It’s that strange moment when you realize that a particular scripture or lesson has been following you for an entire week. You’ve been wrestling with it on your own for weeks, maybe months, perhaps even years. And then suddenly, it’s on the radio at the exact moment you get into the car. Then, once again, like Déjà vu, it’s on the radio when you get back in the car – different preacher, same topic. 

Did I mention that it shows up in the exact chapter that your small group is reading this week and the book you are reading “just for fun?” And finally, your own beloved Pastor speaks about the same topic, using the same illustration on Sunday morning.  “Coincidence? I think not.” For me, friends, that topic has been fear. 

How bad is it?

Now, not all fear is bad. There are the healthy fears that help us survive. For example, my fear of great white sharks keeps me from free diving in the deep waters of the Caribbean Sea without an expert (or at all). My fear of getting hit by a car, keeps me from jaywalking on the busy streets of New York City.  And ultimately, we are told to fear the Lord. Proverbs 9:10 tells us that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. The Hebrew word here for fear is yir’ ah meaning reverence and respect for God.

But these are not the fears I speak of. I am speaking of my worries and anxieties. The ones Jesus talks about in Matthew 6, when he tells us not to worry. And those Paul addresses in Philippians 4, when he reminds us, from his own precarious imprisonment, not to be anxious about anything, rather pray. Why does my fear matter? Well, here’s the long and short of it. My worries and anxieties buck against the commands in Matthew 6, Philippians 4 and others like it and therefore are sin. And as a follower of Christ, my sinful behavior should matter enough to me that I confess it and confront it.

So, fear of what, you ask?  Well, for me it is fear of the what if's…and fear of the what if not’s. You name it, and the fear has probably made a cameo appearance across my conscious thoughts. As an urban Christian woman, you may relate. When I was single, I feared I would never get married. Then when I got married, I feared not being able to have children. Then when we had our first baby, I feared not having the knowledge or wherewithal to care for this very precious and very needy newborn. Then once I got a “handle” on that, I feared that my gifts and talents would forever be buried under dirty diapers, pureed carrots and sleepless nights. Fear.

And I have a sneaky suspicion that I am not alone.  A quick search of the phrase “fear not,” shows it used 63 times in the King James Version. It is obviously a recurring pattern of the human condition.  In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and here enters the fall of man. Now, the God whom they once communed with and enjoyed, makes them afraid (Gen 3:10). And our fear has been destroying how we relate to God ever since. Why else would it be mentioned dozens of times?!

At the Root of it All

What I have recently discovered, is that my fear is a symptom of the real problem. At the root of the fear is my need for control. I need to be in control because I don’t believe in the goodness of God enough to trust His agenda, priorities and plans over my own. Matt Chandler puts it best in his book, Recovering Redemption, “The bottom line underneath most of our fear and anxiety is that we simply don’t believe – don’t have faith – in the goodness of God. 

To be a worrier means we don’t trust He’s going to provide for us, we don’t think He’s looking out for our best interests we don’t feel convinced that He’s wise enough to know what to do for us, even if He does care and would do a better job of things if He could.”  In other words, “We doubt His greatness, and we doubt His goodness (pg. 143).” If I am honest, I do too.

I was challenged by Abraham’s example in Genesis 22 (the scripture that kept following me everywhere). God calls Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. And you know what God tells Abraham? He reminds Abraham that Isaac is his only son and the son whom he loves (v.2). This one’s gonna hurt, Abraham. According to God, this is the son who would fulfill the covenant between God and Abraham in Genesis 15. Surely it didn’t make sense. But I find Abraham’s response convicting. The Bible tells us Abraham rose early the next morning, chopped wood and traveled for 3 days to be obedient to the Lord’s request (Gen 22:3-4).

Like the Lord’s servant, Abraham, I have things and people in my life that I love and care about and want to preserve. What happens when God’s plan does not align with my plan? What if His plan totally derails what I had in mind? What if I am called to lay something on the altar that I love, have worked hard for and prayed unceasingly for? My family. My health. My finances. My business. My ministry. But do I love them more than I love God? Do I elevate their fate above God’s sovereignty, wisdom and glory? Or do I trust Him enough to lay it all on the altar to prove that I fear God more than I fear loss; that I truly love him more than anything?

Where the Heart Is

Hebrews 11:19 tells us that, “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead…” I recently questioned why God didn’t just allow Abraham to kill Isaac and then bring Isaac back to life.  How did he know that Abraham was willing to do it, that he wouldn’t chicken out at the last second? Before Abraham sacrificed Isaac, God knew that he would follow through. That’s why He sent an angel to stop him (Gen. 22:11). My thought? There is something that God must’ve known about Abraham’s heart.

Where is my heart? Preacher and theologian, John Calvin, called our hearts idol factories – always creating something that competes with God for Lordship of our lives. Pastor Tim Keller refers to them as our “counterfeit gods.” What has my heart sent down the assembly line today? As I seek to dethrone these counterfeit gods, I must ask myself, “Is this my ‘Isaac’ that I am afraid to sacrifice? Do I trust God enough to lay it on the altar and let Him have His way?” In gauging where my heart is, I meet my fear face to face so I can tell it how great and how good my God is.

Is He Safe?

I am reminded of the book, Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Susan inquires about Aslan, the Christ-figure in the book, to see if he is a safe lion. The response? "Safe?" said Mr. Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.” You see, we serve a wild God whom we cannot harness or control. We cannot fit him into our box or predict His next move. I once heard it beautifully referred to as the “serendipity of God” and we fear it not if we remember that He always has been and always will be good. That should lead us to trust Him with reckless abandon.

I’m not “fixed” and all of my fear hasn’t been removed. But what have I done with my fundamental misunderstanding of God’s heart towards me? I remember what He promised me, that “…in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). I repeat Psalm 46:1-2 to myself, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” I study His Word, which reminds me of His character and His heart towards me.  In doing so, I have realized the more I focus on the bigness of my God and the greatness of His love, the more my fears are allayed and put in the proper perspective. I cannot rest in the fact that God is a predictable and safe God, but I can rest in the fact that our King is good. Take that fear!