“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” – Deuteronomy 31:6
Hope is greater than fear…always. Yes, indeed. I know so because the Bible tells me so. But isn’t knowing often very different from feeling? And when knowledge and feeling don’t add up, we tend go with our feelings. Even when that means forgetting “what we know”.
“Sometimes when your trying to sleep; and all your doubts and your faith don’t agree, it’s ’cause…sometimes the hardest thing to believe is the truth.” (Relient K, “Truth”)
The other day I posted on my various social media forums asking followers what they would like this post to be about. Well if you’re one of those followers, thank you SO much for all your comments and wonderful ideas you suggested! I will definitely write about many of the topics mentioned in the upcoming weeks! But if you haven’t already figured it out by the title…today, I’m going to discuss overcoming fear in a way you might not expect – by not overcoming it.
“God is bigger than the boogie-man; bigger than Godzilla or the monsters on TV. Oh, God is bigger than the Boogie-man; and He’s watching out for you and me.” – Veggie Tales
What if I told you fear wasn’t a bad thing? You most likely would say, “Why did I waste my most valuable resource (time) on this crazy girl.” Well, sorry for wasting your time, because I actually do want to explore that question today. But before you sign me off as crazy, I want to try and justify myself. I am a woman who battles fear all the time. From being a 16 year old, scared to sleep in a room with the lights off – to a grad student, still scared to sleep in a room with the lights off – To a 27-year-old who had to face her worst nightmare, the death of her husband. I know there are real things to be fearful of.
For example: not being able to control the circumstances surrounding the most meaningful aspects of our lives. That includes, but is not limited to: loss, divorce, difficult children, dating, sickness, job happiness, etc.
Yes. I can speak on this idea of fear for many reasons. But upon living through my greatest fear, I have come to realize that fear is only wrong when it is misplaced.
“There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him.” – C.S. Lewis
God created everything, right? Yes, He did. Good answer. What does that mean to you? I think we often think of this as being as basic as words describing the formation of the world in the first few chapters of Genesis. But when God created Adam and Eve, He did more than just create the outer shell of a person. He created muscles, organs, a brain and more [I taught Health for a semester so thinking about all these aspects of the body fascinate me even more than before]. Moreover, when God created our brains, He also created consciousness and emotions. God created the feeling, and even the idea, of emotions. He created Adam and Eve [and you and I] to feel every emotion; meaning – He fully expected for every emotion to be used at some point or another.
So. Back to our understanding that God is good. The C. S. Lewis quote above suggests that everything is good that is turned towards God. Well, if God created everything to be turned towards him, and we believe God is good, then we must also believe that all His creations are good and meant for good. When anything in this world is “wrong” or “bad”, it’s not because God created it to be that way. It’s because we [man] have made it so with our imperfect nature. So to recap, this means our emotions are good and were created for good – [even though sometimes we may not feel this way, ha]. However, it is up to us to face our emotions towards God, because then we have placed – or channeled – our emotions correctly so they can be considered a good thing. Application: Thus, fear itself is not inherently bad. In fact, it is only bad when we turn from trusting God and misplace where we channel it.
“If you believe Me, we could stand the test of time like no one else. If you believe Me, it means you have to disbelieve yourself.” – Relient K (“If You Believe Me”)
I used to hate being told to fear God. It went against my perfectly constructed box entitled “God is love = not scary”, in which I had God perfectly fitted. Now, however, I see this was because I had a misconception of the idea of fearing God. I associated fearing God with being scared of something that was “not good”. Because like many of us, I had many life experiences that helped establish this definition. Here, why don’t I list a few examples:
1. In elementary school I hated the game “Tag”. Seriously. The feeling of being chased terrified me! So when forced to play, I always wanted to be “it”. If I wasn’t, I’d run a few steps and then freak out saying, “Ok! Ok! You got me! You got me!”
[Ha! Ok. I’ll be a little more serious.]
2. In 5th grade I feared the alley behind my friends house. I feared walking my bike home after it got dark, because I was scared someone would jump out and get me. All this being my fault anyway, because I stayed longer than I should have. [Fun fact…this experience is where I first started singing the Veggie Tales Boogie-Man song I listed earlier…and I may or may not still sing it during scary moments to this day.]
3. In middle school and high school I feared the girls that were extraordinarily witty in the most socially abusive way. I was never much for quick comebacks, especially when I felt like someone was above me on the social ladder I conjured up in my teenage head. I hated getting put in situations with these girls because I never knew if they were going to make fun of me or act like they liked me. [I have LOTS of stories on this that I’ll save for another day.] Around this same time in my life I also feared people discussing my ethnicity. I thought in some way because I was tan and looked different than my family, friends, boys I dated, etc. that I wasn’t as pretty, or accepted as others. And sadly, there were a few people in my life who commented on this exact insecurity.
4. In college I feared being alone. It scared me for two reasons. (a.) I was scared it meant people didn’t like me because of all these reasons the devil filled me with (I talk too much, I’m a selfish person, it’s impossible for me to be a good friend to anyone. Let’s just say, the list goes on for a while); and/or (b.) something bad could happen to me and no one would know.
5. When I found the person I wanted to be with, I feared that maybe he would see these insecurities I possessed and it would make him not want to be with me. Or what if I couldn’t have a relationship and love God at the same time? Or what if my marriage failed? Or what if I lost him?
Well, you see the slippery slope we’ve gotten ourselves into. If we’re not careful these slopes can quickly turn into a double black diamond when we’re still wearing our training skis. Turn away from the slope friend and ski away…ski away.
My point in telling you examples of both my irrational, and/or seemingly understandable fears were threefold. First, I wanted to connect with you and say, “Yes, I get it. I know what it’s like to fear things. And I know what it’s like to have those fears become reality.” Second, I wanted to later use these examples to show you my fear was misplaced. But most importantly, the third point was to show you how we allow the difficult situations in our lives to define our understanding of the word “fear,” and all those negative connotations associated with fearing God.
Like I said earlier, I used to hate the idea of fearing God. But now, I understand it differently. I don’t know if a well seasoned pastor might go against what I say here, but [as my Bible study leader once suggested] I believe the Bible was meant to be understood by all people, not just people who’ve studied it for years. So I’m going to take a crack at it. Of course you’re welcome to take it or leave it for what it’s worth. I’m not quite as bossy as I once was on the play ground. (Side note: In the above statement, I’m not saying you should listen to just anyone! Pastors have been trained and have studied what they preach for a very long time! I am merely suggesting that you and I both – even without years of studying – can study the Word and find important lessons not yet thought of!)
Anyway, I’ve started to look at fearing God as similar to fearing my worldly father. My dad, John Wisner, takes care of me. He loves me. I respect him. And I don’t want to let him down. However, looking back at my decisions and choices over the course of my life, my dad had every right to throw up his hands and say, “Well we failed on this one. Let’s just throw her out because she’s obviously an idiot.”[Sorry if you don’t allow that kind of language in your house. It’s used for dramatic effect – insert winking blow kiss emoji here.] Honestly though, in the prime of my idiotic years known as college [and all the young pros and above said, “Amen”], I still understood that my dad and mom [shout out to Beth] were working hard and giving up there resources in order to allow me to exist in my self-centered collegiate world. Therefore, when I messed up big time, it wasn’t my friends, or the situation I feared…it was my mom and dad I feared most. I knew no matter what I did, eventually they would forgive me. But still, I feared having to go to them and admit my failure. I feared the consequences that would be associated with the choices I made. But further still, I knew the reason I really feared telling my parents was because I knew that they had sent me into the world, trusting that I would do so much more than how I was living.
This is the same as our relationship with God. We fear God, because, yes…He created the universe. He decided when your heart would start beating, and He decides when it will cease. He created your brain which in turn gave you consciousness and feelings. But we also fear God because we know he has control over all things. Because we know we should be living better. We know we should be trusting him in all situations. And we know that He trusts us, to use the gifts He’s given us the right way, including the feeling of fear.
So why don’t we redefine that word here. We “fear” God, not because He is someone mean and unjust or scary, but because we love Him and He loves us and by no means do we want to let him down. He is a good Father that doesn’t want us to make decisions that come along with negative consequences. If ever you take a stroll in the Old Testament of the Bible and read that God’s anger burned hot towards the people of the world, it’s because He created them for more than they were doing. If you’re a parent, I’m sure there’s been a time or two when your anger has been scalding hot towards the child you love. I know there may have been a time or two when my anger’s been scalding hot towards someone else’s child. So I can imagine what my temper might be like as parent [my poor, poor fictional children].
“But I’ll just have to accept that my mind is so inept, and that the only thing that’s left for me to do is to trust You. And since we’ve placed our lives into your hands, confide in what You’ll do…sometimes the hardest thing to believe is the Truth.” (Relient K, “Truth”)
Ok. So, to get to the point. It boils down to this. Fear is not a bad thing. God created all the emotions we feel; therefore he created us to feel fear. The problems arise when we fear the wrong things or when we allow fear to dictate our faith and our level of hope in the Lord. You see, we’ve been asked to imitate Christ in all of our actions. That includes how we handle fear. Need an example? You know I got you. — On the night Christ was to be taken into custody by the Roman Soldiers, He went to the Garden of Gethsemane and prayed to God about the situation at hand. In fact, Christ prayed so hard He began to sweat blood (Luke 22:44) because He was so overwhelmed with the emotions He was feeling, and dare I say, fearful of the moments ahead. Yes, I would presume that knowing you were going to be horribly beaten and hung on a cross for no other reason than being yourself would be terrifying and, correspondingly, grounds for fear. However, the lesson for us lies in the next question. How did Jesus handle it? Guess what! I’ll tell you. He went straight to God with those fears. He went straight to God in prayer and offered up his worry and fear. He trusted God with it. He accepted whatever God’s will would be, and He left his fears in the Garden with the Lord. He let go of his fears and kept his hope in the Lord. Afterwards, once the soldiers came to get Him, He handled every interaction with indescribable peace. Why? Because his faith, hope and trust were in the Lord.
“But the Soul is always aching, for the Heart to start taking, a chance by letting go. So let Go. Let Go. Sometimes the hardest thing to believe is the Truth.” – (Relient K, “Truth”)
Have you ever heard someone say something along the lines of, “Whatever God gives you, good or bad, it’s because He trusts you with it?” Well, I’ve never heard anyone say those exact words. I made that up. But I think I’ve heard someone say something along those lines. I don’t know who, so I can’t validate what I’m about to say via someone else’s credentials, but I think I can make a fair argument for it. So here goes my final point: God gave you the ability to fear because He trusted you will use it correctly. Just like, my parents trusted me not to get a speeding ticket when they gave me the keys to my yellow Mustang named Stella who was the most perfect thing I’ve ever seen. Sometimes we fail to use our gifts correctly.
Hear me when I say this, “Being fearful of circumstances outside of our control – which means all circumstances – is the incorrect use of fear.”
When we place our fear in the right place, in God, we are placing our fear in Someone who is bigger than EVERY problem we will EVER face. Yes, whatever you’re thinking of right now, God’s bigger than that. Don’t fear it. Trust Him to take care of it, just like Jesus did. However, it turns out, whether the way you wanted it to or not, God will use it – He will use You – for good. Why? Because He created you, and He knows the situations…and he will make everything turn out for good.
Let fear of what might happen leave you. I’ve learned if we’re allowing fear to consume us, without presenting it to God [and leaving it with Him], then what we’re really doing is not trusting the Creator of the universe.
And before you feel like you’re in trouble for being fearful, let me remind you that this is coming from a girl who has 150 texts on her phone because she’s “scared” to open them and let people down, or apologize for not answering quick enough; a girl who’s scared she’ll have to say sorry again to another person because her phone stresses her out and she’s not really sure why. Yes, that hot mess is me. Don’t you feel better about yourself now? Love you too. But really, I say everything above with conviction…because I need it too. Fear incorrectly placed, can consume us. And when something consumes us, it leaves no room for Jesus.
So this week. Why don’t we try to make our bodies a temple with room for the Spirit to dwell in. Release all the fear that consumes you. For example: If you commented that you were scared your children may not grow up to be a strong Christian, let that fear go and just live righteously and lovingly in front of them. If ever I have children, I think this is the quote I’m going to frame and put by my bed – [I’m going to mix a Bible verse with an old Christina Aguilera song here because I think it makes sense, so I pray you won’t view it as blasphemy…Thank goodness God knows my heart] – “Raise a child up in the way they should go; if they come back to show, that’s how you know.” Basically, what I’m trying to say is, “If they have both seen and come to know God, He’ll bring them back. No matter what. Even if it’s not the way you planned. So just wait, hope and trust in the Lord. And really…this is true for every situation. Taking this advice to go straight to God with your fears; praying and lifting up your desires, and then leaving them at His feet will allow you to find peace beyond understanding.
Let the fear go, and find peace in accepting whatever cup God gives you. And I promise we can do it. Because when we give it to God, we no longer fear what’s in front of us. We fear the one who created it; and, thus, the One who rules over it. You can always find HOPE in that.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13
Well friends, I think I’ve held you long enough. I hope my words have helped you and will strengthen you in the days ahead. My prayer for you is that you will make the decision to start believing God and disbelieve yourself; and furthermore, that you will let go of fear, and find hope in Christ. Remembering always that Hope > Fear.
Love you dearly friends,
Helen Elizabeth Wisner Strickland