Transfer your fear to God

Photo by hang_in_there. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.

Photo by hang_in_there. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.

Last time, I discussed how fear is relational. That is, when we feel afraid of something, there’s a person behind that fear. We can ask God to show us who we’re afraid of and why.

Now how do we get out of this fear trap? How can we be free from being afraid of this person?

From my research on fear in the Bible, here are some principles that point toward a solution:

  • We overcome our fear of people by fearing God instead.
  • Fearing God is a combination of recognizing His ability to do more harm than any human person and revering Him as a perfectly loving and caring Father.
  • Fearing people and fearing God are mutually exclusive. In other words, when we fear one, we cannot fear the other.
  • It is perfectly normal to feel fear. However, the problem arises when we act out of our fear of people. Instead, we are to act out of our fear of God and our trust in Him.
  • We lose our fear of people when we focus on Jesus and retrain our emotions to fear God instead of people.

In light of these principles, here’s some exercises to try:

  • The next time you feel fear, ask God to show you who is behind the fear. Wait until you get a name, or a face, or an image of a person. Once you have that, ask how this person is threatening you. (This part is the same exercise I proposed last time.) Now ask God two things: 1) Lord, how are You actually more threatening than that? 2) Lord, how are You more caring than that?
    • Jesus once used this technique on his disciples. He said, “Don’t fear those who can just kill the body. Rather, fear the one who can not only kill the body, but also throw your soul into hell.” He then immediately followed up with a teaching of God’s Fatherly care. This means that God’s awesome power and God’s loving care always come together.
    • The point is to be able to live out this principle: “The LORD is my helper; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?” If you truly see how threatening God really is and yet how caring He is, then the power of other people looks quite puny in comparison.
  • Try saying “I feel afraid” instead of “I am afraid.” This simple tweak is aimed at helping you separate your emotions from your core being. Then say, “God, at my core I’m fully loved by You.” Because as a Christian, that’s the truth. Talk with God about whatever comes up in your heart as you say these lines.
  • Spend time enjoying God’s goodness. Journal how He has taken care of you or how He gives you joy. Write down what a perfect father would look like to you, then ask God to show you in the Bible how He is like that.

Question: How does thinking about God’s power and care help you overcome your fear?

 Leave a comment to continue our conversation.

Fear is relational

What is fear?

I got a great question on this post. A friend asked me how I understood fear. He said I portrayed it as being the opposite of courage, and he wanted more. Well, I couldn’t just write a small comment because it was such an important question, so here’s two posts specifically about fear.

Photo by LWPrencipe. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.

Photo by LWPrencipe. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.

Fear is what we feel when we perceive a specific threat to our well-being. The deep thought, whether conscious or unconscious, is “I’m in danger here!” The key point is that the threat doesn’t have to be real, only that we think that it is. The other point is that fear is in response to something specific. Having general concern is anxiety.

Lots of situations in life can cause us fear. You’re hiking and you hear a mountain lion. Your child is running toward the street. You’re walking down the roughest street in your city, and it’s getting dark.

In the Bible, fear is typically relational. That is, fear comes in response to another person threatening our well-being.

If we think about it, this makes sense. When we’re afraid we’ll bomb a test at school, what’s really at stake is that our parents, our friends, or our teachers will look down on us. When we’re afraid about how our parenting is perceived, it’s because we don’t want to be denigrated in the eyes of observers. When taking on a new project causes us to fear, it’s because we don’t want to be condemned by a certain person if we fail.

In light of this, it’s good for us to stop here and dig deeper into our fears. Here’s an exercise for you:

The next time you feel fear, ask God to show you who is behind the fear. Wait until you get a name, or a face, or an image of a person. Once you have that, you can start asking how this person is threatening you. Bear in mind, the other person might not be external. You may in fact be threatening yourself! (Note: If you find yourself fearing God in a debilitating way, I encourage you to talk to an emotionally safe spiritual friend, a supportive small group, or a spiritual director as soon as possible.)

In the next post, I’ll discuss how we can get out of this fear trap.

Question: What’s causing you fear in your life right now? Who do you think is behind that?

Leave a comment to continue the conversation.

Doing mission with a partner

(This is Part 6 in a series exploring the theme of adventure. Here are the links for Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4, and Part 5.)

 We’ve talked about mission, risk, fear, courage, and obedience. Seems like a straightforward-enough package. What’s left to talk about?

Photo by Justin Shearer. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.

Photo by Justin Shearer. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.

God’s presence, that’s what. If we try to tackle a mission by ourselves, it’s not going to work. No human being can provide you with enough courage to tackle the God-sized mission you have. Only God can do it.

Only God can overcome your fear, terror, and discouragement. Only God can truly give you courage.

And only God makes obedience not a spectator sport. He’s not off in the distance, watching us and evaluating us like Olympic judges. He’s with us, aiding us with his perfectly benevolent presence while we do it (and even when we blow it).

It’s so easy to lose sight of God’s presence amidst the frenetic activity of our days. How do we keep aware of it? Here’s some suggestions:

  • Pause for one moment and ask, “God, where are You right now?” Listen for His answer.
  • Ask yourself at the end of each day, “Where did I see God today?” Journal your answers. Periodically read them to encourage yourself.

Question: What do you do to stay aware of God?

Leave a comment to continue our conversation.

The right way…and the other ways

(This is Part 5 in a series exploring the theme of adventure. Here are the links for Part 1Part 2Part 3, and Part 4.)

 We have something we believe we MUST do. Now how do we go about doing it? There’s a right way, and there’s a whole bunch of wrong ways. That’s what obedience is all about.

Photo by Steve Snodgrass. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.

Photo by Steve Snodgrass. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.

Now we get down to the nitty-gritty. Joshua was being exhorted by God to be strong and courageous. But to what end? The major theme of verses 6-9 is obeying the Law. Joshua’s courage was to be put in the service of obeying the Law. And obeying the Law would give him success in his mission to lead God’s people into the Promised Land.

So now we see that courage has an aim to it. The aim to do what’s right. The aim to obey all God has said.

Isn’t that often the case? We’re afraid of doing the right thing. We’re rather do the safe thing, or the thing that’s acceptable to others, or the thing that we know we can do easily. But none of those things are often the right thing, at least not when push comes to shove.

So now we see the scheme. We’re on a mission from God. The mission rightfully prompts fear in us, both because it’s so big and because we’re personally invested in it. We overcome our fear through courage. And we employ our courage so that we do what’s right, what God commands, so that we can be successful in our mission.

As busy people, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s right in favor of what’s useful, or functional, or what will resolve a problem as quickly as possible so we can move on to the next thing. Or worse, we know what’s right, but our willpower fades and we choose a different way, to our own detriment.

Just as Joshua was commanded to meditate on the Law day and night so he’d do it and not go off in the wrong direction, so too do we need to keep God’s Law in our hearts and minds so we go the right way with all our activity.

So how do we keep God’s Law in front of us in the midst of our busy lives? Here are some suggestions:

  • Ask God one question: What are you doing today? When you receive an answer, join Him in it. (Ask how if you need more direction.)
  • This post contains suggestions for a minimalist way to read Scripture and let it sink into your heart.

Question: How do you keep God’s Law at the forefront of your mind as you work?

Leave a comment to continue our conversation.

Stare fear in the face…and keep going

(This is Part 4 in a series exploring the theme of adventure. Here are the links for Part 1Part 2, and Part 3.)

It’s one thing to feel fear about the big things you want to do in life. It’s another thing to stay there, feeling fear and having nothing else. This is where courage comes in.

Photo by Leonard John Matthews. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.

Photo by Leonard John Matthews. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.

“Be strong and courageous.” Joshua is told this three times in the space of four verses. This exhortation from God frames the major theme of the Bible passage we’re working through.

Let’s be clear: courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is the ability to act in the presence of fear. It means not letting fear paralyze you so that you don’t work toward completing your mission.

What does courage look like?

It can be saying no to other things so that you focus on what’s truly important. It can be doing so even if you take flak from other people.

It can be keeping at a task even when you’re deathly afraid.

It can be persevering even when everyone else drops out because you believe so strongly in the mission.

It means seeing how you’re risking yourself – your reputation, your financial status, your security – to do this task, and then doing it anyway.

You know what really helps? Encouragers. Having people literally pour courage into you. If you’re staring at a big task and you don’t have any encouragers, stop what you’re doing right now and go get some.

Question: Where in your life are you being prompted to be courageous? Who is helping you have that courage?

Leave a comment to continue our conversation.