April 13, 2009

Groundless fear

While fear of public speaking is touted as up at the top of the list of common fears, some surveys say otherwise. One questionnaire said only 10% put it at number 1 or 2, 20% put it in the top ten, and 70% said it was not even on their list.

While looking for this information, I found another list of the top psychological fears. It included common responses to those fears, such as the fear of rejection which, according to this source, causes a person to reject others first, be depressed and suffer from self-pity.

Also on this list were the fears of abandonment, ridicule, loneliness, success, and failure, each with their resulting behaviors which were varying combinations of fight or flight as a way to cope with the fear.

In the Bible, the people of God are continually told to not be afraid. The list mostly includes physical enemies and other threats to safety and well-being. One such admonition came during the days of the prophet Isaiah. Ahaz, king of Judah, faced a crisis. The Assyrian army threatened invasion. Ahaz refused an alliance with the kings of Israel and Syria against Assyria, so they also threatened to invade Judah. Then Ahaz allied with Assyria to protect himself against the threat from the two other nations. Isaiah warned Ahaz against that alliance, but also told him not to fear.
“Do not say, ‘A conspiracy,’ concerning all that this people call a conspiracy, nor be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled. The Lord of hosts, Him you shall hallow; let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread.” (Isaiah 8:12-13)
All this makes me sit back and think about what I fear. After a long weekend of driving and sitting, one of my fears is boredom and inactivity. That might seem silly, but my mind hates being in neutral and I dread being useless. I struggle in bland situations without anything to stimulate my thinking. I am a doodler. I prefer talk shows to music. I buy books, borrow books, fill my shelves with reading material from almost every genre, just so my mind has something to do. My body is not far behind. I keep busy and am seldom bored, by choice.

On one leg of the driving this weekend, my husband and I talked about this. At one point I said that for most of my Christian life I’ve feared that God would put me on the shelf and I would be of no service to Him. I can have a measure of control over occupying my mind, but I cannot control God. Being able to serve Him is entirely in His hands.

Reviewing this morning, I realize that many things people fear can be controlled. If someone is terrified of public speaking, they can say no to such opportunities. Even some of the psychological fears can be overcome by naming them and tackling them head on.

However, some threats are out of our control. We cannot stop death, no matter how many face lifts, cosmetics and other things we try. Yet the fear of death can be conquered by faith in Jesus Christ. He beat death and offers eternal life to all who trust Him. I might fear the process of dying, but not death. I know where I am going.

I’ve also found that taking that first step of faith in Jesus Christ is the precursor to overcoming other fears. As the Bible says, “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6)

I trust that God cares for me and He can control what happens to me. Yet faith in the sovereignty of God means that God can do what He wants to me, and I cannot predict or control that. I know that this Lion of Judah is a good God, but as the critter says in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, He is not a tame Lion. I do not manage Him.

Does that make my fear of being useless an irrational fear? John Piper points to 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”

His point is that no matter how little I might value my ministry and work for the Lord, God uses it. It is not in vain. The implication is that no matter the fear, keep on doing what seems the thing to do. Seek out needy people to help. They are not far away. Seek out those in darkness who need light. They are not far away either. Seek out ways that I can be helpful. It might be the work of prayer only, but as this verse says that work is not in vain.

Like public speaking, I can see a choice here. If I want to stop being useful to God, all I need to do is stop obeying Him. It might seem like He has stopped giving me work to do, but reality says otherwise. It is never God who gives up on me. He will use anything and everything that I do for His purposes.

Because the needs are always there, the challenges of serving Him are always there too. They might seem difficult, unappealing, or downright frightening, but being useless is my choice, not His. I’ve far more reason to fear Him if I refuse the challenges than I have reason to fear that He will stop offering them.

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