Life teaches us lessons whether we want it to or not. We’re always learning.
When I say this, people think … When this happens, the best thing to do is… People see me as….
As we grow, these lessons (most so quietly taught that we barely notice learning them) grow and merge and teach us how to survive in this great big crazy world. They determine how respond to people and situations, how we understand our lives, how we plan for the future.
The problem, of course, is that some of the lessons we learn are wrong.
One disastrous failure, and we may write off basketball, or pottery or toilet cleaning forever. A few screaming babies may convince us that children hate us. A careless or cruel phrase may convince us that we are ugly, incapable or cursed.
For many of us, these “life lessons” can leave us trapped in cycles of fear. A terrible year of being overworked by an overbearing boss can convince us that all employers are ready to take advantage. A sickness that proved to be more than just a cold can make us paralyzed by a throat tickle for years to come.
I’m convinced that everyone suffers this problem in some area or another. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make conversation about it less tricky. In the high powered, high functioning, high efficiency world of today, fear seems like a shameful weakness.
Can I pitch you a crazy theory? I think fear (or anxiety, or worry, or whatever word we may choose to disguise it) isn’t a weakness – rather it’s the place where strength is bred.
Let’s get the bible into this conversation, and I’ll explain what I mean.
// A Word about Fear //
Before we go too far, it’s important that we realise that our instinctive definition of “fear” and the biblical one are not necessarily aligned.
In fact there are two kinds of fear, and the bible addresses both in different ways.
The first is a sense of awe or reverence. This is what the bible is talking about when it discusses “fearing the Lord”. Don’t get me wrong, some element of our reverence for God is born out of an understanding of his terrifying power, but it would be wrong to treat it in the same way as we do the second kind of fear.
The second is fear as we tend to use it in every day life – a feeling of anxiety about the future. This is the kind of fear Paul is talking about when he tells Timothy, “God has not given us a spirit of fear…” (2 Timothy 1:7). It’s this sort of fear that causes Jesus to say, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)
It’s this sort of fear I want us to focus on today. The fear that is emotional.
// An Opportunity for Faith //
I spent quite a few years working on top of a zip tower. Most of my victims were small children or middle aged women, and what they had in common was a tendency to freeze at the top of the tower. When the ground is a full 50 ft below your dangling feet, those zip cables tend to start looking a lot more flimsy.
Nevertheless, it was always the freezers who impressed me the most. They were the one who, when they finally touched down on the other side (often after some impressive screaming) were met by cheering husbands and parents. They were the one who head the acclamation, “I’m so proud of you, you were so brave.”
It brings home an important reality – one that we often overlook. The only people who have a chance to be brave, are the ones who are scared. There’s nothing brave about jumping off a tower if it’s your favorite past-time, but if you take the leap even as your knees are knocking together, that is a feat.
To be brave, you have to be afraid.
The same reality exists in life.
I suspect all of us at some point have prayed for God to increase our faith. What I think we often mean is that we hope God will fill us with some “feeling of contentment” of “assurance”, or possibly just make us want to do what we know we should be doing all along.
Nothing could be further than the biblical picture of faith. Biblical faith has nothing to do with feeling at all, instead it has everything to do with movement. More often than not, that movement is into the unknown, the uncomfortable, or the seemingly impossible.
Hebrews puts it this way,
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)
At the core of faith is a belief in something you cannot see that is so deeply rooted that you transform your whole life around it.
That’s what Abraham has stood for so long as the ultimate old testament picture of faith.
At the word of the Lord, he left behind everything that he knew and walked into the unknown. He didn’t do it because it seemed reasonable or practical (in fact all the practical evidence was against him). He did it because he fully believed the promise of God – that blessing awaited him where he went.
This is what makes fear the perfect breeding ground for faith.
It is in those moments of uncertainty or anxiety – moment when God’s way looks less than promising – that we have the opportunity for faith. It is in those moments that we can say to the Lord, “My understanding of this situation is less than yours. I will follow your instead of making my own way.”
It is in these moments that we have opportunity to be truly courageous – to choose what is right despite fear.
There is no shame in fear (it’s just a feeling after all), but where there is fear there is opportunity for glory .
The question is, will you take it?
What are your life rules?
It’s not an easy question to answer, but a good starting place is to fill one side of a sheet of paper with the word “always” and another with the word “never”, and then finish the sentence.
Always … say yes.
Never … air your dirty laundry in public.
This is a great project to bring a close friend into. You’d be shocked how much better they might be at spotting your rules than you are.
As you construct your list, as the question: Are these true? How do they effect how I live?
So often the struggle with our feelings is that they run away with us – we respond in anger or in fear before we ever take a moment to pause.
Spend some time asking the Lord to help you to remember His truth when your feelings start to run away.
Spend some time with these GREAT verses about fear and anxiety.
And them maybe do it again tomorrow (because they are that good).
Praying your walk this week is marked by courage.
All the best,