I grew up on a farm in northwest Iowa. There is no better place for a boy to grow up than on a farm, because there are so many different ways for him to explore his creativity, curiosity, and sense of adventure. The farm is a great place for a boy to become a man.
Another benefit for me of growing up on the farm was the opportunity I had to face some of my fears. One summer I had to face two of my greatest fears at the same time: heights and rats.
We had a big white barn that was infested with rats. This type of infestation is not uncommon where you have large amounts of grain stored, a great source of food the the rodents. I had developed a fear of rats after hearing an old radio show on Sunday at the Memories that was about a lighthouse that was over run by killer rats. A story my uncle Phil told about a rat running up a person’s pant leg didn’t help matters.
That summer I was required to go into the barn, climb a ladder, walk along a 2×4, descend into the right bin, and shovel oats into a bucket to feed the horse. I got a knot in the bottom of my stomach every time I went out to do this chore.
Thankfully by this time our rat population was significantly down, so I never saw a rat. I also never came close to falling and breaking my neck, but I remained fearful nonetheless. Reality has little power over our imaginations, and I allowed my imagination to go wild as I pictured rabid red-eyed rats as I crawled up to extreme heights. My fear grew because my imagination led me to focus on things that were not true.
Fear is a common experience that we all have. Everyone is afraid of something, but fear comes in many different varieties . It is true that some of us carry around more fear than others, but no one is been able to escape the grip of fear. Whether it is a fear of rats , of public speaking, or of the dark, we can be certain that fear is going to play part in our lives.
Truth be told some of our fears are very practical. For instance a fear of heights will make us cautious when we are high above the ground. A fear of drowning will help us take the proper precautions when we are out on the water. Fear is not a bad thing when it leads us to do what is safe and not take unnecessary risks.
I guess that is why our irrational fears seem so rational to us. These fears make us think about the worst that can happen, no matter how improbable that outcome may be. The result is that we avoid doing very practical things because we are afraid of consequences that most likely will never happen. In the process we miss out on many different experiences. Worst of all we miss out on the experience of God working through us because we are too afraid to live a life of faith.
Fear has the ability to hold us hostage. The chains of fear prevent us from following Jesus to the place he wants us to go. Consider what Erwin McManus wrote in his book Uprising; “You cannot walk by faith and live in fear. You cannot walk with God and not face your fears” (p. 89). Living in fear will hold us back from living the life God created us to live.
Jesus taught his disciples that he came to give people abundant life (John 10:10b). We like to claim that promise, but we often ignore what Jesus said right before this promise of life. Jesus also told us that there was a thief and this thief was out to steal, kill, and destroy our lives (John 10:10a). I believe that fear is one of the tools Satan uses to steal and destroy the life God has given to us. Fear is a life destroyer.
To live the abundant life requires living with courage. How do we do live a life of courage? How does one find courage when facing the fear of rejection, loneliness, failure, sickness, and death? Is it possible to find freedom from the fear that consumes us?
I am afraid there is no magic bullet cure, but as a fellow prisoner of fear, let me offer a few words of advice that have helped me as I have faced my fears.
1. The most important thing we can do when our lives are full of fear is to pray. The apostle Peter reminds us; So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you (1 Peter 5:6, 7; ESV).
When we pray about our fears we shouldn’t ask God to take them away, but rather we should ask God to provide us with wisdom and courage to work through our fears. It is through these experiences that our faith has a chance to mature. God uses our fear to build our trust in Him and to develop our character. God will use our fears to mold us into the people He created us to be.
2. When our lives are full of fear we need the support of other people. It is essential that we develop lasting friendships. One of the things I have noticed about my fear is that it grows when I am alone. When I am isolated from other people my imagination is able to blow up my fear to mythic proportions, making the fear seem impossible to handle. It is also true that when I am with my friends it becomes easier to step into my fear because they are by my side.
This is one of the truths Solomon came to realize as he pondered life. This is what he wrote:
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12; ESV)
Making an effort to be with people has always been a source of encouragement to me. Even if I never tell them about the fear that is dwelling in my heart, their presence brings hope and courage to my life. When we have people by our side it is much easier to face the fears that are haunting our lives.
3. When our lives are full of fear we need to stop and remember the big picture. My fears grow and multiply when I focus on the right now. We live in a culture that focuses on the immediate and is motivated by crisis. When our focus is on the right now we forget what God has done in the past and the promises God has made about the future. We need to remember that what we can see and touch isn’t all there is and that there is much more to life. Jesus said:
“Dear friends, don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that. But I’ll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell. Yes, he’s the one to fear.” (Luke 12:4-5; NLT)
One of the things Jesus meant by this statement is that we shouldn’t be fearful of the things happening right now because they are temporary. Once we are dead these things will cease to hold any terror for us. Instead of allowing our lives to be consumed by fear with the here and now we need to set our eyes on new creation. The hope found in God’s promise of a new heaven and a new earth should help us put our fears into perspective.
Jesus came to give us abundant life, but we have an enemy who wants to destroy that life. Fear is one of the weapons in his arsenal that he uses to destroy our lives. When we succumb to our fears we allow Satan to rob us of life.
God doesn’t want us to live in fear, but to live with courage and faith. One of the reasons God has given us the Holy Spirit is to help us to live with a courageous faith; For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7; NLT). Fear is not part of God’s plan for your life.
Fear will be a constant part of your life, but it doesn’t have to define who you are. It is possible to face your fears, but you need to be willing to be honest with God in prayer, to be intentional in developing lasting friendships, and nurturing your hope of eternal life. Don’t let fear rob you of life any longer.