It was a quiet Sunday afternoon in my dorm. Many of the other girls from my dorm—including all three of my roommates—were at a fine arts event on campus. I was lying on my bunk bed, suffering from a cold. That’s when I heard the noise. To this day, I’m not exactly sure what the noise was—maybe doors or drawers slamming—but to me (in my alone and sick condition) it could mean only one thing: Someone was going down the hall and systematically shooting everyone she came in contact with. It would be nothing for a woman to walk unnoticed in the front doors of the dorm with a gun hidden somewhere on her person, hide out in a custodial closet until the opportune time, and then seize the moment (and the trigger) and kill us all. When the noise didn’t stop, I made myself get out of bed to hide behind the dresses in my closet, hoping no stray bullets would find me there. Eventually, I realized that my roommates would be returning soon, and it would be kind of embarrassing if they found me in the closet (in the unlikely event that my theory were false). So I mustered up what little courage I had, armed myself with a coffee mug (hey, it could hurt someone if you hit them with it), and ventured out into the hall and down to the lobby: no crazy gunwomen or strewn bodies anywhere. Whew.
Fear is something that every one of us will face in our life time. Sometimes it is irrational and fueled by an over-active imagination like my dorm experience, and sometimes it is based on something very real. Whatever the cause, God does not want His people to be ruled by fear.
What is fear?
According to Merriam-Webster, fear is “an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.” Like most things in life, fear can be good, or it can be bad.
A little fear can be a very good thing. We need to be aware of the dangers around us and exercise appropriate caution. This is why we look both ways before crossing the street. We know cars could be coming, and we want to avoid being hit by them.
Fear becomes a bad thing when it keeps us from serving God and enjoying the life He’s given us. It may be appropriate to not want to unnecessarily offend someone, but if that concern keeps us from telling the truth when it is needed, that is ungodly fear. It may be appropriate to try to avoid breaking bones, but if we let the fear of broken bones keep us from ever playing sports or trying new things, we will miss many of the good blessings God designed to be a part of our lives.
Why is ungodly fear such a big deal?
1. It says something false about God.
Our lives are always saying something. It’s easy to know the truth about God and to talk about it and to really think we believe it, but what are our actions and attitudes saying? Often the two do not match up. (James deals with this problem extensively in his epistle. Check it out for yourself here.)
When we allow fear to consume us or keep us from good, what are we—by our lives—actually saying about God? Fear communicates that God may not actually be in control. He may not be good. He may not be wise enough to know best how to handle this situation. As “good” Christians, we would never say those things with our mouths. But how often do our lives communicate exactly those things? Uncontrolled fear is wrong because, instead of exalting and magnifying the wonderful power and character of God, it expresses to the world that we aren’t really sure if He’s trustworthy.
2. It sets safety up as an idol in our lives.
Fear sets our safety (physical, emotional, etc.) up as the final authority in decision-making and gives God second place. We will obey God insofar as He does not ask anything of us that would jeopardize our safety, but if He asks more of us, He has crossed the line, and we should not be expected to comply. Uncontrolled fear is wrong because it gives authority to an earthly ideal rather than to the gracious God who redeemed us and owns us.
3. It enslaves us and deprives us of the beautiful life God wants to give us.
God is a kind master. He wants to bless us with joyful, beautiful, adventurous lives, found in following Him. But when we allow fear to be god in our lives, it is a tyrant. It kills all joy and peace and robs us of the awesome beauty of seeing God’s power, wisdom, and kindness at work in our lives.
How can we stop being afraid?
In order to get rid of fear, we have to replace it with something else—the opposite of fear: faith. How do we do that?
1. Know our God.
Just last week in Sunday School, my pastor said something that really encouraged me. He said that it really doesn’t matter how big or how small your faith is. What matters is the object of your faith. We have an amazing, powerful, gracious God: He is able to do impossible things and wise enough to do the best things. But we have to know that. And in order to know that, we have to spend time with Him regularly, reading His Word to find out who He is.
2. Go to Him with our fears.
As a kid, I used to have nightmares, and I’d wake up in the dark, afraid, but as soon as I went to my parents’ room, I wasn’t afraid anymore because I was with the two people I knew loved me most and would keep me safe. The same can be true for us as Christians. The Lord knows that we are human. He knows that we will be afraid sometimes. And He cares about us. That’s why He tells us in I Peter 5:7 to cast all our anxiety on Him. When we are scared, God wants us to go straight to Him. He is our Father who loves us more than anyone else and is wise and able to do what is best.
3. Accept whatever happens (beyond our control) as from our loving Father.
When we believe that God is good and wise and in control, we don’t have to be afraid of what might happen. We know that whatever does happen will be what God knew would be best. It may be hard. It may be unpleasant. It may be excruciating even. But it will be best. God will use whatever happens in our lives for good. And through it all, we have the comfort of knowing that our loving Father is with us all the way.
Prayer: Father, we are small, broken people. We so easily lose sight of You and Your greatness. We doubt your goodness and wisdom. But we don’t want to. Help us to remember You in the face of uncertain futures. Give us the grace to choose You over our desire for comfort and safety. Enable us to magnify Your name by living in faith, not fear. You are able. Change us by Your grace.