Ps. 13:1,2; 44:23-25).
Like sin, fears power tends to grow in darkness--but its power is often weakened by bringing it out into the light. There is something about confessing my fears, naming them to God and other friends that often begins to cut them down to size.
MEN ESPECIALLY NEED TO DO THIS! I feel sorry for you if you dont have this!
This is the necessary starting point, but you cant stay here or you will drown in your fears. You have to take your fears captive to what God says . . .
Meditate on Gods Word. Biblical meditation is not emptying your mind by chanting a mantra; it is filling your mind with truth. Meditations purpose is to let Gods truth make its full and proper impact on ones mind and heart. It is a matter of talking to oneself about God and oneself; it is, indeed, often a matter of arguing with oneself, reasoning oneself out of moods of doubt and unbelief in to a clear apprehension of Gods power and grace.1 This kind of meditation takes two forms:
Focus on and affirm Gods character rather than your fears (Ps. 103:1,8,13,14,19,22b NLT). As we do this, the threats driving our fears are cut down to their proper size. They may indeed be formidable, but God is more powerful.
Remember Gods track-record of faithfulness to his people (Ps. 77:11-15) and to you (Ps. 34:4; 13:5,6). Learning the story-line of the whole Bible helps, because you see Gods big picture faithfulness throughout history. Reflecting on your own history with God (both when you trusted him and when you didnt) is a huge help.
NOTE: When you do this regularly (including when you arent attacked by fears), you will handle fears much better when they do attack!
NOTE: When you are attacked by fears, start by doing this alone. But you may need to ask another mature Christian to help you in both areas of meditation.
Affirm your trust in God in your present situation by determining to obey him in the step before you (Ps. 32:5; 1 Pet. 4:19).
Often, it is not until we take this step that God actually liberates us from the fearful feelings and replacing them with a sense of his peace.
Dont make the mistake of looking too far down the road. Just take the step he has put before you, and he will give you the power to stand there, his peace, and direction for the next step.
What to expect
We should not expect a fear-free life until Jesus returns. Until then, there will be dangers that come upon us and cause fear and following Jesus to rescue others will take us into fear-filled situations.
But if you receive Christ and let him teach you how to fight through your fears, you can expect:
Increasing freedom from bondage to different fears
Increasing confidence that God will be with you no matter what befalls you
Increasing ability to help others trust God with their fears
1 J. I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 23