Some Quick Thoughts on Fear

Fear is one of the most crippling things in life. It causes us to fall back in the face of opposition or danger.  It prevents us from taking advantage of great opportunities that could alter our lives for the good.  It leads us to play it safe when anything worth having involves some level of risk.

Too much of life is dominated by fear.  Fear to move. Fear to try. Fear to love. Fear to hope. Fear to risk.  Sure there is room for a healthy dose of “fear” that, hopefully, causes us to pause and assess the risk-reward ratio before we do something completely foolish, but what I’m talking about is that level of fear that prevents us from even such an assessment.

2 Timothy 1:7 teaches that God hasn’t given a spirit of fear, but love, power and a sound mind.  Each of these things take something very important: boldness.  It takes great boldness to love, to exercise power and to think straight, putting behind us stifling thoughts and irrationality that prevents us from truly living; from fulfilling all that God has for us.  In this verse, Paul tells us that those things are provisions from God.  They are gifts given to us through the Holy Spirit of God to those who are His.

In whatever form fear may try to creep into your life, remember this verse of promise from God that has become very special to me as I engage in battle with my own fears:

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will hold on to you with my righteous hand.”  Isaiah 41:10

If this is true and we determine to take God at His Word, how could fear ever have any power over God’s Children?  Today is the day to conquer fear in your own life, once and for all, through the power of the Holy Spirit of God who has already defeated it!

Plan B

I like a backup plan.  Sometimes I feel I need a backup plan.  OK, I always feel like I need a backup plan.  Maybe you do, too.  After all, who’s gonna jump from an airplane without at least two rip cords, right?  

The question I want to ponder a little bit is this: Is it bad to have a “Plan B”?  Is it good planning or is there something deeper, at least for the disciple of Christ?  Is it sin?  Hm, that seems a little harsh, at best.  Consider something I ran across while reading in Ezra (8:21-23):

I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. 22 For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.” 23 So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.

Let’s analyze that a little bit: Ezra proclaimed a fast for a specific reason…well, two, really, but one was primary (and it might not be the one you would think).  One reason was for their protection.  That’s important. It’s clearly not wrong to pray for protection on a trip, but that’s not the primary reason.  His greatest concern was his testimony before the king.  He had been declaring the importance of faith in God (notice the condition: “those who seek Him”), now if he calls for a plan B (“hey, just in case God doesn’t come through, could you give us a couple of escorts?”), it would totally undermine his testimony of faith in God.  In other words, Ezra saw the importance of practicing what he preached!

After fasting and praying (not just assuming God’s protection), he then declared that God heard their prayer…before they ever left! He demonstrated his faith in God at the onset, knowing he didn’t need a plan B.  Look at what he said again: “So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.” (verse 23).  Then they headed out.  

Now, skip down to verse 31 and see Ezra’s testimony of what God did after the journey:

31 Then we departed from the river Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go to Jerusalem. The hand of our God was on us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambushes by the way. 

I have to admit, there are many times I start off the way Ezra did, asking for God’s protection, then work out my contingency plan just in case.  That is nothing short of a lack of faith in God’s protection and deliverance.  Think about it this way:  What if by my disobedience, my plan puts me out of the will of God?  After all, is my safety the utmost in God’s mind?  What if, in spite of my request for safety, God is most glorified (which is my highest desire) by me not being delivered?  There are certainly plenty of accounts in history that demonstrate that.  The most important thing for me should be to be in the center of His will, so that whatever happens to me, I’m OK in His eternal care and He’s glorified.

So, do you find yourself looking for “Plan B”?  Do you trust God enough to pray for protection, believing that He will come through, but OK with whatever He chooses to do in and with your life?  That takes a lot of faith, doesn’t it?  My encouragement to the Christ-followers is to realize that faith is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9) and that if you aren’t able to trust Him to that extent, start asking Him for it.

Planning isn’t a bad thing.  As a matter of fact, Proverbs teaches us repeatedly to do that very thing.  However, if our plans start undermining trust in the strong hand of the Lord, our trust in the “reserve chute” will lead us right into a deeper form of danger than anything we’ll ever face in our day-to-day lives.  That is living (and dying) outside the will and protection of God. It will be then that we find that pulling that second cord doesn’t work either.

Fear Factor

    

I’ve been thinking alot about fear lately.  As a matter of fact, it’s what I talked about this past Sunday at The Gathering.  I’m not talking about just any fear, but the fear of living honestly before people.  Being authentic without feeling the need to alter who you are to please someone else based on what you think they want you to be.  Living that is as crazy as all that sounds!

Our culture has gotten to the point where living what used to be considered deviant lives is now the norm; it’s cool.  It’s what’s expected.  Living a life of faith in Christ, let’s face it, is not.  Now, to be clear, saying you’re down with Jesus is fine, so long as it doesn’t alter your lifestyle from what everyone else is doing; so long as there are no demands placed on your autonomy. Make sense?  To do otherwise takes a great deal of courage. 

So, I’ve tried to come up with how we can overcome this fear.  Are there the typical 3 steps  to overcoming fear of man?  Can I will myself to do it?  Is living an honest life of faith in front of everyone something that should just come naturally?  All good questions, I think…few good answers.  To each of those questions, I’m left with a resounding no (if I’m honest).  Though that third one is a little tricky.  No, it doesn’t come natural to me because I want to be accepted by other people.  That’s sort of the way we’re made.  Yet, shouldn’t it come naturally for someone who has come into relationship with Christ?  Ah, there’s the rub.  It should, but the key there is the word relationship.

Relationship comes through spending time with someone.  With that comes intimacy.  The more time I spend with Christ, the closer I get to Him and the more influence He has over me.  The old saying is that you become like the person you hang with the most.  True here.  The deeper my love-relationship with Christ is, the less room fear has in my life because “perfect love drives out fear.”  (1 John 4:18)  It’s like the old hymn goes: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus; look full in His wonderful face; and the things of earth will grow strangely dim…”.  There is something mysterious at work as we focus more and more on Christ, there is less room to care about what other people are thinking about that relationship.

Did you see the movie Shallow Hal?  Hal gets to know Gwyneth Paltrow’s character and falls in love with her even though everyone else (especially his “best” friend) thought he was crazy.  The more he got to know her (even when he discovered what she really looked like), the less he cared about what anybody else thought.  Same principle.

So, is there a quick and easy way to get over the fear factor involved with living your life of faith honestly before everybody?  Nope.  It’s just like any other relationship: it takes time, effort, investment and intimacy.  But before too long, you’ll begin to experience a healthy case of apathy in regards to others opinions and a freedom to be exactly who you were created to be.

Agree or disagree?  Let me know.  Do you experience this fear factor now?  Have you overcome it? If so, what got you to that point?  I’d love for you to leave a comment here, since I’m sure others could glean from your experience or struggles.  Plus, I’d love to interact with you.  Thanks!

Eight-Foot Ceilings

I don’t have the resources.  I don’t have the money.  I don’t have the time.  I don’t have the talent.  I’m scared of what will happen if it fails.  I don’t know how people will react to it.

Man, am I used to hearing these sentences.  Who am I kidding…I’m used to saying these things.  We call them excuses; reasons not to__________ (you fill in the blank).  Reasons not to do what I have the potential to do; to do what needs to be done; to do what I’ve dreamt of doing; to do what God has called me to do.  They are different excuses, but all have the same result: regret.

fearWhat is the motivator?  Fear.  Always fear.  Some might call it reality, or level-headedness, or good management.  I call it fear.  It is that thing that paralyzes us, keeping us from doing what can be done…what ought to be done.  It doesn’t seem to matter that fear is not of God and “if God be for us, who can be against us.”  The reality is that we still become neutralized into mediocrity.  We still get relegated to the sidelines of complacency because we would rather play it safe and deal with the minimal results than risk losing it all…or achieving it all.

I’m working through Mark Batterson’s book, In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, with our men’s group on Tuesday mornings, and am challenged yet again to stop settling for all that the enemy wants for me.  Did you hear that?  Usually, Christians talk about all that God wants for us, but the reality, we usually settle for all the enemy wants for us.  See, if he can keep me so afraid that I never attempt God-sized goals, I’ll always fall short of what I was created for.  So, exactly what is a God-sized goal?  I guess it depends on how big God is to you.  To quote Batterson, God is the size of your biggest problem.

We’re about to celebrate Easter.  Actually, a more accurate statement would be to say that we’re about to observe Easter (after all, as the President told the Turkish people, “we don’t refer to ourselves as a ‘Christian nation,’ but a nation of citizens…”).  Well, true or not, many of us will be celebrating Easter, the resurrection of Jesus.  The question we must ask ourselves is whether we believe the same power that could give life back to Jesus can breathe life into the impossible in my life.  In your life.  Can God do the impossible?  If we believe that He can, can He do it in you?  How, then, do we get from the point of believing it in our head to acting on it everyday?  If we only believe it in our heads but it is not a reality in our lives, can we really say we believe it?  I mean, really, big deal!

If I believe that, I’m going to prayerfully be expecting the supernatural.  I’m going to begin attempting things that should not be able to happen.  hopeI’m going to begin to expect things that are not according to my limitations, but are based upon His limitless power and provision.  I’m going to begin asking Him to do things that I know are otherwise impossible.  It’s time to get past the platitudes!  I’m sick of hearing…of saying…how much God can do, but “I’m just not there yet.”  That’s a cop-out.  If God can, then God will do much more than I have seen Him do in me for His glory.

It’s long past time to stop expecting less than what we say we believe.  It’s unbecoming for one who says he’s put faith in an omnipotent God.  Maybe that’s the reason Newsweek has declared “The End of Christian America”.  Maybe it’s because we’ve gotten too caught up in an institutional religion and forsaken the real God who changes lives and makes an impact in not only us, but the world around us.  If that’s the case, then I hope that Christian America does die and can be replaced with people who want and expect an America where those who claim to know Jesus will look for Him to move within and through us; that we become the organism, rather than the organization (which is a terrible representation of who He is and what He does in a life anyway).  Now that’s the kind of America I want to live in.

May it start in me!

Fear, Itself. – 1 John 4:18-21

I’ve really had to chew on this passage and, to some degree, am continuing to chew as I write to see if what I’m thinking makes sense.  John says in 1 John 4:18 that, “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”  Honestly, I think that verse is often used divorced from the rest of the section and without context.  I often hear that used in reference to taking risks to love other people.  In the narrow context, I think that misses the point, though in the broader context, it is still applicable.  However, if we don’t look at the context, we can miss the central meaning.

This verse (and the entire section that we’re looking at today) must be taken together with the verses that we read yesterday.  John talked in 13-17 about the witness of the Holy Spirit in our lives, giving us internal assurance of our place within the family of God.  In essence, he says that because of the love God has shown them (the apostles) through Christ, they have come to believe in the love of God which leads us (by extension through their testimony) to a confidence that we will not face judgment.  That is the verse leading into the section for today, so the context is that we need not fear judgment because of the love of God.  That is the central idea: Because of the perfect love of Christ, if we are abiding in Him (finding our hope, contentment, purpose, etc.), we will have no fear of the future because perfect(ed) love casts it out.

So, really, John is giving us yet another test of how we can be certain of our standing with God through the absence of fear for the future, knowing in our souls (because of that indwelling testimony of the Holy Spirit) that we have been made right with God.  It doesn’t stop there, though.  John goes back to the idea of loving others as being partnered with this indwelling testimony.  There must be an outward expression of the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit.  Namely, loving others.

Sure, it’s great to feel the confidence of our eternal security by a lack of fear of death.  Yet, if that is not coupled with unconditional love for others (which is commanded–see verse 21), we are still dealing with emotionalism or religiosity (which can often mimic a real relationship with Christ).  THAT is the marker of a life having been transformed into the likeness of Christ, not that we simply love those who love us or who are easily lovable, but especially those whom we find it difficult to love: the least of these, the poor, the outcast, the obnoxious!  With these tests, we can certainly get a pretty accurate read on our standing with Christ.  This is John’s continued goal and mission from his Gospel:  “…these things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

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