Monday, May 13, 2019

Fear is a Four Letter Word

Several years ago I wrote a book on emotions and in that book wrote a chapter called, "Fear is a Four Letter Word:. In that chapter I shared that my earliest memories of fear are from my preschool years. My dad often watched old westerns with battles between cowboys and Native Americans. At the time we lived in west Texas and we drove from Salt Flats to El Paso to get groceries. I remember being hypervigilant and watching out of the car window afraid Natives would come riding over the mountains to attack us. My mind didn't grasp that the westerns my dad watched reflected a different time period than the one in which we were living. My fear was irrationally based on childish perceptions, not on facts.

Many believers think fear is a sin, but it is a protective, energizing emotion when it is operating in a healthy way. In fact, we can't display courage unless we are experiencing fear. We know fear is built into our emotional makeup from conception as babies jump in the womb in response to loud sudden sounds. God put fear in our emotional make up so it could motivate us to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. Fear warns us of potential danger and energizes us by speeding up blood flow so that we can think and act more quickly. It motivates us to flee, fight, or play dead.

Fear can sometimes help to bond people. This occurs when we embrace fears together, especially when we do it for fun's sake. I did this watching Alfred Hitchcock's shows with my family as a young child. We  snuggled close to our parents as the show built towards its climax. Sometimes my dad would growl or yell, "BOO!" just before am exciting part. We would scream, jump, and then all laugh. Our family felt close during those times. I also experienced this when I faced my fear of heights, riding rollercoasters with my kids and climbing a rock wall with our youth group. Even though I experienced fear in those situations, I knew I was with people I trusted and we bonded as we talked and joked about our fears, encouraged each other, and then debriefed afterwards. These things provided shared memories and these memories provide points of instant reconnection when one of us says, "Do you remember that time...?"

Because we live in a fallen world, fear can becomes irrational. If this happens, it can paralyze and control us to the point it becomes a stronghold in our lives. Irrational fear, can make us cowardly if we give into it. This occurred in the book of Numbers when the Israelites were to enter the Promise Land. God had instructed Moses to send a man from each tribe to check out the land. Forty days later, the men returned with pomegranates, figs, clusters of grapes so heavy they had to be carried by two men. All agreed they had found the land of "milk and honey" God described. Yet, only two of the twelve believed Israel could take the land with the Lord's help. They had all observed people of large stature living in the land and ten of them felt so intimidated that they refused to take the land, missing many years of blessing. In their fear, they forgot about God's power and His faithfulness to them. Our fear can make us forgetful, toe.

Irrational fear sometimes has a spiritual component to it as Satan is a master deceiver and can make routine battles look unbeatable, everyday trials look insurmountable, and daily temptations look undefeatable. If we buy into his lies, Satan can turn us into cowards, experiencing chronic fear and living mediocre lives. Cowardly fear can come out in the fear of rejection, which keeps us from reaching out to others, leaving us bound by loneliness. It can come out in the fear of failure, which keeps us from taking risks that would help us develop our talents, abilities, and spiritual gifts. It can come out in the fear of abandonment, which keeps us focused on self, instead of loving others well. Hence, irrational fears can cause us to miss out on relationships and opportunities in education, jobs, and ministry.

Unhealthy fear has the potential to cause confusion, which increases the fear we are experiencing. We see this in the book of Judges when God instructed Gideon to call 300 men to surround the Midianite camp, carrying trumpets and clay jars hiding lit torches. He told them to surround the camp, blow their trumpets, break their jars to reveal their torches and shout, "A sword for the Lord and Gideon!" This caused sudden fear among the Midianites and, in their subsequent confusion, the Midianites drew swords on each other. Kind of looks like what Satan and his legions do in our churches today, doesn't it? He knows each of our vulnerabilities and insecurities and attacks in a way that causes fear-fueled confusion. This confusion paralyzes us, keeps us stuck, misconstrues reality, stirs up strife, and causes us to attack each other. Every time I have experienced conflict in the church, there was a great amount of confusion concerning it and at the root of the conflicts was some sort of fear.

When fear becomes a stronghold, it draws our focus away from God and zaps our energy, leaving us with little power to obey. We see this when Saul and the Israelites were facing Goliath. Goliath was a large man with a big mouth. He stood on the mountainside taunting Saul and his army. God had told Israel He would defeat Goliath on their behalf, but they became so afraid that no one took action. Only young David believed God and had the courage to face down the giant. Sadly, Saul's fears became more irrational as time went on. He began to fear his faithful servant, David, tried to kill him and ultimately his fear led him to commit suicide. His fear had become an idol, one that he spent much of his life trying to appease, to no avail. Fear ruled his heart and drove him to carry out ugly, ungodly actions.

In his book, Harnessing the Incredible Power of Fear, Ken Nichols pointed out that there are 366 "fear not's" in the Bible. Contrary to what many believe, these were not given to us to admonish us or to shame us. When God says not to fear, He follows it with sweet reminders of His presence, His faithfulness, and His power. Fear doesn't have to be a four letter word when we realize it gives us opportunities to be courageous and grow in faith. When we call fear sin, it is because we have forgotten the Bible is a book about a relationship between a God and the people He loves. It is not a list of do's and don'ts written from an angry God waiting to zap us. It is written with from a heart filled with love that desires to protect us and our relationship with Him. His telling us not to be afraid is similar to us lovingly telling our children not to be afraid because we are with them, have knowledge they don't have, will protect them, and can identify irrationality behind many of the fears they have. We can be thankful God won't obliterate our fear as it not only helps us stay safe, it is the very thing that drives us to Him.

(Ken Nichols, Harnessing the Incredible Power of Fear; Wendy J. Mahill, Embracing a Feeling Heart ) 

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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!