Well, here it is, folks. I’m plunging head-first into a series on fear. I’ve thought hard, pulled away, held back. I’ve worried that you’d get bored with the same topic several weeks in a row. I’ve wondered whether you were already sick of hearing about fear (it’s not the first time I’m talking about it!) And I’ve been afraid that you would give up on me, decide to move on to someone who’s got it more together. Which all shows that I really do need to hang out here and look at the truth about fear a little bit longer.
And I suspect you might too. See, I’m learning that just about everybody struggles with fear. Some of us push it away with busyness. Some cover it up with laughter. But when we turn down the volume and slow the pace we discover that we haven’t managed to outrun or outperform or outshout fear. It’s still there. So we might as well sit down with Jesus and each other and stare fear in the face and discover. . . oh, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Stop for a second and recall the last time you felt the mouth-drying, heart-pounding knock of fear: Did you consider fear a liability (something you just wanted to get rid of as quickly as possible) or an asset (something that might actually benefit you)? Why?
“You’re too fearful to go to Afghanistan. In fact, I think you’re so anxious that you’ll never connect with anyone on any significant level. You’ll never make a difference in the world.” That verdict, given by the psychologist during my pre-departure psychological screening, grounded in me more deeply than ever my conviction that fear was a liability: it was something that held me back, something to be hated and fought and gotten rid of as quickly as possible. But, following four years in Afghanistan, illness that has led me away from my medical career, and a ministry that now flows out of connecting deeply with God and others, I’m learning that fear can be an asset - if we learn how to let it lead us closer to Jesus.
So – how?
Well, first, we need to know three things, then we’ll talk about some practices that can help us.
The first thing we need to know is that fear doesn’t have the last word.
Fear doesn’t have the last word because our fear doesn’t disqualify us. That was the poison in the psychologist’s verdict: “You’re fearful, so you can’t go. You’re anxious, so you’ll never make a difference.” God says no. That’s not true. He used Moses and Gideon and Peter, all of whom were crippled by fear in one way or another. And He didn’t ask them to fix the fear before they were fit for the job. He just asked them to let Him be with them in the fear and to let Him use them in spite of it.
And fear doesn’t have the last word because God can actually use fear to set us free from fear. I want to be clear about this: God doesn’t want us living in fear. His desire and plan is that His perfect love set us free from fear. But for most of us, that isn’t something that happens instantly. It can take a lifetime. So in the meantime, we need to stop trying to hide our fear, and learn to let Jesus use it to draw us closer to Himself. The beauty of Jesus’ way of working is that He can use even the thing that He wants to set us free from as part of the process of setting us free. How’s that? First, our fear can be a constant reminder of our need for Jesus, and second, it can be the place where we experience most deeply His love which will then set us free. We only ever really know how deeply and securely we’re loved when we find ourselves loved in the middle of the mess.
Since fear doesn't have the last word, WE DON’T NEED TO FEAR FEAR. We don’t have to panic when we feel afraid, or agonize when we can't fix it. We can lean in and let ourselves be loved, right in the middle of feeling the fear, right in the middle of our inability to fix it. And that’s exactly what we have to do, because God makes it clear that it’s perfect love – His love – that casts out our fear. (I John 4:18) In other words, we can’t cast out our fear. We can’t make our fear go away. All we can do is learn to let ourselves be loved in the middle of the fear, and let His love do the work of getting rid of our fear – after He has used it to teach us how deeply and securely we are loved.
Next week: the second thing we need to know to turn fear from a liability to an asset.
In the meantime, what might it look like for you to lean in and let yourself be loved in the midst of your fear?
Interested in pursing this further and live in the Halifax area? I'll be offering a workshop entitled "Encountering Jesus in our struggle with fear" on Wednesday June 26th. Click here for details and to register.