The Stranglehold of Fear

Is fear ruling your life? Are you trapped by fear but don’t even realise it?

Fear is sometimes quite sneaky. It tries to hide behind other feelings or even behind rational thought. When we decide not to pursue a particular course of action we may have come to that conclusion through careful, logical thinking. So, why do we sometimes then feel an odd sense of relief or guilt about our decision? Is it because we were actually afraid and have found a way out, avoiding the path that seemed frightening? Unfortunately, sometimes this may take us away from what God has for us.

Clearly there are times when we discern correctly that a new course of action is not appropriate. Rational thought and feelings of uneasiness may play a positive role in helping us to discover the right way ahead and God’s guidance. However, we can also end up avoiding things out of fear and using our feelings of unease or our “sensible” logic to give us an escape route.

It is simply not the case that God will always ask us to do things that we are comfortable with right away. Moses asked God to send someone else. Jonah ran away. Ananias is at first reluctant to go and meet the newly converted Saul. Neither, of course, does God always send people to do things that terrify them or they don’t feel equipped for. God may move us to carry on with things we are already comfortable with. But, sometimes God may want us to try something new and possibly something that seems scary.

There is a strange tendency that human beings have of being unwilling to let go of the familiar. It is strange because it can extend to clinging on to something unhealthy rather than letting go and receiving something far better. It has been documented that many prisoners struggle to cope with renewed freedom on leaving prison and re-offend to regain the now familiar routine of prison life. Similarly, some victims of abuse or kidnap develop an attachment to the person abusing them and are fearful of moving on even though it would mean freedom from abuse and a better life.

In the UK we have a couple of common sayings that help illustrate the point: 1) At least we know where we are…., 2) Better the devil you know… These sayings show that even if we know our current situation to be unsatisfactory we are often unwilling, too scared, to move on to pastures new.

We see change and immediately risk listing mentally (or verbally to any poor soul who will listen!) all the potential negatives. This can even lead to us playing out scenarios in our minds where things get worse and worse until all of a sudden we can justify to ourselves how this one decision could lead to our whole life falling to bits. If we were to take a step back we might realise that this “script” is not too dissimilar to an episode of a TV farcical tragic comedy. There may be some truth to our concerns, but we then blow them up to something we imagine is sufficient reason to prove that this course of action will definitely end in our demise so must be avoided at all costs.

If we want to follow Jesus, however, we need to learn to cope with change. We are supposed to change, becoming more like our heavenly Father. Yes, we may well be afraid at times; but fear is not to be our Master. We can learn to press through the fear and come out the other side, instead of allowing it to dictate which way we go.

Think of what God said to Joshua as he entered the promised land. It was to be a huge challenge to him as a leader and to the people as a whole, but God said “be strong and courageous” not once but 3 times (Joshua 1:6, 7, 9). He was not to be frightened but brave because God was with him.

In Acts 4 the believers pray for boldness to declare God’s message in a situation that would instil fear in most. In Romans 8:15 Paul writes “you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear” (NIV). In 2 Timothy 1:7 Paul tells Timothy that “God did not give us a spirit of timidity” (NIV). God’s presence with us means that we do not have to be constantly afraid of what might happen.

Fear can be conquered by faith. If we choose to focus on God and His presence with us by His Spirit instead of on “what if….” lists of negatives then we can begin to live free of fear. God looks after us as His children and we need to learn to trust Him. Only if we put our faith in Him, not just believing He exists but actually relying on Him day by day, will we gradually win the battle with fear.

We do not need to worry about our lives, about our food, clothes and other things. If we seek first the kingdom of God, all these things will be provided as we need them (Luke 12:22-31). This can help to free us to serve God and go where He calls instead of hiding behind fear and refusing to change.

Perhaps today or this week we can begin to redeem those two little words “what if…”. Maybe instead of allowing them always to be followed with negatives and reasons not to do something we can turn them into words of opportunity. “What if” we step out together with God – what amazing things might happen if we conquer our fear together?

© Joe Lenton, January 2013