Fear is common to us all. It has been said that the first fear a child feels is the fear of falling. I’m not sure how we know which fear is first, but it is certain that a new baby develops fear quickly. Sudden noises, bright lights or even darkness can bring fear from a child. Every bad thing that happens either to us or to someone we know becomes the basis for other fears, until fear can become dominant in our life. People often become mentally and emotional invalids because of fear.
Are there things in our regular life that should bring fear to us? Certainly there are. We might be the victims of crime as were the people in Tucson a couple of weeks ago. We might be in an accident either through our own negligence or through the actions of someone else. We may become ill at any time and one never knows if this illness will be the one that takes away my abilities to work and provide for my family or the one that takes my life on this earth. In many parts of the world the citizens live in fear because they may be the subject of persecution because of their faith in God or their worship of Jesus Christ. Persecution of Christians becomes more and more prevalent around the globe and many devoted followers of God are in prisons around the world because they mentioned Jesus to someone else or they preached about him. In many places terrorism has become so much a part of life that hardly a week or even a day passes that someone isn’t murdered in the name of religion in that country.
Fear can become crippling. Because of fear one can die a thousand deaths before a single one actually takes place. The person who was once a victim of sexual abuse as a child or a rape victim too often relives the agony of the abuse over and over again in their minds.
How should a person deal with their fears? How can we keep those fears from taking over our lives? How do we keep fear of something awful happening from destroying the joy of wonderful times going on now? I know it is possible for one to overcome the haunting fears of life because the Bible so often tells us to not be afraid. If fear wasn’t controlable then we wouldn’t have been told not be afraid.
One of the most enlightening mentions of fear was given by Jesus in his story of the the master going on a journey and calling his servants to him. He gave to them different sums of money depending on their abilities and told them to use it while he was gone. While he was gone the one who had been given the largest amount (5 talents) traded his and gained five more. The one who had two traded his and gained two more. The one who had been given one took his and buried it. When the master returned he called for an accounting of how they had used the money. The first brought back his five along with the five more he had made. The one with two brought back his two plus the two more he had made. In both cases the master told them they had done great. “You have been faithful over a few things and I’ll put you in charge of many. Come and enjoy the kingdom.”
Then the one who had been given the one talent, which by the way was a huge sum of money in itself. A talent of gold would be comparable to a million dollars in our day. He brought back his one and gave it to the master saying. “There I’ve given you back just what you gave me. I knew you to be a hard man and unfair in your dealings. You reap fields you hadn’t planted. So, I was afraid and I took the money you gave me and hid it in the ground. Now you have your money back just as you gave it to me.” The master declared him to be a wicked and lazy servant and took his money from him and gave it to the one who had ten.
What is most significant is the reason the man who had been given the one million dollars buried it. He thought he knew the master. Even though the master had given him a huge sum of money for him to use at his own efforts, all he could think about was the master was hard and unfair. Fear ruled his mind so he did nothing with the opportunities placed before him. In the story the master is Jesus Christ and the servants are his followers. God gives us opportunities based on our ability. We can either use them to his glory and gain more or we can allow our fears and our false judgment of God to cripple us into doing nothing.
Healthy fear causes one to respect the enemy, the possibilities and to give their very best effort. It is this kind of fear God challenges us to have when he tells us to “Fear God and keep his commandments.” To get any control over our fears we must first put things into the right perspective. Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid of people who can kill your body but can’t do anything to your soul. Fear God who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) In Revelation 2:9-10 Jesus was writing to the church in Smyrna when he said, “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” What they were facing sure didn’t sound good. It wasn’t the prosperity gospel that if you follow Christ you will be healthy, wealthy and wise. No, this poor church who was rich toward God was going to go through persecution, suffering, false imprisonment and some would be put to death for their faith. Yet the Lord’s challenge was, “Don’t be afraid.” “Be faithful until death and I will give you a crown of life.” Conquoring fear starts with perspective.
There are two major qualities we need to pour into our lives so that fear won’t have room to grow. If you have a container that you don’t want to have weeds growing in, you need to fill it with good soil and plant good seed so that it can grow something valuable. Even then you need to pull the weeds out as they begin to grow in the future. What are these two things we need to fill our lives with to overcome fear?
First, we need to fill it with faith. Jesus told them to “Be faithful!” or be full of faith. To have faith is to believe in God as God. It is easy to have a faith in some god of our own making instead of the God revealed in the Bible. Self made gods are a dime a dozen. They are usually made more in our image than our being made in theirs. Real faith takes God at His word and believes in him as he really is. Faith comes by hearing the word of God Paul declared in Romans 10:17. We learn to believe as we hear the things God has said and done in the world. Faith develops as we see His work in our own lives. God is constantly working in us and causes all things to work together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). As we see God’s work in us and trust him in both the easy and the hard, the good and the bad, the healthy and the sick, the success and the failure our faith grows. David said, “I’ve been young but now I’m old and I’ve not seen the righteous forsaken nor his children beg for bread.” His faith and trust in God grew as he experienced God’s care in life.
The second thing that we pour into our lives if we want to keep the fear out is love. In I John 4:17-19 we are told, “By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us.” Loves doesn’t fear nor does it cause another to fear. When Peter wrote to wives to tell them to respect their husbands even when they weren’t Christians he told them to be ones whose beauty was more inside than out. He told them they should be like Sarah who respected Abraham as her husband, “Whose daughters you are if you do well and are not afraid with any terror.” Respect and love in a marriage can’t live where there is fear of being terrorized. The husband who abuses and beats his wife, then pleads “I love you” is a wretched liar, and the wife who believes him is acting insane. Love doesn’t act in such ways. The more we allow love both from God and for God to grow in us the less fear rules our lives.