Thursday, April 02, 2009

Freedom from Fear

Growing up on a farm gave me opportunity to face a few of my fears. One summer I had to face two of my greatest fears at the same time: heights and rats. We had a big white rat infested barn and that summer I was required to go into the barn, climb a ladder, walk along a 2x4, descend into the right bin, and shovel oats into a bucket to feed the horse. While I don’t remember seeing a rat (though I made sure I tucked my pant legs into my boots to prevent any running up my leg) and didn’t come close to breaking my neck I still get chills thinking about it. The truth of the matter is that I allowed my imagination to make it worse than it really was.

Fear is a common experience that we all feel. We are afraid of different things and some of us carry around more fear than others, no one has been able to escape the grip of fear. Whether it is the fear of rats or the fear of public speaking or the fear of the dark fear is a part of our lives.

When we examine our fears we realize that some of them are very practical. For instance a fear of heights will make us cautious when we are high above the ground. A fear of drowning will help us take the proper precautions when we are out on the water. One of the benefits of fear is to help us identify dangerous situations.

That is probably why our irrational fears seem so rational to us. These fears make us think about the worst that can happen, no matter how improbable that outcome may be. The result is that we avoid doing things because we are afraid of consequences that probably will never happen. Thus we miss out on the experience of God working through us because we are too afraid to live a life of faith.

Fear has the ability to consume us and hold us as slaves. The chains of fear prevent us from following Jesus to the place He wants us to go. Consider what Erwin McManus wrote in his book Uprising; “You cannot walk by faith and live in fear. You cannot walk with God and not face your fears” (p. 89). Living in fear will hold us back from living the life God created us to live.

Jesus told His followers that He came to give people abundant life (John 10:10b). We like to claim that promise, but we often ignore what Jesus said right before that. He told us that there was a thief and he was out to steal, kill, and destroy our lives (John 10:10a). I believe that fear is one of the tools Satan uses to steal and destroy the life God has given to us. Fear is a life robber.

If we are going to live the abundant life that Jesus has promised us then we have to live lives of courage. How do we do that? How does a person live a life of courage as the fear of living alone for the first in 35 years becomes overwhelming and the pain of grief is consuming the heart? How does a person live with courage when the back account is empty and the fear of not being able to provide for their family sends them into isolation even from the very family they love? How does a person live with courage when talking to people causes a sense of dread that has them freezing up in even the most causal of conversations and prevents them from serving the way they know God has called them to serve?

I am afraid there are no sure fire remedies, but as a fellow prisoner of fear let me offer a few words of advice that have helped me as I have faced my fears.

I know that it sounds clich├ęd but I think the first and most important thing we can do when our lives are full of fear is to pray. The apostle Peter reminds us; 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:6, 7; ESV). When we pray about our fears I don’t think we should ask God to remove our fears, but rather I think I we should ask God to provide us with wisdom and courage so we can manage and work through our fears. If we ask God to remove our fear then we are liable to be disappointed. God uses our fear to build our trust in Him and to develop our character. Instead of asking God to remove our fear we should ask God for wisdom and strength so we use our fear to become more like the people He created us to be.

A second piece of advice I would like to offer you is to develop friendships. One of the things I have noticed about the fear I have had in my life is that I have nurtured it by isolating myself from other people. It is when I am lonely and isolated from others that I become overwhelmed with fear. By isolating myself I allow fear to consume my life.

We need people. This is one of the truths Solomon came to realize as he pondered life. This is what he wrote:
9 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12; ESV)

Making an effort to be with people has always been a source of encouragement to me. Even if I never tell them about the fear that is dwelling in my heart their presence brings hope and courage to my heart. When we have people by our sides it is much easier to face the fears that are haunting our lives.

One last word of advice that I would give is to remember the big picture. My fears grow and multiply when I focus on the right now. We all live in the immediate and by doing so we can forget not only what God has done in the past, but also the promise God has made for the future. We need to remember that this life isn’t all there is, there is more. Jesus said:
4 “But I tell you, my friends, never be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can't do anything more. 5 I'll show you the one you should be afraid of. Be afraid of the one who has the authority to throw you into hell after killing you. Yes, I tell you, be afraid of him! (Luke 12:4-5; ISV)


One of the things Jesus meant by this is that we shouldn’t be fearful of the things right now because they are temporary. Once we are dead those things will cease to hold any terror for us. Instead of allowing our lives to be consumed by fear with the here and now we need to set our eyes on heaven. The hope of heaven should help us manage our fears.

Jesus came to give us abundant life, but we have an enemy who wants to destroy that life. Fear is one of the weapons in his arsenal to take away our life. When we succumb to our fears we are letting Satan steal our lives. God doesn’t want us to live in fear, but to live with courage and faith. Paul reminded Timothy about the nature of the spirit God has given Christians: For God did not give us a spirit of timidity but one of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7; ISV). Fear is not part of God’s plan for your life.

Fear will always be a part of your life, but it doesn’t have to define your life. It is possible to face your fears if you are willing to be honest with God in prayer, be intentional about being with other people, and nurturing your hope for heaven. Don’t let fear rob you of life any longer.

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