I love how “don’t be afraid” is one of the most common phrases, and yet one of the most impossible things to do. More than 365 times the Bible expresses a variation of “fear not” or “do not be afraid.” Isaiah 41:10, Joshua 8:1, Matthew 10:28, and Luke 8:50 are just a few. So why would God command his people to do the impossible?
Last week I introduced you to Dr. Dan B. Allender and Dr. Tremper Longman III’s book The Cry of the Soul and briefly addressed righteous and unrighteous anger. We’re going to explore it a little further this week and check out fear. Their words have given me invaluable insight to my own experiences and I think it’ll be helpful for you as well.
It’s important to note that fear is a normal human emotion. It was given to us along with grief, joy, and anger and it is part of how we’re designed. It can function as a warning light when something is going wrong, and it can keep us from harm. This is good! We can’t simply eradicate fear from our existence, so stop trying. The pressure is off. It’s okay to be afraid.
I didn’t always believe that. My favorite way of trying to live out “fear not,” was by simply keeping my problems as far away as possible. This meant keeping people and challenging circumstances at arms length. I’d wrap myself in a protective shield so nothing and no one could touch me. You can’t be afraid, or hurt, if you don’t care about anything. Unfortunately, at that point such a wall is no longer protection. It’s a prison.
I lived that way for many years, being in the world and yet completely shut off from the world, untouchable and yet knowing I desperately needed to be touched. Sometimes I fear the wall of self-protection has gone up again and the emptiness, loneliness and separation balloons in my heart to such an enormous size I’m paralyzed with even more fear. It’s then I have a choice: stay there, or go find someone I know will give me the big, long, hug to squash the possibility of such a wall going up again. If there isn’t a person, I can choose to remember the choice I made years ago and live it out regardless of what my circumstances say.
Fear distorts our sense of reality. We stop thinking about what is and we start living as though what might be is certain to happen, or has already happened. In actuality, nothing has changed but our perspective.
In The Cry of the Soul, Allender and Longman point out, “It all boils down not to whether we fear, but what and whom we fear." As mentioned, to live without fear is to cease to be human. Fear is part of humanity. We can’t escape it.
As Christians, we’re meant to follow Christ. Many think he lived without fear, but if we take a close look at Jesus’ life, specifically his time in Gethsemane, we find that to be untrue. He was horrified of the assault that would come upon him from his fellow man, and even more of his inevitable separation from the Father whom he’d known complete oneness with for eternity past.
We need to be careful we don’t “spritualize away the depth of Christ’s fear." He was fully man as he was fully God and he felt fear down to his very bones. That being said, Jesus also lived a life without sin. It’s worth noting that it’s possible to be afraid, deathly afraid, without sinning. Fear itself is not a sin.
While the Word tells us very clearly not to be afraid, it also tells us what we should fear: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” (Proverbs 1:7). Jesus, when in the Garden, ultimately came to the conclusion he was to fear God more than man, and we know how his story ended. He wasn’t able to endure the cross because he was without fear, but because his fear of the Father was far greater than his fear of man. “Fear of God strips away all other fears and compels us to deal with God, transcendent and infinitely higher than any mere mortal fear."
“Fear faced is a heart exposed. The stronger the fear, the greater the clarity regarding the object of our fear. Fear clarifies by exposing whom (and what) we serve.” Fearing God doesn’t mean cowering while waiting for a blow. Rather, in the truest translation, it means to “hold in awe” and “revere.”
To fear God is to understand that “a moment of existence without him is hell… and is to be stunned speechless that the weight of His fury and rejection crushed His Son, not us.” To put it another way, “To fear God is to fear His intense, radically other-centered love. Perfect love casts out fear, because that kind of love is more frightening than any fear of earthly harm.”
Neither busyness or distraction put a stop to fear, so ditch those as soon as possible. They only eventually exhaust us, until we’re “stripped of the facade and we see just how much fear is behind our work, hobbies, duties, and responsibilities. When we’re worn out from all we’re used to doing, the pretense of control evaporates.” Control is merely a comfortable word we use to explain our lack of trust and surrender to God.
So what do we do?
Acknowledge your fears. Struggle with your worry. “It’s only after struggle that you will experience lasting peace. Through scripture and prayer, remember God’s power and his marvelous acts of past help.” Not only stories of His help in the Bible, but memories of His help in your life. Then, with the confidence you’ve gained, go into the world.
“Keep in mind that the safe places, those with no hurt, are also places with no joy.” I can attest that this is true. You think you have joy because you don’t have pain, but when you do finally experience true joy, you realize just how much you were missing out. So choose fear, and let it be fear of the Lord so you can experience joy in the Lord as well.