Fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.
There was always that moment between the shuffle and the splash. The shimmering surface down there looked impossibly far, much farther than it had seemed while seated on the cool cement with my feet in the water. Going back was unthinkable and going on was worse. It’s the first memory I have of being really afraid, of being frozen with fear.
In the many, many years since those summer tests of high dive bravery, there have been many, many more moments of fear. Sometimes they’ve been remarkably clear and easy to name. But others have been subtler and more sinister—the long frightening shadow of uncertainty cast by parents’ divorce. Or the pernicious fear that somehow I just don’t quite measure up; don’t really quite cut it after all. And even now there seems to be a new haunting. With more of life’s road behind than in front, is the rest of the journey merely coasting to a stop?
Surely you know your own history. Your story may not be exactly like anyone else’s, but it probably is stained with similar fears. “Will my children ever call when they’re grown and gone?” “Will my cancer return?” “Is this job going to last?” “How can I even pray, knowing what I’ve done?” The questions haunt us. They tumble and turn and give us no rest. And in the hiding of our fears from every onlooker, we’re exhausted by the very fear of discovery of those things that shame us.
The scripture has much to say about being afraid and about fear. And if you’ve hung around churches for much time at all, you’ve probably heard sermons or teaching on the “right kind” of fear, and the physiology of fear, and the protective nature of fear. Those truths are worthy to recall, and worthy of prayer to better understand. But for just a moment, consider these few thoughts on the results of fear, and then let’s remember together the scriptural antithesis of living in fear.
Fear leads us to disobedience. Remember Eve? Wasn’t it really fear—a worry that Satan insinuated into her thoughts? It’s the leading questions that whispered the lies. The serpent was taunting, “You won’t get enough, Eve. You won’t get what you really want.” And you? What if it’s really your fear of not quite having enough that causes you to slander a colleague, or fudge on your resumé, or pander to a boss so the raise surely comes to you? Fear of discovery more often leads us to lie than to confess. Fear of not getting our way leads to manipulation and mistrust of others. Jonah turned and ran, blatantly disobeying God, fearing that God would save his enemies.
Fear freezes us. Oh, the reasons are entirely rational—at least in our own minds. We just don’t have time for our lives to be invaded by the messy lives of others. So we do nothing, because we’re afraid of losing control. “What if the whole office thinks I’m some kind of religious freak?” So we say nothing because we’re afraid of others’ perceptions. “I won’t have enough if I tithe.” So out of fear, we rob God and blame it on the economy.
Fear drains away our joy and replaces it with the unbearable burden of pretense. Like the painted sets on a brightly lit stage, we lead shallow lives that are built more around “seeming to be” rather than “really being.” And this is most painfully seen in the pews and pulpits of the church. We are too afraid to be known, fearing that if we are truly known we will never be loved. And so we pretend, and we grow weary, and the “mounting up like eagles” seems like a cynically laughable idea for someone else.
But the truth of the Gospel is that, in Christ, you have been loved with a perfect, eternal, unchanging love. And that love, says the Word of God, “casts out fear.” Psalm 56:3 says, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee.” Therefore, in this trust, as you consider the fearful parts of your own heart, shape your prayers around three notions.
1. Ask the Lord for the wisdom to see where in your life you are burdened by an unholy, disobedient fear. Where are you frozen, living in pretense? The Holy Spirit does His work as we bring the light of the Gospel to the dark and frightening corners of our own hearts. Ask Him to show you.
2. Pray specifically and boldly about those very fears that the Spirit reveals to you. Scripture says to cast all your anxiety on Him (1 Pet 5:7). So cast all your anxiety on Him. Name them out loud and confess them. Find a trusted brother or sister in the Lord and pray about those fears for and with each other.
3. Take heart and remember that on the night in which He was betrayed, our Lord said to His disciples, “I have said these things to you that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Peace and tribulation are not mutually exclusive. But in the face of fear and in the moment of tribulation, we share in the very peace of Christ—His peace, given to us.
What would you do if you weren’t afraid?