Originally published Saturday, 08 December 2012.
I woke up in the darkness and ran my hand over the spot next to me in the bed. It was empty. I rolled over and checked my phone – 12:15 a.m. He still wasn’t home. He’d kissed me goodnight and tucked me in at nine before leaving to head to work. One night a week my husband works alone in the quiet church before leading worship. It’d been three hours. “He should be back,” I thought to myself.
Actually, my first thought after realizing the time was “He’s probably dead.” Because of course, that’s the rational place to jump to. My heart racing, I grabbed my phone from the night stand and called him. No answer. Three more times, no answer. With each call I grew more frantic. My initial fear was admittedly unrealistic. But with no answer, panic seemed warranted. “What if he’d been in a wreck? What if he’s…” My brain raced in a million unhealthy directions.
A fifth time I tried his number. As it switched to voicemail I heard a voice from the next room. His familiar “Hello?” had been a second too late for the phone, but I could hear it one room away. I breathed a heavy sigh of relief. Three minutes of irrationality vanished as the door to my bedroom opened and he walked in. He’d been reading in the living room for the past hour or so.
It’s embarrassing how easily I go to the crazy place, but I go there more often than I’d like to admit. It’s a place where fictional fears dominate and triumph over reality and imagination runs wild. It is a land where all sense of trust in the sovereignty of God and all hope in his goodness vanishes. It’s utterly terrifying, but I keep going back for more.
Fear is one of Satan’s go-to temptations, a plan of attack that works pretty quickly on me. He’s seen how easy it is to pull me into an alternate reality of “what-ifs.” One of my friends said recently, Satan isn’t passively putting potholes in our way, he’s lurking and waiting to mug us. He’s right. And I get mugged by fear, a lot.
If attacks aren’t potholes I keep tripping into but assailants jumping out and tackling me, I need to up my guard. In my own strength, this seems impossible; I’m a weenie. But thankfully, God’s provided me a helper in the Holy Spirit. When Jesus left his disciples and promised them the Holy Spirit, he promised to leave them with something better than his physical presence:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. -John 14:27
Fear robs me of the peace God provides.
If Jesus left me with peace and instructed me to keep my heart from being troubled or afraid, and I’m panicking (for legit reasons or not) then something is wrong. Fear creates delusional daydreams and pretend problems that quickly become an oasis of obsession. Instead of resting and refueling in the current moment’s provision of grace, fear tempts me away from promised peace and causes me to doubt God’s faithfulness.
Fear fools me into self-reliance.
Little fleeting thoughts often fly around unnoticed in my mind. I fail to recognize the threat they pose. When fearful thoughts arise, it’s easy to become self-reliant, thinking I can will the fears away. But for me, fear is an area I should quickly hand over to the Lord. At the first sign of fearful thoughts, my gut reaction should be:
“I lift my eyes up to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” -Psalm 121:1-2
Fear challenges God’s nearness.
God is intimately acquainted with my faint heart and all of my insecurities. He knows each alleyway Satan hides in. And just like he spoke to His chosen people, the Israelites, He speaks to me. If I’m listening, I’ll hear Him whispering in the middle of my fears:
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand…
For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you.’”
Fear skews reality.
When feelings of fear don’t immediately subside, I have to choose who to believe – my feelings or God’s truth. The word of God promises me peace that keeps my heart from fear and trouble. It promises me God is my help. It promises me God is with me and is strengthening me. Choosing to entertain fictitious realities positions me away from the loving and protective hand of mercy and strength God offers me. I leave God’s safe-haven in favor of an emotional reality.
Fear doesn’t win.
Instead of fanning the flames of fear, I must ask the Holy Spirit to extinguish the fire of fear and ignite another. My weakness and fearfulness can be used by the Spirit to draw me closer to Jesus, stirring and strengthening a more sincere faith. And like Paul encouraged Timothy, I fan into flame the gift of God, for God gave me a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control (2 Tim. 1:6-7).
The Holy Spirit gives me the power to love God more than fear and to exercise self-control over tempting thoughts. God offers me help and strength to flee temptation. Jesus offers me the refuge of peace. And in the end, fear doesn’t win.
Which reality are you walking in?
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” -John 16:33