Face Down Fear
What are you afraid of?...
… First day of school? No friends? Not having enough money? An angry boss? Forgetting things? Being alone? A "terminal" disease? Getting into an accident? Losing your family members? Dying in a war zone? Another terrorist attack?
God, His angels, and the Biblical writers, prophets, Messiah, and apostles all have a response to those fears: "Fear not." And they say, "Fear not," a lot!
Fear not! Why? Why shouldn't we be afraid when all these horrible things could happen to us? We could get hurt or be embarrassed or suffer loss. Well, the real questions are: Why should we fear? What does fear do for us? Not much. There's no real benefit to fear. For the most part, fear doesn't help us think more clearly, learn more quickly, or act more confidently. Rather, fear often clouds our reasoning, making us scared of the "what ifs," which are usually negative.
At the same time, if we do find ourselves afraid, fear should not keep us from doing anything we want to do. FDR's often quoted phrase, "There's nothing to fear but fear itself," gives way too much power to fear. How is being afraid of fear supposed to help us be courageous in the face of danger or new adventures? Courage doesn't mean not being afraid. Courage means being brave in the face of fear. There's no convincing reason why we should be afraid of fear. There are a lot of extreme situations when people would say that if we aren't afraid, we're being foolish. So, what we need to learn is how to face fear, live through it, conquer it.
"Fear not" is one of my favorite commands in the Bible, as it's the beginning of healing and understanding.
- "Fear not" is what Elisha told his servant when they discovered that the Syrians (the enemy) had them surrounded (II Kings 6:16). Elisha prayed that his servant's eyes could be opened to see the "chariots of fire" (17) that surrounded and protected them. They were able to lead the Syrians to the king of Israel and negotiate peace.
- "Fear not" is what Jesus told Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, when one of Jairus's servants came to him and told him that his twelve-year-old daughter had just died. Jesus had been on the way to Jairus's house, but while enroute, through the mass of people surrounding Jesus, a woman with an "issue of blood twelve years" came and touched Jesus's robe and was healed instantly (Luke 8:43-48). Jesus stopped and talked with her. When the messenger told him about the girl, Jesus responded: "Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole" (50). And she was! Jesus began most of his healings by telling people not to be afraid.
- "Fear not" is what the angels told the women who came to Jesus's tomb after he was crucified and couldn't find him because he had resurrected (Matt. 28:5). Their lives were changed as a result. They understood that life is eternal. They spread the fantastic news to the rest of the disciples. The disciples, understanding the power God had given to them (to all of us) started healing people as Jesus healed people.
How did these two simple words give them comfort, courage, strength, power, and freedom? Jesus told a group of followers, "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). The truth is that fear has no real power. Once these people were able to stop being afraid, they could trust God. It's impossible to trust God and be afraid at the exact same time. We can't do both. Either we know that God is in control of the situation, or we believe He isn't. And the truth is that God is in control, regardless of what circumstances make us believe. God is telling us:
For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee. (Isa. 41:13)
What more could we want to give us peace? God is holding our hand, helping us. There are so many incredible stories and passages in the Bible dealing with fear. That in itself is comforting. We're not along in feeling fearful -- no, indeed. And we do not need to be alone in conquering fear either, since God is always with us.
Even though it often seems like it, fear is not really in our nature. God did not create us to be fearful:
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. (II Tim. 1:7)
God has imbued us with the power of love. John records what love does for us:
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear. (I John 4:18)
When we love God supremely, when we allow ourselves to be completely filled with love, we cannot fear others, even our enemies (for we are loving them). Fear and love cannot abide in the same space. It may be really difficult to love bullies at school or vindictive co-workers or terrorists. But if we don't, who will? That does not mean that we roll over and play dead. While David, as he was becoming the king, had to flee for his life from Saul and later had to flee from his son, Absalom, who wanted his kingdom, David's own army fought for him. Many of the psalms he wrote reveal how he turned to God to help him conquer his fears and his enemies:
I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about. (Ps. 3:6)
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell. Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident. One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple. (Ps. 27:1-4)
If we live in God's house, no enemy -- be it in the form of a person, a group, a nightmare, a phobia -- can touch us. Fears are truly like nightmares. When we awake from the nightmare, we realize that what we were dreaming, though quite scary, is not real. Therefore, it has no power over us, unless we consent to give it power.
Usually what we're afraid of is something unknown in the future. Usually there is no real corroborating evidence to support our fears: what if the plane crashes; what if I fail the test, what if nobody likes me, what if I lose my job…? The future is always in the future. That's the very nature of it. So why give the future the power to ruin our present? If something bad happens, we will be better equipped to handle it if we do not let fear govern our actions and make us do foolish things we may regret later. We need to be careful, though, of creating self-fulfilling prophecies. Sometimes we give so much credence to our fears that we make them real and experience the effects of fear: "For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me" (Job 3:25).
Sometimes, though, our fears are based on what some would call more substantial evidence. Since 9/11, we have the "Terror Alert" system. The Terror Alert level rises when people in the government have good evidence to suggest that there is a high possibility that terrorists are planning an attack. The alerts are there to put us on our guard and help us be more aware of what to do and where to go. They are not to make us afraid. We cannot give too much power to the terrorists. We cannot stop living our lives. More importantly, we cannot believe that terrorists of any kind are more powerful than God. If we fear them, then they have won. If we give into their fear tactics, then we have given them power to control our lives with fear. Are we going to give up our faith in God? No!
"Any kind" of terrorists includes other terrors we face -- pain, disease, accident, famine, family arguments, divorce, lack of money, scary dreams, death. When God or His angels tell us not to fear, they don't give us a "fear not list" that excludes ailments. "Fear not" is meant to comfort and encourage us in any situation. Because God is with us, we can be confident and say with the psalmist:
What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee. In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me. (Ps. 56:3, 4)
But we must take a stand against fear. We must defend our thinking from the effects of fear and kick them out of our thoughts and experiences as vigorously as a mother bear defends her cubs from attacks. If we honestly and courageously understand the truth that we are safe in God's constant care, then we truly have nothing to fear. Fear will cease to have power over us and eventually fade from our experience as easily as the dark of night gives way to the light of day.
Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any. (Isa. 44:8)