July 14, 2016

Overcoming fear by dying to it

An elder in a large California church offered this illustration. He said our life with Christ is like a glass. When it is upright, He fills it with the Holy Spirit. Only sin can tip over the glass and empty it. Only confession of sin can put it upright again. The Lord does the filling; we do the confessing.

Another point of this illustration is that we are either filled or not filled, yielded to Him or not yielded to Him. As he talked, the elder tipped the glass down then up saying this is what we can expect in life. The best we can do is to keep short accounts and stay upright longer than we are tipped over.

How does this upright glass look in practical living? Countless ways. One of them is in how I respond to someone who hurts me. Jesus said . . .

“But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:39)

Chambers says this is “the humiliation of being a Christian” because the natural person refuses to hit back because he afraid to, but the spirit-filled person does not hit back because the Holy Spirit is in charge. Such a response manifests the life of Christ. I cannot fake the disposition of Jesus either. He is manifesting Himself through me, or He is not. However, a personal insult becomes an occasion of revealing Him.

I could list hundreds of occasions. Is Jesus demonstrated in me because His Spirit fills my life? If not, then I am blocking Him by insisting that I run my own life, defending my rights, determined that I will be comfortable, and resisting any sort of humiliation or loss. In other words, I will be my own boss. As Isaiah 53:6 says, going my own way is the root of sin.

Chambers says that attitude hurts the Son of God. I’m not sure about the word ‘hurt’ but the Bible does say that I can grieve Him. Chambers says the only way to prevent it is to take the blow myself, experience the grief myself. That is, ‘fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ.’ In the above example, that means no resistance to any evil done to me. Instead, like Jesus I must turn the other cheek.

There are other evils and other ways to take the blow of evil. Doing this often has amazing results. Henry Nouwen writes that I should stop fighting my worst fears, and instead experience them. When I do this, I will discover what Jesus can do in that kind of total surrender.

For example, consider the fear of being abandoned. Nouwen suggests to go somewhere alone (yet Jesus is there) and think of being abandoned and how it will feel, not resisting the fear and horror of it, but letting those emotions come full force. As this happens, the natural response is to fight it, but Nouwen says yield to it and let it do what it wishes. There will be a pain so severe that you feel as if you are being crucified and dying. He says to stay there and keep trusting the Lord. Jesus will come and take that horror on Himself. In that moment, that fear will be conquered — you will have died to it and it no longer has any power over you.

The above ‘exercise’ (for want of a better description) follows a pattern: Jesus offered Himself to die for sin once and now sin has no longer any dominion over Him. While this may seem strange to some, it has had a profound effect on two of my fears. By figuratively letting them slay me, they now no longer have any power over me — because in the experience Jesus released me through death to new life.

Sometimes theology correct but not very useful unless it becomes real in experience. For me, I’d rather learn alone in a room how Jesus conquers fear than going through an actual attack from the very thing that I fear!

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